At King Arthur, we’re inviting everyone to our table to share the joy of baking, and Camilla Wynne, a proud queer baker and cookbook author, is here to show us how she’s celebrating Pride and what this month means to her. For more, see her post on How to pipe and decorate a celebratory basket-weave cake.
* * *
When I moved to Toronto, my first weekend on the job as a pastry chef for a hot restaurant group involved baking and decorating hundreds upon hundreds of rainbow cupcakes over grueling 11-hour shifts. The closest I got to a Pride party that year was cycling past a friend on her way home at 4:30 a.m. as I made my way to work. So my initial association between baking and Pride is not the greatest. I'm certainly improving on my celebrations: This June, I'm baking a basket-weave cake for the gay baby shower my spouse and I are hosting to welcome our first child.
Beyond being paid to make rainbow confections once a year, one might think my being queer and my work in pastry have little to do with one another, yet both of these identities are essential parts of me. I don’t want to compartmentalize my various identities — if I’m going to really be myself, then I’m going to be my full self. I believe this is important for everyone in the baking world, which is why queer visibility matters to me … only it’s not as simple or easy as it might seem.
What is a queer baker’s responsibility to be visible? While I would never begrudge someone for declining to profess their sexuality publicly, it’s important to me partly for the sense of community it fosters. I know I feel an immediate sense of kinship when I discover or meet another queer pastry professional. Being public doesn’t come without nagging worries, however: Will I lose followers? Attract trolls? Be perceived as shoving my identity down someone’s throat? (They’re just here for the cakes!) In a world where follower numbers can sometimes determine whether we are offered work or other opportunities, these aren’t inconsequential concerns. This means sometimes weighing how being open about my identity might affect my ability to financially support myself.
But I know firsthand the powerful effect visibility can have on young bakers. Even before I had settled into my identity, I used to have vivid recurring dreams where I worked for Elizabeth Falkner, a lesbian chef, at a strange dream-concocted version of her now-shuttered San Francisco bakery and restaurant, Citizen Cake. I was psychically drawn to the space without realizing why, beyond the incredible pastries. As a pastry chef, I craved a space that was explicitly queer, where I could relax and, perhaps, even just be. After all, no one wants to constantly have to explain themselves. Later, when I ran my own small business, I took the opportunity to create a working environment that was actively welcoming, and most of the staff happened to be queer.
Coming out constantly can be exhausting. Most of the time, the fact that I don’t necessarily "look queer" to most people means dealing with peoples’ assumptions anew at every job I take. I’ve generally been fortunate in the places I’ve worked and the people I’ve worked with. But straight is the default, and each new crew of coworkers means having to come out over and over again. Sometimes I don’t have the time or energy to correct their assumptions, which can make it awkward if it turns out to be an ongoing gig. If I explain that I’m gay, which most people accept, at some point I’ll still have to engage in explaining that my spouse is non-binary to avoid them being misgendered. Repeatedly negotiating these incorrect assumptions is tiring and the effect is cumulative, especially when simultaneously scooping a thousand cookies or testing multiple recipes — you know, working. It’s sometimes led me to resent the extra burden of visibility that comes with being openly queer.
Google “gay baker” and the first page of hits is nothing but articles on the bakery that refused to make a cake for a gay wedding. That signals to me just how badly positive examples of queer bakers are needed. I want queer kids who dream of buttercream or bread baking to see all the ways that can look, not just how gay people have been discriminated against in the pastry world. As with any career path, it’s immensely valuable for LGBTQ+ kids (or even adults) to see out adults like them who are cookbook authors or chefs or bakers, making it that much more possible for them to imagine this future for themselves. Even though I still sometimes resent the labor of visibility, I keep it up in hopes of being that person for someone and in service of being my whole self in the world — and the kitchen.
This Pride Month, King Arthur Baking Company has donated to Outright Vermont and encourage you to do so as well. You can also find an organization in your own community supporting LGBTQ+ youth here.
Cover photo courtesy of Camilla Wynne.