By Forest Riggs
Like it or not, Thanksgiving is here and if ever there is a special day to bring out all the dysfunction in a family (a “traditional” family, that is), this is the day! In casting aside the Rockwellian Thanksgivings of our screwed-up childhoods, we queers have been doing this one our way for some time now—or at least after we came out, built a new “family” and circle of like-mined friends, and realized that the day should be fun and not some living scene from a tattered Good Housekeeping magazine.
Just about everyone has Thanksgiving memories from their childhood, good or bad. Gathering at grandparents with cousins, aunts and uncles, eating at the “kids’” table, and scarfing down all sorts of gastronomical concoctions. School was out, the weather was nippy and, unless too much ethanol kicked in, releasing skeletons from closets and long-held family secrets, it was a pretty good time. Fusses were made over mediocre dishes prepared by great aunts with whiskers who, in all honesty, should have stopped cooking ages ago. Deviled eggs always seemed to be the thing that Aunt So and So, was “very best” at preparing.
In those times, everyone would gather around the table(s), enjoy a great meal, converse a bit, chow down on desserts of every kind (yet another great aunt’s “kerosene ambrosia”) and begin making their way to the living room for football on the television and unbuckling top buttons on pants. In many homes, drinks would flow (and flow) and before you knew it, someone was pissed at someone else—and the real party began! The youngsters had long exited the house and gathered tossing a football, preparing for a hunt or getting into some secreted mess with a pack of cigarettes, a few stolen beers or God forbid, a joint behind the barn with cousins that were “wild.”
As we grew older and moved away, it was sort of nostalgic to go “home” for Thanksgiving. People were happy to see you, or so they seemed, cheeks were pinched by elders and, as usual, massive amounts of food was consumed. Usually by this stage in our queer life, we didn’t care to sit around hearing stories of the time Grandpa fell asleep in church or about some distant relative had “a homosexual son that ran off to the city doing what those people do.”
“Those people?” It was at this juncture that joints behind the barn became a must!
Spin ahead several years to a new life, new circle of friends, a new “family” and, most of all, a feeling of belonging. Connecting with others that “do what those people do” and carving out a happy life became the most wonderful and fulfilling thing in the world. Blood family is great, but now, rather than a week of them, we might run home, hugs, kisses, eat and then leave, racing back to wicked “family” we really enjoy.
Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday for LGBTQ communities. We that make up the population of “those people” love nothing more than some reason, any reason, to gather, share food, drinks and laughs and have a damned good time. There are no kids’ tables anymore, no skeletons busting out of closets and best of all, if you choose, you don’t have to run behind the barn anymore to let your hair down and relax. The homes of LGBTQ folks are usually very well decorated for every holiday, and granite and marble counter tops are filled with food and an array of bottles. Depending upon where you live and how much you integrate into the community, it can be a packed house (almost like a few parties crammed into one as folks gather in different areas), or it can be a charming Martha Stewart-type thing for just a few intimate friends. As my sweet, old Hungarian grandmother used to say, “You queers sure know how to do it up!” Yes we do…and down, too!
For a Thanksgiving gathering, food and consuming it is still a major variable in the equation. People love to make dishes and bring them to the gathering. I consider myself to be a damned good cook; in fact, it is one of my passions. Over the years I have been annoyed when others try to prepare the dish of all dishes…and usually it is not something they would normally make, if they are cooks. This is what I call an “expression dish.” Yuck! Stick to the basics if you are not a cook. Don’t start with a Thanksgiving gathering, especially with lovable but sometimes pissy queens! No one wants to eat rosemary shrimp-stuffed Jell-O puffs! It might sound fabulous and sometimes even look great…but, girl, don’t do it. If you are unfamiliar with making stuffing (dressing), don’t experiment on the Holiest of Holy feeding days for LGBTQ friends. I have seen and tasted more horrible dishes in my time but, of course, always with a smile. “Oh my…this is…this…it’s so different! How on earth did you make it?” Like I really care, but you gotta make ‘em feel like it is the best pile of muck on the table!
To sum it up, if you are not a cook—a seasoned cook—don’t start with Thanksgiving. If you are invited and bringing a dish, keep it simple, traditional and easy. Hell, go buy it at HEB or Kroger, change the container to some cheery holiday acorn-shaped dish and you are home free!
We that make up “those folks” do know how to queer up any event or gathering. In the end, it all about having fun, feeling loved and spending quality time with like-minded persons—gay or straight. I have always enjoyed Thanksgiving gatherings with my friends and I love to go around the table and have each person state something for which they are thankful…and then we toast!
Whatever you choose to do this Thanksgiving, whether with a crowd, just a few or alone, do it with gusto and do it with love. We are all given only so many Thanksgivings on this old planet and therefore it is important to make memories while we can.
Happy Thanksgiving! And be careful out behind the barn!
Forest Riggs, a resident of Galveston is no stranger to the adventures of life. A former educator and business owner, he enjoys Island life and all that comes with it. He says he is a “raconteur with a quixotic, gypsy spirit.” He has written for several newspapers and magazines as well as other writing pursuits, including a novel and collection of short stories.