Pride In The Kitchen: Where Are All The Lesbian Chefs?
Can you name three local Filipino out lesbian chefs?
If you cannot even name one, do not fret. I am a lesbian and I only know two who do not talk about it and suspect one more.
Surely, there must be more.
Despite the outward expressions of yearly Pride, much remains to be done. People talk about the Philippines as a country that is accepting of LGBTQIs, but recent studies have shown that LGBTQIs continue to experience harassment and violence at work, in schools, in the streets and even in their own homes. It appears that acceptance is predicated on a complicit silence. Yes, we will join you in your fun colorful marches but do not ask for the rights we enjoy—starting a family, employment benefits, housing, adopting children, and not to be harassed in the streets because, you know—you’re gay.
The author as activist and advocate
When I first embarked on a culinary career, I had already spent many years as an LGBTQI activist. Thus, I was not concerned anymore about coming out or toning down my gender expression as I entered this new adventure. Naturally too, I kept a critical SOGIE eye while learning the intricacies of consommé.
As my partner and I put up our first restaurant, Adarna Food & Culture, and in the process got to know more people in the industry, I started looking for the lesbians. Like moving to a new country, I was looking for kababayans who could toss a nod my way and acknowledge our existence in this territory. I met a few gay chefs but still no lesbians.
It baffled me. I mean come on, an industry where you get to eat at work? And wear a jacket every day? What lesbian would say no to that?
Given this situation, I started asking around and arrived at some possible reasons why lesbians seem to be rarer than a properly cooked panna cotta.
First, “Let’s pretend your sexuality doesn’t exist.”
Sexuality would probably not matter in a fully-automated environment. But we work closely with people, communicating with our bodies and somehow the idea of sharing the same space with a lesbian appears to be threatening to some people. Please dispel these unfounded fears. We really are not interested to hear about your sex life.
The author’s love for antiques, historical mementos, and vintage items
A spread of classic Filipino dishes prepared by the author at Feliza Café y Taverna
Seriously though, sexuality and sensuality are in full display in the kitchen as science and art come together in the creation of food. Each plate, although standard, remains intimately personal. When an environment insists on one’s invisibility, it dehumanizes the person and degrades the collective spirit. Silence is its own oppression.
Second, women are perceived to be more of a liability, more so if she is a lesbian.
Majority of kitchens employ men because women are perceived to be physically weaker, more sensitive, have kids, and menstruate once a month. Add lesbian to the list and that’s about it.
Here is where lesbians do not even get their aprons through the service entrance.
Women and men are “supposed” to act in certain ways. Theoretically, it shouldn’t matter in the kitchen for as long as one has the right skills and attitude. But as it happens, many times, one’s gender expression is correlated with one’s ability to work.
Misconceptions continue to abound. I have heard about the potential fights, LQs and sexual harassment with a lesbian in the room. Things which appear regularly in the heterosexual channel.
There are many other probable reasons why lesbian chefs are not out there. Perhaps it is time for LGBTQI chefs and leaders in the industry to begin a conversation toward making the industry an equal and safe playing field that would celebrate diversity and the energy it could bring to a team. Our employee handbook clearly states our non-discriminatory policies and we follow through every day by calling out any sexist or homophobic act. But, that is not always the case outside our little shop. I too have lost many interesting opportunities after the decision makers decided that I wouldn’t be able to do as well compared to someone with make-up.
It is my hope that lesbian chefs out there would do their bit to help create a better environment especially for the young LGBTQIs coming into the fold. I hope lesbian chefs would not have to leave their country to be able to be able to succeed as themselves. Coming out does not mean a public pronouncement, but it does entail a personal acceptance and readiness to use that courage within. To not be afraid to push back when shoved. To expertly use that knife to whittle away the homophobia in the kitchen. To do their best, and to use their position to help others take their place in the line.
I look forward to the day when that chef confirms my lesbian suspicions. That will be awesome.
Feliza was once the home of Feliza Diokno, Emilo Aguinaldo’s former secretary
Photos courtesy of FOOD magazine
Chef Giney Villar is a Certified Executive Chef (CEC) accredited by the American Culinary Federation. She is currently the Executive Chef of Feliza Café y Taverna in Taal, Batangas. Visit Feliza Taverna y Café on Facebook.