There’s a recently published think piece in HuffPost titled, “If You Really Love LGBTQ People, You Just Can’t Keep Eating Chick-fil-A.” It’s written by a gay man who has noticed–correctly–that in spite of Chick-fil-A’s millions in annual contributions to antigay groups, a surprisingly decent contingent of gay people continue to support the chain.
He runs through the common excuses:
- “In the grand scheme of things, eating there isn’t really that big of a deal and we have bigger problems to worry about”
- “I can’t possibly avoid all of the problematic companies out there, so why should I worry about this one?”
- “I know I shouldn’t eat there but it’s just too good not to!”
And then he shoots them down:
“To all of these flimsy justifications, I say, “Bullshit.” If you care about queer people ― or you yourself are queer ― you have absolutely no business eating at Chick-fil-A. Ever. It’s really that straightforward,” he says.
“Well don’t you have it all figured out,” I want to tell him.
Like the author, I’m a gay person who no longer supports Chick-fil-A. Apparently unlike him, I remain to this day tempted to stop there every time I pass one. And definitely unlike him, I think the reasons for this cut deeper than hedonism or short-sightedness. Way deeper.
I was seventeen the first time I ate Chick-fil-A, on my way home after visiting friends and family in Dallas for spring break. My always cool and always southern friend Annie had spoken nostalgically about her 6-piece chicken minis order with a side of honey butter. When my aunt asked if I wanted food on the way to the airport and I requested a place I imagined to be “Chick Filet,” the surprise in her voice told me that my Texas insider credit had just soared. This meant something to me, a California girl adorning cowboy boots who wished she was from the south.
I didn’t know about their contributions at the time, but I doubt I would have brought it back to me if I had. I was still holding out hope that being bisexual—or worse, gay—was something that would fade away with my first step onto a college campus the following year, where I would finally have the opportunity to know boys after six years in an all-girls’ school. My fear, the way I saw it, would disappear when my situational chastity did.
It didn’t. Neither did my sexual orientation. But neither did my desire to be the type of person who eats Chick-fil-A, which is still going strong a solid seven years after I first came out.
I’d say the weirdest part of the craving is that I’ve maybe eaten Chick-fil-A five times in my life. I don’t particularly like fast food. Waffle House is just as notoriously southern but I never want to eat there. I might contemplate getting something from Popeye’s three times a year, which still serves chicken but manages not to bring up the notion of gayness.
As someone who has proffered a number of excuses for why it might be okay for me to eat there before ultimately shooting them down, I can say with confidence that these outwardly flippant—what the author calls “flimsy”—excuses are, if you’re gay, governed by a vast underworld. “I know they hate gay people, but their chicken sandwiches are so good,” for instance, is less a sentence than it is an equation driven by an iron-clad rule. The rule is, you have to bring the contributions up. “I’m not a sloth living under a rock,” it communicates. “I know exactly where these people stand on me.” Once you get that part out of the way, you get to project ease and confidence, rather than self-doubt, as you admit that you like the chain. You get to be woke…and then you get to be the person that doesn’t take themselves too seriously.
If you don’t let yourself off the hook there, the diatribe takes a more subtle and sophisticated shape:
“Maybe they’re donating to Focus on the Family for other reasons,” I’ll tell myself, “and they see their anti-gay stuff as a way way side thing of an otherwise lovely Christian organization.” When that gets ruled out, it’s on to, “well I’m the one that’s affected here. If anyone gets to say it’s okay, it’s me.” A couple laps around the Concourse B food court at the Philadelphia Airport later, I’m wondering if they’re not really saying that marriage is just some obscure covenant that Paul liked to talk about and that’s the only reason they’re so finicky about the thing. They just want to preserve their traditions from diffusion, like an overbearing Jewish mother who only wants her son to marry another Jew. Nothing personal.
It’s more than the food. It’s that I want, desperately, for me and Chick-fil-A to fit together.
Which begs another question: why? I don’t find myself lamenting that the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Wildlife would find me unsuitable for employment. But when my thoughts wander to Mike Pence, there I am again, trying to make it work. And although I’ve never met him, I have met him a number of times in my head. It goes like this: when we shake hands, he already knows I’m not straight because I’m a famous writer who had a public fling with Kate McKinnon. And there’s this twinkle that forms in the back of his eye towards the end of our handshake. In the course of our brief yet meaningful exchange I manage to find a hidden little thing that we have in common and he can’t believe that someone else likes that thing, too. It’s pretty simple from there: we’ve developed this chummy inside joke that he brings up every time our paths cross. It’s not an elaborate relationship, but not all special bonds are.
Imagine that for long enough and you’re no longer someone who needs to be corrected in another person’s eyes. You’re the person who’s valuable enough to have changed their mind.
The same mental negotiation is even more tempting with Chick-fil-A because no matter how outwardly gay you are, the only side of the company that you interact with as a customer is designed to deliver a positive experience. It’s a core value at Chick-fil-A to be nice to everybody—something they like to repeat when they’re hit with criticism for their contributions. They’re nice to everybody, and whether or not you arrive draped in the rainbow flag, they’ll be nice to you, too. You’ll interact with someone friendly in a polo shirt who has guaranteed zero authority over where the company’s money is spent. You’ll open your box with the cute cursive handwriting. You’ll eat your chicken minis. And that’s about it. You could do this same pleasing routine every day for the rest of your content and probably overweight gay life, and never encounter a single person who ever treats you as less-than in your long stretch of roadside dining at the Ceder Parkway Plaza. And somehow, all that time, the same place that made your mornings happy ones will have been funneling millions towards shocking younger you into a different person.
How could that be? They liked you.
I just want to be a cute southern girl who eats chicken minis with a side of honey mustard and wears oversized sorority t-shirts. Or even better, a cute conscientious southern girl who refuses to eat chicken minis or even set eyes on those free honey mustard packets because of what that evil chain is doing to her beloved uncles and singular friend from high school who are just as worthy as she is, damnit!
Having to refrain from eating at a chain because of what it believes about you is like wanting to play Cher from Clueless but instead casting yourself as her earthy Aunt Susan, the one who always brings her “friend” to Thanksgiving. Aunt Susan isn’t really a character, she’s a punchline, but she’s the only option if we accept Chick-fil-A for what it really is rather than what we want it to be. You’re either breezy, cute, fun, lighthearted—not the type to think about things like corporate financial disclosures, and straight—not the type to have to, or you’re the flattened victim of an identity, the downer who has to bring it up when all the other characters are just trying to have a fun day.
The author explains why he turned away from Chick-fil-A like this: “It wasn’t until I escaped to college that I finally began to accept who and what I was. Once I did, I vowed to never let anyone make me feel like I was less than them simply because I lusted after and loved other men.”
Flick of a switch, huh? Good for you.