When Emily Vutech got a job in a gay bar, her friends and family had lots of questions. Ms. Vutech says she took the job to be in a vibrant environment, but she has come to believe that everyone could benefit from exploring worlds different from their own.
“Wait, so you’re straight?” I got used to answering this question pretty quickly after I started to work as a hostess at a gay bar. What seemed to be such an obvious part of how I thought of myself (a girl, and straight) suddenly became what defined me. When I started work, reactions from my friends and family were mixed. Some respected and were even jealous that I was working in such a vibrant part of town and with so many unique people. Others wondered if I ever felt uncomfortable, and were curious about what the environment itself was really like. I found myself defending where I worked, and more important, the people I worked with. Others’ constant questioning led me to realize that people in my society, even people I know and love, struggle to accept those they are not familiar with.
One Saturday night, I sat a middle-aged lesbian couple at a table outside. After I gave them their menus, I told them their server would be with them shortly. One of the women stopped me and said, “Excuse me, but I have to ask, what made you decide to work here?” This was another question I received all the time, but for some reason the way she asked was different. I could tell she was genuinely interested, and even confused. I answered the first thing that came to my mind, that I enjoyed getting to meet new, fun people and that I liked the exciting and unpredictable atmosphere. Her response changed the way I thought about my job. She thanked me and said, “We need young people from outside the gay community to help bridge the gap.”
This response got me thinking. To me, I was just going to work at a place where I loved both the work and the people I worked with. From all the questions I received about my job, it was clear that the core of the confusion was far bigger than just me. After hearing that all it takes is “bridging the gap,” it seems pretty simple. I believe by exposing ourselves to new people and environments, we can increase our understanding and therefore our acceptance of people, places, and situations that are beyond our familiar experiences. I, by no means, think that by working at a gay restaurant I am doing humanity some enormous favor. I do believe, however, that if each of us can individually explore worlds different than our own and than we are expected to, we can start to break down identities of “straight girl” and terms like “gay bar.” These surface labels only define us in ways that make us seem different. When really, we are all just people, gay and straight, going to work, learning and growing from one another.
Emily Vutech graduated from Miami University with a degree in Organizational Communication. She now lives in Chicago, where she is a client services manager at an upscale consignment service in Old Town.
Independently produced by Dan Gediman for This I Believe, Inc.
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