When I told my friend Alex that I was cooking a dinner for my parents and Craig’s parents at the end of last week, Alex (who knew me in college) said to me: “Did you ever think, 10 years ago, that this would ever happen? That you’d cook a dinner one day for your parents and your boyfriend and his parents?” The answer to that question was most definitely: “No.”
It’s hard to get back into the headspace where that dinner would’ve seemed impossible. But in recent weeks, there’ve been so many tragic gay suicides–13 year-old Seth Walsh, 15 year-old Billy Lucas, 13 year-old Asher Brown and, perhaps the most publicized case, Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, who jumped off a bridge after his roommate broadcast his sexual encounter with another man online–that getting back into that headspace seems important. And so, inspired by Dan Savage and his “It Gets Better” campaign (in which openly gay men and women tell their stories to encourage suicidal gay teens that it, indeed, gets better) I’d like to tell you how I got from that world of impossibility to the dinner I cooked on Friday night.
First, the dinner. As a passionate braiser, I decided to braise short ribs using this recipe from the Babbo cookbook. I did this all the night before, browning the meat well:
Deglazing with red wine and filling the pot with herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano):
Covering with foil and braising in the oven for two hours until the meat came apart with a spoon:
Then I cooled it to room temperature and placed in the refrigerator overnight.
I’m not sure if braising acts as a metaphor for the story I want to tell; perhaps in the way that something rigid and tough breaks down and becomes something tender and rich? Was I rigid and tough as a teen? Am I tender and rich now? The metaphor needs work.
But the idea is there: as a teenager, I was really repressed. Whereas some repressed teenagers become angsty and sullen, I was the opposite: I was a manic sack of nervous energy. Fidgety, jokey, always hiding behind my humor, I sat mostly with girls at lunch. My freshman year, in P.E. class, I was bullied by this guy Nick and his friends who, strangely, called me “Alfredo” and harassed me in the locker room. Once one of those friends Eric, who worked at the local grocery store, helped my mom to her car with her groceries. Unbeknownst to my mom, he was my bully. When she told me she met this nice boy from my P.E. class named Eric, I was mortified.
Needless to say, that was a tough year. And though high school got slightly better (I became more popular when I played the piano in a pep rally and went on to win our school’s “Mr. Shark” competition), I never truly felt like myself. It wasn’t until college that things began to get clearer, that I began to realize that there was a truer me within the me that everyone else knew.
But first, let’s make some polenta. I bought this polenta at the farmer’s market:
Using this recipe from Lidia Bastianich, I started the polenta 30 minutes before everyone got there, stirring it throughout the first hour or two until it thickened up, adding mascarpone and Parmesan cheese at the end to make it a little more intense:
And “intense” is a word that definitely describes my junior year of college.
By then, I’d found an incredible group of friends in Rathskellar, Emory’s improv comedy troupe. (Many of the people at the wedding I went to in Cincinnati were from Rathskellar, including Lisa.) It was in Rathskellar that I first learned I didn’t have to be “on” all the time, that it was important to be introspective, and that being gay really wasn’t that big of a deal. By my junior year of college, I’d made several gay friends. And it was at that point that I’d gotten tired of fielding questions from my family about why I didn’t have a girlfriend and if I knew any nice Jewish girls and if any of them were marryable. Around this time of year (it was near Halloween), I came out to my closest college friends (I was so nervous, I couldn’t say the word; I told my friend Travis I was a “h…h…hemophiliac!”). And then I told my parents.
Let’s just say it didn’t go very well. There were intense, emotional phone calls, awkward trips home, visits to a terrible therapist who tried to turn me straight, an explosive night at the dinner table where my grandmother said: “Why can’t you just marry your friend Lisa?” To which I replied: “Because she doesn’t have a penis!” It got ugly.
But then it got better. That’s why Alex’s comment was so on-the-nose; because things seemed so harrowing back then, I couldn’t imagine that we’d ever turn a corner. But we did.
It happened when I met Craig.
This was years later, in 2006. By then, I’d gone to law school and hated it; I’d had my first boyfriend (a sweet guy named Michael, who I dated my senior year of college); I’d been to Atlanta’s gay bars and gay pride parades, I’d lived with a lesbian (you readers knew her too) and I’d taken classes on Sexuality and the Law. Then I moved to New York to go to Dramatic Writing school at NYU and at my favorite coffee shop, Joe, I spied a cute guy who was there writing with his friend.
That guy ended up looking at my Friendster profile. Remember Friendster? And you could tell who looked at your profile, so I wrote him an e-mail. It ended up he went to NYU too, for film school. We decided to meet in NYU’s lobby and to walk to dinner. In my entire life I’ve never forgotten my wallet, ever. But when I walked down to the subway to ride down to NYU, I realized I’d left it on my desk. I must’ve known this was going to be big.
And it was. That first night we each tried to convince the other of where we should eat (I fought for Momofuku, he argued for something else) so we settled on a place neither of us had been to: Lucien, in the East Village. I ordered the cassoulet (note to future daters: don’t eat beans on a first date.) We went, afterwards, to the Anyway Cafe where they serve infused vodka. We had the black currant.
Things only got better from there. We saw plays, went to museums, I snuck him on to the blog when I wrote about the Levain Bakery. You didn’t know this guy was so important when you saw him sitting on that bench, did you?
And then I formally introduced him to you in my post about New Green Bo. I called him “the new man in my life” and you guys flipped out. Someone wrote: “Whee! You finally told us who you were kissing!” And someone else wrote: “Thank God you finally came out!”
That was almost 5 years ago. And so that brings us to the dinner.
My parents, who you’ve met many times before on this blog, have really embraced Craig. How could they not? I think when being gay was an abstraction, it filled them with fear and dread, but when there was a concrete person there, it all made sense. And so now whenever I call home, they ask after Craig (my grandmother always ends her calls with: “Send my love to Craig!”) and they always include Craig when they take me out to dinner or to see a Broadway show. When my parents went to Barcelona this summer, they bought both Craig and me a watch.
And so it was that when I told them that Craig’s parents were coming to town at the beginning of October and that I wanted my parents to meet them, my parents bought tickets to fly here just for that. And that’s why I made this dinner:
There’s everyone in the first “getting-to-know-you moments.” We’re drinking champagne and even Lolita’s hanging out.
For the first course, I served my dad’s favorite, Caesar salad:
I went heavy with the garlic and the anchovies, because both my parents like it that way. They loved it.
For the entree, I plated the short rib on the polenta and topped with a gremolata made of horseradish, lemon zest and parsley:
And for dessert, there was flourless chocolate cake:
By the end of the night, the families had bonded (we watched the episode Craig produced of MTV’s “Made” which, interestingly enough, concerned a gay teen named Jerick) and then we made our plans for the next night, when we’d all journey to Blue Hill Stone Barns.
That night with Craig and both of our families was proof that, as Dan Savage promises, it gets better. If you’re reading this and you’re a gay teenager, take heart. It might seem like your life is a cold, depressing TV dinner, but I’m here to tell you that your future, if it’s anything like mine, becomes a Michelin 3-star restaurant. All you have to do is wait.