Cara Nokes and her family

V9i6 A Messy Pride

Narrated by Shae Strong

The question of what Pride means to me hits pretty deep. I am finally getting the opportunity to celebrate my first Pride — out, as my authentic self — with my family at 36 years old after my failed coming out experience ten years earlier.

So, to start… my name is Cara and  I am a transgender woman. I own a pretty cool little food truck that I started five years ago with my wife and children. I've been a chef for over 20 years, a lot of it spent in kitchens that could never in a million years be considered a safe place for any member of the LGBTQ+ community. I have witnessed more homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and misogyny than I care to even speak of. I’ve heard more disparaging discussions of mental health than makes sense for an industry infamous for its burnout culture and pipeline to addiction. I've watched a chef come out as gay and then be unable to find work because nobody seemed to want to work with them anymore. 

Ten years ago, I was dealing with a long bout of mental health issues. My oldest daughter had just been born, I had lost my job due to a restaurant closure, and I was working out these intense feelings of wrongness surrounding my gender identity that I'd always been aware of. I always knew they were something that I wasn't supposed to talk about, and I had no language to express what was happening.

Then I found the word: Transgender! Outside of jokes in Ace Ventura or Dude Where's My Car, I had zero representation of people who felt like me until I watched a documentary about a little girl named Jazz. I felt like a million pounds had been lifted off my shoulders. I was transgender, and I was not alone.

Well, the people around me weren't as excited about my discovery as I was. I found myself in the same position as so many other transfolk: divorced, houseless, unemployed, and… yes… admitted.The inpatient units were convinced that my trans identification was a symptom of my depression and alcoholism, instead of what it actually was — a cause. My divorce lawyer and parents were in my ear telling me I would never see my daughter again if I followed through with transitioning (a distinct possibility 10 years ago). It seemed easier to excuse my coming out as a ‘mental lapse’ — which had me jumping headfirst back into the closet, absolutely convinced I could not make it through life without my daughter. I would do anything if that's what it took to not lose her.

I put all of me into the identities I was allowed to have. I decided (if nothing else) I was going to become the best damn chef and father ever. And, wouldn't you know it, I started growing in my career. I even  had a monthly column in the beginning editions of this awesome paper! I managed to fall in love again, and start my own little bakery. That bakery evolved into a little burger business, and before you knew it, my wife and I started Hot Mess Burgers and Fries!!

I was successfully boy-moding! My success was the perfect blinders for my dysphoria. It's easy to convince yourself you would be selfish for wanting to change genders when you are getting everything else you've ever dreamed of.

Then 35 hit. The truck was in a slump, and I was working 90 hours a week with a newborn at home. My wife, with whom I'd spent countless hours side-by-side on a tiny little food truck, was not on the truck with me anymore, and all my mental walls around my dysphoria came tumbling down…. Boy-mode was never possible.

So, I did the scary thing — I came out to my wife, (who accepted me!), my friends (who embraced me!) and my children (who love me!). I started my medical transition journey, knowing that soon, I'd have to come out to all the followers of Hot Mess. The overwhelming majority have embraced me in my true identity, which is more than I could have imagined.

So PRIDE for me means that I have the opportunity to create and build the safe space my industry so desperately needs. To be the parent that a child could feel safe exploring their identities around! It means getting to say yes, your favorite burger in the Tri-Cities was created by a trans woman!

For the first time in my life, I get to stand up tall and say: My name is Cara Nokes, and I am PROUD to be a trans woman!

Cara Nokes is the founder/executive chef at Hot Mess Burgers and Fries!