I’ve lived on the Sapphic side of the street since I first watched old movies on TV and fell in love not with Spencer Tracy but with Katharine Hepburn. Since then, being lesbian has been as comfy as my Easy Spirit sneakers, relaxed fit jeans and beat up copy of “The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For.” Until I recently discovered “Gay Men Don’t Get Fat,” the new book by Simon Doonan, the humorist, writer and ambassador-at-large of Barneys New York.
This tongue-in-check volume did more than provide me with food for thought. Straight people and queer people chow down differently, Doonan reveals. Foods are straight, gay or lesbian, and if you want to be fit and trim, you should mix them up (he calls this going bisexual). Meatloaf and mashed potatoes? As hetero as John Wayne. Macaroons and baby arugula salad? As gay as, well, Doonan himself. Organic olive oil, wheat germ or crusty whole wheat bread? Meet the faves of any self-respecting lesbian.
Perusing this groundbreaking work (with more than a grain of salt), I made an earth-shattering discovery: I don’t fit into the sexual orientation of my (supposed) food group. Sure, I dip bread into olive oil, but it’s rarely organic or that crusty, and I haven’t touched base with wheat germ since back in the day of womyn’s music festivals. I’m as likely to scarf down potatoes, a salad, or horrors, even spaghetti or a hamburger, as I am to dig into a black bean burrito (which Doonan says is lesbian).
It was painful enough when T.S. Eliot in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” asked, “Do I dare to eat a peach?” (What could be gayer than munching on this fruit?) And many of us are still reeling from the primordial knowledge that we are what we eat. (I’m a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup!) But, OMG, Doonan has added almost more than can be digested into this existential stew. Now that I know the truth about the proclivities of food groups, I must, from soup to nuts, (a junk food addict’s tongue firmly in check) rediscover my identity.
Yesterday I dined like a hetero woman (nibbling avocado for breakfast) and a straight man (lapping up mac and cheese). I’m good friends with many types of folks, but, who knew that I’d fit in so well with the (hetero) ladies who lunch or (straight) men at sports bars? It was as if I were a different species than I thought I was. What, I wondered, should I do, on gaining this new wisdom – shop for stilettos, watch “Transformer” movies?
This soul-searching brought to mind a trip I made some years ago to New Orleans. There, I succumbed to my love of beignets. I love Bette Davis, Cole Porter and Madonna, but was I really a gay man (at least when it came to pastry)?
This journey of self-discovery is as daunting to straight folks as it is to us. “I don’t know who I am anymore!” my straight friend Penny told me over the phone, “I hate meat loaf and love fruit and arugula, so that makes me a gay male? But I love mashed potatoes, so I’m straight?”
“I must be bi,” she added, “any good cook would be.”
Since what I eat changes with my mood, my orientation must be (to take a bite from Hemingway) a “movable feast!”
Sure, Doonan riffs on old stereotypes of LGBT folk and foodie tropes. But, before pelting him with stale rolls or pouring olive oil over his head, let’s remember: he’s humorously spinning off of the three-decade-old book “French Women Don’t Get Fat.” In a world filled with seemingly unsolvable problems, being challenged to master the gay/straight eating conundrum is manna from heaven.