he kitchen was undoubtedly the first space I felt safe enough to unshackle my wrists and allow them to perform the flight of the hummingbird. With figure eight motions, my hands freely followed my aunt’s instructions on how to write love letters punctuated with butter and flour. And if my hands listened closely, the food would speak, giving my feminine voice the day off.
As I swirled from the spice cabinet to the gas stove, from Lawry’s with the red top to the cast iron, returning to the fridge and then the sink, I forgot about the need to contort my BlackGay male being — especially my wrists — in ways that made sense to spectators. Figure eights were OK in this place. Required even. There, in my aunt’s kitchen, I was trusted enough to create something they could not live without. I existed (to them). I flew. Like the tiny lives hovering around the nectar-filled feeder with their magical wings, I, too, disrupted silly dominant notions of what it meant to be alive. Hummingbirds can fly backwards; I am Black and Gay.
Both are endangered.
Because of my identities, I am often left out of conversations within and about my communities. However, in “doing soul food,” I join an eternal conversation with my ancestors, making them immortal. Every dash of seasoning and fixin’ form part of a culinary conversation that transcends time, space, all five senses, and Eurocentric ways of knowing. These conversations can be tasted as far back as Antebellum America, when white slave owners typically only gave enslaved Black people 5-pound rations of starches and a few pounds of cheap meat every week. Thus, my ancestors had to think Blackly about how they could fashion such scant proportions of food into something that would nourish their bodies and simultaneously sustain their brilliance, boldness, and beauty.
Drawing on African epicurean traditions, this magical (but real) group of beings tapped into their culinary genius to make something out of nothing. And emerging from struggle and survival, came Soul Food with all of its comfort and decadence. Though Soul Food is tethered to the Deep South, its recipes have been passed down through generations of Black people and watered throughout these stolen lands. These recipes are not only valuable instructions on how to avoid white insipidness, but they sustain an ongoing conversation between Black culture and its African roots.
I am only invited to partake in these conversations from the kitchen, my Eden. I enjoy temporary inclusion so long as my feminine hands create things that are pleasing to the tongues of my tasters. Hints of nutmeg, cinnamon, and sugar preclude toxic language about my perceived “lifestyle” from leaving the mouths of those who look like me. Instead, these dangerous beliefs remain, for a moment, trapped in their hearts. For the next 7 minutes I will only have to answer questions about who made the mac and five cheeses, if the greens are accompanied by a ham bone or turkey wings; and I am spared the typical interrogations of why I don’t bring girls home, my fascination with tight jeans, and the effeminate movements of my wrists.
This feels good. With each bite and expression of their contentment, I feel closer and closer to being. I also feel closer and closer to home. To my aunt. To my ancestors. To us. At least until the hunger returns...
We’ve spent too long flying forward, backward, and upside down; hovering only to have other lives be entertained by our exceptionality. Too long have we lived with others voraciously enjoying the fruits of our labor, discarding us after they’ve become adept at imitating our hand movements, now engineering pseudo-fruit on their own. Adept at appropriating Black LGBTQ+ language, using “slay” and then slaying us (literally), or remaining silent as their partners slay us. I now know that they’re insatiable, yet we, like all humans, are not impervious to feeling and being emptied. And if we use ourselves all up to respond to their ravenousness, there will be no one left to nourish us. The world stops, hunger ubiquitous.
To the butch queen at the ball moving her hands, freeing themselves, untying himself from the ropes of cisheteronormativity; and to the BlackGay boy in the kitchen moving zis hands in the same way when ze cooks: know that we do not have to feed those who starve us of love. But many of us will do it anyway, humming while we empty ourselves, because we are love in human form. We are the soul food.
-an endangered hummingbird