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Topher Payne: Is McDonald’s supersizing the importance of gender roles?

Playwright and writer Topher Payne

I go to McDonald’s. I can’t say I’m proud of it, but I’m a sucker for cheap and convenient, which was a real problem back when I was dating. I’m fully aware of the hidden costs of scarfing down a McChicken and a McDiet McCoke while sitting in McTraffic, and that price will be paid by the size of my ass. But we all do what we have to do.

I had birthday parties at McDonald’s as a (fat) child. I survived in New York on $10 a day eating nothing but food served under those magical golden arches, and other than the mild chest pains, I was really grateful for them. Their MSG runs deep in my veins.

So I’m at the drive-thru, offering up my handful of quarters for my meal (because you can do that there), and the woman at the window is taking another order, apparently for a Happy Meal. First, she asks, “Apples or fries?” which I think is pretty neat, if fundamentally flawed. Who eats apples with a cheeseburger? That’s not a logical culinary combo.

It’s the sort of haphazard three in the morning meal that would be thrown together by a drunk dude based upon what happens to be in his kitchen: “Let’s see, I’ll have a cheeseburger, some apple sticks, this can of water chestnuts and half a jar of olives.” While the logic of the meal escapes me, I can appreciate what they’re going for. Obviously, things have changed since I was a kid.

Or perhaps they haven’t, because the drive-through employee’s next question is one I’ve heard for thirty years: “Girl toy or boy toy?” The rational assumption here is that one of the Happy Meal toys has a penis, and one has a vagina – because that would be the difference between boys and girls.

Now, I’m not a parent, but if I were I would take real issue with serving my child a meal that includes a My Little Pony with a cervix. And then my kid would have all these questions, and I’d say, “Hush, child, stop your incessant questions regarding your toy’s genitals. Daddy’s watching his stories. Now finish your apple slices and freshen my martini.”

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Topher Payne: Seems like old times

Playwright and writer Topher Payne

It’s after midnight in Washington, D.C., and I’m at Trio Restaurant with my best friend from high school, Kerstin. I haven’t seen her in a decade. We’re friends on Facebook, but keeping up with old friends via social media is like keeping up with the exploits of Amanda Bynes. You get the headlines, occasional in-depth reports, but you just can’t make sense of the whole story.

We look, sound, and interact exactly as we did at age 15. When you’re a teenager, you assume you’re going to grow up and become a completely different person. At some point your life will reach that point in the movie where there’s a clever transition and the child actor is replaced by the adult actor.

But then 20 years go by, and you realize the grownup version of you is still being played by you. This is horrifyingly bad casting — like Lohan-as-Liz-Taylor bad. You do not have the mind of an adult, and have no business being in charge of things.

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Topher Payne: Tag. You’re it.

Playwright and writer Topher Payne

I came out to the customer care lady at the cable company. I’d called because I decided I wanted to watch “The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio,” and my cable box, confused that anyone would wish to see this film, froze up completely.

So I called the help number on my screen, and the representative addressed me by my husband’s name.

I said, “No, this is Topher, his husband. I’m authorized on the account.”

She replied, “Oh, yes, I see. You’re the other Mr. Payne. What can I do for you?”

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Topher Payne: You’ve got male

Playwright and writer Topher Payne

When I was 19, I managed to land a job in Atlanta, and I moved here without even visiting first. I just found an apartment online that I could afford, got approved, packed up my stuff and came for the keys. Had I visited the city beforehand, I would have realized why apartments were so cheap by Gwinnett Place Mall.

But even in Duluth, I was still totally connected to the hot and happening Atlanta gay scene, thanks to the 1990s uniter of the masses, America Online.

For the Millennials reading this, allow me to explain the process of trolling for strangers online during the Clinton administration. Disable your call waiting, dial into America Online, if it’s peak hours you might have to try a couple different numbers, then sign in as one of your six optional usernames, which America Online specifically offers for purposes of anonymous cyber sex.