by Yes! Apples Ambassador Josh Lehenbauer, creator of joshisbaking.com and @joshisbaking.
Baking fills me with a sense of belonging, a feeling of “this is what I’m meant to be doing,” a purpose. I experience that same sense of belonging within my LGBTQ+ family. There’s an innate kinship there—an unspoken connection, rooted in acceptance and support. Never more than when I’m surrounded by this chosen family do I feel protected. Safe.
I’m very proud to be gay man and grateful to have found something I love pursuing. What I don’t think people realize, and should be recognized as a cisgender privilege, is how truly connected these two sides of me are—and why they have to be.
Every year when pride rolls around, I’m reminded to take stock of everything that brings me joy, like baking. It serves as a form of escapism that allows me to step away from the troubles of the world for moments at a time—each bake a mental “reset” on any lingering woes from the day before. Not seeing your therapist till next week and in desperate need of a session? Try baking a pie—it might tide you over.
My identity also brings me joy. No, my sexuality does not define every moment of my existence, but I’d be remiss if I said my baking and sexual identity weren’t interwoven quite a bit. Two vines running up the same tree, occasionally crossing paths.
I’m a baker who happens to be gay, but I would not strictly label myself as a “gay baker.” There’s nothing inherently gay about the cakes and pastries I make. With that said, it’s important to me that my sexual identity is ingrained within what I do. When someone stumbles across my page, I want there to be no question that it’s a space where all expressions of gender and sexuality are welcome.
I grew up desperately searching for validation that I how I felt was okay and that I wasn’t alone. Growing up in the 90s and early aughts, there was no Instagram or platform (at least not in their current forms) for me to access endless forms of representation. What a difference it would have made for little gay me.
That’s why baking is and always will be personal for me. We don’t just turn off one part of who we are to engage with another. This pastry or cake may not be queer, but they were made by hands that are. I can’t afford to serve as some anonymous baker when there might be someone out there searching for the same validation I was. No one queer person can or should represent the entire queer community, and I certainly make mistakes along the way. But with what little platform I may have, it’s my responsibility to not just live openly, but to also try and uplift other queer voices along the way. I don’t do this alone; it’s called a community for a reason.
I’m often told “stick to baking” from the faceless trolls that haunt my feed, but I didn’t step out of the closet just to be forced into a box. We’ve seen it before with bakeries who try and stake a claim within their own communities. I’m reminded of one such instance with Good Cakes and Bakes of Detroit a few years back, a queer and black-owned bakery.
Queer-owned businesses look and operate just like any other, but chances are they’ve made it known that they are, in fact, queer-owned. That it’s a safe space. Cisgendered (and predominately white) communities aren’t Googling “straight-friendly places to eat” because the assumption is that everywhere is.
For most of us in the LGBTQ+ community, there are questions we typically ask ourselves before venturing out: Will I be comfortable there? Will I be safe? Am I welcome? That’s why queer-owned businesses make it known that you will be comfortable there, you will be safe, and you are welcome—answers to those questions since we live in a society where they sadly still need asking.
I am a baker and I am gay. I can be both, and I want young people still going on their own journey to see that. That’s why I can’t just “stick to baking” on my platform. Why my baking and sexual identity will always be intrinsically linked. I want to be on the sidelines, cheering them on, telling them it’ll be okay and that we’re in this together. That when they’re ready, they’ll be met with open arms from this community should their own cast them aside.
I want to tell people that who they are is enough and should be celebrated.
It’s easy to dwell on the shortcomings of a life spent living in a marginalized community, but I do have hope. These up-and-coming generations are more educated, open, and accepting (I feel)—more confident in their sense of self. I think they’re leading us toward a more welcome tomorrow.
Much like a good dough, these things take time. We just have to keep nurturing them, kneading love into the places we can, and hope the world rises to the occasion. I have hope it will.