Mask-Shaming Guidance: How to Respond to, “Do You Mind If I Take Off My Mask?”

Imagine this: You’re a patient in the middle of surgery on a brain tumor, and it’s an “awake” surgery because the doctor needs you conscious enough to answer questions. About an hour into the procedure, she peeks out behind the curtain, nonchalantly asking, “Do you mind if I just slip these gloves off for a few while I’m digging around your cerebral cortex? No biggie. My hands are just a little sweaty inside these gloves.” 

Or this: You’re in the middle of sex with a man, and it’s still early in your relationship (no judgment!). After a few minutes, he pauses, looks you deep in the eyes, and asks, “Do you mind if I just slip my condom off? It’ll be fine, promise. I know we’ve only known each other for six weeks, but you can trust me. It’s just SO uncomfortable.” 

I’m assuming, in response to both of these situations, your answer would be a resounding “Hell-to-the-fucking-no,” right? 

Ok, with that context in mind, I’d like to tell another story. 

Like many of you, I haven’t interacted with strangers much lately.

(Which means, shockingly I know, I haven’t been engaging in sexual relationships with men or having awake brain surgery, either. These are merely examples, so stick with me.) 

But two times in one week, when I’ve either been out in public or in my own home, I’ve had this question asked: 

“Do you mind if I take this off?” 

Both men were referring to their face masks. 

One of them was in my fucking house — a home I share with children, and a home that my 70-something, immunocompromised parents frequently visit. 

My adorable germ bubble

Here’s the thing: My germ bubble is small. I don’t interact much with strangers because I know we’re in the midst of a global pandemic that has killed more Americans in four months than were killed in the Korean War, Vietnam, the Gulf War, the War in Afghanistan and the Iraq War COMBINED

Need more context? It has also killed more Americans in four months than were killed in the entire 1.5-year “War to End all Wars” known as World War I

I get it: This is all relatively new. Prior to a few months ago, most of us outside of healthcare professionals had never even owned a mask — let alone learned where to purchase one, how to wash one and the proper way to wear one. 

But I’m seeing a whole new kind of peer pressure evolving based on my very limited exposure to the outside world of late, this one involving masks. Both times, both men had established a sort of camaraderie with me — which led to the offending question. 

The implication in both situations: We may be total strangers, but we’re cool. I mean, just look at me: I’m OBVIOUSLY not infected. So if you’re cool, you’ll let me take off my mask.

The air conditioner service tech was the first person to ask the question. I can’t even tell you how relieved I was when I first answered the door, because not only did his appearance assure me that my house would soon be cool, BUT ALSO (and almost as importantly, because no stranger has entered my home in four months), the tech was wearing a mask. He was outside for most of the appointment, but after walking from my outdoor unit to my indoor thermostat a few times, he paused to tell me the mechanical diagnosis. And as he stood there, chatting with me about the problem, he slipped the question. 

The other time, I was at an outdoor restaurant. After a few visits to the table, which included the normal pleasantries around the beautiful day and the specials and what kind of water we’d prefer, he popped the question. 

And both times, I froze. Both times, I acquiesced. Both times, I allowed a stranger into my germ bubble that I did not want to be there, because I caved to the peer pressure. 

Yes, they asked — so brownie points for that. But in both cases, they were already mid-mask-removal during the question, clearly assuming the foregone conclusion. I’m embarrassed to admit that I could have stopped it in both cases, but I did not. 

So in the interest of helping others who may soon be facing the same situation, here are some ways to respond to “Do you mind if I take this off” so you don’t freeze up like I did. Because forewarned is forearmed. And forewarned is foremasked, apparently: 

  1. Here’s the straight-forward, no holds barred approach: “Yes, yes I do.” 
  2. And here’s a straight-forward but sincerely appreciative approach: “Yes I do, and thank you so much for asking!” 
  3. This version is softer, but still authoritative: “My (fill-in-the-blank-family-member) is immune-compromised, so I’d appreciate it if you kept it on. Just trying to keep (him/her) safe!”
  4. Here’s the sweary version: “Yes, I fucking do mind.” 
  5. And this one is still sweary, but also appreciative: “Yes, I fucking do mind. But holy-shit-fuck-damn, I’m glad you asked, you adorable fuck nugget.” 

Bottom line: For those of us who are trying to keep you, ourselves and others healthy, wearing a mask is a beautiful symbol of respect. And from now on, if I face this situation, I am forging a new path — a proactive approach that I’m hoping will shut the question down and render it moot before it’s even considered. 

When I answer the door to a masked service tech, or I’m at an al fresco restaurant and a masked foodserver approaches me, BEFORE ANYTHING ELSE IS SAID, I will say this: 

“Thank you so much for wearing a mask. As someone with immune-compromised family, I’m very grateful for this ultimate show of respect to you, to me and to the people in our lives.”

And who knows, I might even throw in a “…you adorable fuck nugget” at the end.