Keri Renault

Meredith Baxter Comes Out: Family Ties, Family Lies?

Filed By Keri Renault | December 02, 2009 10:46 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Living, Media

I almost choked on my cornflakes this morning. Milk dribbled down my chin as I smiled.

America's favorite 1980's sitcom mom, Meredith Baxter of "Family Ties" came out gay during a surprise Today Show interview with Matt Lauer.

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Good for her. Cathartic for me.

MEREDITH BAXTER? Who woulda thunk it? Not millions of adoring fans who grew up watching this soap actress icon dispense maternal virtue. She epitomized "family values" American Style. Not only that. She's 62 years old, 3 times married and the real life mother of 5. A bonafide baby-boomer for gosh sakes. Certainly she knows better, right?

Maybe that's why this private woman guarded her secret so long. Until a tabloid threatened to out her in recent days, she knew better than to blow her own whistle.

For 7 years Baxter kept her lesbian relationship away from public scrutiny. Fear of family rejection, workplace reprisal and social ostracism is a powerful self-censoring mechanism.

I can relate. My own day of reckoning was rescheduled time and again for almost half a century. It took nearly 50 years to confront my fears and move beyond them as a transgender woman.

More than a few transgender baby boomers can relate to coming out late-in-life. Our parents raised us under a WASP-ish post World War II culture of rigid social conformity. I suppose the thinking of the time went something like this: Subjugating personal agendas for the greater good was essential to victory overseas. The selfless, unified war effort of millions of worker-bee Americans, droning tirelessly on homogenous assembly lines from sea to shining sea was the only way to secure peace.

Conformity on the war front was rewarded with victory. Cultural conformity would certainly work on the home front, too as family ties were formed and babies born in prodigious numbers beginning in 1945. Americans moved together in lock step, full speed ahead toward their manifest destiny of post-war prosperity.

What's not to like?

But that tight knit social culture offered little wiggle room for those who felt different, estranged from the accepted social rites of the 50's 60's and 70's.

Baby Boomers suffered in silence, shamed by our variant sexual orientations or gender identities. Not daring to be transgressors of the social code, many of us dutifully suppressed our true feelings. Inside we may have been dead to life, but outwardly we bought into the "American Dream", the morally and culturally acceptable social rites of a generation.

We married, raised families, lost ourselves in work and found ourselves in faith--the American Dream was ours for the taking as long as we stayed the preordained course.

But as any of us who have come out know--staying the course, the well-travelled road and staying between the lines is seldom the path to happiness or personal fulfillment.

And so this morning Meredith Baxter reconciled what she'd denied for 62 years. Humbly, she asked America for its continued support of her work as an actress, her life as a lesbian woman and the rights of countless other good Americans, LGBTQ citizens just like her whose rights are at stake when we vote.

After all, she noted, "I'm still the same person I always was."

Aren't we all.

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