(I think we can all remember the first time we read a Bake Sale Bunch book. If you're anything like me, you picked one up a few days after you came out as a trans woman, excited to finally dig into why everybody else was talking about the adventures of Zoe, Alice, Sophie, and Liz, four trans women who love to bake. The much loved series, published by reclusive author Anna Aardvark, released over 150 installments between the years of 2018 and 2022. Here are some excerpts from the first book in the series, Zoe's Great Idea.)
"It's just not fair!" Alice yelled. She threw her iPhone across the room. She almost hit Zoe in the face.
"What's not fair?" Zoe asked. Zoe and Alice were best friends. They had met two years ago when Alice direct messaged Zoe on Twitter. Alice wanted to know if Zoe had to pee more on spironolactone. Zoe thought Alice's message was rather rude, but she also thought Alice was funny.
"Nora can't come to see me for solstice like we planned," Alice said. "Her mom can't fly with her to San Francisco. Nora is only 4. She can't fly alone." Alice was going through a terrible divorce. Her ex, Leigh, had tried to convince Alice to stay closeted for the sake of their daughter. Alice had tried but had only made it a year or two. Leigh said that Alice had tricked her into a sham marriage. Leigh was being unfair. Everybody knew it, but Leigh still had primary custody. It was a very hard thing for Alice to deal with.
Zoe was still married to Chloe. Sometimes, people called them "The Oeys." They had met the first day of college. Chloe said it was cute that their names rhymed. Chloe was also really good at lying. Zoe didn't know if she was lying about this. Zoe and Chloe didn't have kids. They wanted them someday but not right now.
"Why don't you go to Omaha and pick Nora up?" Zoe said. "I can buy you a ticket."
"I'm tired of asking you for money, Zo," Alice said. She asked Zoe for a lot of money. Zoe was a successful children's book illustrator. Chloe was a public defender. If you asked either of the The Oeys about their financial situation, they would say "We're solvent." (When someone's financial situation is called "solvent," it means that they have enough money to cover their debts. Chloe and Zoe were both lying about being solvent. They were closer to being solvent than anyone they knew, however.)
"I can give you the money, Alice. We're solvent." Zoe smiled. She liked feeling like her life was holding together. But really, Zoe's life was only holding together because she had accidentally married a bisexual who was not currently interested in starting a family. Zoe and Chloe loved each other. They had enough money to make that love easier to keep alive. Both of them were far too good at thinking their good luck proved that they were good people. They were good people mostly. But they hadn't ever really been in a situation that would put them to the test.
(Zoe also had "passing privilege." That meant that she was able to be read as a cis woman in nearly all social situations. Passing privilege gave Zoe certain advantages she didn't like to think about. She was going to get facial feminization surgery soon. It would help her pass even more. She didn't like to think about the level of economic security that let her afford her surgery.)
"It's not about the money, Zoe. It's so hard for a newly out trans woman in her 30s to build a life for herself." Zoe and Alice had realized they were trans women around the same time. But Alice had tried to save her marriage. She put off going on hormones for over a year. In that time, Zoe had not only gone on hormones but had socially transitioned. The gap between them had shrunk since Alice went on hormones nine months ago. But there was still a gap.
Zoe nodded. It was very hard for trans women to build stable lives. There had to be a better idea. "I have an idea," Zoe said. "I think it's a great idea."
It was a great idea.
"I don't know, Zoe," Sophie said. "It's pretty rundown."
Sophie was a programmer tran. She was great at making computers do things. Zoe wanted to know if the old bed and breakfast up on Port Kenyon Road could be updated for modern computers. Fiber-optic lines had yet to be run all along Port Kenyon Road. That would make it tough, Sophie said.
"What do you want with this place anyway?" Sophie asked. "It's been on the market for three years now. It's a wreck."
"It's big enough for a whole bunch of people," Zoe said.
"Oh no," Sophie said. "Oh no, oh no. What are you thinking?"
Alice walked out of the front door of the bed and breakfast. The real estate agent locked the door behind her. "It's great," Alice said. "It will work perfectly."
"Trans women don't always have a place to go," Zoe said. "Well, now they'll have the T4T B&B in Ferndale, California."
"I would rethink the name," Sophie said.
"We'll run the ground floor as a real B&B," Alice said. "We'll have a little cafe with sandwiches and soups and baked goods. And then upstairs, we'll take in trans women who need a place to get back on their feet."
"Maybe some trans girls who need a safe place to live while their parents figure their shit out," Zoe said.
"I'm sure the government's going to be thrilled about fostering children at a trans-feminine commune," Sophie said. Sophie was 28. Her biological clock didn't seem to be ticking. And she was independently wealthy. She could just buy a child if she needed to someday. "Where are you going to get the money for this?"
"Chloe and I have a little socked away," Zoe said. "We hoped you would pitch in, and then we thought we'd raise the rest--"
"Don't say 'with a bake sale,'" Sophie said.
Zoe didn't say anything, because she had been going to say "with a bake sale." She stood quietly. The wind off the ocean rattled the windows in the old house. Alice stepped off the porch. She shielded her eyes and looked up at the windows on the top floor. The sun glinted off of them. The place almost looked like home.
"I'll call Liz," Sophie said. "This is going to have to be one h*ll of a bake sale."
"A bake sale!" Liz shouted. Her dog, Cornelius, looked up from where he slept in the window seat. With as often as Liz shouted random phrases, it would be easy to think Cornelius would be used to it. But Liz also shouted "Who wants a dog treat?" at that frequency. Cornelius had to always be on guard. Just in case.
"And when we buy the building, we want you to run the cafe," Zoe said. "And you can live upstairs with us, of course."
Liz blinked back tears. When she came out at 15, her family had disowned her. (To "disown" someone means to cut them off entirely. You pretend they don't exist. It's a very cruel thing to do to your child.) She was 27 now. She still wanted very much to live somewhere with people who loved her.
She and her boyfriend, Nick, hoped to move in together soon. Nick lived in Tuscaloosa. He was a trans boy who loved writing fanfiction about doomed expeditions to the Antarctic. Liz had met Nick in a Discord named TRANS-SEX-PESTS. They both thought the Discord was ironically named. It was not. They soon learned this and left the Discord. But they kept talking and soon fell in love.
Liz was the best baker in all of northern California. Her brownie surprises had won awards at every single county fair. Whenever the gang was in a pinch, they knew Liz could bake her way out of it. This was a real pinch. It would require Liz's very best. But Liz's very best was very good indeed.
"So I'll run the cafe," Liz said. "And Sophie will be our tech specialist."
She looked toward Alice, who smiled. "I'm going to run the bed and breakfast side of things. I worked in customer service back in Omaha. I'll know how to handle things."
"And what about you?" Liz said. She was looking at Zoe.
"Me?" Zoe asked. Everybody looked at her. "I'm going to be in charge."
As you can imagine, the girls' scheme works, more or less. Though they have to face off with a competing bid from a mysterious man who calls himself Mr. Opera, they manage to convince the real estate agent to give them a month to raise the money they need, playing off the agent's love for her own trans grandson. Across a series of mishaps, the four come together as friends and as potential business partners to throw the biggest bake sale Ferndale has ever known. Alice calls in a few favors to get Ariana Grande to play a short set at the show, and Zoe auctions away some of her greatest illustrations. Sophie, meanwhile, reveals that she is fantastic at drawing caricatures.
The book's 11th chapter is controversial, consisting, as it does, of a 12-page, one paragraph monologue from Chloe loosely entitled "The Woman Within the Woman." Laced with profanity and recursive references to much of the Western canon, many feel Chloe's monologue is an example of Aardvark's over-indulgence and perhaps inappropriate for a book aimed at middle-grade readers. Some trans scholars have critiqued the monologue as seeing the trans experience as fundamentally a mirror image of cisgender identity, questioning Aardvark's commitment to gender abolition. Everyone agrees the passage is dazzlingly written but stops the book dead in its tracks.
Anyway, after that, the bake sale is over. The girls count the money and learn they've raised enough. The next day, they plan to give that money to the real estate agent and purchase the bed and breakfast outright. But when morning dawns, there's a complication.
"The money!" Zoe said. The big box with the money in it was gone.
"Someone stole the money!" Alice said. She had slept on Zoe's floor the night before. She had been right by the money. Whoever had taken it must have been very sneaky.
Zoe and Alice went to the other room where Sophie and Liz were sleeping. "Now we'll never be able to buy the bed and breakfast!" Liz said. Cornelius whined at being awakened.
"Look at this," Sophie said. There was a letter laying on the ground inside the front door. Sophie picked it up and read it out loud.
Dear Bake Sale Bunch:
I simply cannot allow you to purchase the bed and breakfast. I must purchase it for my own ventures, which include dog grooming.
"Ferndale could use a good dog grooming operation," Liz said. Cornelius was looking a little shabby.
"He doesn't need that whole building for a dog grooming business," Alice said. She had tears in her eyes. "That was supposed to be our special place where we could help girls like us."
Zoe put an arm around Alice and gave her a little hug. "It's over, Alice. I'm so sorry." They started to cry. They hugged each other. Sophie joined in.
"It's not over yet," Liz said. She held the letter up to Cornelius's nose. The dog gave a little woof. "Cornelius is one-tenth bloodhound."
The police put the handcuffs around Mr. Opera's hands. The old man was crying so hard that the opera glasses he constantly held up to his eyes were fogging over. "I can fix that," Zoe said. She took his opera glasses and cleaned them on her shirt.
"We shouldn't let the police take Mr. Opera to jail," Alice said. "That's not restorative justice. We have our money back." ("Restorative justice" is when someone attempts to directly heal the harm from a crime.)
"Yes," Sophie said. "By locking Mr. Opera in prison, we might only cause him to be further traumatized in ways that will only cause greater harm to society."
The kind policeman stopped before he put Mr. Opera in the car. "We can't really not press charges against someone who stole $2 million."
"What if that someone was an egg?" Liz said.
"Ohhhhh," said Zoe, Alice, and Sophie all at once. They saw how much Mr. Opera wanted to hang out with them. They saw how he got you not to look at him too closely by wearing a large and beautiful opera cloak. They saw an inexpressible sadness in his eyes. A cis person, like the police officer, would not notice these signs. But the Bake Sale Bunch knew. Mr. Opera needed their help.
"I have no idea what you're talking about," the policeman said.
"It's true," Mr. Opera said. "From my earliest days, I wanted to be a girl. But I'm almost 70 now. My dreams of owning a dog grooming business as a woman will die with me in jail."
"Come on, Mr. Opera," said the policeman.
"Mr. Opera is her dead name," Zoe said. "What is your real name?"
"My name is Jodie, and I use she/her pronouns," said Jodie Opera.
"Hooray!" said the Bake Sale Bunch.
"You know," Zoe said, "my wife is a public defender."
"Right, she is!" said everybody else.
It wasn't long before Jodie was free to leave. Chloe convinced the judge that Jodie would be better off running a dog grooming business out of the back room in the bed and breakfast. Jodie was just so happy to finally be taking a strict regiment of feminizing hormones that she would do anything to help out the Bake Sale Bunch. They had finally seen her.
Cornelius and his wonderful nose had a wonderful year.
"How's this?" Zoe said. She showed Alice the text she was going to put on the Bake Sale Bunch's website.
"That's really good!" Alice said.
They would open the T4T B&B the following morning. Trans people from all over would come to find a haven, amazing brownies, and top-notch dog grooming, all under the same roof. The Bake Sale Bunch would have many adventures to come. But for now, they were just happy to all finally be together in their big, beautiful home.
Click on the Bake Sale Bunch website, and you might read this.
Not sure who you are?
Don't know where to go?
There's a place where you'll be accepted.
There's a place where you'll be seen.
Rooms are cheap, and the brownies are great.
Make sure to bring your dog!
--The Bake Sale Bunch
Talk back to me: How about that Bake Sale Bunch, eh? Which of their later adventures would you most like to read excerpts from? Tell me in comments!
What I've been up to: Vox's annual Oscar roundtables are going on, and I've already been in roundtables for Promising Young Woman and The Father, with Nomadland, Minari, and Sound of Metal to follow. But if you want to read me working through my indifference to further Game of Thrones adventures, do I have a piece for you!
In an era when intellectual property rules all, Game of Thrones is an undeniably big piece of intellectual property. From HBO’s perspective, it would be ridiculous not to wring every last dollar out of the show, even if doing so exhausts Game of Thrones as something people long to revisit, possibly for a very long time. But from the perspective of a viewer, I do find myself wondering when this particular IP phase — which exists across all entertainment companies — will exhaust itself. Couldn’t we, I don’t know, adapt some new fantasy novels? Why does the next Game of Thrones have to be related to Game of Thrones?
Read me: This thing about the "six different cultures" of play in tabletop role-playing games is, I regret to inform you, extremely my nerdy shit.
There are at least six main cultures of play that have emerged over the course of the roleplaying game hobby. There may be more: my analysis is mainly restricted to English-language RPG cultures, tho' at least three of them have significant non-English presences as well. In addition to these six cultures, there's a proto-culture that existed from 1970-1976 before organisation into cultures really began.
A culture of play is a set of shared norms (goals, values, taboos, etc.), considerations, and techniques that inform a group of people who are large enough that they are not all in direct contact with one another (let's call that a "community"). These cultures of play are transmitted through a variety of media, ranging from books and adventures to individuals teaching one another to magazine articles to online streaming shows. A culture of play is broadly similar to a "network of practice" if you're familiar with that jargon.
Watch me: Patrick H. Willems, one of my favorite YouTubers, has finally made a video essay about Dick Tracy, one of my favorite films. Patrick doesn't reach all of the conclusions I would, in that he doesn't immediately proclaim this one of the best films ever made, but that's okay. We all make mistakes.
And another thing... I am a little obsessed with this video about new methods of playing Tetris on the old NES that were just developed within the last year. It's wild.
Also: Netflix made a Christian summer camp musical movie? Why have I not watched this already?
Opening credits sequence of the week: The opening credits for Out of the Blue, the least-known Happy Days spinoff, are ridiculous. This show has nine series regulars. The opening credits take nearly a minute to introduce any of them. One of the kids is billed above one of the adults. Eileen Hackett plays "Boss Angel." What is this show??
A thing I had to look up: I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how Jodie Opera could be wearing opera glasses while she was handcuffed, and I eventually just gave up. It's central to her mystery as a character that she always has opera glasses on, even when she has no hands to hold them.
This week's reading music: "Memphis" by Kitten
Episodes is published three times per week. Mondays feature my thoughts on assorted topics. Wednesdays offer pop culture thoughts from freelance writers. Fridays are TV recaps written by myself. The Wednesday and Friday editions are only available to subscribers. Suggest topics for future installments via email or on Twitter. Read more of my work at Vox.
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