Hot Bread Kitchen supports women and gender expansive people through culinary training, food entrepreneurship programs, and a welcoming community in NYC. We sat down with a group of LGBTQ+ identifying Hot Bread Kitchen members to discuss their experiences as queer individuals, both in their personal lives and in the context of the culinary industry.
During this conversation, members Kyla, Kisha, Sage, and Nathaniel, along with culinary instructor Chef Diamond, compared and contrasted the many ways queerness plays a role in their lives. With all the participants being from different backgrounds, ages, and identities, the conversation culminated into an insightful exploration of the diversity of queer identity. In celebration of PRIDE this June and all year long, we are so excited to share these reflections with our community!
The world goes around and around, and as people start to come out with different terminologies, we have to respect each other. There’s always gonna be new things, new ways people want to be addressed and things change. It just has to be mutual respect.Kisha, Hot Bread Kitchen member
How do you identify?
[Chef Diamond] I identify as a cisgender woman and in regards to orientation I use the word queer. The reason why I choose that word is because it feels more aligned with how I navigate the world of performed gender.
[Kyla] I normally don’t label myself, so I don’t usually say I’m bisexual or queer, I just say I’m Kyla! Cause I just like who I like.
[Sage] I’m Sage, I am nonbinary and also identify as queer.
[Kisha] Well I’m just a lesbian. I’m old school. I’m 44 years old, you know, that’s [the term] we used back then–queer, lesbian, gay, it was like a universal thing. There weren’t so many different titles like there are now. But, you know, the world goes around and around, and as people start to come out with different terminologies, we have to respect each other. There’s always gonna be new things, new ways people want to be addressed and things change. It just has to be mutual respect.
[Nathaniel] My name is Nathaniel and I identify as a transgender, heterosexual man. It’s tough being born in the wrong body. It’s a little scary and it makes you want to hide away, but I put myself out there more so I know all the different experiences, and maybe I can relate to it.
[Chef Diamond] Can I ask how you felt when I saw your deadname when you arrived at training and I had you go change your name tag?
[Nathaniel] Honestly, it was a relief. Because I knew that you already know and that you would be an advocate for me.
[Chef Diamond] Advocating for you was first and foremost about safety. If you’re in your head because people are deadnaming you or misgendering you, you can’t focus on knife skills, you can’t focus on the task at hand. Making sure we set the tone.
What does it mean to you to find queer community in the kitchen and at work?
[Chef Diamond] I feel like queer community in kitchens makes the kitchen feel friendly and safer.
[Kisha] It just feels a little more supportive.
[Sage] Mmhmmm. You know who has your back and who you can confide in. If you feel like you are falling short a little bit or if you feel like you aren’t being seen or heard, there’s another voice that’s amplifying yours in the kitchen.
[Kyla] My previous workspace was the first place I worked in that 90% of the people were queer. I definitely felt more comfortable versus past jobs where there were a lot of straight men and, like, no women. That was the last job that I was like, “Wow I actually feel comfortable here and don’t need to constantly over explain myself and who I like.” It just felt comfortable and natural.
How does your queerness show up in the kitchen (or in past jobs you’ve had) vs. in your personal life? Is that different?
[Kisha] I’m passionate about everything in my life. I love cooking, I’m gay as hell cooking, I ride motorcycles and it’s all equal.
[Chef Diamond] For me, queerness in the kitchen, it’s tricky. There’s not a lot of women in the kitchen, and then for me, starting my career in Las Vegas, there is so much sexual harassment from men that my queerness became like a shield. You know? Like you’re not gonna touch my butt in the walk-in, you’re not gonna whisper things in my ear when I’m working. And it became a sort of protection. But as far as work vs. my personal life, I’m pretty much the same everywhere. At first I was worried there needed to be some unique boundary, but I am the same everywhere because I don’t like having to turn parts of my identity off. In the same way I can’t turn my Blackness off, or my latinidad off, or my fatness off, I can’t turn these things about my identity off, so it never occurred to me to be less queer or less gay.
[Sage] I’m pretty stealthy at work. Because, I’m neither masculine nor feminine at work, I just show up as myself. My identity is exclusive from my professional life. I like to keep them separate.
[Chef Diamond] I hear that and I feel that. I think because I’m such a political person, it’s important to reveal [my identity] because I don’t want to share an unsafe space, even if I’m not at risk of being harmed. I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable in their own body or to say something, and have that hurt any relationships… Sometimes it’s about relationship building, about saying, “This is who I am and who I come from.”
I hope that there will be a better support system for queer people in the kitchen–one that doesn’t have to be established already. I hope that the queer people behind me coming forward feel that love and that sense of community, because they deserve that just like I deserve that and all of us deserve that. My hope is more love.Sage, Hot Bread Kitchen Member
What are your hopes for the future?
[Kyla] I hope I feel more comfortable in my identity, because I think I am still kind of uncomfortable. My family is super, super strict Christian, church every Sunday. And that’s all I’ve ever known, and there’s no one in my family who identifies as queer, gay, whatever. So my friends have been the people I feel like I’ve been able to talk to about that, and I feel like I’ve been… I hate the word “closeted,” but, maybe sheltered, so I don’t outwardly feel like I can say this is who I am, unless someone asks me. But I want to be more open. I feel like I just want to be more comfortable and free.
[Chef Diamond] And it’ll take you whatever time it’s supposed to take you.
[Sage] I hope that there will be a better support system for queer people in the kitchen–one that doesn’t have to be established already. I hope that the queer people behind me coming forward feel that love and that sense of community, because they deserve that just like I deserve that and all of us deserve that. My hope is more love.
[Nathaniel] I hope to get more comfortable with not using my dead identity. Because coming from a lot of different jobs and stuff, you don’t know if that place is able to do that. There are some jobs where you have to be just gay or straight and I’m not either. Or you have to be a female because that’s what you were assigned at birth, and I’m not cool with that. So being comfortable is definitely important, and also getting respect and being in a community where you have someone to uplift you when you’re feeling down.
[Kisha] [My hope for the future is] just to see more people like us in every building you walk into, every restaurant and kitchen–to see that we’re all queer folks even though we all identify a little differently than each other. Because for us, just to see people like us doing their thing and showing off their skills, you know, becoming more successful in many different businesses, that’s really what I want to see. That’s what makes me happy.
[Chef Diamond] My hope for the future as an educator is, first and foremost, to cultivate and create environments where people in the LGBTQ+ community can not be the “other” or the specialized group. Where there is a standard of information across the board, and there are just some unique things that jobs and programs are responsible to know. So my hope for the future is that companies and jobs will continue to grow and expand how they talk about these things and train their staff and people. Another hope for the future that I have is that I can continue to present myself identity first, all of the ways, and not feel shamed, so that people who relate to me can see me and also don’t feel shamed.