ABC, I’m coming for you.

I began writing this post a week before Anderson Cooper came out publicly. I’d be remiss to neglect the importance of his declaration, and I’m not being glib. Our greatest strength on the path to equality is visibility. I applaud and encourage everyone who comes out, celebrity or neighbor. My thoughts on gender identity in media below…


The short story:
I made this audition video three weeks ago, just before I jaunted off to Alabama for the summer. The last one (for Food Network Star) was a hoot to shoot so I figured it was only logical to try my hand again. This time I’m auditioning for ABC’s latest cooking show. I don’t know whether they’re looking for personalities, chefs or some hedonistic combination of the two, but I wanted to throw my hat in with this snappy video recipe for Berry Clafoutis.

The long story:
As I am wont to do with most things I produce, I showed it to my mother. When it was finished playing she let out a withering, “Do you want me to tell you what I think?”

I boned up and told her, yes, I’d like to hear her opinion, though in truth, by the time anyone finishes asking that question you already have a good idea of what might come next. She told me she didn’t recognize the man on screen. She thought I came off affected, and, meaning no offense, quite gay. She expressed her confusion, was this how I wanted to portray myself? Something I was trying? An on-camera experiment? It was so very different from what she was used to, from the on-camera son she knew.

In the moment, I told her it was something I had wanted to try for a while. Yes, an experiment, but also something I dashed to get recorded before I had to board a plane to Birmingham. We sloughed it off and got back to the business of packing (I was helping my moms move out of their apartment). I had a feeling this was meant to be a larger conversation, but at the time didn’t want to initiate a capital Family Discussion.

I knew it would surprise my mom to find me acting stereotypically flamboyant on camera in great part because I had always played it rather straight at home. But my “straight-acting” self wasn’t a conscious decision, it wasn’t born out of self-hatred; I wasn’t trying to sublimate my sequined heart. My parents are the epitome of support and neither my gender and sexual identities nor my choice of a career in the arts have ever been contentious. My personality at home is a fairly neutral, relaxed version of myself; an outcome of having such a loving and uplifting family.

And part of having such a strong support system is the responsibility to see things from my parents’ perspective. As a parent, I imagine one believes she knows the very core of her child, and that of all the endless possibilities, the version she knows is the most true, the most authentic, the most real. But, in reality, the “me” my mother knows is, indeed, just one variation, one point on spectrums of both character and gender.

It must be startling then, to look at a perfect representation of your child and see him performing and entirely different role, a variation on gender which, up until now, you had known only in the abstract. Is it a character? Is he pretending to be this way?

You see, my mother knows I’m gay. We talk about dates with men, she has seen photos of my glittery nights and she knows I identify with the queer community. But at the same time, she has never actually met anyone I’ve dated (having never had a boyfriend), she’s never been out dancing with me (bringing her to CHERYL is questionable at best), and she has never seen me in the company of my chosen community. As such, my gay life is almost entirely theoretical to my family, while to my friends, the makeup-wearing, lovingly affected dandy I portray is part and parcel of who I am.

How difficult it must be to see someone you know so well acting in a way that stands in such stark contrast to your understanding of their spirit. Knowing that my mom was seeing a side of me she had never witnessed made me wonder what parts of her I haven’t yet met. How does my grandfather see her? What version of my mom does my sister know? Will I ever know those variations on mom? Can I know them? Should I know them?

Watching the video through mom’s eyes I also see the fear that might creep into her heart upon seeing her son act in a manner that might pigeon-hole him in his chosen career. Let’s be honest, I am better served to let a casting office believe I am straight (without lying) than I am to walk into an audition with an outsized personality that distracts them from my work. Much like Anderson Cooper says in his letter, I am a storyteller and blending in can be as important as standing out.

Having had these conversations with my mom, I’m fairly positive she watched the video and thought, “Is this castable? Does he want the networks to see him in this way?” And she’d be right to ask those questions. Despite the growing acceptance of the LGBTQ community, it’s still risky to be an out-and-loud personality in mainstream media. Ideally we’d live in a world that could judge talent and ability equally with or without foreknowledge of sexual orientation. But we don’t live in that society, and consequently, I’d be foolish to pretend we do.

Gender is performative and I am an actor; I was, quite literally, born to play this role. Knowing when and where to employ my various social costumes is essential to pushing boundaries, both my own and the lines drawn in our grand cultural sandbox. I’ve got a gaggle of personae in the clown-car of my body and each of them deserves a turn at the wheel.

This video, something that was hastily shot and edited, launched me into a 7-car pileup of gender and identity questions. Many thanks to those of you who made it through this post. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Isn’t it electrifying to imagine just how little we know of each other?

Maybe my mom will introduce me to another side of her. (Love you Mom!)






24 Responses to “ABC, I’m coming for you.”

  1. emily | nomnivorousJuly 3, 2012 at 2:06 pm Edit #

    Dan, I have to tell you that I laughed heartily at the video and think you’d be a great on-camera food person. The last lines “All I want to do is talk about food. Feed you. Feed the people you love.” All that? I love it. It’s what I want to do with my life too.

    The post also got my brain spinning. You’ve been able to articulate the thing I couldn’t. I always felt like there were Emilys that my family never knew, and would have never been able to really “get”. And as soon as I moved to NY, it got worse. There’s so much of me that my family doesn’t see, so they completely don’t get. And it’s made me distance myself from them. I feel bad doing it, but you’ve spelled it out in a way that I “get” better.

    Also, a friend is telling me I should try out for this thing. Yep, my brain is a swimmin’ with a million thoughts. And I have quite the essay going!


    • Dan KohlerJuly 3, 2012 at 3:24 pm Edit #

      Emily! Thanks for the kind words. I sent this to my mom before posting and it sparked an interesting dialogue. She said she didn’t think that she had other versions of herself, that while she may present herself differently in a business situation than a familial one, that those were both basically the same mom I already know.

      It made me wonder, is the feeling of having so many faces an experience that one passes through in one’s twenties? Will I reach my mom’s age and find I’m presenting one version of “me” to the world? Or is this something that is new with our generation? Is this an experience brought on by the sharp uptick in technology in our lives? Do I have “multiple personalities” because I’m a member of so many divergent communities, some that are entirely digital?

      Clearly my mind is still jumbly on this.

      And yes, you MUST audition for the show! If not now, when?


  2. TonopahJuly 3, 2012 at 4:45 pm Edit #

    There is only one you. It would be logically inconsistent to say there are lots of you. Perhaps you emphasize different parts of yourself at different times. But those are the faces you always make, the way you have always had of making someone laugh, of inviting them into your kitchen, of making the craft of cooking seem simultaneously simple and elegant, of being genuine, of being interesting to watch, of telling stories, of being Dan. There is only one Dan, and he is effing awesome in all his presentations.

    Gender and sexuality get a lot trickier. They seems to deserve a constant and vigilant conversation. Perhaps not about what they are, but what they are not. Gender nor sexuality shouldn’t define a person; I’m not a girl, I’m a person passionate about helping people. I don’t wear dresses because I am “supposed” to but because they are comfortable. I’m not interested in men because I chose to be, but thats not to say I have never had sexual thoughts about women. Words, cadence, “affectations” don’t define gender or sexuality, they are only a part of the person exhibiting them. However it would be simplistic not to believe that gender, sexuality, and the self have an intimate relation to one another. They are part of how we are seen, and part of how we see ourselves, but all of that is fluid. Some days I like to wear lacy underwear and high heel shoes, other days I prefer jeans and no make up; neither one is somehow more inherently true to myself or my gender. Gender and sexuality aren’t static states of being, but the space to start to get to know oneself.


  3. JosieJuly 3, 2012 at 6:52 pm Edit #

    I love love LOVE the sentence:
    I’ve got a gaggle of personae in the clown car of my body, and each of them deserves a turn at the wheel

    I definitely believe that we are different people at different times and to different people. At work, I was known as the Type-A ass-kicker who had her shit on lock and never backed down.
    My friends definitely would describe me differently. My parents would describe me still differently. I think there’s a lot to be said here, and I also think that bringing gender and sexuality into the mix bring forth even more questions and sides to the story. There are so many expectations and views, from both inside and outside the LGBTQ community, of how one “should” act once the mantle of “gay” has been put on.

    So in the end, all I guess I can say is… great post. 


    • Dan KohlerJuly 4, 2012 at 5:49 pm Edit #

      You make a great point Josie. The weight that “should” carries when applied to how we act and how we identify is extreme. I guess we all have a choice to play into or against expectations. Being aware of the game takes away some of the power, yes?


  4. Jenny McNeiceJuly 3, 2012 at 8:42 pm Edit #

    “I wasn’t trying to sublimate my sequined heart.” Your writing is a performance of wit and I love when you dive a little deeper in these posts sometimes.


    • Danielle MayockJuly 3, 2012 at 9:24 pm Edit #

      Dan, I’m glad to know you and agree with my sister entirely. The article made me tear up and the video made me spit up my tea with a snort, I hope ABC sees what I do, and if they dont, then its their loss


      • Dan KohlerJuly 4, 2012 at 5:50 pm Edit #

        Darlings, make no mistake-I carry you in that sequined heart everywhere I go.


  5. Danielle MayockJuly 3, 2012 at 9:28 pm Edit #

    Dan- I’m so glad you put this up. I heartily agree with Jenny, the post made me choke up and the video made me spit up my tea with a snort. If ABC doesn’t see this video like I do, then they are ridiculous, and are completely missing out on you.


  6. Sarah E. WelchJuly 4, 2012 at 6:10 am Edit #

    I saw drama & life here, not sexuality or gender issues.

    I think the ‘different faces’ thing depends on the person. Some people are truly, authentically one personality no matter what. Others are someone different for each person they met. Once we had caller id at home so that my Dad would know who was calling before picking up, I had my own version of caller id from across the room. I could tell who was on the other end of the line simply by his greeting.

    I still surprise my husband every now and again–after 16 years together. We’ve known each other as friends, classmates, co-workers, spouses, lovers, and more. He’s seen me in so many different settings with so many different people over teens, twenties, and now as DINKs, but he still feels like he’s getting to know me. While I think there’s something to the twenty-something thing (I’m barely into my 30s), I’m not sure that it ever goes away for most of us–maybe settles down a bit. I think that’s lovely.


    • Dan KohlerJuly 4, 2012 at 5:53 pm Edit #

      That’s what I thought I might hear from my mom (and was consequently surprised to hear that she feels somewhat opposite). I hope I keep changing, I hope that the things in my life continue to affect me in deep ways and that I respond with new flair each time. I love to hear that even after being together for 16 years you and your husband are still learning more about each other. Cheers!


  7. Annie vanDykeJuly 4, 2012 at 4:48 pm Edit #

    You are amazing, funny, fabulous, deep, entertaining, instructive and a buncha other identifiers for all those peeps in the clown car! And, can you believe? he can cook…a total package,a dream! You are, without a doubt, much more interesting and real than Mr. Cooper. LOVE YOU! And that crazy clafoutis!


    • Dan KohlerJuly 4, 2012 at 5:54 pm Edit #

      Annie! Honey, go make that crazy clafoutis, you won’t regret it! Thanks for your words, Happy Fourth!


  8. Andrew HydeJuly 4, 2012 at 5:57 pm Edit #

    Fantastic as always Dan.


  9. Sarah Colley JonesJuly 6, 2012 at 4:07 pm Edit #


    It was entertaining, educational, inspiring, and — of supreme importance – fun!!

    I loved it, and look forward to watching your new show, wherever it lands (Food Network? Cooking Channel? Style???)

    Thanks also, for making the clafouti Gluten-Free! I shall replicate tonight, with local blackberries, and a white peach, or two! {to be washed down with chilled Bailey’s — happy Friday to me!}


    • Dan KohlerJuly 11, 2012 at 8:43 pm Edit #

      Happy Friday indeed! How did the clafoutis come out? Local black berries and white peaches sound perfect, I’ll have to try your combo. Cheers!


  10. GailJuly 11, 2012 at 11:24 pm Edit #

    I think this is terrific! You’re so animated, so entertaining and obviously, so knowledgable about food! Much more so than so many other so-called foodie celebrities.

    Clafoutis for all, and all for clafoutis!


    • Dan KohlerJuly 12, 2012 at 5:51 pm Edit #

      I think that may be my epitaph. Clafoutis for all indeed! Thanks Gail!


  11. Kristen TaylorJuly 24, 2012 at 10:04 am Edit #

    I’m late to this, but in time to say – I hope the whole world gets to know this part of Dan Kohler too. As Wilde points out, there are two kinds of people: charming and tedious. You are always charming.


  12. Sarah E. WelchAugust 5, 2012 at 7:06 pm Edit #

    So, I thought I’d also comment on the actual recipe  I made this last night! I used local plums, coconut flour, and almond milk. It was *fantastic*! This is going to be a go-to desert for me. I’m going to pick up some coconut milk ice cream to keep in the freezer. I think it would be a delicious accompaniment!


    • Dan KohlerAugust 7, 2012 at 1:13 pm Edit #

      Oh Sarah! You’ve just made my morning! I really do love this recipe for the summer, glad to know it kicks ass with coconut flour and almond milk (a luscious combination if I do say so myself). I’m off to the market now, if I find some plums I might just make your permutation tonight!


  13. JayAugust 12, 2012 at 11:24 pm Edit #

    I just want to say that I find your two paragraphs below wonderfully insightful. They made me wonder how much I have repressed parts of myself. I do remember going through a flamboyant stage around 5 or 6 and then policing myself to uber butch straightness. Wonder if the real me is different?

    “I knew it would surprise my mom to find me acting stereotypically flamboyant on camera in great part because I had always played it rather straight at home. But my “straight-acting” self wasn’t a conscious decision, it wasn’t born out of self-hatred; I wasn’t trying to sublimate my sequined heart. My parents are the epitome of support and neither my gender and sexual identities nor my choice of a career in the arts have ever been contentious. My personality at home is a fairly neutral, relaxed version of myself; an outcome of having such a loving and uplifting family.”

    “And part of having such a strong support system is the responsibility to see things from my parents’ perspective. As a parent, I imagine one believes she knows the very core of her child, and that of all the endless possibilities, the version she knows is the most true, the most authentic, the most real. But, in reality, the “me” my mother knows is, indeed, just one variation, one point on spectrums of both character and gender.”


    • Dan KohlerAugust 13, 2012 at 4:02 pm Edit #

      Thanks Jay, writing this post really made me reflect on my behavior inside and outside the house. I think we all police ourselves for different character traits, it’s a biological and social need to fit in, right? I’m trying to be more aware of my many different personalities and not be so hard on myself for performing gender roles (be they stereotypical or antithetical). I love the conversation happening around these thoughts here, I really appreciate your contribution.



Food Network Star Audition

Well, after much debating I submitted an audition tape for Food Network Star. As for the debate, here’s the redux:

Me: I’m scared to click this “agree to our terms” box.
D (also me): G’scuse me, do you want a shot at this opportunity or not?
Me: It basically requires me to sign away my URL, trademark and ideas for ever and ever amen.
D: Oh really?
Me: Yes. Really.
D: You’re being defensive.
Me: I’m being protective.
D: Of what?
Me: My ideas.
D: They’re that good?
Me: You’re being rude.
D: You’re being impractical. You just want to keep all your ideas locked away in your brain?
Me: Well, what if I have a great one and Food Network takes it but not me along with the idea?
D: Then you’ll have another idea.
Me: I’ll just have another one?
D: Duh, that’s how it works. Pay out one, get back two.
Me: But how do I know I’ll get two good ones in return for a great idea I give out?
D: Ideas are ideas! They’re all good until they’re bad and they only turn bad if you let them sit in your head and rot. You can’t do everything on your own.
Me: …
D: You know I’m right.
Me: But it’s so risky.
D: Riddle me this…Bigger risk-sharing and losing or never having shared at all?
Me: You stole that.
D: It’s time to jump.

Me: …Game on.

And with that I filled out the 11 page application (ummm, note to Food Network, I already applied to college, thanks). I edited a video out of material from stuff I’ve aired on this site, but, after conferring with a friend and taking a view at some of the past contestants’ audition videos, decided to record something new just for this submission. Dr. Brenda held the camera and captured my inane commentary on babaganoush and I crunched the piece into the three minute time allotment.

And then?
They called me. Yes darlings, the casting office called and asked me a few more questions (I do love a good chat on the phone).

And then?
They called me again. Oooh, a second phone call. Only this one was better. They asked me to come in for an on camera interview and cooking demo. They wanted me to show a quick (3-minutes or less) technique and bring in my signature dish.

For my demo I whipped up my favorite vinaigrette with shallots and whole grain mustard. Show off some knife skills and talk talk talk while I’m cooking. Duh, I have stories about everything I eat. Signature dish? Afternoon cake. When I told Brenda about this he looked at me and said, “Excuse me? You say that like it’s something I’m supposed to know.”

Well it is dammit. Afternoon cake is just what it sounds like, cake you eat between 3pm and 4pm, when you need a little break and a snack (snack time isn’t only for those in school). You have a piece of cake, a cup of coffee/tea, say hello to a neighbor or coworker and then get back to work. Afternoon cake.
*It should be noted that afternoon cake is never frosted. Once a cake is frosted it’s ready for a night out on the town. That’s Evening Cake.

The casting agents suggested I perform a signature dance move to start things off and loosen up (they had no idea what kind of trouble they were asking for), then asked me questions both silly and serious. And then I had a 25-minute written test. I didn’t even have a number-2 with me, so I filled it out with one of my drawing pens.

And now I wait. Food Network Humor, you’ve been alerted. Know that I follow your Food Network Star barbs closer than I follow RuPaul’s Drag Race.

My head is ready to explode with ideas.