“What Toast?”: Gender, Sexuality, and Language in the Poetry of M. Mack

grayscale milquetoast

Milquetoast, n.

a bland, timid, or ineffectual person easily dominated

from Caspar Milquetoast, character in H.T. Webster’s

The Timid Soul comic strip, 1924 to 1931

and later, Milquetoast the cockroach, purple crossdressing character in

Berkeley Breathed’s comic strips Bloom County and Outland, 1980 to 1995
And now, this.

What Toast?

When Milquetoast became a cockroach, he lost his mustache. He tried fulfilling this lack of apparent gender with a penchant for what he and many others understood as crossdressing, in a wig and an ugly green dress, but this became an occasional activity: the Christmas special, big fights or fancy dinners with Opus the penguin.


When Milquetoast was a man with a name given and not received, he longed for the silent middle syllable to assert itself in conversation. When given the opportunity, he pronounced it as the Spanish what or the English wuh? When folks called for Milktoast like a menu item, he asked quietly What toast? and then accepted the menu item.


When Milquetoast is dressed up, he likes the way he is treated as dainty, fragile. Opus wears Milquetoast on his arm as easily as he wears his briefs or his masculinity. Milquetoast likes the way the others look at him as vermin to be toyed with, hunted, caught. When Milquetoast is dressed for an evening out, The Poet is an asshat and refuses to change his pronouns, says he likes the gender for the wrong episodic reasons, though what does ze really know about Milquetoast.


milquetoast pinup

Milquetoast became aware of the politics of sex when he began dressing up with the wig and the dress. Crossdressing from what? He heard the whispers around town. How do you sex a cockroach? They said these things into one another’s ears. The Poet Human offered, something about the wing length. He twitched his antennae beneath the blond curls, stood straighter to emphasize his cleavage, expose his clavicle—did he have a clavicle?—as he passed them by, his wings—did he have wings?—uncomfortably exposed.

Mack and MilquetoastEditor’s Note: “What Toast?” is so good ToM is simply it’s third stop. It appeared previously in Gargoyle and was first reprinted online by Cahoodaloodaling.”

M. Mack is a genderqueer poet, editor, and fiber artist in Virginia. Ze is the author of Theater of Parts (Sundress Publications, 2016) and the chapbooks Traveling (Hyacinth Girl Press, forthcoming 2015) and Imaginary Kansas (dancing girl press, forthcoming 2015).  Ze holds an M.F.A. from George Mason University and is former managing editor of So to Speak: a feminist journal of language and art. Mack’s work has appeared recently or is forthcoming in Fence, Hot Metal BridgeMenacing Hedge, and The Queer South (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2014). Ze is a founding co-editor of Gazing Grain Press and a reader for Cider Press Review.