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
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.
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.