Table for One

I'm Gay & I Bake. But Does That Make Baking 'Gay'?

On the dangers of stereotyping.

by:
June  7, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop Stylist: Amanda Widis.

Table for One is a column by Senior Editor Eric Kim, who loves cooking (and baking) for himself—and only himself—and seeks to celebrate the beauty of solitude in its many forms.


When I was 13 years old, I had a food blog called Eric Cooks. Once a week I’d write about a new baking discovery I had made, mostly cookies and cakes and muffins inspired by Gale Gand’s Food Network show, Sweet Dreams, which I watched religiously after school every day.

With the show, and with the nudging of my cousin Becky who introduced me to box cake mix, I became enwrapped in the satisfying, comforting world of baking. I even had my own “Book of Shadows” filled with each recipe that came out successfully. Baking soon became my own version of magic, a reassuring sorcery I could rely on as I found my footing in the kitchen for the first time.

It was also an art, each perfect layer cake a performance with which I could impress friends and classmates and family members. Everyone at school knew me for my baked goods. My parents asked me to bake whenever we had people over. After 9/11, I raised hundreds of dollars for the Red Cross selling my cookies on the side of the road. I found a calling in baking, and with it a burgeoning sense of identity, empowerment, and purpose.

Until one day, another cousin made fun of me for it.

“You’re baking now?” he commented on one of my blog posts. “Are you gay or something?”

I hadn’t even thought that my love of baking could have anything to do with my sexuality—and at 13, I wasn’t yet sure that I was gay. I felt betrayed by this new hobby that had given me so much joy up to that point. Suddenly, it became a cause of great stress: Was baking going to be the thing that outed me to the world? There’s nothing worse than being outed before you can out yourself, let alone before you even know yourself.

I don’t speak to that cousin anymore. But in recent years, as I’ve started to open up about my sexuality, on the page and in my personal life, I often find myself thinking back to that interaction and how it must’ve been a turning point for me.

Maybe that cousin had a point: Even after RuPaul took over reality television, after gay marriage was legalized in the States, after openly gay political candidate Pete Buttigieg came into the public consciousness—baking somehow has always been gendered and fueled by sexual politics.

“The stereotype of baking being ‘gay’ has nothing to do with sexuality and everything to do with deeply rooted misogyny,” Buzzfeed food writer Jesse Szewczyk told me in an email. “Baking has been portrayed as a traditionally feminine activity, so naturally it has evolved into being labeled ‘gay’—as the two often overlap. Homophobia is born out of misogyny, and we cannot tackle one issue without addressing the other. Men who genuinely think that baking is ‘gay’ have been programmed to think that women belong in the kitchen, and that they bake to bring pleasure to men, not to themselves.”

I asked pastry chef Zac Young if he’s ever brushed up against people who hold these stereotypes, and his views on whether or not baking can ever be “gay.”

“If a sensitive, delicate, studied blend of art and science is gay, then YES,” he said. “There is a patience, a precision, an aesthetic, an intuitive intelligence in working in a field based on creativity within the confines of science that could be perceived as ‘soft,’ ‘feminine,’ ‘dainty.’ But calling pastry ‘gay’ would be akin to categorizing meat cookery as some super masculine, butch, barbaric, ‘me man, this fire, I cook buffalo” task that could only be executed by a brute neanderthal.”

One way to diffuse these nonsensical stereotypes is to lean into them, reclaim them. In the way that Nigella Lawson has declared home cooking a feminist act, there may be an opportunity here, too, to call baking a queer act.

As food writer John Birdsall wrote to me, “For the generation of LGBTQ Americans who made the great queer migration to coastal cities with welcoming communities, a family recipe for a layer cake, a torte, or a pie was one of the things they brought with them, or re-created from memory, to communities in San Francisco or New York City to share with their new chosen families. This was a generation rejected, usually, by blood family, so these heirlooms were bittersweet links to hometowns they could often never return to.”

The notion of “chosen families” has for decades been rife with deeper resonsances in the queer community. What happens when you come out to your blood family only to be cast away? This is one of the main fears of coming out of the closet, and why so many people wait until they’re financially and emotionally independent before doing so. Because that risk of losing home is always there.

This was a generation rejected, usually, by blood family, so these heirlooms were bittersweet links to hometowns they could often never return to.
John Birdsall

On the other hand, one way to preserve that sense of home is to bring it with you, wherever you end up—a recipe, a memory, a confrontation with homophobia in search of something better.

“I have always believed that baking breaks down barriers and brings people together to share their unique traits and flavors with others,” Brian Hart Hoffman, editor-in-chief of Bake from Scratch magazine, wrote to me. “A gay baker can certainly be gay, and bake, without the label ‘baking is gay.’ I like to think that baking is for everyone.”

Baking itself may not be gay, but it can certainly serve as a healing act in queer narratives. In many ways, my decision to lean into baking at 13, in spite of my cousin’s homophobic words, was the first step to leaning into my queerness and saying to the world, “Yes, I like to bake—so what?”


These cookies came about one night in my kitchenette when I was craving something sweet. I peered into my pantry and found dark chocolate chips and a bag of rainbow candy-coated fennel seeds that Jesse had given me early on in our friendship.

Before moving to New York City, I didn’t have a single gay friend. Now I have a posse. I call them my "Gaggle of Gays," all professional bakers, chefs and home cooks, and food writers. All confident in the aprons they put on every day at work.

I put on my own apron, tying it at the back like armor, and started on my go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe (one I've adapted over the years from this boss blogger recipe a friend once sent me).

After creaming the butter and sugars, then whipping the eggs almost into a meringue (to aerate them), I added a fearless tablespoon of vanilla (which I'm convinced is what makes this dough taste amazing). Finally, I mixed in the flour and baking soda and folded in the chocolate chips and fennel seeds, which dotted my blonde canvas rainbow. On parchment-lined half sheet pans, I scooped out 12 cookies with an ice cream scoop and baked them for 15 minutes exactly at 350°F.

As they cooled, they slowly deflated, leaving behind the most gorgeous crinkles, which in turn signaled to me that they would be just crisp at the edges, but unutterably chewy in the centers.

And they were.

The slight bitter, aniseed flavor of the candy balanced the dark chocolate and salt in a way that only Book-of-Shadows baking magic can achieve.

To my knowledge, I don’t believe that these cookies themselves are gay.

Have you ever experienced anything like this? Let us know in the comments below.
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Eric Kim is the Senior Editor and 'Table for One' columnist at Food52. Formerly the Digital Manager of FoodNetwork.com, he writes about food, travel, and culture and lives in a tiny shoebox in Manhattan with his dog, Quentin "Q" Compson Kim. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway.

64 Comments

Laura L. July 6, 2019
I am divorced, but haven't seen specific recipes I should make. I'm also a nurse, can't find nurse specific recipes. I could go on... You know what I Love? Food. Cooking,baking,seasoning,grilling,preparation,enjoying,sharing.
I Love your single person recipes, passion for food, you inspire me to try new techniques and ingredients like no other chef. I love your talent, Doesn't matter your age, nationality,sexual preference, zodiac sign, tax bracket or favorite color. Thank you, embrace your gift, and Please keep sharing it

 
GayPDXCooks June 23, 2019
Bake, baby, bake! Thanks for sharing. By the way, I’ve been known to send my husband to the grill to get him out of the way of my “gay baking.”
 
Shane L. June 14, 2019
I wasn’t going to comment on this post, as, I am typically incapable of commenting without reading the comments of others (I know there will be a lot of nasty ones on this post). I have however, found the strength, for now, to refrain from doing so.

My first act after reading, was to ask google home: “hey google, are most pastry chefs male or female?
Google home: My apologies, I don’t understand
Me: Well, neither do I

I seem to be a bit confused. Why, to my knowledge, are “professional” chefs mostly male, when most “home cooks” are female? Are females good enough to cook for men at home, but, not capable enough to be “professional”?
Like your father, my father, only cooked when it involved grilling! All else, was left to my mother.
If a person enjoys doing a thing, let them do the thing; please leave gender out of the thought process! I promise, I won’t judge a man for changing a diaper, cooking dinner, or baking a birthday cake. These things are simply life tasks that need to be done. Hell, if the lawn needed mowing, and my father was busy working, my mom would happily take care of it (hair in curlers, tank-top, short shorts, and cowboy boots).

Luckily for me, my family has always been very accepting, coming out was accepted with hardly a “glitch in the matrix”. I do, however, have several of my mom’s recipes, and enjoy whipping them up when I’m in need; most are savory dishes. My two favorite sweet treats: her oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, and her chocolate sheet pan flat cake (which was always cut into individual servings, wrapped up, and frozen. BTW, straight out of the freezer is my favorite way to enjoy that yummy treat).

Love who you love
Be a giver, not a taker
Spread love, not hate
Elevate your fellow people, love them, and leave the judgment to whatever magical sky wizard you believe rules the universe.

Peace out [email protected]#&es!

-Shane

P.S. I’m about six sheets to the wind, and apologize if this comment is complete nonsense ;)
 
Lenny D. June 18, 2019
sexuality should be left out of cooking, who gives a fuck what you are? I'm not gay but I respect choice.! I bake, cook, clean, do my nails shave my ass and it never crossed my mind to label my passion.
 
DEBBIE June 11, 2019
‘I felt betrayed by this new hobby that had given me so much joy up to that point.”

Yes, the betrayal was not your hobby but your cousin. Good thing you don’t see him any more. His loss. Bake on!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 12, 2019
Baking on.
 
Thamar T. June 11, 2019
I just had to comment. First of all, to anyone with any sense, homophobia is obviously stupid and vicious. Secondly, assigning gender labels to non-reproductive activities is foolish at best. However, even though the "gay" baking comment was homophobic and misogynistic, we are missing an important point here. Of course, baking is not gay or straight. (By the way, "straight" is a crooked term if used in contrast with gay. Rulers are straight, not people.) The important point is, there is nothing wrong with being gay (or not being gay for that matter). IF baking were gay thing, it would be a talent everyone should aspire to. Gay people would just be the blessed ones who could teach the rest of us. A person of any gender who cannot cook and bake is handicapped. Fortunately, most of us can learn to cook and bake, no matter what gender.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 12, 2019
Agreed.
 
jeff June 11, 2019
This is the silliest article I've ever seen on Food52. As a gay man - I have never seen anyone apply stereotypical descriptions of my creativity and fun in the kitchen. This includes my sons, their wives, my grandkids and many people (gay & straight) that have been invited and come to our (partner of 13+ years) home. They come for good food, fellowship (sorry if that's an offensive word) and fun. People who don't enjoy those three things probably won't come back. Food - and baking - should be a fun, enjoyable and entertaining show of love to those at the table - not divisive because of a label we want to attach to ourselves. Can't we help keep food what it is.... FUN?!?!?!?!?
 
gourmet B. June 11, 2019
It sounds like you didn't even read the piece, Jeff.
 
jeff June 11, 2019
I read it - that is why I wrote my comment.... Any baker (gay or straight) is above a "classification" based on who they go to bed with. Baking (and cooking) is about bringing joy to those you love - not some random description of who you are.
 
Carlos C. June 11, 2019
Food isn't fun for everyone, Jeff. You are very fortunate to not have to go through some of the issues many other people have had to go through with regards to food. Remember that privilege and be thankful, but please do not dismiss others' experiences.
 
jeff June 11, 2019
Well - you maybe right that I am fortunate but then you may not really know me and the context in which I form my thoughts/opinions. I was raised to believe that food is way to show love to the world - rather you agree with them or not. Food (baking or whatever) is not something that should not be weaponized buy any culture or lifestyle. Choose to love the food or not - but be honest with yourself and embrace the thoughts of anyone that you may not agree with.

 
gourmet B. June 12, 2019
To Carlos's point, it's ironic to me, jeff, that you're asking him to "embrace the thoughts of anyone that you may not agree with" yet undermining the writer's experiences. Even more ironic (and perhaps worse) that you yourself are a gay man, too. That's the smell of privilege, my friend, and the problem with bystander-effect proximity. Just because something didn't happen to you doesn't mean it's not real for someone else. Not to mention that everything you said up to this point is, I believe, agreed with in the article, which makes me question whether or not you can read if you did indeed read it.
 
Nick June 10, 2019
Eric: This is a terrific piece. The contrasts of baking providing you comfort and distress, creativity and constraint, is touching and telling. Your ability to be open and vulnerable is a real strength, and it helps this reader connect with food in a deeper way than I'd imagined. Thank you for sharing your experiences, so we can grow along as cooks, bakers, and people alongside you. Thank you also for sharing the cookies; they were delicious. :-)
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 12, 2019
Thank you so much, Nick. Glad you tasted the cookies. Between all the homophobia and bigotry, I was worried that the actual recipe would get buried!
 
Abraham S. June 10, 2019
Eric,

After reading your article, I was compelled to take 2 actions: First, make your recipe of cookies (minus the fennel seeds), which is a no brainer, since I’m a baker. The second action required courage, a colossal amount of fearlessness, and commitment. As a source of encouragement & empowerment, I can’t help but echo the impacting words of James Baldwin, “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced”. Finally, at the age of 52 years, I’m Gay.

Since June is World Pride Month, among many other things, we are celebrating 50 years of freedom to be true selves unapologetically and openly. I have decided to embrace myself & be proud of all the life lessons & all of my life achievements. No more shame, only Pride.

Thank you for sharing your truth.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 12, 2019
Abraham, this comment meant so much to me. I’m so proud of and happy for you.
 
Wendy June 10, 2019
Eric,

Firstly, thank you for all your recipes and articles. I have enjoyed them immensely and (after reading your recent New Orleans article) I hope your dear heart is healing.

Secondly, I am teaching my now 9 year old grandson to cook and bake and I am astounded by his skill and his memory. Often now, he will sleepover and when waking first, he will make breakfast up to the point of turning on the oven. He remembers the recipes and will make muffins, waffles, and most recently, Violet Bakery’s cinnamon buns. BTW, he prefers 3 cups of flour in that recipe. He loves to help in the kitchen and is very serious about learning and listening about why we cook and eat the way we do and why some people in our family
(us) like to cook and others just like to eat what we cook. We both agree that cooking and baking is our way of expressing our love and care of others,
I am so grateful and confident that his emotional intelligence will never allow someone else to shame him for doing something that he wants to do. We don’t use the word gay in our home because we don’t use the word straight. We may be a “traditional” family and our friends may have two moms or two dads but we have never labelled them. Unfortunately, we did have to explain homophobia and he could not believe that some people could be so ignorant.
I don’t think baking is gay, not that I care. Every person must eat to survive and feeding yourself is an important life skill. Why label those who can?

I am however concerned with the amount of artificial food colours in this recipe and the rainbow 🌈 recipes on this website. I will only use naturally derived food colours in my kitchen.

 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 12, 2019
Wendy, your comment made me cry. Thank you.
 
Smaug June 10, 2019
And in other news- Maida Heatter, who did as much as anyone ever did to make baking safe for all of mankind and womankind, has passed away at 102 years. For some reason F52 refused to print this as a hotline topic- I thought maybe someone was working on a story- actual news in the world of cooking being pretty rare- but it's been several days and nothing. RIP
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 10, 2019
Editing that story as we speak. :) Thanks, Smaug.
 
Smaug June 10, 2019
Okey dokey then- I'll look forward to it.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 10, 2019
<3 https://food52.com/blog/24242-maida-heatter-dies
 
Carlos C. June 10, 2019
And to this day, I sometimes doubt myself when it comes to food, thinking that I am doing something that is beneath me and not taking full advantage of my privilege to do something that exudes "greatness."
 
Carlos C. June 10, 2019
The first thing that comes to mind reading your recipe is how I came across silver candied fennel seeds in Pakistan. Next time I go there, I will definitely get some just to make these cookies.

This piece hits close to home. Growing up, cooking was considered a masculine activity in my family, especially if it was "grand" - impressive gourmet dishes with fanciful plating, recipes that pushed the envelope, presentations that forcefully penetrated the diner in much the same way that a "macho man" was supposed to make love to the object of his desire. My dad was furious when he found out that I spent an afternoon baking with a school friend (he became enraged when he found out that we following the activity with making friendship bracelets, and was ashamed when he discovered that I became known for making friendship bracelets for my classmates - crafting was the most feminine thing you could do).

But what I found most interesting was the objection to taking on what he considered the feminine role of feeding people. It was masculine if you your cooking was a performance to bring glory to yourself and establish yourself as superior to others in your craft/hobby. However, to cook for people for the simple joy of feeding them was entirely feminine. Men do not feed people. We are not supposed to be concerned with that. So you can imagine my dad's objection when I said I was going to bring cookies to my classmates for my birthday. His first question was "How many other boys have done that in your class?" He was concerned that I would get a reputation for feeding people in a way that was unacceptable for men.
 
Kitty June 10, 2019
Recently, I discovered a political candidate, whom I consider to be a great hope for the future, was coming down with a bad cold at the critical end of a tough race. I harvested greens from my garden with a suggestion that he make soup to kill the cold. But, he is so committed to feeding his wife and two little girls that he said he would save the greens for dinner the next night when they could eat the soup too. Only when I promised that I would bring him more in time for dinner did he make his soup that night. I had to laugh though, as his wife told me the family had leftovers for breakfast. So he got to feed them too.

The Gov of my state shopped, cooked, and fed his family on a daily basis until he became Gov.

I guess both of these guys are capable of great dishes but that is not what they are about. They find joy in the feeding, and use it to nurture and express their love.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 10, 2019
Carlos, crazy stories. Thanks for sharing.

Re: friendship bracelets, I used to love these: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/6f/10/02/6f100240c6a3aebadd66612d62cf5bc6.jpg
 
Meax June 9, 2019
This warmed my heart. Building my own gaggle of gays in Denver, luring them in one homemade meal and baked good at a time!
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 10, 2019
A house is not a home unless there is a gaggle under its roof.
 
Patricia June 9, 2019
Used to be that only men were accepted as the head chefs. Cooking is cooking.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 9, 2019
Cooking is cooking.
 
Westcoasty June 9, 2019
Oh, Eric. This broke my heart a little. Some of the best home cooks I know are straight men, so it would never occur to me to think that a man who bakes must be gay. I've never known being a foodie to be gender- or sexual orientation-dependent. But then, I've never understood homophobia, either. We love as our heart dictates. I'm so glad you decided to continue to share your gifts with the world.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 9, 2019
Thank you so much, Westcoasty.
 
Kitty June 9, 2019
Eric, I cried reading your article! I cried for you and all the others who had ever been hurt. I have been celebrating you, such a cool, nice and interesting person. It never occurred to me to wonder about your sexuality. Or care. It never occurred to me that baking might ever be construed as Gay. Holy heck, there are people that think that ??? Your cousin must be an outlier of one. Now I will care and be interested that you are Gay, because it will be part of celebrating you and your lovely recipes and articles ! But, this has got to be a first that I ever heard of sexuality ever being categorized to food creation.

While I am a good cook and baker, frankly it is my very straight husband who rules the kitchen as an expression of love for us gals. I think it might also be a kind of creative outlet, for him to shop and make the meals. When I think back on it, his dad was like that too. Going home to his dad’s cooking for a weekend meant an automatic 5 lb gain, loving every bite! 😋 and it was his dad who cooked the holiday feasts for the family and assorted friends, and family of the heart. My own dad was a very good cook and bread baker. He was forever thinking about how to improve his bread making. I was allowed to stay up late on bread making nights to eat a slice of his bread, hot from the oven.

My straight guy cousin next door used to bake in the summers when we were kids. I was the assistant and taster. In grad school, I lucked into a housemate who was a baker. He used to take our pie orders every night at 10:30 pm, and bake 3 pies from scratch every night for our midnight snack, and we took his made from scratch cookies to school for lunch. He is also Hetero.

Where I live, our Asian and Polynesian guys cook for their families and communities. I love my late classmate’s two (straight) sons who bake Chinese treats with their grandmother. I had to laugh that in making 40 recipes of Nian Gau for CNY, the younger brother thought to get a handheld cement mixer to help, lol. But, it is not limited to ethnicity as both my husband and his dad are white.

In reflecting, one of my dad’s best friends from college is gay. I am not sure he even cooked, much less baked. I think of him as a career guy.

Thank goodness you had the courage and wisdom to follow your talents and interests, and not be dissuaded or derailed by the cruel comment of your benighted cousin. Big hugs to you ! 🤗
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 9, 2019
Kitty, your comment is so thoughtful. Thank you for the kind words. Your husband and father-in-law sound like wonderful men. It is strange, isn't it, how we apply gender (and sometimes sexual, even ethnic) roles to certain roles and careers?
 
Kitty June 9, 2019
I am hoping you just had the one-time incredibly bad fortune to have that asinine remark made to you !

Cooking and baking are survival skills and can make a huge difference in physical and economic well-being. (Imho so is the ability to grow food. Currently having fun with French Dandelions, a 14” very dense half globe of tender mildly bitter greens that are cut and come again. And btw, fennel seems incredibly easy to grow. My neglected sprouted seedlings are doing well.)

For me, recipes and methodology are an endlessly fascinating hugely interesting subject. You are a source of Light in that world, so thank you for sharing and for being you !!!
 
Elisa.Bragunde June 9, 2019
I find this baking is gay so hard to grasp. My brother in law is a baker, and as far as I know is not gay. My italian granfather made the best canestrelli, my brother bakes his mother-in-law's birthday cakes, and my son's godfather, who is gay, can't bake to save his life (Gaby if you read this, we all know Pablo is the one who bakes in your house, but I love your pasta).
However when my hubby and I were contemplating a kitchen set for my son's christmas gift, a senior relative complained and suggested a ball instead. Of course the kitchen set was a hit, as well as the firetruck.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 9, 2019
Elisa, I'm so glad that you went with the kitchen set. The world needs more mothers like you.
 
Majed A. June 8, 2019
This is one of the reasons I had to dream a little in my region.
The moment I became a friend with my mixer everyone here started to gaze at me.
All I can say baking shaped my personality & I’m so grateful for it.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 8, 2019
Baking is dreaming.
 
BerryBaby June 8, 2019
OMGosh...NO! It's survival, it's needed daily in our lives no matter who you are! Why do people have to bring up a person's private life and attached it to every little thing??
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 8, 2019
I've never heard anyone describe baking as survival. I really love that.
 
Zoe H. June 8, 2019
Happy Pride, Eric! I love your reflective, lyrical take on food writing as well as the act of baking itself. Wonderful article.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. June 8, 2019
Thank you so much, Zoe.