Years ago I visited my high school beard, who lives in New York, for a long weekend of fun that I thought would be centered around food. Our teenage years in Southern California were characterized by getting high and going to the famous restaurant hat, where the god-level order is Stacked Pastrami Dip, Onion Rings, and an Orange Bang. Although we were locked up in high school, we’re both out now, him, a gay man, and me, a non-binary dyke.
As we planned meals for the trip, he dismissed my requests for Balthazar and Momofoku, instead making a reservation for lunch at a restaurant in the now-closed Meatpacking District, where his favorite dish was thinly sliced squash on porous pancakes. In the morning, he religiously drank mashed greens so vile that I spat it out into the sink when he shared it with me.
I didn’t understand at the time, but the toxic culture of the gay regime had already gotten to him. It made more sense when I watched his Instagram grid fill with group photos from Fire Island featuring other gay cisgender men with wave six packs and short shorts. He adheres to what some demeaningly call the “ass diet” – a restrictive way of eating specifically designed to try to avoid what the community calls a “mess” in the bedroom when receiving anal sex. This diet typically involves a regulated intake that avoids rich foods including meat and dairy, cuts out cruciferous vegetables and other bloating-causing foods, preps before sex with anal douching, and mixes in generous portions of the supplement of Pure for Men fiber. The point of all this isn’t necessarily a six-pack abs, but anxiety-free sex.
The idea that asses “need” or “should” adjust their choices for a cleaner sexual experience inspired a viral meme: a photo of a plate of ice cubes accompanied by a knife and fork. In a culture that is already tricky when it comes to talk about our bodily functions, at greater extremes, buttocks anxious about a night of sex might even resort to starvation before sex. This type of abstention still exists in the gay community, although the conversation around bottom food has reached new heights this Pride season. Joel Kim Booster’s Fire Island inserted a joke that the characters would not bottom out while swallowing cheese. Earlier this month, Postmates launched a national campaign claiming to have created the “world’s first Bottom-Friendly menu” which has been criticized on social media to appropriate an intimate part of the queer experience for marketing purposes and for fly to digital creator and chef Alex Hall, who popularized the idea.
But food luminaries and chefs have pushed back in recent years in favor of a reinvigoration of ass-eating pleasure. Hall, who founded the viral account The background summary in June 2021, cooks butt-friendly foods year-round with the goal of butt empowerment. “We created Bottom’s Digest with our recipes doing one thing first, and that priority is minimizing bloating and gas,” says Hall. “For people who eat pastrami and such, go for it. As long as you don’t feel like a sack of potatoes afterwards and you still feel your best, go for it. Exactly.” Hall has more than 132,000 TikTok and 28,000 Instagram followers, numbers that have only grown to support his work since the Postmates debacle.
To understand bottom food today, you have to go back to San Francisco in the 1980s. Food writer, author and sometimes down John Birdsall was a fresh graduate from UC Berkeley and lived in the Bay Area. He recalls how the gay community of the time, despite being born out of mainstream America’s exclusion, closely imitated cisgender and heterosexual sexual attitudes and body ideals. “There was anxiety about being thin enough and being small enough to be attractive,” he says. But that began to change as the AIDS crisis escalated and those affected were challenged to keep the weight off, experimenting with cannabis to stimulate appetite and fermented foods to boost their immune systems. As a foil to the thin, hairless gay male trope, bear culture – where larger bodies and larger appetites reigned – began to emerge. Birdsall remembers a Starbucks in the Castro that was dubbed “Bearbucks,” where bears would congregate, sip rich, milky drinks, and cruise for cubs.
There was no roadmap for the background or the background food that Birdsall remembers, but the editorial service journalism still Bay Area Journalist (BAR) and book The joys of gay sex filled some gaps when public sex education was woefully inadequate or non-existent. Female behaviors and bodies have long been a target of degradation, and Birdsall shares that butt-shaming was prevalent at the time in a misogynistic reverence for more masculine tops. A lack of education has left the gay community educated, to the point of derision and discomfort. These are attitudes that the “Gaytriarchy” still exercises today, which continues to reduce the empowerment of the bottoms.
Now that narrative is changing. Fred Latasa-Nicks, the gay chef-owner of the famed Provincetown restaurant Strangers and Saintssays staff see most of their bookings towards the end of the week, but are unsure whether to attribute this to partying earlier in the week or “butt being butt” booking their dinners for later.
Despite this, Latasa-Nicks says, “I hate to say this, but young fags seem less hooked on things in general. And eating is part of it. You see people eating and drinking and really living a kind of more balanced and enjoyable lifestyle, and then they practice preparing, if you will, rather than depriving yourself of a meal.
Strangers and Saints is selling thousands of its whole burrata dishes with grilled peaches, jalapeno and arugula pesto by the end of the gay tourist season. Cavatelli with homemade ricotta, Tuscan white beans and escarole is another best-seller, alongside the ham and cheese croquette – the direct opposite of what the toxic bottom diet preaches.
“Even within these subcultures of the gay community, there’s always this rule book of like, ‘Oh, I have to do this or I have to do that.’ And what I see changing is the rules. For a lot of us, we don’t want to live by somebody else’s rules, we want to live by our values and our rules that we set for ourselves,” Latasa-Nicks says. The ultimate is to pursue pleasure. So you’ll eat good food, you’ll prepare yourself when you need it, you’ll be a top today, you’ll be a bottom tomorrow, maybe you’ll be in a threesome. Why not?”
On TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram, Hall of the Bottom’s Digest shares cheeky recipes “for a peach-clean time” that are mostly vegan and high in fiber. The most popular recipe on the account is vegan queso, a food that would scare some but allows many to reintroduce a “risky” food into their diet. The narrative also brings consent and affirmation of funds back into the equation.
“One of my phrases is ‘submissive doesn’t equal weak,'” says Hall, who often talks about the anxieties of hitting rock bottom on his own. He says it should never stop you from living your life. “I’ve heard people use the word ‘low’ as an insult. And now I’ve taken it back, like, ‘No, you have to ask my permission to laugh at me, let alone put your dick inside me.’ I will not starve. There’s no consent with that, it’s just peer pressure.
Hall takes the bottom-feeding lore one step further on their account, directly addressing the dreaded “mess” that sometimes accompanies anal sex. Hall likes to say “shit happens all the time”, recently assemble a video of a gay pornstar saying he couldn’t bottom because he didn’t clean up there. Hall, who uses they/he/she pronouns and is non-binary, emphasized from his first video that a bottom’s identity is not limited to cisgender gay men. Every recipe posted on Hall’s account is tested by a team of 10 people, including trans people taking hormones and people with IBS. They even received messages from cis women in Hall’s home state of Texas trying anal sex for the first time for fear of an unwanted pregnancy.
One thing that has changed drastically since the gay culture of the 80s is who uses the label high/low/verse and to whom the low diet might apply – and that includes people of orientations, genders and different perversities. “Bottom Supreme” and self-proclaimed writer Chingy Nea told me his ex-girlfriend made a shirt that said, “Lesbians like anal too.”
Disregarding all the prep a bottom can put in, Nea says she likes to play “fast and free” with food, relishing a diet high in meat and carbohydrates. I’ve even seen her bragging on social media about eat a Reuben and get pestered, and when I spoke to her on the phone for this story, she shared an anecdote about spontaneously getting fingered at a downtown LA gay club and coming out squeaky clean. “My girlfriend says I have a pristine asshole and most of the time I can eat lots of food and do anal and like the toy comes out pretty much clean,” Nea said. “When I was younger I tried to be good with what I ate before, but now you can’t always plan those things.”
Consent is at the center of bottoms claiming their diet: consenting not only with your partner, but also with your intestines. Those who scavenge food from the bottom fulfill a sex education that was previously taboo, and while food personalities and younger generations may be more permissive with attitudes about food and bottom, one source reminded me that what no matter what your diet, you’re always going to end up going to the bathroom.
In Search of Birdsall’s acclaimed biography by American gay chef James Beard, he found documents referring to the first time Beard cooked for his 30-year-old partner, Gino Cofacci, inviting him to a meal of poached calf’s head. Beard cultivated an image of eating massive amounts of extremely rich foods, so the meal, by comparison, was pretty sparing.
“I wouldn’t say spartan meal, but it was very sober. There was a course of calf’s head broth. There was the cold calf’s head with bread and cheese, and that was it,’ says Birdsall, adding, ‘So who knows, maybe he was thinking about the next step after eating.
Rax goes (they/them) graduated from UC Riverside’s MFA program in fiction and are working on a memoir exploring their multiracial identity through food. Jett Allen is a cartoonist and illustrator based in Los Angeles, California.