The double standard I'm about to describe is not nearly as common as the sort described by WolfDaddy, but I found it pretty irksome all the same.

Years ago we had a regular customer at the bookstore where I worked who was an absolute terror. I first encountered him when I had the brilliant idea of moving the books in the gay fiction section into regular fiction, on the grounds that these authors shouldn't be ghettoized based on their sexual preference. The next day this man was charging around the store, livid with rage and bellowing that we were homophobes because Gay Fiction was no longer in one easily-found and browsed place.

I will admit that, putting myself in this man's shoes, I can see how it may have been a real blow to suddenly find the entire section mysteriously removed. Having a section devoted to gay fiction obviously makes it easier for gay customers to find books written for them. In my youthful zeal I hadn't realized that I was deliberately making it harder for one particular customer base to shop at our store.

Our then-manager took the man aside and calmed him down, explaining our reasons for the change and promising to put things right. He had the advantage in this case of not only being gay himself, but of having started one of the first--perhaps the first--gay bookstore in Los Angeles, which gave him much in the way of credibility. After the man left I sheepishly retrieved all the books I'd shelved and rebuilt the gay fiction section, figuring that would be the last of it. Knowing our true position and that we'd simply made an honest mistake, any further complaints from the man would doubtless be offered in a spirit of reason and mutual cooperation.

But no. A couple of weeks later he was back again, angry and quite literally in my face. He had gone to the fiction section searching for novels by Peter Lefcourt and had found none on the shelf. "Why don't you have books by Peter Lefcourt?" he shouted. "Is it because he's gay??" I grokked immediately what was going on. Deep down this was just another one of those loudmouths who expects the retail slaveys who serve him to massage his feelings any time reality doesn't conform to his expectations. On firmer ground now I politely answered that I was not aware that Lefcourt was gay, and that the reason his books were not on the shelf is because we sell a lot of them and just now we happened to be sold out. Would sir like to special order one or more of the titles available? Deprived of rant fodder, the man left in a huff.

That night I vented about this jerk to my then-girlfriend, in terms no different than I would with any other customer I felt had treated me rudely. Instead of sympathizing though, she became hostile.

I had no right to criticize him, she said. As a gay man, my customer had faced oppression of a type I couldn't even fathom, and lived as part of a community that suffered terribly from the AIDS epidemic. In truth, he had every right to be angry at the entire world--and that included me.

I shut the hell up. Not because I believed she was right, but because it had never occurred to me that anyone would seriously propose that someone's sexual orientation exempted them from having to treat other people courteously, especially people obviously lower than you on the economic food chain. What made this especially bizarre was that my then-girlfriend extended no such understanding to members of any other oppressed minority. In fact she held them to a higher standard of behavior.

Anything someone gay did, in short, was justified by their status as victims. To say otherwise was to contribute to their oppression.