A Very Different Christmas, Indeed

It’s been a while since I’ve written something personal for the
Family Equality Council Blog. As we’ve just wrapped on the
holidays–a particularly personal time for all of us–I thought I’d
share a little story about my trip home to Georgia, my mother’s
proto-activist transformation, and the get-together that reaffirmed
the reasons I do this work.

Georgia on my Mind

I grew up on the border of Georgia and South Carolina, in and
around the City of Augusta–known for the Augusta National Golf
Club (you know, the one that still bars women from becoming
members) and James Brown. I haven’t lived in the South for more
than six years now, and I have quite an ambivalent relationship
with my hometown and its inhabitants, to say the least. There are
great things about any place, and then there are reasons to never
want to return.

At this point in my life I’m returning once a year for the
holidays, usually for the week between Christmas and New Years.
Typical family drama aside, being back in Augusta is a sobering and
somewhat depressing affair. Conservative Christians run the city
and surrounding towns (quite literally), and what I recognized as
“good ole boy” behavior in high school, as inextricable to Southern
living as “going to the river” and cooking with lard, now seems to
me–a turncoat Yankee if ever there was one–seriously

For whatever reason I went to see the new buddy comedy Role
(starring Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott) with my
mother and stepfather (their suggestion, not mine). Besides being a
cute idea for a movie, it was full of anti-gay humor, including
(but not limited to) a number of “fag” remarks. I was disgusted,
but I was also clearly in the minority in that darkened theater.
Whereas it would have annoyed me six years ago to sit through that
laughter, now it felt directed, purposeful, full of intent. The
biggest laughs came with the gay jokes. I’d read too much recently
about the rise in hate crimes. I skipped the customary post-movie
trip to the bathroom on the way out.

In Somerville, MA, where I live, I walk hand-in-hand with my
boyfriend. I curl up next to him on the train. Somerville,
Cambridge, Medford and other Boston-metro towns are by no means
perfect bubbles full of love and acceptance, but there’s a much
better chance that someone will smile at me when I’m out with my
boyfriend here than holler or do anything else. That’s all I
need–a better than average chance of something positive
happening–to stick my neck out.

It’s a different story in cities like Augusta, and yet it’s not all
doom and gloom.

My Mother: From Bygones to Bye, I’ll Be Gone!

When I first came out, eight or so years ago, my mother was
terrified. Though never against me, she didn’t really know how to
be for me. She predicted illness, pain, dissatisfaction in my life.
I tried to assure her those were all just as likely, if not more
so, if I stayed in the closet, but it’s taken years to bring her
fully (well, mostly) to my side.

For years I’ve asked my mother why she won’t come out about having
a gay son at her place of work. A number of her co-workers are
born-again Christians–no one with any authority over her, but
co-workers nonetheless. She was afraid they would cast her
out–socially if not literally. It bothered me at first, but I grew
up a little and realized it was her place of work and her decision.
She didn’t deny me, even as she didn’t proclaim me, either. Claim
me, yes. Proclaim me, well, we’ve been working on that.

Looks like a lot’s changed since the last time I went home. Not
only has my mother resolved to come out to her co-workers about
having a gay son this year, but she’s told me in no uncertain terms
that “if they don’t want me around because I have a gay son, then I
don’t need to be around. I’ll quit.”

Whoa. This from the woman who always gave my teachers the benefit
of the doubt when any dispute arose, whose philosophy of life might
be summed up as “well, it’s not as bad as it could be.” The times,
they are a-changin’.

And not just on matters of sexuality. My mother also recently
reported taking a co-worker aside for making racist remarks. “You
know exactly what you meant when you said ‘I’m not one of the
black girls’ and you should never say anything like that
around me again.” Go Mom!

I have no doubt this recent uptick in attitude has to do with my
many years of prodding, but I must give some credit to my mother’s
new friend–a young woman who started working with her a few months
back. This young woman, Renee, is a lesbian, and she’s out at work.
“She just doesn’t even care,” my mom tells me. “When rumors were
flying that some people weren’t invited to her party, she cleared
it right up: ‘Everyone is invited to my party, so long as you can
come into my home and not judge me, my wife, and our life together,
so long as you treat us with respect. I know some of you have a
hard time with that, but if you can do it, then come on.'”

A House Full of Gays

I had the pleasure of meeting Renee and her wife, Mickey, at a
little get-together my mother arranged at her house–a classic
example of “introducing one’s gays” 😉 For the first time in my
life, the heterosexuals were outnumbered by the gays 3:2 in my
house. It was a good night.

Renee and Mickey have been together for almost ten years. They met
in their early 20s. They’re just about the cutest couple you could
find, and they’re as excited about starting a family this year as
they are about coming out to strangers about who they are.

“We forget where we are sometimes,” Renee told me. “We’re so used
to being comfortable together, being in love and at home together.
We’ll be at the grocery store, and I’ll be nudging Mickey and
putting my arm around her shoulder and she’ll say, ‘Renee, baby,
this is Augusta, Georgia!’ ‘Oh, right, I forgot,’ I’ll
say. We don’t like to admit it but our safety is at stake.”

Renee was born and raised in the area and Mickey, a military brat,
moved to Augusta some twenty years ago. Their family is there.
They’ve built their life together there. As much as it pains them
to feel closeted in their own community, they have more reasons to
stay than go. In the meantime, they plan to work it out–making as
much change being out at work and with their ever-widening circle
of friends as they go along.

Renee and I talked a lot about LGBT families, especially about
preparing for school. She seemed optimistic about the climate area
schools could offer her future children, and ready for the task of
making sure her family was treated equally. I encouraged her and
Mickey to come to Family Week this year as prospective parents, to
make friends and gain strength in the LGBT family community.
They’re looking into it. Cape Code is a mite exotic for any
Southerner, gay or straight.

I was humbled by Renee and Mickey and my mother for the work
they do each day for LGBT equality. In my mother’s case,
it’s worrying about and supporting a gay son despite the obstacles
she sees. For Renee and Mickey, it’s being as out and proud as they
safely can be in a city I know to be incredibly conservative and,
in some instances, dangerous for LGBT people.

All in all it was a good trip home, a trip that reminded me that we
really are everywhere making change, and that the most profound
moments in our struggle for justice and equality are not always (or
even perhaps often) on election days.