Many years ago, in my early twenties, I lived in Santa Cruz, California, and had a job at a small health food store called The Food Bin. I disliked this job for a number of reasons, but it had its good points. I enjoyed the friendly rapport I had with some coworkers, customers and suppliers, such as a certain clean-cut young guy, around my age, who delivered muffins once a week from a local bakery.
One day I was far from The Food Bin, on some kind of errand that took me way into the very outskirts of town. I’d finished whatever it was I was doing and was heading toward the bus stop, when I spotted the Muffin Man outside a restaurant, unloading a big tray of goods from the back of his van. I went to say hello, and then, thinking of how long it was going to take me to get home by bus, asked him if he might by chance be heading back into town.
He said he had another stop or two, but generously offered me a ride, and so I climbed into the van’s passenger seat, he took the wheel, and we were off. We’d never had a real get-to-know-you conversation before, and he told me the bakery belonged to his aunt, and that he was from somewhere else. I don’t remember where exactly, but it was someplace smaller and more conservative. I asked him how he liked Santa Cruz, and he said it was different. I asked how so, and he said it was the people. I asked how so again, and he started talking about alternative lifestyles and soon I understood that he didn’t mean the hippie element that was prevalent in the area, but the queer element.
I looked down at myself. I had on my customary scruffy jeans and tee shirt, and I had recently cut off all my hair. It was only an inch or two long and very boyish, and after a lifetime of liking boys, I had just started dating a girl. Also, there was my mom.
“You know,” I said, “my mom is a lesbian.”
“What? Whoa! Really?”
I told him how she had come out when I was eight years old, and it had always seemed totally normal to me, and then I said, “And I like both.”
“Oh, my GOD!” he said, gripping the steering wheel so as not to keel over. This was blowing his mind.
When he recovered a little, though, he said that actually there had been a gay guy on his swim team, and that nobody minded, and that he was a really nice guy. We talked about that for a while, and then he said that he thought that having gay friends was okay, but that what he would never want was a gay son. That would be too hard for him.
I said, “But what if you did have a gay son?” I said I had a friend whose mom had disowned her after she came out, how awful that was, and how if he did have a gay son, he’d have to love him and accept him and support him. What would happen to his gay son if he rejected him?
The Muffin Man stared at the road a few minutes. Then he said he supposed I was right. If his son was gay, he wouldn’t want to be that kind of father. It wouldn’t be his son’s fault if he turned out gay, and he’d love him regardless.
“I guess it would be okay if he was gay,” he said, “as long as he wasn’t all frou-frou about it.”
“But he might be frou-frou,” I said, visions of short shorts and feather boas dancing in my head.
We were nearing downtown now, where in a moment I’d hop out and he’d return to the bakery, and at this point in the conversation the Muffin Man knew there was no turning back. He looked at me sideways, smiled a little, and said, “I guess I’d learn to live with it.”
I wanted to say, “I love you,” but that would have been weird. Instead I thanked him for the ride and said it was great talking with him. He told me to take care, and that he’d see me soon at The Food Bin.
As we all know, life is unending school. These days I am frequently corrected by my non-binary teenager, who is way more up on appropriate terms and concepts around gender and sexuality than I am. I like to think that I’m a good student in life, but of course often times I’m not. Still, I want to be someone who, with a little effort, can blow through a series of hurdles like the Muffin Man did that day, when in the course of a twenty-minute conversation he went from being weirded out by a little queer culture in his general environment, to loving and accepting his very own (hypothetical) future frou-frou gay son. If there’s one thing this world needs, it’s more of that.
Check out more of Jenny Jaeckel’s writing from her four published books to her other essays and anecdotes! Her latest book is also out as an audiobook, narrated by the incomparable award-winning Bahni Turpin. Available anywhere audiobooks are sold, or request it at your local library (give them this ISBN: 978-1-941203-31-6).