Without putting too hipster a point on it, I’ve been having dinner parties since long before Come Dine With Me made them cool. They weren’t mainstream among young folk back then and, weirdly – considering their propensity to turn into shrill, drunken bonanzas of camp – even less so among my gay friends.
Perhaps my gay friends were all too busy snorting lines off the rippled torsos of sweaty male models and dancing until the church bells chimed, or perhaps it was the mere thought of carbs being displayed in polite company that sickened them. Either way, it is only relatively recently that my dinner party circuit has widened to include my gay friends.
Cooking for people has always been something I love to do. Everyone in my family loves to cook, as have both my serious partners so far, and both of my current flatmates. One of them even brought out a blog once (A Girl, A Guy and a Gay: The Ultimate Cook-Off) – which enjoyed a brief but beautiful period in all of our hearts. It was ahead of its time.
Cooking is therapeutic. It’s like painting, but without all of the messy turpentine and self-flagellation at never getting someone’s eyes exactly right. The food usually turns out well, and even if it doesn’t, the process of cooking and talking rubbish in the kitchen with friends is one of my favourites. How could you get better than a room full of your favourite people, your own music and wine flowing like there’s some sort of biblical miracle taking place?
I do not, it turns out, enjoy hosting braais. I am far too highly strung to be able to cope with never knowing when my guests are going to arrive, and although I try my hardest to seem breezy, inside all I am doing is panicking that the potato bake will dry out and the fire will die down before anyone gets there. Like most people who are often late themselves, I find waiting for other people infuriating.
“Suddenly, with a spate of gay dinner parties recently, I find myself transformed into my mother.”
And even braaing the meat, once the moment finally arrives, is stressful. Not only does my fear of salmonella push me into incinerating everything, but braais have that strange patriarchal division of labour whereby men and women separate into different parties to do weirdly gender-prescriptive things. Instead of the easy flow of fun conversation with a mixed crowd in my kitchen at a regular dinner party, when hosting a braai I find myself surrounded only by men and gasping for air in the awkward social pressure to talk about sport. I fare much better if I delegate the braaing to a straight guy friend, recuse myself from all braai-related matters, and stick to making gourmet salads instead.
The really funny thing I have noticed about entertaining, though, is how differently I behave now that The Gays have signed up for the dinner parties. I always used to tease my mother about the levels of stress she subjected herself to before entertaining and I resolved, from the beginning, never to fuss over things that did not need fussing over. Having people over for dinner should be fun (or what’s the point of doing it?) and it should be relaxed. I used to make good, but simple food and feel completely confident that my friends were really there to see me. The balance was perfect.
Suddenly, with a spate of gay dinner parties recently, I find myself transformed into my mother. I was tidying my room and straightening the pillows in the living room; I was buying flowers and orchestrating multi-course, high-stress menus. I was thinking about the shoes that I would wear and whether they were the same shoes that I wore the last time I saw those guests. I was buying red AND white wine, just in case. What the hell has happened to me?
I don’t know whether to blame the gays, my mother or TV. Could it be that their prior reluctance and recent adoption of dinner parties by my gay friends makes it seem like a markedly different life stage so I feel I the need to dazzle and impress in order to a) welcome them to the medium and b) catch up and become an adult? Am I more insecure around gay people than I am around my other friends? Do I assume that my gay friends are more judgemental than the others? Or is it that we all become our parents no matter how hard we try not to?
Perhaps it’s that dastardly shows like Come Dine With Me have indoctrinated us into believing that it’s not a dinner party without three courses, some invasion of your privacy and a hefty dollop of bitchiness.
I’m inclined not to blame the gays (we have suffered enough), but whatever the reason, I’m going to try my hardest to make a pasta dish and wear a faded t-shirt the next time I invite people over. The rebellion may be too small for others to notice, but it’s an important battle for me – a fight to save dinner parties from the rising gentrification that threatens to sap them of any joy.
Life is too short to spend it worrying about starters.