Ramen Week, Part One: Vivien Ryder’s “Stay Alive, Get a Ramen Club”

Vivien Ryder as the Patron Saint of Lost Trans Folks on the cover of my memoir, Psychopomps. Drawing by Jam Jacobs.

A few years back, when everyone I knew was trans, lost, and struggling, my dear friend Vivien J. Ryder began a project called “Stay Alive, Get a Ramen Club.” The conceit was that if transgender people signed up on her Google doc, and stayed alive despite all the trauma in their lives for one year past their sign-up date, Vivien would have them over for a baller bowl of Ramen. Vivien regularly had homeless trans folks, including me, sleeping on her couch, and provided safe space and care for a lot of people who wouldn’t otherwise have had it.

Now, a few years later, Vivien reflects on this time. In classic style, she underplays her impact, and offers you tips on how to make a 10 cent Ramen package into a whole meal.

Vivien J. Ryder talks about Ramen and building community:

No matter how good you promise it can be, Ramen won’t make anyone stay. No one can be tied in threads so weak, no matter how many. I was crazy. I was crazy to think so, but mostly I was just crazy and everyone around me was, too.

Try a boiled egg, try a raw egg.

Everyone loves avocado.

I didn’t ask for much, just for people to stick around: live a year. Live just one year, and I’ll make you a big Ramen loaded with whatever you like and we’ll sit down and eat it. A couple dozen or so people joined the club. It felt like community building. It wasn’t.

Mushrooms are good. Weird looking mushrooms impress everyone.

It was my own insecurity expressing itself. Maybe you stayed, maybe you left. I committed to waiting a year to find out…for a couple dozen folks who ended up not wanting to share that meal with me at the end of the year. But at least I wasn’t responsible for my own life anymore: I was responsible for everyone else’s.

Crab stick? Fish Balls? Surimi? Tofu, cooked, or cold.

I slept at night with an eye on my cell all night long, just in case it lit up with someone needing me. Occasionally, it did, but invariably, I lost sleep.

Boy choy looks good if you slice it and arrange it nicely. Or some sauteed shredded cabbage? Or a little kimchi if you have.

They all lived, at least the year, but ultimately moved on and away, which is good. People need to follow their own paths. You can’t hold on to anyone forever: maybe a year, if you’re lucky. But when that Ramen is due, or the lease is up, or whatever, you gotta be prepared to let people go.

A drizzle of sesame oil, sesame seeds, pepper flakes. Katsuobushi if you’ve got the right groceries.

They don’t owe you anything, so long as they never asked for what you freely gave.

The secret to making a ten cent Ramen look good is to bury it in all the trappings of a real meal. A big bowl helps.

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