Bil Browning

A message from (Jerame's) mom

Filed By Bil Browning | December 18, 2007 4:42 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: Darren Manzella, Don't Ask Don't Tell, homophobic behavior, injustice, Iraq, moms, parents, PFLAG, SLDN, soldiers

I got a surprise phone call this morning. It was Jerame's mom and she was all worked up.

She and I are tight; we talk more than she and Jerame do and I drive down to middle-of-nowhere southern Indiana to visit more often too. Usually when she calls in a tizzy like this, she's ticked off at Jerame's dad.

Still, you have to realize the history of homophobia in Jerame's family to fully appreciate this story. When Jerame came out his father forbid him from stepping foot inside the door again (it lasted for the first eight years of our relationship and had started well before we got together).

His mom wasn't all sunshine and roses when Jerame came out of the closet either. He was young, had a toddler girl and not a lot of money or education. Throw in being queer too and she came unglued.

His parents are, well, back woods Indiana. They moved from a town of 40,000 people because it had gotten "too big" and out in the country so far the radio only plays that damn song from Deliverance. They are not politically correct, nor do they understand why they should care.

As moms always do, Sherry was the first to come around. She'd visit Jerame when he moved to Bloomington, a small liberal college town a short distance from his hometown. Jerame and I met in Bloomington.

After we'd been dating for a while, it was time to meet his mom. She drove over and we went out for lunch. By now, she'd accepted that Jerame was gay and that it wasn't going to change. She still wasn't too happy to shake hands with proof that her son slept with guys though. Throughout lunch she just gave me a walleyed stare and didn't really say much. Quite obviously, she didn't like me.

After almost a decade now, she's realized that I'm not quite the threat she originally assumed and that I'm probably not going anywhere any time soon. Ever a realist, she capitulated and eventually so did his dad. While they've come really far very quickly, they're not quite PFLAG parents either.

At least I didn't think they were PFLAG parents yet.

This morning Sherry called to ask me if I'd seen "60 Minutes, 20/20, whatever in the hell that show was that had gay soldiers on it." She meant the 60 Minutes piece on openly gay soldier Darren Manzella that Steve had blogged about. While I hadn't watched the show, his post had tipped me off that it was coming up.

"I knew you'd know about it. You know everything gay. You got that website."

I think that was a compliment.

She was seriously livid after watching 60 Minutes. She went on a 20 minute diatribe about the injustices of Don't Ask Don't Tell and how it all fed into stuff like the marriage amendment and the daily issues that the LGBT family face.

"You get on that there blog and you tell 'em Jerame's mom says 'That ain't right,'" she said. "Don't nobody care anymore. They's lettin' 'em stay in there now even when they tell. The troops ain't got no problem with it. You are who you are."

What's even better is that there was some other woman there (I have no idea who she was) that was also chiming in and getting all worked up too. Between the two of them it was hard to hear! But even though I know all the reasons why DADT is bad policy and how Indiana's proposed amendment will hurt some families, I listened and I "listened good."

I heard more than Jerame's mom. You can too if you listen hard enough.

That's the sound of change, my friends.


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You know, Bil, when we can get people to see the reality, to know they know a gay person, to really listen, it makes it hard for them to hate.

Fear and hate come from ignorance.

Tell Jermane's mom - because as a mom, I know I am Ben's mom, or Zach's mom or Jake's mom and my name is not at all important- she is RIGHT.

And we are WORKING ON IT.

Mostly? When I read that? it makes me feel like change is happening.

Lil' story and data point:
Most of my friends/drinking buddies are straight. As a matter of fact, I am token gay in the crowd. They always make me feel welcome, I don't have to self-censor (from "s/he's cute" to discussions of "who got laid last night," I am a welcome participant in bar talk), but they all def. come from conservative backgrounds, most were in the military, and we do NOT discuss political or GLBT issues.
Well, the other day, I was reading an article about the upcoming 60 minutes piece, and I did feel the need to share. I filled the guys in on not only the fact that Manzella's brothers-in-arms don't care about his status but also that an official investigation had reviewed tons of gay evidence yet declared with a straight face, "nothing gay here."
The room literally erupted into cheers. "That's awesome!" "Bad ass!" "[unprintable] yeah!" I was startled and for a moment thought they were stringing me along. But it was true. The guys not only couldn't care less about whether a comrade is gay, but they *loved* the idea of an official investigation throwing up a little bit of civil (military?) disobedience, no matter how small, to their superiors to protect a valued servicemember from an unjust and ultimately military-weakening policy.
We are winning. And yes, that is the sound of change.

It makes me laugh how I've become the source of all things gay for her. His dad knew I had a website, but around last Thanksgiving he actually specifically asked what it was about. They both know we've worked hard in various LGBT orgs in leadership positions too, but they've never shown any real interest in engaging either of us on the subject.

This one, I guess, was the straw that broke the camel's back.

It's interesting...when I came out and started living as a woman fulltime, my parents, who are both Brooklyn-born and raised, college-educated people, were very skeptical and uninformed. Still to this day, ten years later, while both of them accept me as I am, my Dad always has a hesitation in his voice when he addresses me by name and neither of them have ever read anything I've ever written, or, at least, not that they're willing to admit to me.

Personally, I think they're still more than a bit, for lack of a better term, casually transphobic. It's not that they have a truly negative opinion of me and how I live my life, but they also don't go out of their way to make an effort to understand either. They deal with it when it's in their faces, when we see or talk to each other, but they really don't go out of their way to.

They can, however, surprise me. One night, while visiting at home, one of the next door neighbors, who is a bonafide blue-ribbon homo/transphobic asshole, called the cops because my car, which I had just filled up with gas, smelled slightly of gasoline.

The cops came and noticed what was perhaps a pinhole leak in my gas tank filler pipe. When I came outside to talk to them, they were fine and very friendly as long as they thought they were talking to a woman. The moment they took and read my driver's license and realized I'm trans they instantly became hostile and insisted that my car had to be towed and impounded.

I was furious, of course, and was going inside to cool down for a moment, but just as I was about the close the door behind me (when she thought I was already out of earshot), I saw my mother explode, call the cops "lousy bigots", and chew them out to the point where I was actually starting to worry that they'd arrest her. I'd never seen anything like it from her.

They took the car anyway, but when I came to town the following day to get it out of impound, I found it had actually been towed to a local service station and no tickets had been issued. I don't know for sure (Mom still won't confirm it one way or the other, but that usually means I'm not being told something), but I got the feeling there had been a conversation somewhere and amends were being made without the cops having to admit any guilt or be obvious about it.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | December 19, 2007 1:33 PM

Wow. All these stories cheered me up!

There is still room for Sherry at PFLAG! Way to go girl!

What a fantastic story!

SLDN has received countless well wishes for Sergeant Manzella from across the country, and we've heard from Americans of every political stripe, geographic location and party affiliation that Sunday's 60 Minutes story helped change minds about "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Bilerico readers who want to contact Darren can email him at darren@sldn.org, and those who want to help topple this law once and for all can get more information on our website, at www.sldn.org.