Arnold Myint does not have a coming out story. His father, Win Myint, a math professor at Tennessee State University, led his son to ballet lessons and figure skating competitions, and met young Arnold’s burgeoning interests with encouragement.
“My coming out story is that I never did,” the son said. “I was born and was very open.”
Myint, 44, has become a chef, competing on “Food Network Star” and “Top Chef,” and opening several restaurants, including International Market in his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. As a child, he remembers rollerblading and running with bags of rice in the Thai restaurant his parents ran there, and drawing inspiration from his mother, Patti’s cuisine.
When Myint was in her twenties, her mother hosted big Thanksgiving dinners at their house. These gatherings of 30 to 40 guests included parents and “people in Nashville who had no place to go, or students who could not 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 her family is impractical, so they learn to adapt. The Friendsgiving celebrations they host or join can be a rainbow trickle cast in the dark.
Baker April Anderson, who along with his wife Michelle Anderson owns Detroit’s Good Cakes and Bakes bakery, said her former girlfriends were always a little shocked by her family’s welcome and acceptance during the their Thanksgiving celebrations, a fact she doesn’t take. for granted.
“My side is a beautiful side, but I also know the other side,” said Anderson, 48. “I know so many people who have been left out, or 40 to 50 year olds who have to live in the closet, waiting for their parents to die so they can come out.
Friendsgiving is more than just a Thanksgiving riff. This is an opportunity to bring together a family of like-minded people, some of whom may feel rejected by the households in which they grew up. It also allows LGBTQ people to make room for themselves to participate in traditions that might otherwise seem unwelcoming.
Tony Ortiz, a chef in the Brooklyn neighborhood of New York, described this process as “removing the masks we wear outside of our community.” Ortiz added that “creating a space filled with good food and unrestricted joy, a space where we can be authentic ourselves without holding back” is “a special kind of feeling.”
The gift of friends, in this case, is not an alternative – it is its own celebration of belonging.
“I think the idea of a Friendsgiving is very strange, especially considering how important the chosen family is to the queer community,” said Ortiz, 30, who uses the singular pronoun they pronounce. “Not even important, that’s often all we have. Many of us are unable to form strong bonds with our families because of our homosexuality. It makes me think about how strong my bond with the family I have chosen is, how much deeper that connection is because of our shared identity. It may feel deeper than blood.
Ordinarily, Ortiz would celebrate Thanksgiving with his blood family at his grandparents’ ranch in Calaveras County, Calif., Cooking three or four turkeys in an outdoor oven their grandfather had built. But this year, due to a busy schedule, Ortiz will be reuniting with his family of choice in Brooklyn and making candied persimmons and calabaza en tacha, a Mexican dish of candied pumpkin.
“I fully expect 8 inch heels and some late night DIY performance,” Ortiz said.
Also at this Friendsgiving dinner will be their friend Zacarías González, who will probably make a carrot flan. “I love what I grew up with when it comes to desserts,” said González, 37, who uses the singular pronoun they have. But, they added, experimenting with different ways of interpreting desserts from Latin American countries is part of the joy of Friendsgiving, a time to move away from traditional Thanksgiving dishes.
This year, González is especially looking forward to hosting the Friendsgiving Brooklyn festivities at Auxilio Space, an intersectional food-focused community center they created with chef Kia Damon and artist Mohammed Fayaz. Auxilio means “help” in Spanish and that is the purpose of the space, González said: to lend resources to “queer, black, trans and / or indigenous communities of color.”
For many, Friendsgiving is a time not only to celebrate new bonds, but also to reject old food traditions that seem out of sync.
“My first Thanksgiving was with my family, but because we were immigrants it was more of a novelty than anything else,” said Jon Kung, chef and star of TikTok. “I never found out how serious the holidays were until I started dating other men. They were bringing me home for their awkward family Thanksgiving.
It wasn’t until their late teens that Kung, 37, who uses the singular pronoun they pronounce, discovered the unattached celebration of Friendsgiving. After immigrating from Hong Kong to Toronto, Kung moved to Detroit, where they found a different kind of family while working at a gay bar called Gigi’s.
“Mohawk cherry brandy, that was our thing,” they said, referring to the blows the rough, gritty-voiced “bar mum” of the staff was yelling at them to take and come home. at their home. It was most nights. But on Thanksgiving, Gigi’s employees gathered around a table for dinner. “Because it was Detroit, it was a diverse crowd,” Kung said.
The food was not as diverse. The menu included staples like sweet potato pie and au gratin potatoes. All the drag queens joined in the cakes and pies. Since Kung wasn’t a cook at the time, they brought cutlery – something to add. “It was this attempt to recreate the Thanksgiving family,” they said. “It was just at our house bar.”
This year, Kung could cook a turkey congee at home in Detroit for Thanksgiving or spend the week in New York City with his partner. “Friendsgiving was such a nice thing to have, but at the same time, Thanksgiving is not something that I need,” they said. “It’s a huge part of America that I don’t feel connected to. I never grew up here. And growing up, “my home life wasn’t great at first, so anything more family-oriented, I just don’t really feel connected. “
“Santa is not real and the turkey is dry,” they added.
In 2018, the year Myint’s mother died, he hosted a Friendsgiving dinner at his new loft in Nashville. He had recently moved there from Los Angeles to work with his sister Anna at International Market, a restaurant that honors the one their parents ran for 45 years.
Only her new neighbors came to this dinner, a departure from the lush Friendsgivings – like her mother’s – that Myint had usually organized.
“Being in America and the South, my mom was always proud to celebrate July 4th and Thanksgiving,” he said. “These are the two days she didn’t work.”
His mother always had to have a ham, he said. There was also a huge turkey with all the trimmings, as well as mussels, a shrimp cocktail, and the dish everyone associated with Patti: sangkaya, a Thai dessert with egg custard that she slowly cooked in the oven. steamed in mini hollowed-out pumpkins, which could be eaten whole after completing the caramel-laden wibble-wobble inside. “It was our pumpkin pie.”
Today’s Myint Friendsgivings aren’t all that different from those big family Thanksgiving dinners. There’s just as much food, and the guest list is just as Technicolor. Over the years, it has included a parade of figures from the LGBTQ community, including artist friends such as Aurora Sexton, Brooke Lynn Hytes, Kameron Michaels, Manila Luzon, Raja Gemini and Trixie Mattel.
Myint, whose alter ego is a drag queen named Suzy Wong, reflects on how his parents always raised him – conjuring up images of an idyllic family life that many seek at the Friendsgiving table.
“They would come to my competitions and sit in the front row to watch me compete,” he said. “My father was in a wheelchair at the time. When I was crowned Miss Gay America, he stood up and took the stage with me. It reminded me of when I was skating, but instead of skates it was heels.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.