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This is a response to What’s Wrong with a Boy who Wears Dresses NY Times, August 12th cover story magazine
As a mother, I know that scores of parents all over the country were reading the Sunday New York Times, holding their breath asking themselves, “What will I do if my kid wants to dress like the opposite sex? Will I have the courage to support my child?” Or perhaps you were secretly wondering if maybe there was something that those parents just didn’t do right? So much research suggests it really doesn’t matter what you do, the outcome will be the same, but I went about the subject from a different angle. This is the story of what happens when you want you your my son to play dress up and, well…be gay and it just didn’t work, damn it!!!
My son, like most of the boys in the article, was a very pretty child. He liked to wear his blond hair long and flowing, his face was round and cherubic. Strangers would stop me on the street and say, “If your son were alive in Michelangelo’s time, he would have gotten a lot of work as a model, he looks just like the angels on the Sistine chapel.”
It occurred to me, early on, that he might be gay and I wanted to do everything I could to be supportive and encourage him. Gender neutral toys? Got those. He did enjoy making beaded necklaces; in fact, he wore them with his baseball uniforms.
Being an actress, I had a few tricks up my sleeves. I’ve got a closet full of outrageous costumes, boas, sparkly shoes, hats, gowns, and false eyelashes. I tried to get him into a flowing sea green tulle mermaid outfit once, but he just wouldn’t go for it- “viridian” wasn’t his color. Ok, he did try on a pair of Dolce& Gabbana heels and he even tried to run in them, very SJP in SITC, but that was really more of an athletic experiment than cross-dressing.
Exposure to musical theatre? I tried that as well. Ok, taking him to see “Ave Q” isn’t the same thing as sitting through to “Hello Dolly,” but he loved it. My son did manage to keep a dry eye during “War Horse “which seemed to be a mixed signal but when he refused to do “jazz hands” to All That Jazz in “Chicago,” I was worried.
Providing positive gay role models? Did that as well. It just so happens we live next door to fabulous and very dear, John Fleck, one of the infamous NEA 4, artists whose work was deemed controversial by the NEA in 1990. Our son has attended numerous parties at his house and even sat in the front row at his show, “Mad Women” which connected the life of Judy Garland to his own mother. My son laughed his head off during the play and if there was ever an opportunity to realize your desire to date men, it was during that fabulous romp. But no, neither Judy nor my repetition of the phrase, “You know, whatever you want, I support you,” did anything at all to raise the gay-dar in our house.
I confess, this wasn’t just something I did because of the long hair and pretty face. It was because of Brian. I was supposed to marry Brian. Well, that’s what my parents thought, and maybe his parents, too. Actually, a lot of parents where we grew up in Miami Beach thought so as well. Brian and I were the drama geeks in our class, and starting in junior high school, we fell in love and were married in everything from “The Fantasticks” to “Our Town,” but his close friends all knew he was gay. As soon as turned 16, we started driving to clubs in Fort Lauderdale, where we heard you could be both in high school and “out” without everyone in our immediate community knowing about it. He continued to stay closeted into college and beyond, but led a secret life, and being the early 80’s, he fell into drug use, and lots of unprotected sex. Brian was one of the first of many of gay friends who died of AIDS. Being gay didn’t kill him, neither did living a closeted life but, but I didn’t want my kid to have to live with that kind of secret.
Of course, Brian wasn’t the only important gay person in my life, there was our local drama teacher, Jay Jensen, memorialized in the award winning documentary, Class Act, whose students included actor, Andy Garcia; Grammy Award winning songwriter, Desmond Childs; and A-list casting director, Debbie Zane, was my biggest cheerleader from the time I was 12 years old. Gay men and women were my some of my biggest influences and biggest supporters and in college and in the theatre in NY. In my first week living in New York, I fell under the spell of the brilliant playwright, Nicky Silvers. His play, “The Lyons” rocked Broadway this year. I met him at his job scooping ice cream at Mamie’s on 8th street in 1980 and that same week I began studying with experimental theatre avatar, Joseph Chaiken, and I just knew I had found my people. To get to act opposite the hilariously acerbic Judy Gold, in my film, Fired! was one of my comedy wet dreams come true.
Well, nature won out over nurture at my house, as it always does. We know this by now and even Alan Chambers, former head of “anti- gay conversion therapy” organization, Exodus International, recently admitted, that you can’t change people’s intrinsic nature. Wish the Boy Scouts would get the message, and by the way, the Girl Scouts are doing just fine, thank you, with their inclusion of transgender girls. At least, I know I did everything to make sure no matter what our son’s orientation, he’d receive our love and support.
So, in the end, I tried to make my son gay but all I got was this lousy picture. Ok, it’s a pretty damn good picture. I actually had to pay him five dollars, he was seven at the time, to let me braid his hair like Pippy Longstockings.
*This story was written with the permission of my son, now 14 years old, who prefers baseball diamonds to “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Not that you can’t love both, he reminded when I wrote that line.