Arnold Myint doesn’t have a story to come. His father, Vin Myint, a mathematics professor at Tennessee State University, took his son to ballet classes and figure-skating competitions, and met young Arnold’s budding interests with encouragement.
“My coming-of-age story is one that I never did,” said the son. “I was born and I was very open.”
Mint, 44, became a chef competing on “Food Network Star” and “Top Chef” and opened several restaurants, including International Market, in his hometown, Nashville, Tennessee. He recalls, as a child, roller-skating and running around with bags of rice at Thai restaurants, his parents running there, and finding inspiration in his mother, Patti’s cooking.
When Mint was 20, his mother hosted a big Thanksgiving dinner at his house. These gatherings of 30 to 40 guests included relatives and “people from Nashville who didn’t have a place to go, or students who couldn’t afford to go home,” he said. “Everyone was always invited. It was a rainbow table” – a kind of Friendsgiving.
For many LGBTQ people, the kind of hug Myint received from his family is unacceptable, so they learn to adapt. The Friendsgiving celebrations they host or attend can be a rainbow net in the dark.
Baker April Anderson, who along with his wife, Michelle Anderson, owns Detroit bakery Good Cakes & Bakes, said that his past girlfriends were always a little surprised by how welcomed and accepted their family was at their Thanksgiving celebrations. Was, a fact that she doesn’t take for granted.
“My side is a beautiful side, but I know the other side too,” Anderson, 48, said. Waiting for their parents to die so they can come out.”
Friendsgiving is more than just a crack at Thanksgiving. It is an opportunity to gather a family of like-minded people, some of whom may feel rejected by the families in which they grew up. It allows LGBTQ people to carve out space for themselves to participate in traditions that might otherwise feel unwanted.
Tony Ortiz, a chef in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, described the process as “removing the masks we wear outside of our community.” Ortiz said that “creating a place full of good food and unrestricted enjoyment, a place where we can be our authentic selves without holding back” “is a special kind of feeling.”
Friendship, in this case, is not a substitute – it is its own celebration of belonging.
“I think the idea of Friendsgiving is kind of weird, especially when you consider how important the chosen family is to the queer community,” said Ortiz, 30. “Not even important – sometimes that’s all we have. Many of us are unable to form strong ties with our families because of our queerness. It tells me about the strength of my bond with my chosen family. It makes me think, how deep is this connection because of our shared identities. It can feel deeper than blood.”
Typically, Ortiz would be celebrating Thanksgiving with his blood family on his grandparents’ farm in Calaveras County, Calif., cooking three or four turkeys in an outdoor oven that his grandfather had made. But this year, due to the busy schedule, Ortiz will gather with his chosen family in Brooklyn and make candied persimmons and calabaza en tacha, a Mexican candied pumpkin dish.
“I’m totally looking forward to wearing 8-inch heels and a late night DIY drag performance,” Ortiz said.
Also at this Friendsgiving dinner will be his friend Zacharias Gonzalez, who will probably make carrot beans. “I grew up with sweets, which I love,” said 37-year-old Gonzalez, who uses the singular. But, he said, experimenting with different ways of interpreting the desserts of Latin American countries is part of the joy of Friendsgiving, a time to break away from traditional Thanksgiving dishes.
This year, Gonzalez is especially looking forward to hosting Friendsgiving festivities at Oxilio Space in Brooklyn, an all-round, food-focused community center he started with chef Kia Damon and artist Mohamed Fayaz. Oxilio is Spanish for “help” and that is the goal of the space, González said — to lend resources to “indigenous communities of queer, black, trans and/or color.”
For many, Friendsgiving is a time not only to celebrate new bonds, but also to reject old culinary traditions that feel out of sync.
“My first Thanksgiving was with my family, but because we were immigrants, it was more of a novelty than anything,” said chef and TikTok star John Kung. “I didn’t realize the seriousness of the holiday until I started dating other men. They were bringing me home to their weird family Thanksgiving.
It wasn’t until his late teens that Kung, 37, who uses the singular they pronoun, discovered the immoral celebration of Friendsgiving. After immigrating from Hong Kong to Toronto, Kung moved to Detroit, where he found another type of family, working at a gay bar called Gigi.
“Mohawk cherry brandy, that was our thing,” he said, referring to shots that the rough, hoarse voice of the staff would yell “Bar Mom” to get them home and go. That was most nights. But on Thanksgiving, Gigi’s employees would gather around a table for dinner. “Because it was Detroit, it was a diverse crowd,” Kung said.
The food was not that varied. The menu included holiday staples like sweet potato pie and scalloped potatoes. All the drag queens will pitch in with cake and pie. Since Kung was not a cook at the time, they brought cutlery – something to chip in. “It was an attempt to thank the family,” he said. “It happened at our house bar.”
This year, Kung can cook a turkey congee at home in Detroit for Thanksgiving or spend the week in New York with his partner. “It was a great thing to be friends, but at the same time, Thanksgiving isn’t something I need,” he said. “It’s a big part of America that I don’t feel a connection to. I never grew up here.” And while growing up, “my home life didn’t have a great start, so whatever is more family-oriented, I don’t really feel a connection to it.”
“Santa is not real and the turkey is dry,” he said.
In 2018, the year Myint’s mother died, they hosted a Friendsgiving dinner at their new loft in Nashville. He had recently moved back from Los Angeles to the international market to work with his sister, Anna, at a restaurant that pays homage to his parents who ran for 45 years.
Only his new neighbors came to that dinner, which, like his mother – was a departure from the Friendsgivings – which Myint usually hosted.
“Being in America and the South, my mom was always proud to celebrate the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving,” he said. “Those were the two days he didn’t work.”
He said his mother always had to have a ham. There was also a giant turkey on all sides, as well as mussels, shrimp cocktail and the dish everyone associated with the bar: sangkaya, a Thai egg-custard dessert that he slow-steamed into hollowed-out mini pumpkins, which Maybe eaten whole after finishing the caramel-laden wibble-wobble inside. “That was our pumpkin pie.”
Myint’s Friendsgiving today isn’t much different from those big Thanksgiving dinners with the family. That’s all there is to the food, and the guest list is exactly like Technicolor. Over the years, it has featured a parade of prominent people from the LGBTQ community, including artist friends such as Aurora Sexton, Brooke Lynn Heights, Kameron Michaels, Manila Luzon, King Gemini and Trixie Mattel.
Myint, whose alter ego is a drag queen named Suzy Wong, comes back to how her parents always raised her up – conjuring up images of an idyllic life that many are searching for at the Friendsgiving table.
“They used to come to my pageants and sit in the front row to watch me compete,” he said. “My father was in a wheelchair at that time. When I was crowned Miss Gay America, he stood up on the stage with me. It reminds me of when I used to skate, but instead of skates, they were heels.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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