A photograph of the waters of Provincetown at sunset. Boats silhouetted against a blazing orange sky.

One of my freelance consulting business’s main clients runs a seasonal passenger ferry between Boston and Provincetown, Massachusetts. Very early in our professional relationship — perhaps before anyone signed any paperwork, some five years ago — the company’s head invited me to its offices, located right on the city’s waterfront. He toured me through one of his docked ferries, and then — this being a summer day — we also came upon a small crowd of his own customers, passing the time before the boarding call.

He smiled with a particular sort of satisfied warmth at the sight, the expression of a small business owner seeing their customers both as familiar individuals worthy of affection, and as a living score-tally proving that the revenue-generating machine they built continues to operate well. Gesturing at the crowd, the owner said to me: “A lot of lesbian couples today! That’s always a good sign. They’re some of our core clientele!” The unexpected directness of the observation struck me bluntly, and I don’t recall how I immediately responded.

Of course he spoke only the practical truth: Provincetown (“P-town” to the locals) is a decades-old wellspring of LGBT culture in the United States, and has long served as a welcoming tourist destination for queer couples. I received a little education about it that day, starting with my client’s admiring if unvarnished description of his own customer base.

Five years later, writing in a rather murkier atmosphere that encourages the drawing of bright lines, I have lately wondered how deeply I should let politics affect decisions or declarations that I make in my own small business. This includes pondering policies I might wish to overtly set about the political positions I expect from anyone who I support with my work. Planning ways to start addressing this, I wondered whether my current clientele might pass qualifications I may lay down. Happily, a little reflection shows how they don’t conflict with my personal politics: one client gets a pass for not basing its headquarters in the United States, and thinking about the other client quickly brought the story of that Boston afternoon to mind.

And then it struck me: my soon-to-be client had tested me, that day. That blunt observation about his valuable tourists on the dock wasn’t merely showing off his blasé horse-sense regarding the particular skew of his service’s demographics. Through his truthful but surprisingly direct utterance, he gave me a little shove, and watched to see whether or not I’d fall down.

The purpose of my visit, after all, involved establishing a business relationship that he knew he’d have to invest not just money but a great deal of trust into. He, rightly, had no desire to walk into that investment with anyone who had some kind of problem regarding certain attributes his customer base possessed. So, at our first face-to-face meeting, he hit me over the head with it. However I may have reacted to the push, I must have comported myself well enough, because we did soon thereafter ink agreements that have brought our respective companies years of mutual benefit.

All this ends up a lot less sad or angry than the post I had in mind when I sat down this evening, with this beam of light from the achingly recent past shining in to warm my battered heart. I find myself feeling freshly unafraid to allow my projects to express my politics, especially when my business benefits directly from the world I want to help create through those politics. Why yes, I do want a more progressive society that gives me and my loved ones healthier and less stressful lives, and thus allows me more time and attention for my various professional and creative endeavors. (And if that means more security and economic freedom for everyone else in the country too as a necessary side effect, oh well.)

I plan to feel less shy about making this more clear, across all my published work. And I will in so doing invite anyone who takes issue with this stance to keep on walking.

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