"Cooking for pleasure and not having to worry about feeding your family is not my experience of what it feels like to be queer."

By Marja-Lewis Ryan, as told to Mary-Frances Heck
June 23, 2020
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Courtesy of Showtime

This story is part of "Queer As Food," a series that explores the role of food in LGBTQ+ communities.

I love the idea of queer coffee shops and other queer spaces that revolve around food. I think there are a lot of lesbian chefs out here that sort of make their restaurants not exclusive by any means, but there's something queer about them. And I think the person deciding what's what makes a huge difference. You can feel it when you walk into a space, you know you're in a queer space. I do anyway. I know when I walk into a queer chef’s space.

In bar spaces it's hard to know somebody's roots, whereas when someone's cooking for you or you're cooking for somebody, your roots are exposed. That intimacy, I think, is the idea of feeling like that's your family—a chosen family—and that has always been a big theme of The L Word: Generation Q. I think a huge part of the queer experience is finding your own people. I have described it to my own parents as feeling like I was adopted, where my own biological parents don't know the history of my people and I have to go seek that. Parents can be supportive or not, depending on where you come from, but regardless, you still have to go find your people.

My trans friends, nonbinary friends, all of them, we need each other. I always think about that—we don't have enough players to field the team, but collectively we do. I think that defining queer spaces is helpful. I think that that signals something. Queer identity—as it continues to grow and shift and become more inclusive—I really want to be a part of that. I want to be a creative that is expressing that vision and that version of our community better than one that is so exclusive that my trans dudes feel like they can't come. They can totally come. They should be there.

Recently, we went away to Lake Arrowhead and it was five couples—so ten adult lesbians and seven kids among us. And that's seven kids all under the age of four. We had so much fun cooking in rotation. Everyone made their own meals, we had ricotta pancakes which were really delicious. My friend Mel made really good fried chicken one night, I made monkey bread that everyone was really furious about. We had to hide it from Sam because she was getting a stomach ache, but also couldn't stop eating it. Food was a huge part of our experience there, because we just shared a house.

It was not an extravagant trip, but the food was the highlight for sure, and it was constant. It was this relay of cooks coming in and out of the space. I think we all sort of took over a day with each family kind of rotating like, "You'll do today, I'll do tomorrow," and it was just so fun. We hadn't really done that, that hasn't been our tradition, but we are sure to make it one. It was really disconnected from the world and really connected among us. It was very tribal, it felt very old fashioned for a bunch of youngish queers.

Cooking for pleasure and not having to worry about feeding your family is not my experience of what it feels like to be queer. It feels like we actually have a huge family that we are all constantly feeding. It feels like the opposite, actually.

Because I've been cooking for most of the kids’ lives, the oldest one, who's four, calls me Aunt Cookie, because I always come over with cookies. And I came over the other day and he got shy and he asked his mom, he was like, "Mama, will you ask Marja what she got? What's in the bag?" And I was like, "It's ciabatta." And he ran inside and, like, toasted it and put butter on it.

There's just something really old fashioned about the expression of queer food in my friend group that I have always been longing for. I have a deep nostalgia for my own childhood. And my mother is Italian and my half-Italian family, they're all incredible cooks, and it always smells like food in their house. It's very much a part of my DNA. And I always wanted to have a house like that, where you can come over and there will always be something. There was always cake in my grandmother's cake stand. Like why? Who's coming? But somebody's coming, that's the truth, somebody is coming.