queer rage and the grocery toll

I shop at Whole Foods not infrequently, and while I shouldn’t have to justify this to you, I suspect I’ll be asked to, so let’s get it out of the way: I have celiac disease, and, for better or worse, I eat some packaged products; this means that there are limited places where I can acquire many of those products, and some are only available at Whole Foods. It’s also convenient one of my work spaces.

Unfortunately, getting in to the Whole Foods generally means my passing a gauntlet of people asking if I have a moment for gay rights. They’re raising money for HRC (the Human Rights Campaign), and I find the whole thing extremely angry-making.

First things first: My gay dollars don’t go to HRC anymore. Why? Because HRC can’t even stand to put its cause in its name. Because HRC has repeatedly backed off on defending the rights of trans people for the sake of expediency. Because HRC represents assimilation that is neither relevant to nor possible for me. Because HRC seems to be actively uninterested, not just in the issues trans people face, but also in the issues that women and people of color in the queer community face. There are better places for my gay dollars (and we’ll talk about what they are later).

Next: I resent a social interaction in which I am effectively framed as uncaring and bigoted to a group of which I am actually a member because I don’t feel like engaging with street solicitation. For me, this is just an irritation that I may well be blowing out of proportion. For a queer person in the closet (and yes, they exist, even in New York), it’s particularly and uniquely cruel.

Additionally: I dislike the implication that because I’m shopping somewhere like Whole Foods (and, again, in my case for medically necessary reasons that I shouldn’t have to justify to you), I’m obligated to have a discretionary funds for whatever cause has camped out in front of their door.

Obviously, I want people to give dollars to queer-rights (and other) causes. And, I have a significant amount of empathy for people that do that street solicitation job, having once worked for NYPRG for a couple of miserable weeks when I was 17. But between my feelings about HRC, my dislike of the guilt thing, and my genuine concern for people not prepared to be out as queer or queer rights supporters, the whole thing just ticks me off. And that’s before we get to some of the tactics the solicitors use to get attention (don’t tell me to smile, don’t flirt with me, don’t block my path — how dare you? — it’s predatory and nasty and it’s targeted at women far more than men).

Mostly though, I’m just really sick of doing the “I gave at the office,” dance (normally I give from home, but I have remembered to do various donations at work, so hey).

Queer rights organizations I support and who don’t put me in an awkward, crappy position when I’m trying to buy food I can eat? Lambda Legal and The Trevor Project are at the top of the list. I’ve also given money to DADT-repeal groups and equal marriage rights groups in multiple states, as well as local, NYC LGBTQ community organizations.

Which brings me to another part of why I’m angry that has nothing to do with Whole Foods and HRC: I spend a lot of money fighting for my rights. I shouldn’t have to do that.

There are a lot of basic fiscal costs to being gay that have been well-documented including those of taxes, inheritance and benefit costs due to a lack of federal marriage equality; the financial stresses related to employment and housing discrimination (which is perfectly legal in most states); medical costs related to medical professionals who are unhelpful or unfamiliar with dealing with LGBT clients (and let’s not even talk about the costs of medical transition for those seeking that — it’s a fortune and almost never insurance covered). And, in case it’s not obvious, these financial stresses impact the different subgroups within the LGBT community differently, making these issues even more complex and complex and critical. So are we clear now that no matter how much people talk about affluent queer people because of the DINK theory (dual-income no kids), that the fact remains being gay costs money and actually leaves many queer people (and particularly trans people) struggling with poverty?

And if we’re going to talk about costs, let’s not forget these damn activism dollars! I’m glad to have the extra income to put money into these causes. But I hate it. I hate having to do it. I hate how often I find myself tossing another 5 or 10 or 20 or 50 dollars at something or else there will be no counter-voice to more commercials on TV about how I’m a terrible person or actively working to destroy a world I don’t even understand (I grew up in NYC, among artists, I don’t even understand the things I’m supposedly dangerous to). When I give money it shouldn’t have to be about survival and with this sense that it’s never enough (and don’t get me started on having to give money to politicians who don’t actively support or admit to supporting my equal rights because the alternatives are just so awful).

Look, I’m not a big fan of the “born this way” theory, possibly because I’m so queer in terms of my attractions and gender that it’s hard to know what “this way” means; and I sure as hell shouldn’t have to be medicalized (and “born this way” is medicalizing. We never talk about how straight people are “born like that” — they’re normal, I come with celiac disease and gayness. Not cool!) to have my rights. But I gotta tell you, run the numbers, and then tell me why anyone would say, “Hey, I’ll be gay! I can live a carefree life of expensive vacations and fabulous houses!”

Yeah, they wouldn’t, and that’s despite the shiny happy picture of affluent normative queerness that HRC wants me to sponsor when I’m trying to buy groceries.

23 thoughts on “queer rage and the grocery toll”

  1. This is so weird. I just spent the evening brainstorming a plot to a modern opera about DADT with my voice teacher.

    I can completely understand the whole anger at being accosted by fundraisers using “in your face” type tactics. Did you complain to the Whole Foods Management or is this something they are permitting/supporting? I shop at the local Whole Foods occasionally, but if this sort of thing went on outside, I would probably avoid it and shop elsewhere. They should be made aware that this group may be keeping potential customers from even considering entering the store or getting near it.

    1. A public sidewalk is a public sidewalk. They don’t block the doors and are not on the property of the store. It’s just where they stake out because they assume Whole Foods shoppers to be affluent and liberal; it’s probably a logical assumption.

      1. Do you have any local laws about distance from the door? I know Oregon and Washington do, but I’ve never lived in new York.

        I hate that aggressive solicitation thing and I’ve made HRC rants so similar to yours we could have been working off the same bullet points.

        I have a list of things itr makes me furious that we have to fight for that I suspect overlaps yours. it makes me wish I had money to give.

  2. Interesting. In the city I live in (in Canada) groups fundraising for causes have to have a license to be on the street doing that, and they aren’t allowed to be in the same place for two days in a row. As in, they are forced to change location every day. I only know because I did that job for one day (and decided my heart was not in it enough). Is there similar legislation in NYC?

    I really like the way you talk about… all the issues that you talk about. Thanks for doing that.

    1. I think the laws and the experiences are VASTLY different in Canada.

      I got into a discussion on Twitter yesterday with a woman who works for a NFP in Toronto. She was upset that I’d categorized charities as aggressive and off-putting.

      She didn’t realize how much the difference was made by Canada’s canvassing laws, and I had difficulty conveying this experience in 140 characters.

  3. I’ve cussed out HRC over the phone three times in the past year and told them they’ve squandered every dollar I ever gave them. But if they actually asked for money at the Whole Foods in Birmingham, I would think they had some balls. Nobody campaigns for anything gay in Birmingham.

    BTW, you should hear how I go off if someone I don’t know tells me to “smile!”.

      1. It’s generally some version of “you do not have the right to tell me how to feel/you would never go up to a man and say that/who are you anyway?”. It’s basically “get your male privelege out of my face”. I mean, have you ever had a woman do that? ‘Cause I haven’t.

        1. I’ve had older women tell me to smile as well. Like Rikibeth, said, usually ‘matronly’ women. (And the older I get, the older they get!)

  4. HRC and several environmental fundraising groups stake out the sidewalk outside my food co-op. I find it equally enraging. Usually I just avoid them but once the timing was just wrong and the banter really pissed me off. I stopped and very clearly explained to the HRC canvasser that I knew he was doing this as a job and wasn’t responsible for organizational decision making but I would really appreciate it if he wrote it down on his clipboard that I only had $30 to buy groceries that would get me through the next week and there was no way HRC was going to get any of it until they proved they actually gave a crap about the lives of poor trans folks like me. Basically, get me a trans-inclusive ENDA and I’ll share some of my hard earned (and hard to come by, at the time) grocery money. Didn’t do any good, but it did make me feel better.

    Oh, and if you’re looking for other LGBT organizations to tout/support, NCTE does a lot of amazing work for trans, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming folks. And they actually care about (and are doing work on) issues that impact folks that aren’t swimming in privilege.

  5. I was bothered by the various solicitors/petition jockeys that are stationed at our local TJs, Whole Foods, and at various strategic spots on our main pedestrian thoroughfare.

    My fix, that seems to both put them back on their heels and gives me the attitude from them that I feel is appropriate, is to say “I’ve already made my donations for this season” (sometimes I substitute month or quarter, depending on how I feel and when my last charity round was.

    I’ve found it works really well, and leaves me feeling like less of a curmudgeon. I do give to charity, just rarely on the street.

  6. Those people are common both on university campuses and outside my grocery store (which isn’t Whole Foods but is similarly a bit posh–and the only store within walking distance). Part of me always secretly hopes they’ve been sent on behalf of the HRC so I can tell them off. But then I remember I haven’t the nerve and would just be telling people off who are trying to do their job–it’s not as if they can refuse to solicit money for the HRC. That said, I think snark might be acceptable. Their opening line is always “Do you have a minute for gay rights?” “I have many minutes for gay rights, but not for the HRC.” probably works.

  7. They (canvassers for all the major charities) pin down all the entrances to the expensive hippy co-op grocery across from my workplace as well. They tend to be pretty consistent about the phrase, “Do you have a minute for [cause]?”

    I discovered the stock answer I can use is, “Not this minute.”

    When people try other lines, or I have to stand near them long enough for them to try to engage, such as at a bus stop, I take a page from my partner and say, “Sorry, I never believe anything someone tells me on the street.”

    But it’s a shitty, shitty business model. It makes me angry for the canvassers as much as anything, even as they’re using their patented guilt-trip phrases on me. A former housemate told me that when he did that job, he didn’t get paid unless he managed to collect his own wages, and we’re talking about writing down people’s credit card numbers in the street here. I can’t fathom that anyone talks to them at all, and it sure doesn’t build good will.

    1. “he did that job, he didn’t get paid unless he managed to collect his own wages”

      Yes, exactly. I remember way back applying for that sort of job and that fact was mentioned to me at the time I applied. That I had to ‘collect’ my own wages. The firm I applied at also had a ‘quota’ and the reason I turned the job down was I worried that I wouldn’t be able to collect enough to meet either the quota or my own wages. It’s like trying to earn a living by selling on commission only. I just was worried about working all day, and not earning anything for that day.

      I knew someone who did that ‘commission only’, and that was her big complainant; that she would work all day and not earn a cent for that day.

  8. This is my favorite post that you have made thus far at this blog, which may sound strange, but it resonates very deeply for me. I generally give people trying to hit me up for cash The Hand, regardless of their cause, because I don’t have the emotional energy to deal with justifying my (partly disability related) poverty. That’s the other cost, too: if you can’t give, people make you feel like you’re a Traitor To Your People because you won’t put your digits on their clipboard. Meanwhile you just want to shell out $7 for your organic conditioner that makes your damaged hair not fall out, goddammit. (NOT THAT THIS IS MY LIFE OR ANYTHING.)

    At the end of the day, I don’t have time OR money to give a fuck about these causes. I just try to move through the world with compassion and, when I have the resources, give back in a concrete way to individuals or small nonprofits (like the food pantry I volunteered in Chicago), as opposed to organizations. There are a lot of wonderful organizations out there doing good work… and most of those aren’t out in front of TJ’s trying to hassle me, either.

  9. If there’s anything guaranteed to make me NOT smile it’s someone telling me to smile. My standard answer is: “You want smiles, hire a clown.”

  10. I hate getting hit up for dosh on the sidewalk. Sympathy and commiseration on that front. Mercifully, nobody tries it at my grocery store, although I think you could fairly stereotype the clientele as liberal if not necessarily affluent. I don’t think I’d take it any better if someone tried to guilt me into giving on a weekday night when all I want is flatbreads and Greek yogurt. Might throw the yogurt at them. Especially if they had the cheek to tell me to smile.

    And I do not think there are words strong enough to express my agreement with your assessment of the HRC. Even if one fits neatly into the normative image of affluent, expensively vacationed queers, they’re a lousy, gutless lot. And if one doesn’t, well, then, welcome to a deep well of rage. Then again, I think that rather comes from any interaction with the public sphere over here, given its general tenor.

  11. I think I’m fairly lucky here – the Whole Foods and TJs in the SF valley were always crawling with canvassers, but the ones in LA have few problems. Partly the zoning/regulations, and partly the fact that their entrances are private parking lots. A small advantage to not being able to walk or take public transit to many places I guess.

    When I was in a city where I got accosted all the time, my simple response was to hand them a paper ‘card’ that basically said that I would not smile, donate to their cause or speak with them, and that I was sorry they had such a terrible job. Most of them handed it back to me wordless, a few tried to push the issue and I simply walked away. I should see if I still have the file from that somewhere and send you a copy.

    1. If you still have a copy of that file/card, could you send me a copy? I used to have to take the bus a lot, and I would get hit up ALL types of folks raising for charities. (Not sure HRC ever asked me for anything, as there were so many that I probably wouldn’t remember if they did. There were just so *many* that would hit the DART stations. (Along with the street preachers whom would just set up and start preaching to those of us waiting for the bus about how sinful we were. >_< Yippee.)

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