I am about eight years old and in my grandmother’s kitchen. The men of the family are busy falling asleep around the television. The women are here, gathered around the large table that serves as main artery of both this household and clan. It could be Christmas, or a birthday, Holy Week, a Friday night or a Sunday evening.
There are always dishes to be done, eggs to peel, opinions about the heat of the oven and the best way to take the skin off a potato (boil them first). I have learned that if I simply sit down and remain quiet, nobody will kick me out. I will eventually be assigned a job, perhaps grating cheese. You take a quarter of what you are preparing and put it in your mouth. The trick is to do it slowly, to nibble away every few seconds. It is a Mediterranean art passed down from woman to woman, it means by the time you sit down to eat you are no longer hungry.
The sleeping, the Formula One upstairs leaves me cold. What my gender dictates I do not want, I have no interest in mechanics and sport. When I am not allowed into the secret lives of womanhood, I put my head into the book and breathe deeply from Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Alice Walker and Terri McMillan. Their sisterhood is always open, I am not barred entry into the feelings I am owning as mine.
Here around this table is the manual for life. The heartache, the love, the temperature taking all woven around ripe tomatoes and pinches of salt. Nothing is measured, nothing is written, it is all verbal and of duty, built on taste and wooden spoons.
My mother eventually relented to writing down her recipes and presented them to my sister, who took more towards caring for the sick than preparing food. Last year that book was given to me, I have had few prouder moments.
My mother, who gave me an eye for detail and design, who wanders markets searching for shiny things and revels in colour. Who taught me by some heartbeat osmosis to throw everything into a pot and give it form. Once presented on the table, you always apologise for the one thing it may be, the one ingredient you didn’t have, a constant wall against the adulation.
I watched Will & Grace with a type of nervous excitement. There were walls being smashed down in the world, and I knew they were important as a moment of definition but I had nothing there that was me. I lived in worship of Jean Grey and Storm of the X-Men, of Clarice Starling from Silence Of The Lambs, my music was Madonna, Carole King, Diana Ross and Toni Braxton. Here was my thought, my feeling.
Queer As Folk at eighteen left me frozen still. I didn’t even know what a sauna was, is this what I was expected to be? I consumed furiously, each movie and TV show and book I could in order to find myself in there somewhere, and I turned up with nothing. Nothing beyond coming out, AIDs, promiscuity. My greatest teenage fantasy had been to be taken to a New Year’s Eve ball by a man who loved me. I couldn’t find it there.
I don’t remember the first time I watched Sex And The City, it was just kind of there, creeping slowly through my shoulder blades and into my beating veins. This was the life in my head, as much as it has been criticised there was something in there. It was about freedom, living the life you choose, dealing with the men around you.
It was about seeking solace in friendship and sisterhood. About waking up every day choosing the outfit to present yourself to the world in.
I viewed it as I do everything, it wasn’t just about the fabulosity and warpaint. I turned it on its side and examined it through a prism. Like growing up listening to Madonna wasn’t about being her absolute biggest fan and wanting to be her, it was about laying in bed at night when everyone had fallen asleep and wondering if there would ever came a day I would feel for someone the way ‘Crazy For You’ so dreamfully conveyed.
That was it, my life. I wanted to step off into the great big city, to wear what I wanted not for the attention but for my own satisfaction. To have a job I enjoyed, friends I loved, to be that person someone could take dancing. For myself. For my own validated being, not sneaking onto the table hoping I wouldn’t be told to leave because I didn’t belong.
I still greet the morning in complete awe that I live in London. By anyone’s standards I maybe don’t have the most glamorous life, and I certainly don’t have an apartment in Chelsea, but I can walk down the street in my gladiator sandals and leather tote without anyone throwing a bottle at me. I don’t think it’s frivolous to say the women of my family gave me the warmth and emotion in my being, and the four women on television gave me the drive.