I grew up in working class Washington State in the 80s and 90s and now, as a 41-year-old queer woman, I find myself thrilled by the prospect of daily meals not having to consist of a meat, a veggie, and a carb—or even a carb at all, or even a meat at all.
And sex not having to include penetration of my vagina by default.
There is an entire world of food out there, and infinite variables therein, as well as an entire body that exists beyond the two traditionally recognized “sex organs,” and infinite variables of engaging sensation and holistic stimulation therein.
Growing up, I had been unconsciously conditioned to believe that “normal” was synonymous with “safe,” and had something to do with steak, potatoes, and broccoli for you and your spouse while you Netflix and chill, maybe whiskey or a beer or a glass of whole milk. Variety was extremely limited: maybe chicken, mashed potatoes and a roll, roast beef with carrots and onions and a roll, spaghetti with beef and a simple iceberg salad, pork and mac and cheese, soggy Brussel sprouts—whatever the dreary rotation.
It was homogeneous and always included those three staples of ye olde food pyramid: meat (the centerpiece), starch (an indulgent comfort food, aka filler), and a vegetable (an obligatory background player…always a bridesmaid, never a bride). Sometimes our parents saturated the veggies in processed cheese sauce, so we found them palatable.
In my early 20s, I spontaneously became a vegan. This was no phase. I stayed animal-product-free for two years, but it was not motivated by reasons related to animal welfare or social pressure. At the time, I lived with my meat and potatoes ex and my children, and enthusiastically continued to serve them the slabs of meat they loved (and sometimes hunted themselves) on large dinner plates that were heavy on the carbs and sneaky on the veggie. I just organically developed an aversion to animal products… nothing ethical to see here.
My health improved in some ways and declined in others. I found out only in more recent years that I have epilepsy and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Let’s just say the vegan diet was beneficial to PCOS and detrimental to my epilepsy, so there’s that, but I was clueless at the time and not extremely brave in the kitchen. I survived on vegan toaster waffles with peanut butter, soy lattes, and tofu scrambles. Like I said, I was in my early 20s.
After two years of no dairy and six years of no alcohol, my inner backwoods woman cracked and went to a vintage steakhouse, ordered a huge steak with potatoes and rolls and a salad smothered in creamy dressing, promptly followed by cheap beer and cheaper whiskey accompanied by a full flavor cigarette.
The immediate sense of relief when I slipped back into what was my visceral comfort zone was brief bliss.
It was not long before I was consuming red meat, white starch, brown alcohol, and a smattering of either broccoli or salad with ranch on a daily basis again and retiring at night with my new partner to the same old “in and out” missionary mandatory. That was my cozy comfort food and sex—even when it wasn’t pleasurable, at all, and rarely even comfortable.
It’s easy to mistake what feels familiar with what is healthy, or even mistake it for what you truly desire when what you are really looking for is elusive and you only have access to the same template you always used, and your parents always used, and their parents always used, and so on since the dawn of time.
I’ve always known that I was same sex attracted but that was not normalized in the culture or era I grew up in. By the time I was in my mid-20s I was ready to spread my wings and my legs and spice up my life, so I explored a new liberal city with trendy 20-somethings I met in community college. Meat and potatoes this wasn’t, and I much preferred the introspective dialogue and emotional intimacy I had with these beautiful women.
But although it was spicier than the bland, all-American spread I was accustomed to, this new subculture had its own ruts. I tried trendy crepe cafes, assorted food trucks, restaurants that wrapped your leftovers in foil shaped like storybook animals, and brunch spots that boasted french toast on not-your-mother’s bread, including croissants and cholla. Was it all delicious and selfie-worthy? Absolutely. Was it healthy? No, I don’t think so.
The vegetable portion wasn’t even a side note; now it was omitted from the entire album. It was a colorful and pricey smorgasbord of empty calories as I indulged in gimmicky “mac”double and triple baked in aged cheeses and tossed with outside-the-box meats, like gator. I dug into truffle-essenced pasta, pizza, and French fries. I nursed artisanal, syrupy sweet espresso concoctions like white-something or other or lavender or sage from morning until night when I drowned in better-than-box but not “good” wine, excitingly topped bagels and doughnuts, and don’t forget the gelato parlors.
The bedroom routine easily became just as hum drum same as it ever was, but with different equipment. It was all tongues and fingers and vaginas for miles. Don’t get me wrong: I love vaginas, truly. Mine as well as anyone I’m intimate with. It’s just that the scene was starting to feel like the potatoes to the rice in my vegan era.
I was lost in a liminal sensory space.
This porridge was too meaty and this porridge was too wheaty and they all started blending together in a numbing monochrome palette.
Did I need something more extreme? No. I’ve tried my hand at extreme; it gives me psychosomatic hives and triggers my PTSD.
I actually want stability and consistency and routine. Just not the kind that feels rote.
Where was my “just right?”
The root of the problem boiled down to me believing I had a lack of options.
Straight looks like this and gay looks like that. Comfort feels like this or that.
Limiting beliefs as well as misguided intentions led me astray, which paradoxically consisted of not straying from what was normalized in whatever peer group I found myself in.
Comfort was company, companionship, acceptance. It was gravy or syrup, wine or whiskey, grease or sugar.
It was whatever I could count on to make me feel better in that instant—and none of it was sustainable.
I didn’t know who I was or what I needed, let alone wanted, on a physical or emotional level, and the problem was the physical was muddled by the emotional. I was trying to fill a void, not customize the nutrients my body specifically needs. And that void was far reaching; it wanted the comfort of a working class daddy and the no frills, simple meals of my long lost childhood. I wanted the enchanting experimentation of college years, when your metabolism is olympian and time and money is for squandering.
My appetites were dictated by nostalgia and I was looking for nourishment in all of the wrong places.
In my mid-30s, I was prescribed a keto diet for my epilepsy, which was simple enough initially. Like meat and potatoes without the potatoes. Many people approach keto with zeal and visions of mountains of bacon and buckets of gooey cheese dancing in their heads, along with eggs, mayo, and all the bad stuff now suddenly turned good.
Keto has helped me gain seizure control. It’s not merely a diet for me, it’s a lifestyle and I’ve been on it for over two years now. I will say that in the beginning, steak and broccoli or chicken and broccoli or fish and broccoli was a no brainer for dinner, and breakfasts of eggs and bacon or eggs and sausage seemed infinitely yummy and sustainable. I have long struggled with chronically sky high cholesterol, not due to keto, maybe due to all of the processed meat, starches, and sugars of my whole life leading up to this point.
There was not any great, concerted decision to take what worked for me from my vegan days and mash it up (pardon the pun) with what worked for me with keto, it was just the next natural step on a journey of trying to find what holistically works best for my body.
I consider myself a keto-tarian, not a vegetarian but lighter on the animal products than standard keto. I avoid pork and beef, I go light on chicken and eggs, I eat as much fish as possible, and I stick to fermented, high-in-probiotic yogurts and cheese in moderation but my meals are vegetable centric.
When I became a vegan, my meals shifted from being meat centric to carb centric, one or the other was literally all I knew. Never, ever could a vegetable be the star of the show. It blew me away when I realized salads could be good without meat or creamy dressings, basically thinking outside of chef, caesar and cobb. I now like nuts, berries, olive oil, onions, and goat cheese crumbles in mine.
I’ve also managed to survive without starch: mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, pizza crust, and rice all have excellent cauliflower variations. That I can eat this way, explore varieties of veggies, some of which I’ve never tasted before, and be satiated blew my mind; it was so different than what I thought was good and right in this world. A real paradigm shift.
My healthy fats come from nuts, avocados, and olive oils. My cholesterol has dropped 92 points and my LDL is down 83 points all in five months while my ketones (indicating the efficiency of the keto diet) have gone up. My PCOS-related hormone imbalance has also improved thanks to incorporating a lot of flax, turmeric, nutmeg, reishi, and decaf tea. I haven’t had alcohol in a decade, which is my personal choice.
Paradoxically, my lifestyle is not at all boring, bland, or punishing the way it was before. I’m not living to over-indulge and dull my senses, requiring ever-escalating levels of stimuli.
I’m in the less-is-more period of my life and I couldn’t be more satisfied and comfortable in my own skin.
Sexually, I’ve also opened my mind to the whole spectrum and the body that exists beyond the organs that are covered in leaves or even seashells in illustrations. Those parts are all still highly appreciated and put to good use by me, it’s just that they are part of a much greater repertoire rather than a one-hit wonder you can’t seem to escape.
Passive vaginal sex, oral or otherwise is seldom if ever on my radar. It’s fallen to the background, whereas I’ve found I love being the meat to the potatoes and the back door is the one I prefer to go in and out of, as well as the main entrance to my house now as well. But my house has many rooms and so does my lover’s house and there are many things to do in those rooms. There is a fluidity of gender and roles and an incorporation of toys and other media in my sex life now. There’s no rush to complete the exchange, like a task that comes as part of a job description. I consider myself Femme-attracted rather than “same-sex” attracted.
As they say: there’s no wrong way to eat a lover or a brunch. I’m not here to promote pescatarianism, keto, abstaining from alcohol, or exploring BDSM, anal, or the exciting world of kink but rather to share that challenging my preconceived notions on what were the default settings on my body has led me to a place where I have the stability and consistency that I always craved—only this time it’s actually personally fulfilling.