I was on my way to a gay club with a few friends when we passed a Midtown Chick-fil-A. “Chick-fil-A!”, one of them, who is gay, exclaimed. “I know they hate gay people, but their chicken sandwiches are so good. It should be illegal how good they are.” This is where most queer people I know, including me, tend to come down on Chick-fil-A. Yes, their contributions, but –it’s so good. 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.
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 friend Annie, who was always cool and always southern, 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 millions in contributions to antigay groups 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. And neither, it turns out, did my strong and enduring desire to eat Chick-fil-A.
The weird 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. I debate if I should get something from Chick-fil-A every time I pass one.
“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 organization.” When that gets inevitably 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 finnicky about the thing. They just want to preserve their dear traditions from diffusion, like an overbearing Jewish mother who only wants her son to marry another Jew. Nothing personal.
I wonder why I so desperately need Chick-fil-A and me to fit together. I don’t find myself lamenting that the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Wildlife would find me unsuitable for employment. When my thoughts wander to Mike Pence, though, I suddenly live out our hypothetical interaction in vivid detail. The thing is—here’s the thing about me and Mike Pence—I bet he would really like me if he met me, even once he knew I wasn’t straight. Mike Pence would enjoy me. Right? Yeah. No, for sure. I can just tell. I would find a hidden something that we had in common and he would love it and we would develop this chummy inside joke and—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 bound to give you 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.