I hate the hate of it.
There is nothing pleasant about the word “faggot”. Even when taken to mean “a bundle of sticks tied together to be used for kindling”, the relative innocence of this definition has disappeared, thanks to the idea that, in a time when people were burned at the stake for unorthodoxy, people like me were thought of as so unworthy– so beneath contempt– that they were denied the simply dignity of their own bonfire, but rather, bound together and set afire en masse.
Like a bundle of faggots.*
In cooking, a faggot is something made from the ground up guts and off-cuts of pig or lamb; a lowly dish made from the cast-off animal flesh. Faggots are made from things that would have otherwise been thrown away or fed to the dogs.
I have spent so many years confused and angered by the word. I have been held back by the power of its shame; irritated that anyone would think I am worthless by virtue of the simple fact that I was born gay. I have avoided writing for weeks because, every time I sat down to think about this word and the recipe associated with it, I would walk away mad and surprisingly frustrated. It was clear to me that, after all these years, the word “faggot” still made me angry.
This first time I can remember hearing the word, it was whispered to me in the library of my elementary school. I was looking for a book on the lives of U.S. presidents when a boy cornered me in the stacks. He kept repeating the word over and over again as he hit me hard in the stomach and arms and chest.
“Hey, faggot!” He smiled when he said it. “You think you’re a smart little faggot, don’t you?” There was a tone of disgust in his voice that surprised and hurt more than any of the punches he was throwing. “You like that, faggot?” I didn’t, so I did the only thing I could think of to make it stop.
I punched him in the face.
He walked away from the fight with a bloody nose, but I walked away with an understanding that there was someone in the world who wanted to hurt me because of what I was and—more frightening to me at the time—what he correctly perceived me to be: gay.
I felt humiliated, loathsome, and fearful of exposure. There was no one I could have turned to at the time; no friends or parents or priests I would have trusted with such a thing.
There was no escaping from the idea that what I was was wrong. In the rare instances I saw a gay man depicted on television or in film, he was the sassy neighbor, the outrageous drag queen, the psychotic murderer. He was the butt of jokes, the object of scorn, the source of evil. I learned to hate myself from the words and jokes I heard from the media, adults, other children in school. I’m certain that’s where the boy in the library learned to hate me, too. He had to have learned it from somewhere.
He was the first, but he certainly wasn’t the last person to call me a faggot.
From then on, each time I heard the word, I tried to ignore it or pretend it didn’t bother me. I kept quiet and swallowed the shame and pain of it like little bits of lead that slowly ground up my guts and poisoned my brain into believing that I was as disgusting and ugly and unlovable as the word itself.
And I know I’m not the only one who did that.
I’ve watched others destroy themselves trying to kill the pain of this word– and all the cruelty behind it– with drugs and alcohol, sex, anger, and suicide. I watched the gentlest man I’ve ever known eaten alive by AIDS yet go to his grave denying he was gay because his shame was so deeply rooted he could never let go of it. I don’t know a single person like me who has not been scarred in some way. Some people never get over it.
Fortunately, there are multiple, overlapping paths that lead us away from that pain if we can simply find them. Maturity, coming out, therapy, our friends and family, the gaining of a broader sense of the world, an understanding that the disgust some people feel for us is their shame and not ours —if we let all of these ideas and people into our lives, we get a clearer sense of ourselves and our worth. We discover that we are not unlovable; we are not awful and disgusting because we happen to be gay.
Things can and do get better , even though there are times in our lives when we think they never will. It may take a lot of work to get to that point in our lives when we love ourselves enough– and grow brave enough– to take on that word and punch it so deservedly in the face. But when we do get there, our lives are so worth living.
It takes courage to live our lives openly, unashamedly, and unapologetically.
It takes guts to be a faggot.
I wanted to make this recipe for months but was uncertain how to go about it. How does one write about an essentially unappealing dish whose name evokes pain and anger in some of us, hate and contempt in others? I filed away the recipe—and the idea—until I felt I could deal with it properly.
Every time I sat down at my computer, I’d see the bookmarks for faggot recipes staring me in the face, taunting me like so many elementary school bullies. I knew I needed to do something about it, so I finally decided to take them on.
I have a habit of taking the bits and pieces of my life, turning them into food, and then eating them. It’s my way of digesting things– therapy on a plate, if you will. Neither this activity nor this particular recipe is for the faint of heart.
It takes guts to make. For some of you, it may take guts to eat as well.
Whatever the case, I would like to thank Tony Cervone for supplying me with the literal guts to make this recipe and all the wonderful people in my life who help give me the guts to be what I am and like it ( Yes, Tony, you’re included in that group, too.)
1 lamb heart, cut up into thick chunks
½ lamb liver, sliced into large pieces
½ of a yellow onion, sliced into quarters
2 cloves of garlic
5 to 6 sprigs of thyme
Equal parts water and red wine (about a cup each) or enough to just cover the entrails for braising
½ cup freshly ground beef or lamb fat
½ to ¾ cup of fresh bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons each of olive oil and butter for frying
1. In a meat grinder, grind your fat into a fine grind. If you do not have a grinder, ask your local butcher to do it for you. When I asked the man behind the counter if he had any fat I could buy, he told me he didn’t sell that sort of thing, but that he’d just thrown a pile of beef fat in the garbage. Since this dish is essentially about making something out of what most people consider unworthy of eating, I asked him for some. He looked confused. He didn’t think it was even worth charging for. Wash thoroughly. Set aside, covered.
2. Preheat oven to 350F. In a large sauté pan, place onion, garlic, heart, and liver pieces in a single layer. Pour over water and wine mixture over until everything is just barely covered. Add thyme sprigs to the top, then place pan in the oven, where it will stay until the onion and garlic have softened and the heart and liver have been thoroughly cooked through. About 45 minutes. Remove the organs and other solid matter from the liquid to let cool. Reserve liquid. Keep oven on.
3. Place the organs, onion and garlic into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the everything has been broken down into small pieces then transfer to a large, clean bowl. Add fat, egg, and bread crumbs. Mix thoroughly using your hands. Add salt and pepper to taste, then mix again. Form the ground-up gut mixture into balls and set out onto a plate.
4. In another sauté pan, heat olive oil and butter until just sizzling. Add the faggots to the pan and brown them, top and bottom. Add the braising liquid to the pan, then place the pan into the oven and cook for 15 minutes. Remove them from the pan and serve with pride hot with the pan gravy over mashed potatoes. Fearlessly.
* The accuracy of this etymology is highly debatable, but the idea behind it has taken hold. For an interesting take one this, watch this poker scene from the television series Louie. Warning: contains (very) adult language.