At 11, I was in the midst of puberty. I loved everything, hated everything, and withdrew into myself. I would rather read or draw than go outside and play. One dreary grey Saturday, my mom announced that we were going to the movies. I shrugged. There was nothing that I wanted to see, but at least I’d get to have some buttery, salty theater popcorn and soda. We hopped into her new powder blue Suzuki Sidekick, buckled up, and headed to the movies.
“What are we going to see?”
“The Color Purple.”
“Oh, that has all the Black people, right?
“Yes, it’s based on a really good book that you might want to read later.”
Book: the magic word. I grew up in a house full of books. By the time I was in middle school, I had already read Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, and Ntozake Shange. I had my first library card before I could sign my name on the back. Each Saturday, my mom would plop me in my red Radio Flyer wagon and we would traverse the treacherous hills of Albany, NY to the local library branch. There, my mom would read to me, and according to her, the librarian would allow me to take out over the limit—she went to the same church as we did and her mother was close friends with my Nana. Once home, my mother would read to me some more. I clearly recall how she animatedly read Dr. Seuss’ Mr. Brown Can Moo. She’d “Eek”, “Moo”, “Buzz”, “Blurp”, and “Dopp” as if she were headlining her own one-woman show.
Seated in the theater, my mom took my hand looked into my eyes and said, “I have something to tell you” I started to sweat profusely, which is difficult to accomplish in a sub-zero movie theater. My mind raced. Was she going to die? Was it cancer? Was something wrong with Nana? Or Papa? Why was she telling me this in a movie theater? Then she said it, “Your mom is gay”
“I’m happy too!” I squealed.
She laughed, looked at me and said, “No, I am a lesbian.”
“Huh?” was the only response I could manage.
“This means that I love women the same way some men do.” So, she was not going to die, Nana and Papa were ok, we still had a home to go to. Fine. I shrugged, mouthed “Okay,” but I still did not fully understand.
The movie began and I was glued to the screen. Each time there was a sweeping panorama of the countryside or a town, I’d imagine that this is where my grandparents had grown up. After all it was the south at the turn of the century. I recoiled at instances of violence and racism, laughed during joyous occasions, and licked my lips every time there was a scene involving food. And then it happened. There was a short scene where the characters Celie and Shug, played by Whoopi Goldberg and Margaret Avery, kissed. This is what my mother meant; she loves women. At that moment, I got it. I glanced over at my mom. She was smiling slightly and light beamed from her face.
At the end of the film, I stood up and clapped, then hugged my mom. I had no idea what the full implications of her revelation would be, but I knew that we would be fine. Since that day, nearly 30 years ago, my mom and I have had the most intense and loving conversations about how she knew she was different when she was just 5 years old, but not having the language or understanding to articulate her feelings; falling in love with my father, but then fighting to suppress her love of women; making the decision to divorce and moving across the state with a six-year-old me in order to start anew and reclaim herself; and ultimately making the choice to be her full self.
Currently, as a mother to an 11-year-old daughter, I hope that I can be the example of love and self-acceptance for her in the way that my mother has been to me. While there have been the normal twists and turns on the road of embracing and embodying myself in a world where Black women are rendered invisible or a burden, I have always had my mother as great example of what it means to stand in your truth and this has been the greatest gift she could have ever given me.