Transgender man finds — and creates — refuge in his family’s small-town restaurant
From the series California Foodways, we go to Rosebud's Cafe, where Tyx Pulskamp and his family push the boundaries of what people are ready for.
Tyx Pulskamp shows me around his family’s farm, tucked into the rolling hills of Amador County, southeast of Sacramento.
“There are something like a thousand strawberry plants right here. And we jar all our jam in the cafe.”
What his family grows and raises on the farm, they serve at Rosebud’s Cafe, which they opened in the nearby town of Jackson nearly 30 years ago.
“These are Barbados Blackbottom Sheep,” Tyx tells me. “We have a nice lamb burger on the menu right now.”
He admits, it’s a bit of an experiment, and not everything works. Take the duck eggs.
“The eggs weren’t really a hit in the restaurant. The people weren’t ready for duck eggs.”
But Tyx and his family are used to pushing the boundaries of what people are ready for in Amador County.
Jackson is a Gold Rush-era town with quaint brick buildings on its main street, and a reputation as the last of its kind to get rid of brothels and gaming halls. It’s pretty quiet, now, except when you walk into Rosebud’s cafe. It’s a place that shouts its values from its walls: bright green paint, huge family portraits, and tons of posters and flyers announcing programs for the arts, supporting local homeless initiatives, and advocating for LGBTQ rights.
We're outspoken liberals in this cafe, and the community that we live in has not been so forward in those ideas.
At least half the customers are from far out of town — Stockton, Manteca, Monterey — and Tyx’s mom Mary Pulskamp says that’s important because Rosebud’s doesn’t always feel the love from all of their neighbors
“We're very grateful for city people coming out here. I mean the big ranchers and the old families probably have blackballed us in some ways” she says. “We're outspoken liberals in this cafe, and the community that we live in has not been so forward in those ideas.”
Rosebud’s has become a refuge for people who don’t always feel accepted, including Mary’s own family.
Rosebud's is like a beam of light.
“Rosebud’s is like a beam of light,” says Tyx, who works the front of house like he’s done since Rosebud’s opened. “I started on the cash register when I was 6 years old. It’s like my sibling, Rosebud’s. It’s like the 4th child.”
His parents and aunt and uncle opened Rosebud’s, his brother Kyle is the chef. “When the farm has a bumper crop of something, we’re going to use those for sure. It’s like a dialogue between the restaurant and the farm.”
Sister Meghan has worked here throughout her life, but the day I visit she’s a customer, celebrating a friend’s birthday.
Mary says, the family really started supporting LGBTQ issues when Meghan came out as a lesbian in high school.
“In this community that was really scary,” Mary says. She worried her daughter would be bullied.
“But that was just the beginning.”
Because Tyx stood out even more. There was the controversial neon pink baseball cap, the short hair dyed purple that provoked a teacher:
He remembers, “She pulled me aside on the way out to P.E. one day and told me that I was ruining my life.” Tyx pauses, then continues. “I knew I knew then that she was wrong. But what I didn't know was how her saying that would still be a part of my consciousness, thirty years later. That's obscene! I was just a fat little girl I was just trying to be okay.”
He didn’t know it then, but Tyx is a trans man. Playing with his look, he learned about himself. There was a mohawk, clothes cut up and pieced back together, decorated with safety pins.
My family always went straight to the front and sat in the front row, mohawk, purple hair and all.
“For me, our parents giving us the room to express ourselves through our physical aesthetic was a matter of my survival. If I wasn’t cutting my hair, I might have cut myself.”
He says, especially with his mom, he had a model of how to show his true self, even at church. When others filled the back pews, he says, “My family always went straight to the front and sat in the front row, mohawk, purple hair and all.”
Tyx remembers his mom getting chastised for changing the words of hymns, like referring to God as “she.”
“That’s who was looking out for me, this woman who was strong enough to say, these are the right words for the song I’m singing. I’m talking right now from my soul.”
One of the neat things about having grown up in a restaurant, I was able to feel powerful. School never felt safe.
With that family support, Tyx’s moved through the restaurant with ease and authority since he was a kid. Today, he’s wearing a kilt, his full red beard braided, as he handles orders and recommends local sights to visitors.
“One of the neat things about having grown up in a restaurant, I was able to feel powerful. School never felt safe. That’s not healthy for our brains,” he says, but at Rosebud’s he saw every table of customers as a stage. “And it allowed me to learn my own voice.”
As high school began, Tyx knew he was attracted to women. He presented as butch and bound his breasts.
Mary remembers a groundbreaking moment. “Tyx started the Gay Straight Alliance at Amador high school, and it caused just an uproar in the community.”
Tyx adds, “I did not go to Glee, okay? School was rough.”
But in a school of fewer than 800 students, Tyx says he and his collaborators collected over 100 signatures in support of starting the club.
The local paper covered their efforts, and letters to the editor showed a community divided. Mary remembers with a sad laugh that some claimed the students wanted to start a sex club in the high school.
Tyx was really exposed. “I have been followed home. I have been run off the highway. I had dog shit smeared in the front seat of my car parked in front of my childhood home.”
“It was difficult times,” Mary adds. They both remember a downturn in customers coming to Rosebud’s.
Tyx says, “I had friends whose parents grounded them from me so it didn’t seem unusual that there were people who were uninterested in dining with us.”
As high school wound down, Tyx still didn’t know the word transgender, but he did something really dramatic for a new teenaged driver:
“I just couldn’t stop myself, I cut my driver’s license in half right over the gender marker.” Soon after going off to college, Tyx sat his parents down and said, “If it’s alright, I think I’d like to be your son now.”
After college in Santa Cruz and a few years in Sacramento, Tyx returned to Jackson. He loves the country, and the rolling hills of Amador County, and wanted to be part of his family’s new farm to fork efforts at Rosebud’s. Coming home also meant returning to the sanctuary of the restaurant.
“I have experienced a great deal of trauma at points in my life when my brain was still developing,” Tyx says. He deals with PTSD and agoraphobia and went through periods when he couldn’t work. Having a safe space to be his whole self, Tyx says, is essential.
One night, after closing, Rosebud’s hosts a potluck for the Tri-County LGBT Alliance, which, among other things, puts on a pride parade in nearby Murphy’s. Mary welcomes the guests.
“It's people like you that have made the world safer for my baby. And so I appreciate you. If you're ever scared or worried, just know that there's someone out there in the world who appreciates you. And from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for being an ally, or for being out, and welcome.”
There are people here from some of Amador County’s oldest families, and some recent converts, like Richard Filia.
“I like to have a little piece of land, something I can grow things on. It’s hard to do that in the middle of the city.”
Cindy Sparks is here with her three kids. “My wife and I just decided one day, we’re going to move to the mountains,” she says with a laugh. They enrolled their kids in a one-room schoolhouse. “I found it really easy to connect with people here, which is amazing because in the city I found less opportunities to meet people. So I love it.”
Sixteen-year-old Miles goes to the youth group Tyx started in the region but is attending the potluck for the first time.
“I’m basically here because I think meeting a lot of people who are going through the same thing helps, you know, develop like who I'm going to be when I grow up.”
Miles’s mom is here in support, but struggling with pronouns.
“I love her to death, him,” she says, as she and Miles laugh. “So whatever Miles decides to be, that's it's choice. Her? His? I still have to get used to this.”
That saying we are the salt of the earth, I never understood what that meant but it was explained to me to be that we have to flavor this space. If we hold back our flavor then we're really ripping off the universe.
Miles says, “Don't worry, we'll get through it.”
“He has my full support,” his mom says.
Tyx says gatherings like this one is what Rosebud’s is all about.
“We try to use the bounty that comes through the cafe and reinfuse it right back into Jackson. That saying we are the salt of the earth, I never understood what that meant but it was explained to me to be that we have to flavor this space. If we hold back our flavor then we're really ripping off the universe.
Asal Ehsanipour contributed reporting to this story.