Growing Up and Coming Out
I was raised by my mother and my grandmother. My grandmother was a professional woman, like high professional. She had her master’s degree and became a librarian, the first African American librarian in Minneapolis. There is a charter school named after her. The Laura Jeffrey Academy. Like a lot of women of her generation, she was a career woman who did not have a man in the house. In this case I speak specifically of black career women. She, as a young woman, took care of her mother and her daughter as she put herself through school. She taught me to question everything. I think there my mother and grandmother’s example trumped any literature and that was the example of a kind of autonomous, independent women working and navigating in a white, male, supremacist world. In my thirties she was given three months to live, so I did the dutiful thing and I moved home and took care of her. She ended up dying right before the twins were born, and that was very difficult.
My father wasn’t around, but I very much had a two parent household because of my grandmother. Papa was a rolling stone. I did have that stereotypical father who had a number of babies, a number of baby mommas. I have four siblings that I am aware of, two are with one woman, and two are with two different mothers. My father and I did not have a close relationship. I did spend occasional weeks in Chicago as a kid but we were never close
I consider Minnesota the arts mecca of the midwest, so as a child I grew up with theater tickets. There was a lot of art, my mother was an artist – she was a sculptor, painter, writer, and a poet, so I was always surrounded by beauty, museums, concerts. There was always a lot of creative energy, and with that creative energy there was a lot of queerness, although I did not identify it as such at the time.
In junior high I started attending this performance learning center, and I had an experience with the musical show Fame. It started when I was twelve, so half the day was spent in this very creative atmosphere where imagination led you wherever you wanted to go and that was when I first started seeing gay people in the form of my acting teacher, and also some of the dancers as well. I did have gay male friends that I met through the learning center, okay?
There was also a lesbian teacher who wanted to bring me out. Yeah, she did! I wonder now if I came out to her or if it’s just because I was hanging with gay folks and riding a motorcycle. There was a soda bar, in a church basement, for underage kids at the time called Coffee House and so she took me to Coffee House and I think that was my first experience at an all lesbian dive. When I was a little older I started going out to clubs with my friends, straight girls. Minnesota had a very Studio 54 vibe to it at that time and we would go to these clubs that were known for creative dancing and free-spiritedness and just the wildness of the clientele.
“Look, I am a lesbian.”
I did not come out to my parents until a little later and that happened when I was maybe seventeen and I was at gay pride. I had talked to my folks, they knew I had gay friends, but I did not come out and it wasn’t until I was on a newscast on this particular gay pride march that I said “look, I’m on TV, I am a lesbian.” We were at Loring Park, which is where all the gay pride marches ended at that time. And the park was all decorated with pride colors and it was rainbow and everything. My friend was a blonde, blue eyed male, and we were dancing wildly. So we were in a number of media sources, being photogenic as we were. And that was the way the thing came up. My mother contacted the minister. There was no hysteria, there was no screaming, no pulling of the hair, I don’t remember being shunned or belittled or anything like that. I wasn’t totally embraced. But I felt comfortable.