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High Heels and Hormones: The Woman is the Person Who Cooks in the Kitchen
Exploring transgender cuisine
“There are cookbooks that teach you how to cook and then there are cookbooks that teach you how to live,” writes Eva Reign at Bon Appetit. Reign, who has earned fame as a minor actress and an enthusiastic journalist of transgender lifestyles, is exactly the right person to review Cooking in Heels, “a memoir-in-recipes by New York activist and prison abolitionist Ceyenne Doroshow,” who sounds like exactly the first sort of person I think of when I want advice on how to live, or how to cook.
“Years ago Doroshow was quietly making [his] living as a dominatrix by taking out personal ads in a New Jersey newspaper,” Reign says. “Then one night, in the middle of a thunderous rainstorm, [he] was apprehended by an undercover policeman posing as a client.” As always, the Venn diagram of two specific luxury beliefs — ‘trans women are women’ and ‘sex work is work’ — is a circle.
According to Doroshow, his grandfather taught him to cook as a child. One day, his father ate a “pan of spinach and cheese quiche” without knowing the cook and found it delicious. The news that his son had learned to cook from his own father “bewildered” Doroshow’s dad, because kitchen work is woman’s work, of course. It all makes so much sense:
From then on young Doroshow prepared dinner each night, honing [his] budding culinary skills. But [his] father harbored growing reservations at [his] evolution, chastising [his] budding femininity. Eventually, his reservations festered into aggression.
“He was upset because his child was becoming a woman,” Doroshow says. “Cooking taught me how to be a lady.”
Whenever we need to know who the woman is, we just need to look in the kitchen and see who is learning to cook from grandad. The man, on the other hand, is the person being masculine and toxic about it.
The frustration of dealing with a child in gender distress can be crazy-making for parents. While this does not excuse violence, Doroshow’s story is consistent with the contextual challenges of parenting a young, black homosexual man who is exploring an identity around feminine presentation.
Homophobia is old. Cooking is even older. Humans are a social species and we have been cooking our food for a million years. Because our evolved primate bodies prefer a diversity of foods, we have developed a taste for variety.
Culinary culture is therefore both universal and hyperlocal, with countless variations and permutations of flavor arising from every sort of ethnic and regional background. We eat Mexican food, Chinese food, French food, Italian food, and Soul Food.
But what about transgender food? “Jordan and Jaden’s Potato Balls and Donna’s Wickedly Good Meatloaf,” two of Doroshow’s recipes, “feel both widely accessible and deeply personal,” Reign writes. So: transgender food is regular food cooked by transgender people. All food is trans food.
Anastacia Tomson describes his transition as a “leap of faith” and says he followed his own unique, personal recipe to ‘become a woman.’
His recipe “might not work for anyone else, but it’s the only way I know. It’s the only way that is authentic for me, and authenticity is something I value tremendously,” Tomson says.
Drawing on his experience cooking, Tomson assures anyone wondering whether they have a ‘trans identity’ that “if you are asking the question, you already have your answer.” Of course you are trans! Just figure out your own recipe for transition.
The cooking metaphor supplies an alchemical abstraction:
There is a moment, during the creation of a dish, when what was once a heterogenous and disparate mixture of ingredients suddenly changes and shifts. It stops being an incongruent mixture of discrete entities, and starts to resemble what it’s actually meant to be, a whole comprised of seamlessly integrated parts, all of which complement and synergise with each other. The aroma of each individual component is replaced by a single scent, the tastes and flavours combine, the textures merge. The fear and the anxiety subside. Everything feels right, the way it’s meant to be. The dish has become itself, and it is something beautiful.
Transition is a process of cooking yourself, except of course for the parts where you need a specialist. As the gender surgeon “yeets the teats” with dexterity, so the experienced chef needs a skilled butcher to supply the best cuts of their own body-meat. Brined in hormones, seasoned with salty sass, and garnished in a new wardrobe, even a tough strip steak becomes haute cuisine.
All of these themes and more come together in Cooking with Trans People of Color, a free online cookbook from Trans People of Color (TPOC), “a three-year project funded by the Toronto Urban Health Fund” that “is designed to foster affirming support, greater access to food security, and access to meaningful sexual health promotion information for racialized trans folks.”
Published in 2021, the 62-page cookbook “features unique sections including cooking and eating on a budget, hormones and healthy eating for trans folks, and resources and sexual health promotion information to support racialized trans folks” — topics guaranteed to give the reader a healthy appetite.
Some of the recipes, such as “Veggie Soup,” are basic. At least one, “Rice and Sudado de Pollo,” is pretentious. “This is a traditional Colombian dish made of basic ingredients that are locally grown,” the recipe description reads. However, the actual list of ingredients only contains one item, a Colombian spice called relajo, that might be difficult to find in a rural North American grocery store.
“Families will get together, following matriarchal leadership, and prepare this dish using either beef, chicken or fish depending on the region of the country,” the desciption continues. Written by men, the cookbook tries a little too hard to invoke feminist themes. “Ceviche … was brought to Peru by the Moorish women from Granada, forced to accompany Spaniards,” it reads, because men have always forced women to do the cooking for them. It’s just part of being a woman in this world.
Ethnic recipes abound. TPOC is a conscious effort to conflate ‘trans’ with ‘color’ and cook up a new society in which using the wrong pronouns is racist. “There is no space for shame or stigma in our kitchen,” the authors write. Indeed, they are utterly shameless.
“All trans women should ensure a daily intake of 1000 IU Vitamin D and 1200 mg of Calcium,” the nutrition section reads. Also, “all trans men should ensure a daily intake of 1000 IU Vitamin D and 1200 mg of Calcium.”
“Bisphosphonates should be considered in the circumstance that a trans woman has undergone orchiectomy and is not able to maintain estrogen replacement therapy,” another bullet point reads. Also, “Bisphosphonates should be considered in the circumstance that a trans man has undergone oophorectomy and is not able to maintain testosterone replacement therapy.”
Put simply, bone health is so threatened by transition that extra vitamins, and sometimes medications, are necessary to prevent osteoporosis. Sex difference is implicitly acknowledged here, with separate bullet points and surgical procedures, to give both men and women ‘validation’ of their trans identities as the opposite sex. Inclusive!
Validation is the active ingredient in this cookbook. Despite the authors being men validated as ‘women’ by their love of cooking, there is a two-page infosheet debunking myths about ‘trans men.’
For example, too many ignorant outsiders think “we don’t penetrate our partners during sex (especially when having sex with cis men).” Clearly, a man wrote this:
This myth partly stems from the fact that people can assume we don’t have cocks.
Some of us have had surgeries that allow us to penetrate our partners with our flesh cocks.
We also might penetrate our lovers with strapon cocks (not to mention our fingers, hands, tongues, and other objects!). Like all people, some of us enjoy being fucked, others like fucking, and others still like both, or neither.
Phalloplasties and metoidioplasties are notoriously unable to provide a functioning penis of normal male size or ability. A flesh tube made from arm or thigh skin has no feeling. Medical complications are virtually certain.
Yet it is a “myth” that women who undergo these procedures “hate, or want to change, our bodies,” according to Cooking with Trans People of Color. That arm-flesh was always part of a penis, you see. It was just waiting for the right butcher to prepare it for cooking.
Finally, the booklet includes important sex health advice. “A minimally invasive way of checking what’s going on down there is before having sex, with some soapy water and lube, insert your finger into your hole and wiggle it around a little,” the authors write.
Down there. Your hole. Not only was this written by men, but those men imitate the language of children to talk about the human body in a sexual context, ostensibly as education.
You may find that you’re mostly clean, but you also might find a little surprise.
If you do, you might want to try for a bowel movement before having sex, as opposed to unintentionally having one during.
What an excellent use of public funding. Now, who’s hungry for empanadas?
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