Family Feast: Food for Thought

You probably wouldn’t expect to eat Ghormeh Sabzi on Thanksgiving Day. And unless you’re Persian, you probably have no idea what the hell Ghormeh Sabzi is.

It’s an Iranian dish, best described as ”Persian Green Beef Stew,” served atop white rice. And it will be just one of many Iranian foods surrounding the good old traditional turkey, at my parent’s house this Thanksgiving.

It’s different, I know.

Well, at least I think I know.

The only exposures I’ve had to traditional Thanksgiving foods are the ones that I’ve seen in movies or on television, if you rule out the bland Thanksgiving lunch my public high school served me every year.

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But for me, I guess it never really mattered what I was eating. Thanksgiving has never been as much about food, as it’s been about everything else: family, anxiety, and coming out to new family members every year.

Let me explain.

There was an era in my childhood when I loved Thanksgiving. All that changed in 1993.

I was 12, and we were setting up for Thanksgiving dinner when my best friend called me at home, crying. His mother had just committed suicide. I didn’t know what to say. In fact, to this day, I don’t remember what I said. Yet despite my greatest efforts to forget, I still remember what he said. Every Thanksgiving afterward that phone call played in my head, over and over again.

He was never the same after that. And neither was I.

It was the beginning of a very dark time, a sudden push into adulthood, that still haunts me today.

Even though I consider myself to be ”out” to everyone, it wouldn’t be entirely untrue to say that I’m still going through the coming-out process with my parents.

Everyone’s process is unique to their background and family, and this seemed best for me — as opposed to just suddenly dropping the news and leaving them in complete disarray. And being Iranian doesn’t help either — there isn’t even a Farsi word for ”gay” that isn’t a profanity.

I’d like to think my slower approach is working, especially now that I’ve moved in with my boyfriend of three years. I’ve familiarized my parents with him and our life together. This year, I’m taking him home for Thanksgiving dinner for the first time.

The years leading up to this one haven’t been easy, especially around Thanksgiving, when everybody comes over. And by everybody, I mean everybody: about 40 or so family members, including in-laws, aunts, uncles and cousins. Thanksgiving at my parent’s house has never been a sit-down dinner — it’s always been more of a crowded family party.

And there’s nothing worse than being in a room full of festive people and feeling completely alone, as I did before I came out myself and accepted the gay part of me.

I would spend my time finding excuses to run from one room to another, avoiding all conversations, until I wore myself out. Sometimes I would just spend most of the night in my room, listening to depressing music. I look back on it now, and laugh.

Last year, I knew that it was going to be my final Thanksgiving as a live-in member of the household. It made me feel more free. Even I don’t know why, but I suddenly made a conscious decision to come out to my cousins, three sisters ranging in age from 13 to 18, who have always suspected but have never asked me the question. A picture of my boyfriend and me was displayed on a shelf in my bedroom, and the oldest of the three was the first to ever ask me who was in the photo. And I told her the truth.

After that, I played an iPod slideshow of the past several years, which did the rest. It went well, and I felt less isolated than I had before. But it hasn’t always been that easy. Conversations with other family members, some older and more traditional and others who are just not open, usually come to a dead end quickly.

Now that my boyfriend and I have moved in together, things have taken a turn for the better. I no longer see Thanksgiving as the day where family members — both gay-friendly and not so gay-friendly — invade my space. I see it as a chance to go to my parents’ house and show them, and everyone else, who I am: a 25-year-old happy gay man, and not the isolated scared teen who would play the disappearing game every year.

My boyfriend and I have decided to split up the holidays, instead going our separate familial ways as we’ve previously done. He gets Christmas with his family — that’s an easy one, since I’m a non-practicing Muslim — and I get Thanksgiving.

It sure makes a boy feel special to know that someone would swap cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes and stuffing for a table featuring a turkey surrounded by what must seem to him as mystery food. I warned him that things wouldn’t be as traditional: ”It’s going to be mostly Persian food.”

”I don’t really care what we eat,” he replied.

And neither do I.

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