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.

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

Erin has written 208 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.

    • No, it’s that when we reach a certain number, an effect is triggered whereby lesbians will take over the world. Queer women. Something like that.

      I’m old enough to (barely) remember the toaster-for-a-new-account thing. I think it suggests that if you come out, you get a toaster. It’s long enough ago that everyone got the joke, I think. At any rate, I’m still waiting for mine.

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


      • I genuinely thought it was just a regular ol’ toaster I KNEW NOTHING THANK YOU ERIN FOR TEACHING ME THE IMPORTANT THINGS ALWAYS

    • THIS.
      It’s an old Lesbian Nation joke (about “recruitment” rewards) and it was a toaster oven at first. And you get it for flipping straight women. This is what my collection of 70s lesbian literature tells me, and this is what I believe (hell, it may be in the Lesbian Humor book I found in a used bookstore in Alaska).
      Related: it has been determined that the appropriate gift for a bisexual or hasbian woman marrying a man is a breadbox, because Reasons.

      • I lived in that used bookstore for years… Notice how I said “that” as in one. Because that’s literally all there is… But damn it’s a goodie!

      • I married a man-person and I got NO BREADBOX. I am now disappointed in everyone I know, even though I actually don’t eat bread.

  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!”)

    • Makes sense though. Imagine the warehouse people like Rachel Maddow or Kate McKinnon or KStew would need to store all their toaster ovens if you got one for every single new recruit.

  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.

    • Ok now I see that the toaster oven is the original after all. Conception amended but the joke still stands :)

    • I knowww, I won a CD case from the library as a kid and it was a major bookworm pride moment

    • Thanks, Ottergirl, now I want a personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut, because Book It. Is that even a thing anymore?

      • Whoaaah I’d never heard of Book It before! Amazing. I’d like to believe that little Ottergirl would have crushed it.

        • I totally believe little OtterGirl would have had ALL the personal pan pizzas.

          Seriously though, I feel bad for my poor (literally) mom, who got sucked into pizza she could not afford because little Sarah had a “free” kids meal, essentially. Because who can say no to a kid who earned free pizza?

  6. Also I have only seen like 5 eps total MAYBE of SATC so lemme know if you want to know what I do or do not know

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

    • I’ve never seen it, but now have something to watch tonight while enjoying my cocoa puffs :)

  10. Wow, you can really see the generational divide
    And it’s toaster oven

  11. 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

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. Everyone knows the toaster oven is both a practical and symbolic appliance for a lifetime of preparing delicious Totinos pizza rolls.

  15. @Erin can you actually do an article (or a series??) where you ask the staff to describe Classic Straight Shows that they haven’t seen, a la SATC? Bc I would read the hell out of that

  16. All you young whippersnappers thinking this came from Ellen is as cute as it is incorrect.
    This did NOT come from Ellen.
    That joke predates Ellen’s show by a good two decades.
    This is how it was explained to me in 1990, when I came out and my adopted moms asked who they needed to send the toaster OVEN to:
    Back in the 50s-70s banks tried to lure customers from their competitors with coffee makers or toasters or toaster ovens (they were relatively new then, so they were super popular). In the mid to late 70s, Anita Bryant, (the Mouseketeer) was all over the TV hawking Florida Orange Juice, and in 1977 she started the “Save Our Children” campaign to combat anti-discrimination laws, first in Florida and then all over the country. She talked about gays converting children because they couldn’t have children of their own. She became a pariah and her career died on that hill. She became a joke. A heartbreakingly successful joke when it came to getting anti-discrimination legislation repealed or blocked.
    This is when the queer community started cracking jokes about how if you converted a straight person you got a toaster oven.
    The credits scene in Ellen was an inside joke for all the lesbians watching from the audience, who had been waiting with bated breath for that episode after she’d been teasing the coming out episode for what seemed like forever, (but was probably only couple of weeks) leading up to that episode.
    The best part of her decision to come out and her decision to bring Ellen Morgan out in that episode was that she knew she was flushing her career down the toilet.
    She knew it and she did it anyway.
    There was no talk show, there was no talk of a talk show.
    She was the first really big name to come out.
    I mean, I know there were others, but Ellen coming out was Huge, because she was at the TOP of her game and it meant career suicide and we all knew it. It also meant the world to those of us that were young queers at the time. We all knew what she was sacrificing, so it was a bittersweet moment for the whole community.
    In fact, if memory serves, after that show aired, her co-stars and production staff actually had a cake made for her that said “Congratulations: You’re Gay!” Because of a remark in the episode.
    Don’t get it twisted. Ellen gave a lot to our community, but not the toaster oven joke.

  17. Going out on a limb here. I don’t have the reference to cite-yet. I swear that the “lesbian toaster” idea predates the Ellen Puppy episode.

    I have, at best, a vague memory of a talk show format discussion with an openly gay panelist and an openly anti-gay panelist.

    The whole, “You gays are trying to recruit our children,” bullshit came up.

    I swear I remember the openly gay panelist said something like, “For god’s sake people! We aren’t working for [insert bank name here] guys! It’s not like we get a toaster for each straight person we recruit!”
    I squirted milk out of my nose for the first time ever.

    I think that Ellen’s episode and toaster had was an homage to that episode, and not the other way around

    I’ll keep searching for it, just to satisfy my compulsion and failing memory. Wish me luck.

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