Roundtable: The Lesbian Toaster

The first time lesbians were publicly aligned with the gifting of toasters was during the coming out episode of Ellen Degeneres’s 90s-era sitcom Ellen. In it, right after Ellen’s character makes history as the first woman to ever say the words “I’m gay” on network television, there’s a scene where a woman played by Melissa Etheridge welcomes Ellen to the team with a contract of sorts. They sit at a table along with the woman who’s fostered this official introduction, Susan, (played by IRL goddess Laura Dern) and after the signing, a celebratory toaster is placed on the table.

Given the significance of the episode and the toaster’s timing, people have understandably associated it with Ellen’s coming out. It’s also a quick moment, and so details were bound to get lost, but you’ll see in this clip that Dern’s character, the woman who successfully “recruited” Ellen, is the one that actually gets the toaster.

I’ve come across the lesbian toaster joke in my gay tenure and have heard it referenced both in this recruitment sense and a watered down version of it where a lesbian gets a toaster when she sleeps with a straight woman, but I never knew its origins. My best guess was that it was a spin on the idea that toast can never become bread again. This, it turns out, is not the case. A little investigation revealed that not only is that a very new idea that seeped into my brain via the last season of Orange is the New Black, but that the lesbian toaster joke is a callback to when banks would offer toasters as incentives for people opening new accounts.

Clearly, I was way off, and that’s with some exposure to it. I wanted to see where the rest of the staff stood. I asked them if they’d ever heard of the lesbian toaster, gave them my guess as to what it stood for, and gave them specific instructions not to look it up. Here are their answers.

Alaina, Staff Writer


Is it because the straight woman will burn her? Like toasters burn bread all the time? Wait, the real answer is awful/brilliant. #toastermafia

Dufrau, Staff Writer

Re: toasters, maybe so that when it inevitably doesn’t work out for anybody involved and you are sad you can at least make toast instead of cooking a real meal. Or maybe it’s like, “A toast… to “her.” The “her” being either the you or the other her. But also I have never owned a toaster so this is absolute conjecture.

Mey, Trans Editor

I’ve never heard of giving a toaster to a lesbian when she sleeps with a straight woman, but I am very gay for this idea. My guess as for why you give a toaster comes from the old thing where if you joined a bank you’d get a free toaster. So like, you get a toaster when you open a new account, so you get a toaster when you open a new mind? I feel like I was onto something but I can’t quite pin it down. Or maybe a lot of straight ladies work at banks so that’s where the connection was made.

Riese, EIC & CEO

I for some reason thought the toaster joke was a joke that when you came out, you got a toaster, like how when you open a new bank account or donate to PBS, you get a special gift in the mail to reward you for your patronage. In this context i assumed a toaster was simply a randomly selected kitchen appliance with no particular meaning behind it, specifically. But today I learned that all this time I’ve been wrong about the toaster oven joke. However, I MAY still be right about it being a randomly selected kitchen appliance, a reference to, say, how if you sell a lot of tupperware or Amway products you get a gift in the mail. If you recruit a lot of lesbians you get a gift in the mail! and once you have a toaster oven, you can make english muffin pizzas, so in other words, you now have everything you need to make a really elegant dinner for your special lady.

Valerie, Staff Writer

I always thought it was a play on pyramid-scheme rewards. “Recruit someone and you get a toaster! Recruit 10 people and you get a brand new Subaru!” But I guess I never really thought about it so now I’m questioning everything and NEED TO KNOW.

Stef, Vapid-Fluff Editor

Erin what.

Laura M., Staff Writer

I think Ellen originally made this joke in “The Puppy Episode.” Probably it came out of her beautiful brain and that’s it… I suspect there was a cosmetic defect at the world’s top toaster oven factory, so they decided to donate the production lot to a good cause. And, I mean, turning straight women gay is about the best cause I can think of.

Heather, Senior Editor

Erin, I’m sorry. I know the answer is because of Ellen’s puppy episode. I am elderly and writing about homosexuals on TV is my job.

Raquel, Intern

So I always thought the toaster thing was just like, a joke on how toasters are always practical gifts for special events. Or maybe in advance of the wedding? Congrats on turning a str8, here’s your inevitable housewarming gift! Idk.

Sarah, Design & Business Director

(without seeing the question but committing anyway) What a perfect invention that truly captures all my needs, emotionally and physically. (sees question) Oh, I just saw what this actually is. Umm. Give a girl a toaster, she’ll be crusty for life!

Carolyn, NSFW & Literary Editor

Re: the toaster thing: “Is it because they get burned” is all I have. We are, as a website, bad at successfully toasting things perhaps?

Molly Priddy, Contributing Writer, acting like I don’t know she’s just taking the “spaghetti is straight until it gets wet” analogy & replacing it with bread and heat

Because straight women are white bread ’til it gets hot?

Cee, Tech Director

It has something to do with Ellen Degeneres I think, the toaster thing. Maybe she made a joke about it on stage? Or like in her coming out episode? I don’t remember but that’s my guess. Also I should probably know this because, old. Honestly I think your bread to toast is genius. The first girl I dated for real real back when I was 23 gave ME a toaster. It was pink. It was a Hello Kitty toaster and it made Hello Kitty toast.

Vanessa, Contributing Writer

Do you get a toaster because you’re ~ toast ~ and will never be the same now that you’ve known the sweet, sweet reality of queer love? Idk, Erin, that is my best low key guess.

Siobhan, Staff Writer

Is it not a pyramid scheme joke? Like you get rewarded with a toaster for converting a new straight to our side?

Faith, Staff Writer

What’s a toaster? I’m a kitchen snob and pan toast my bread.

Rachel, Managing Editor

I think the version of the toaster myth that reached me was that you received a toaster when you came out as a lesbian, from who or whence it was never clear, like sort of how you start receiving junk mail for life insurance after about 25 from a mysterious source. I was never sure why a toaster; it felt like a gesture that was sort of wryly self-aware about its own pointlessness. “Haha, welp, good luck with that one! Have a toaster I guess!” Knowing the version of it where someone receives a toaster when they sleep with a straight woman is also extremely confusing, because in my experience this suggests a queer women’s community deeply divided between people who have zero toasters and people who have 37 and counting.

(after the big reveal)

I see. What a world. It’s like a very tiny, unambitious version of the single lady wedding registry from SATC. I never watched SATC so I’m probably getting it wrong, but doesn’t one of the Sexually Liberated ones say like I’m never getting married so I’m going to throw a party for myself and I want all my friends and family to buy me shit like I was having a wedding? That really sums up my perception of what SATC was, like a sort of American Gladiators of demanding attention.

Stay tuned for what everyone thinks happens in SATC.

Los Angeles based writer. Let's keep it clean out there!

Erin has written 207 articles for us.


  1. Remember in BSG how they called the Cylons toasters?

    Well, what if the lesbian induction toasters are in fact well-disguised malevolent cyborgs that will eventually rise up and overthrow humanity?

    Did Ellen see this coming?

    So many questions.

  2. I am sorry to disagree with Heather The Incomparable but I am older than you and this definitely predates the Ellen episode.


  3. I always thought it was a toaster oven, too, but that it was a prize given to a lesbian recruiter for turning several straight girls, not just one (“I just converted a straight girl… three more and I get a free toaster oven!”)

  4. OK but lesbians and toasters
    I’ve always heard a warped version that the lesbian IS the toaster?
    Like the toaster is the lesbian who dates the straight girl
    The straight girl is the bread

    Bread goes into the relationship
    Toast comes out
    or something

    I’ve had friends refer to themselves as toasters is what I’m saying

  5. I always thought it was on the Gay Agenda checklist and you had to turn 10 lesbians to get the toaster as a prize, like a summer reading program at the library.

    Also, I propose that bisexuals should get a toaster OVEN because we’re so versatile.

  6. I was at Boston Dyke march in 2006 and stood next to a woman with a sign that said, “I AM ONE WOMAN AWAY FROM EARNING A TOASTER”. I always thought of it like after you sleep with 10 women you get a gravy boat and 25 you get a toaster, after 100 you get a Subaru and a guest spot on the L Word.

  7. I remember seeing the episode in reruns, but didn’t remember it well until a friend showed it to me on youtube. Her explanation was similar to Raquel’s, but instead of wedding, said u-haul. Like a house warming gift for moving. Incidentally thought about getting said friend a toaster when she moved to a new place but got her a coffee maker instead.

  8. Was I the only one who watched the puppy episode like 15 times when I first came out??

    In the episode, Ellen is trying to prove her straightness so hard and accuses Susan of “recruiting” her, to which Susan responds “Ah, I gotta call national headquarters and tell them I lost you. Damn! One more and I would have gotten that toaster oven.”

    Oh, just watch the whole episode. It’s on Youtube.

  9. I feel like all through my youth there were anti-homophobia information campaigns about LGBTQ people: “we’re not trying to convert you!”

    But actually we are all the predatory gays of lore

  10. Definitely always thought toasters were a subtle “uhauling” joke. Like “here’s your toaster sarah, have fun making your wife breakfast in bed. Oh it’s your second date? Good you’re on schedule then.” also this is the funniest thing I’ve read all week.

  11. I remember a similar joke… also from the nineties.

    A mythical and magical welcome basket that would come to your door when u first came out, complete with **everything** you need to know now that you’re gay.

    Sadly mine never arrived. ( Cue the sad trombones)

    That was part of the joke too, or that some key item had been left out and that why you missed some punch line or innuendo.

    Where do I get my g– d— the welcome basket?!? Oh, it’s called Autostraddle. Thanks goodness for the internets.

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