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On Bravery and Baby Sloths, in Four Parts

On Bravery and Baby Sloths, in Four Parts
Madison Lynn

Part 4: The Verbal Tip (or: “Let me Tell you a Story”):

About a year ago I was in the middle of the dinner rush during a never ending week of understaffed doubles. On this fateful evening I met a customer that for the sake of this article we’ll call Jen. Jen was like a lot of customers that come in to my work – a pleasant middle-aged woman on her way to the Symphony. She was one of twenty or so customers in my section so I found it a relief when she was courteous and pleasant to me when I took her drink order. But remember that thing I wrote earlier about Customers?

A few minutes later when I dropped off her drink (Fresh Brewed Iced Tea, Unsweetened, No Lemon) and began to walk away, Jen reached out to touch my wrist as if pleading with me to stay another moment for some kind of deep, philosophical conversation. Obliging her, I turned around and leaned in to hear what she had to say. Jen lowered her voice, looked me straight in the eyes and spoke in a hushed-yet-caring tone,

Jen: “Madison, I just want you to know… I admire you.”

Me: “Um… thanks?”

Jen: “No, thank You.”

Me: “Well, okay. Y’know, waiting tables is just another job I guess. But thanks. I’ll be back to take your order in another minute, okay?

My Inner Monologue: Okay what. Apparently this woman has a waitress fetish? Whatever. She’s totally gonna tip well.

The next time I come over to take her order, Jen gives me a look of probing interest that I have a very hard time deciphering. She looks at me as if I’m either a curious artifact in a museum or the dirtiest porn she’s ever seen. As I go to walk away again she makes the same gesture as before – with urgent eyes and the same hushed tone she stops me again.

Jen: So, do you get any trouble here for… you know..?

Me: …I’m sorry, what?

Jen: (in a quiet fervor) You Know. ..?

My Inner Monologue: What. The. Fuck. Is this lady on about.

Me: Well, I mean I’ve been going up and down these stairs all night so I’m a bit exhausted, and not everyone is a great tipper, but It’s enough to get by, I guess.

My Inner Monologue: Forget the tip. Run!

Jen: Well, just… (Oh my Guac is she getting teary eyed right now?) that’s great. Thank you Madison.

After I walk away, about ten paces it hit me: She’s reading that I’m trans. So alright, it’s not just some scary obsessive woman with a waitress fetish! She’s just proving to me how Super Okay she thinks it is that I’m a waitress who also happens to be a trans woman! This is so validating.

Or wait. Sorry. “Validating” isn’t quite the right word. I meant to say “Patronizing”.

I spent the rest of the dinner rush avoiding her table and pretty much not doing my job for a half hour (apologies to all of my other customers that night), but eventually I realized if I wanted her to leave I was going to have to give her a bill and cash her out. So I swallowed my pride, put on my best “special little snowflake trans lady” face and headed out to say goodbye to my number one fan.

As she hands me back her bill, Jen stood up and went in for a hug. When I pulled away instinctively, most likely with a look of terrified disgust on my face, she apologized and shook my hand. Filled with inspiration and good intentions, Jen’s eyes welled up again, only this time with an additional air of important, almost maternal pride.

“Thank you so much. You’re so… I mean… You are so brave.”

Jen left. Never to be seen again.

And then I found out that she only tipped ten percent.

Nevertheless the fact of the matter is: I AM so brave. So brave, in fact, that I have the audacity to be trans and in public. My day consists of such courageous endeavours as shopping for groceries, walking my dog, even laying in bed reading – all WHILE BEING TRANS. It’s just that kind of plucky fortitude that gets me through the day, but sometimes even that isn’t quite enough. Sometimes all I need to get that final boost of bravery is a patronizing cis person non-consensually outing me and telling me how totally cool they think it is that I exist.

I implore you, Jens of the world: next time you come across a trans person or anyone you think might possibly be gender variant in any way, take some time to remind them how difficult it is to be trans in the world and congratulate their bravery. It’s totally awesome and validating and it doesn’t feel at all like we’re treated as an adorable theoretical minority you can use to feel better about yourself. Not at all.

But when you do, my darlings, at the very least: tip twenty percent. It isn’t easy being this brave.

This essay is an excerpt of a larger work-in-progress called “Eighty Six Patience: Queering the Service Industry”

Pages: 1 2 3 4


  1. Red

    THIS IS THE BEST THING I’VE EVER READ! I loved every word, start to finish. And, for the record, I would NEVER punch a baby sloth for dessert. I would punch one because I’m a bully that likes to pick on helpless things.

  2. Jem

    I worked as a cashier/bagger/shift manager for five months. Its an interesting industry to work in. Well, not really but the way you described it is very similar to what it was like for me. The DRAMA! i worked at a grocery store in a small rural town the grocery store is this towns epicenter! so you take all those things- grocery store+ small town=gossip/drama central. It wasnt a bad place to work though i got on decent with most and got so fast at checking i made the computer freeze- which isnt hard. i learned to stock and check dates. oh yeah so back to what ur article is about. im not trans and i reallllly hope i dont ever act like “jen”!

  3. Marc-Anthony Macon

    Truer words ain’t been said!

  4. “She looks at me as if I’m either a curious artifact in a museum or the dirtiest porn she’s ever seen.”

    Hah, I definitely know that look!

  5. “Have you ever seen a baby sloth in a restaurant before?” is my favoritest sentence of them all!

  6. Tess

    “…my best ‘special little snowflake trans lady’ face” +1

  7. I can’t wait to read more, Madison, and I’m so glad I put off school work for another 20 minutes to read your story. I pretty much need more soon, please, thank you!

    The unwanted/rejected hug attempt was probably my favorite moment of the story. I’m so glad you rejected her hug.

    Also, I have always really wondered what kind of weird social place people go to to learn that it’s okay to make sure someone you don’t know at all knows that you know personal things about them just by looking at them (sometimes telling the whole world in the process), so long as it comes with a little wink or unwanted hug. Like it never occurred to them that the best way to show their “support” is to keep their mouth shut and just be nice?

  8. andrew

    yesterday, i was so brave that i paid my gas bill. IN PERSON. i still haven’t been congratulated in hushed tones for that one.

  9. Tegan

    So very true. This pisses me off so much, because it happens so frequently.

  10. Morgan M. Page

    I love this piece! I had similar BS go down when I used to be a barista in cafes. Customers in general are ridiculous douches, but mix that with “good intentions” and the ability to clock trans people? It never ends well. Mostly it ends with me demonstrating award-worthy restraint in the face of my overwhelming urge to punch them in the face.

    Keep on being “brave!”


  11. Ah the service industry, home of the constructive dismissal… that said, besides the fact that I was basically in carnival-barker drab most of the time, I did sorta enjoy it.

  12. Thanks for this article, and for the comments, everyone. I guess this goes down under “trans male privilege” but I’m amazed at the number of people who “can relate” –glad you posted this!

  13. Julie Blair

    A friend of mine once said there are two types of restaurant patrons. The kind that like to go out to eat, and the kind that just like to be served.

  14. Gus

    You should have added how this has become like, the best inside joke of all time for our group of friends and beyond. And about how we constantly use this story to applaud our own mundane lives. And also about how I’m the bravest.

    • Gus

      Also like I’m proud of you and love you or whatever. Whatever. Less about you, Lynn. More about cis me.

      • Madison Lynn

        Oh my heavens I am super duper sorry! I totally forgot to center cis people’s concerns here. I am just so selfish sometimes.

        Thanks for calling me out, Gus. That took a lot of bravery.

        • Gus

          It’s a hard job, but I am The Best Ally, as you know.

  15. Jillian Weiss

    “special little snowflake trans lady”… that is the best phrase I have ever heard

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