Callum Angus explains how cooking and his boyfriend have helped him understand femininity as a Female-to-Male transsexual.
When I was growing up, my self-employed, stay-at-home father did most of the cooking. He would make breakfast in the morning, pack my lunch for school, and have a simple but nutritious dinner on the table for 5pm when my mother walked in the door from a long day at work. His meals were filling and tasty, but it was generally understood that my mother was the real cook. She cooked all holiday meals. Hors d’ouerves and roasts, gravies and pies—sometimes for extended family groups as large as 15—were all made by her single-handedly. Come Christmas, our kitchen morphed into a one-woman production line where from the moment she got home from work until late at night she churned out hundreds of incredibly detailed and delicious cookies to give to friends and freeze for family.
I spent the first 20 years of my life as a woman, during which time I strongly resisted all my parents’ culinary lessons. But then a funny thing happened: After growing up a feminist in a family of female bread-winners and graduating from a women’s college, I finally admitted that I was transgender, a Female-to-Male transsexual (FTM). I decided that I needed to begin medically transitioning to become a man.
About a year ago, I was beginning the long road toward changing my physical self to match my mental male self-image. I came out to friends and family, started hormone replacement therapy, and had “top surgery”—a procedure akin to a double-mastectomy to give FTMs a masculine chest.
As my body changed, so did my attitude toward stereotypically feminine past times. I went from being a woman who rejected the very idea of learning to cook, sew, or plant a garden, to a self-assured man proud to flaunt his femininity and take on these pursuits with gusto. Once I figured out that I was transgender, I finally felt liberated to display my femme self because no person could ever mistake me for being female now, no matter how flamboyant I am or how Sandra Lee-esque I may act.*
Nowhere has this been made more apparent to me than in my relationship with my boyfriend, Greg. In addition to being a transgender male, I also happen to be gay. As most readers will hopefully understand, gender identity and sexual orientation are often two different issues that have nothing to do with each other. I have always been attracted to men far more than women, and the intensity of my romantic and sexual connections to men have always exceeded those with women.
Greg is a gay man and as such he dates other men, including FTMs like myself. He is also a brilliant musician and passionate activist focused on building community around the arts, and as my boyfriend he has shown me a love and affection I wasn’t sure I’d ever find as a transman. He writes songs and poetry about our relationship; he nursed me back to health after top surgery; we have fantastic sex. We are compatible or complementary in most ways, except that one domestically-charged realm: the kitchen.
I cook most meals for Greg and myself. Mostly, I enjoy it. I love coming up with new ideas for dinner or getting the chance to try out a new recipe on him. Some of my mother’s cooking lessons must have snuck past my adolescent eye-rolling, because within the last few years I’ve begun developing my own repertoire and undertaking more ambitious recipes. Apple and blackberry cake, blackened mahi mahi, potato Rösti, homemade bagels—cooking has become something I do for fun, though I’m still far from perfect. Many of my attempts flop, like the plum cake I made with olive oil instead of vegetable oil. (Who knew the difference was so important?) But when it appears as if there’s nothing to eat in the house, I’m the one whipping up a breakfast-for-dinner scenario.
Greg is a comparative culinary nincompoop. He enjoys Kraft mac and cheese with hotdogs just as much as a Mediterranean pasta with Kalamata olives and artichoke hearts. I’ve taught him that dishes are only clean when washed with real soap and showed him how to fry an egg.
Not only did Greg never learn how to cook for himself or others, but it’s obvious that at no point did anyone even think of teaching him. Just like gender-segregated home economics classes taught for years, the kitchen is where women learn how to cook for their men. Even if you did take a co-ed home-ec class in the last 15 years or so, it’s still considered uncool for the male students to succeed in the art of making a souffle. Or even a salad. There are men out there who are excellent chefs, but in general it is a skill that women are groomed to take on in a household, from Easy-Bake Ovens to super market packaging.
And yes, I have considered the possibility that I am over-analyzing this situation (anxiety over excessive second guessing being another gift from my female socialization). But with the gender imbalances we feel in our lives, what I’ve realized really matters is that we feel them. Some pundit or well-meaning friend could tell me over and over again that they disagree and I’m making it all up in my head, but I still feel the simmering resentment as I slow cook the tomato sauce. No amount of nay-saying is going to put that to rest.
So the personal becomes political. The solutions to our problems and to a patriarchy so used to having its sandwiches made by women lie within women, or former women as in my own life. Whether you’re gay or straight, transgender or not, teach that man to make french toast the right way (hint: encrust it with granola.) It’s the only way to level the kitchen’s playing field. Then maybe with the next generation, he’ll be the one pushing the family recipes on reluctant youngsters. Men and women should be able to share the burdens and pleasures of the kitchen for the sake of well-rounded families, where children can grow up fully capable of embracing both stereotypically feminine and masculine past times within themselves. And it’s not just all for the children. Cooking is fun, and when it’s shared in a partnership it’s even more fun, delicious, and sexy.
*DISCLAIMER: I’m not saying it’s bad to be a femme woman and proud of it. However, I always felt extremely uncomfortable presenting that way, or any way while female, and the supreme relief and happiness I feel in my self-identity now is testament enough to the fact that this was the right choice for me, but not for everyone!
Callum Angus is a transgender women’s college alum and award-winning freelance journalist. He organizes for and writes about LGBT issues and transgender rights, and hosts and produces the podcast “TransWaves” at www.transyouthequality.org. His work has appeared in the Valley Citizen, a thriving weekly newspaper of the American west.