Ryan Lee

Ryan Lee: Cooking up butch queen shenanigans

I occasionally pick up weekend shifts at a restaurant where I once worked full-time, and I love the quirky flow of kitchen conversations: 8-hour discussions composed of 15-second exchanges while clearing plates or passing food, primarily with participants but open to anyone in earshot, with therefore hilariously fluid contexts. This past Saturday we played an extended game of “What Kind of Gay Would I Be?”

“I already know I would be a bear,” one of the servers, Allen, said while stacking cups in the kitchen. “I have a gay roommate, and he’s told me I’m a bear.”

“I don’t think you’re big enough to be a bear,” I replied. “More like an otter.”

“An otter?!” he said as he drifted back toward the dining room, dumbfounded.

A little while later, Allen passed through the kitchen again, nodded in the direction of the gay manager, and asked, “What type of gay is Darryl?”

“Darryl’s a twink, emeritus,” I said, eliciting a grin from the adorable middle-aged manager.

On a later pass through, Allen asked about one of his fellow heterosexual co-workers: “What type of gay would Clay be?”

“Oh, Clay’s a diesel booty power bottom,” I said as I noticed Clay obliviously approaching the kitchen. “Ain’t that right, boo?”

“Of course,” Clay said matter-of-factly, knowing he was likely walking into a mischievous punchline.

“So what type of gay are you?” Allen asked.

“I’m a butch queen,” I said. “And that’s a legit, sanctioned category, not like these ones I’ve been making up.”

Over the years that I’ve worked at the restaurant, I’ve tried to put my own homoerotic spin on the inappropriate lusting that is common in kitchen culture, or construction culture, or barbershop culture, or any culture in which two or more men gather and inevitably discuss their sexual quests and coups.

“On your back” and “behind you,” are industry phrases that are said hundreds of time a day in a kitchen.

“Ohhh, just how I like it,” I’ll reply if I want to tease. If I’m in alpha male mode, I’ll go with the more misogynistic, “Well gone ahead and slide in then!”

I know my oversharing and unwanted advances have caused discomfort among some of my male co-workers, which disturbs my feminist sensibilities. But overall, most have appreciated the satire in my homo-mannishness, and many have generously shared how our friendship has expanded their perspective on LGBT people.

I thought I had a precise gauge of the boundaries of homoerotic humor, and while I spend much of the time kicking those borders, there are some places I won’t go. I shuddered a few months ago when two of my straight male co-workers were talking in the distance, and I overheard one of them make a joke about the other’s infant son growing up to be gay.

“And if he does, that will be OK,” the new father said.

Even though I was not part of the conversation and not even looking in their direction, I knew my co-worker was talking to me. When we passed each other a few minutes later, I gave a pat of gratitude on his back and said, “Appreciate that, daddy.”

“All day, boo.”