I want to thank my mom, who in 1985, took me to see The Color Purple and used the time before the coming attractions to explain to me that she was a lesbian. I was barely into puberty and had no clue what she was talking about. My questions centered around: Are we moving? Do I have to change schools? You still have a job, right?
Then she said, “This means that I love women the same way some men do.” At that moment, I got it.
I have never been ashamed of my mother. She has always been my biggest champion and still is. The issues I had growing up were via other people — their ignorance, foolishness, and misguided attempts at “caring.” Now, there are support groups for kids like me, and having two moms or dads has entered the national conversation on parenting, families and rights for all. But back then, I was scared. I had a friend in middle school whose father eventually passed from AIDS, but there was little conversation about it. And a few years later, once I entered high school, I knew one other family, but that’s it.
On that cold winter day as my mother and I sat in the theater, munching popcorn and sipping on giant sodas, I was glued to the screen. I had no idea why she had chosen this day, or this film, to tell me this “thing” about her life. As I watched in awe at all of the Black folks on screen, thinking about how some of them reminded me of family members, and drooling when when Miss Celie made the breakfast that Shug devoured, I relaxed. Somehow my 11 year-old self knew that this was a film about love, no matter how brutal some of the scenes were. I figured that my mom wanted to reinforce how much she loved me and that as a family, we can deal with anything. Perhaps.
But then that scene came.
Later, I would find out from my mom that she knew about the relationship between Celie and Shug and had hoped that it would be included in the film because she had read the book. And while that scene where they kissed was as tame as they come, I got it. My mom really did love the ladies. I glanced over at my mom and saw light beaming from her face. This was the first time that she had ever seen herself really represented in media in a love-filled, non-salacious, joyful way.
That brief scene between Celie and Shug did something for my mother, and bearing witness did something for me. That day taught me the power of images and how seeing yourself reflected in affirmative ways can help you navigate the murky waters of life.
What I know now is that “coming out” effects everyone in your life. Participating with my mother as she seized agency of her own life and decided that she was worth being a full, whole, and complete human being has translated directly into my being that for my own daughter as I am able to model that wholeness and fullness of life for her.
Cheers to you, mom.