Cook­ing up butch queen shenani­gans

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I oc­ca­sion­ally pick up week­end shifts at a restau­rant where I once worked full-time, and I love the quirky flow of kitchen con­ver­sa­tions: 8-hour dis­cus­sions com­posed of 15-sec­ond ex­changes while clear­ing plates or pass­ing food, pri­mar­ily with par­tic­i­pants but open to any­one in earshot, with there­fore hi­lar­i­ously fluid con­texts. This past Satur­day we played an ex­tended game of “What Kind of Gay Would I Be?”

“I al­ready know I would be a bear,” one of the servers, Allen, said while stack­ing cups in the kitchen. “I have a gay room­mate, and he’s told me I’m a bear.”

“I don’t think you’re big enough to be a bear,” I replied. “More like an ot­ter.”

“An ot­ter?!” he said as he drifted back to­ward the din­ing room, dumb­founded.

A lit­tle while later, Allen passed through the kitchen again, nod­ded in the di­rec­tion of the gay man­ager, and asked, “What type of gay is Dar­ryl?”

“Dar­ryl’s a twink, emer­i­tus,” I said, elic­it­ing a grin from the adorable mid­dle-aged man­ager.

On a later pass through, Allen asked about one of his fel­low het­ero­sex­ual co­work­ers: “What type of gay would Clay be?”

“Oh, Clay’s a diesel booty power bot­tom,” I said as I no­ticed Clay obliv­i­ously ap­proach­ing the kitchen. “Ain’t that right, boo?”

“Of course,” Clay said mat­ter-of-factly, know­ing he was likely walk­ing into a mis­chievous punch­line.

“So what type of gay are you?” Allen asked.

“I’m a butch queen,” I said. “And that’s a le­git, sanc­tioned cat­e­gory, not like th­ese ones I’ve been mak­ing up.”

Over the years that I’ve worked at the restau­rant, I’ve tried to put my own ho­mo­erotic spin on the in­ap­pro­pri­ate lust­ing that is com­mon in kitchen cul­ture, or con­struc­tion cul­ture, or bar­ber­shop cul­ture, or any cul­ture in which two or more men gather and in­evitably dis­cuss their sex­ual quests and coups.

“On your back” and “be­hind you,” are in­dus­try phrases that are said hun­dreds of times a day in a kitchen.

“Ohhh, just how I like it,” I’ll re­ply if I want to tease. If I’m in al­pha male mode, I’ll go with the more misog­y­nis­tic, “Well gone ahead and slide in then!”

I know my over­shar­ing and un­wanted ad­vances have caused dis­com­fort among some of my male co-work­ers, which dis­turbs my fem­i­nist sen­si­bil­i­ties. But over­all, most have ap­pre­ci­ated the satire in my homo-man­nish­ness, and many have gen­er­ously shared how our friend­ship has ex­panded their per­spec­tive on LGBT peo­ple.

I thought I had a pre­cise gauge of the bound­aries of ho­mo­erotic hu­mor, and while I spend much of the time kick­ing those bor­ders, there are some places I won’t go. I shud­dered a few months ago when two of my straight male co-work­ers were talk­ing in the dis­tance, and I overheard one of them make a joke about the other’s in­fant son grow­ing up to be gay.

“And if he does, that will be OK,” the new fa­ther said.

Even though I was not part of the con­ver­sa­tion and not even look­ing in their di­rec­tion, I knew my co-worker was talk­ing to me. When we passed each other a few min­utes later, I gave a pat of grat­i­tude on his back and said, “Ap­pre­ci­ate that, daddy.”

“All day, boo.” Ryan Lee is an At­lanta writer.

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