[oasis] [arts]

Someone's in the Kitchen

by Kevin Isom

Most stereotypes are offensive. Most are absurd. But every now and then, you run smack into a stereotype that supposes gays are better than average in one way or another. Like good taste. Ability to accessorize. Sensitivity. Community minded-ness. And cooking.


"Your son must be a good cook, you know, being gay an all," one of my mother's straight male friends said to her recently. "You obviously don't know Kevin," Mom replied.

To my astonishment, I've discovered after talking with a number of informed sources that straight folks, for whatever reason, generally conceive of gay men as flaming gourmet chefs. Like Julia Childs, with extra plumbing.

As with all stereotypes, it made me wonder: where did they get this idea? Yes, I am gay. No, I am not Martha Stewart. Especially not in a kitchen.

To me, a kitchen is the handy room with the electric box for re-heating take-out. My stove is pearly white from non-use. My refrigerator has enough vacant space to house a small immigrant family. And on my partly-occupied first refrigerator shelf are the essentials: milk, liquid egg protein, fat-free yogurt, and a spray bottle marked "lemon juice for hair."

But the stereotype exists, and since it's a positive stereotype, it's one I feel I should live up to. If I can't, then I must be inadequate somehow. It would be like discovering I was French but incapable of being rude. Or a politician and unable to lie. Or a blond who's not having more fun. How humiliating!

I am convinced that my aversion to -- and complete lack of talent for --cooking began at an early age. Perhaps it's even genetic. But there may be some environmental factors as well. In my teens, for instance, I once tried to make crepes for my family upon returning from a summer in France. Who knew there were venting fans over the stove? Who knew the smoke from burning butter would turn wallpaper a funky shade of brown? When the kitchen had to be re-papered, Mom was not thrilled.

So I tried to make it up to her by baking cookies. I followed the recipe meticulously: "Pour sugar into mixer. Turn mixer to high speed." Have you ever seen your kitchen covered with snow? After the kitchen-winter-wonderland incident, Mom banned me from the kitchen.

But I'm usually an optimist, and when my sister and nephew flew down for a visit recently, I resolved to cook for them. Since my nephew refuses to eat baby food from a jar, my sister makes dishes to puree for him, wholesome foods like squash casserole. I, the gay uncle, could certainly do no less. After all, I had a stereotype to live up to.

With some trepidation, I went to the grocery store. As I squeezed the zucchini squash for freshness, I had a strange feeling there should have been some candlelight and soft music, instead of the bright lights of the produce department. Then suddenly, just as I tweaked a particularly nice one, the automatic mister popped on. My initial alarm gave way to enjoyment, as I remembered some people pay good money for Evian misters, and this was effectively the same thing. Passing shoppers stared as I stood in the spray, oohing and aahing.

Next, I took my vegetables home, only to discover that the vegetable crisper in my fridge was full. Where else do you store your important documents? It's the most fire-safe place in your house.

Finally, I prepared the casserole, only to discover that my flesh felt just like the onion I was slicing. No distinction, except for the searing pain. The stereotype about Ginsu knives is, unfortunately, correct. So now I'm sporting a lovely bandage around my left thumb. Which, if I were left-handed, might raise some interesting questions about the origin of the injury.

As I nursed my bleeding thumb and called the cafeteria take-out line to order squash casserole, I decided that this was one stereotype I simply couldn't live up to. I admire anyone who can cook, but for me, take-out will do nicely, thank you.

And my motto? Someone's in the kitchen, but it sure ain't me.

Kevin Isom is an attorney and writer in Atlanta. His columns appear in newspapers and magazines throughout the U.S. and Canada. Other work has appeared in Paris Transcontinental, The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review, and other magazines.
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