Jerame Davis

How things change

Filed By Jerame Davis | March 27, 2008 2:32 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, The Movement
Tags: butch, butch women, changing minds, gay slurs, growing up, homophobic behavior, lesbians, parents

I've talked a bit about my family's backward social positions on the blog before. Most folks who know me know I come from an extremely racist, homophobic, misogynistic family. For example, when I came out, my father banned me from the house for nearly a decade. It was only Thanksgiving 2006 that I was allowed to share holidays with my entire family since I was 21. It's been a rocky couple of years, but we've managed to remain civil and keep old tensions at bay.

Today, I am proud. I can claim a small victory for progressive values that I thought I would never see: My mother was genuinely concerned she had offended a gay person for the first time in my life and called me to talk about it.

For Easter, my mom invited us to the house for dinner. I can't remember the last time I got together with my parents for Easter dinner, but I am sure it has been longer than my 14-year-old daughter has been alive.

We invited our close friend Daniele to go along with us. She's been a friend for years and my parents know she's a lesbian. She's only met my father once, but she's heard the stories. She knew she could be in for an experience, but we decided to make a day of it.

We had a big dinner, some passing conversation, and then my father drug me off to fix his computer - again. (It's his way of making up for a decade of not being there; I give it to him for trying.) Everyone was on their best behavior and we all enjoyed the company.

While Dad and I were in the other room on the computer, my mom, my brother, Bil, and Daniele are talking about some of the neighbors in my parents' very rural (and somewhat decrepit) neighborhood. My mom is describing a rather trashy woman who lives down the lane and she offhandedly refers to her as "a butch."

Considering how the "n-word," queer, and the ever-ingenious "sand n-word" (I had never heard Arabs called that name except until recently by my parents) are all part of the vernacular, calling someone "a butch" just kinda seems tame to me. The comment hadn't even registered with me until my mom called me yesterday afternoon.

Here's a rough transcript of the conversation (you'll have to imagine the southern Indiana accent and poor grammar; it doesn't come across well in writing):

Mom: Your dad says I may have offended Daniele when I called that neighbor woman a butch. Is she mad at me?

Me: What?

Mom: Is she offended I called that neighbor woman a butch? Your dad says he heard me from the other room and she would be offended, so I needed to apologize.

Me: *starts to laugh* No, she never said anything to me. I didn't even pay attention.

Mom: Well, tell Daniele I'm sorry if she was offended. Tell her that's just how I am. You know? I was just trying to explain how that woman next door was. She is a butch, by the way; she was out here with her girlfriend yesterday and they're both butches.

Me: *both humored and realizing I need to make a point* Well, yeah. Referring to a lesbian as "a butch" isn't the most appropriate way to say it, but I don't think Daniele was offended. I'll be sure to pass on the message.

Mom: You know I don't know how all this works. I know you and Bil wouldn't be offended - I know what to say about guys. Make sure she knows I didn't mean anything by it. I mean it.

Me: OK, Mom. I will.

Seriously. The man who referred to our black neighbor as "n-word" Willie when I was growing up, the man who shut me out for 10 years when he found out I was gay - my dad! - was concerned that my mom had offended my lesbian friend by calling someone else a butch. And my mom actually called to apologize.


I need to say that again.


I never thought I'd see the day when either of them would accept me, let alone Bil or my friends who are gay, and now my father is lecturing my mother about poor word choices in polite company.

It's a phone call I'll never forget. It was funny, awkward, and endearing all at once. They still have a long way to go, but this was a giant leap forward compared to the baby steps of the past.

It just proves to me that we make change incrementally, one heart and mind at a time. Living our lives, telling our stories, and being unabashedly ourselves is the true way forward for the LGBT movement. If my parents can be moved forward like this - anyone can.

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That is really sweet, in a backwoods hick sort of way. Congratulations to your father for starting to grow up.

The term "sand n-" is pretty popular around Texas, along with other less than complimentary epithets about middle eastern people, even Iranians, who are actually Persian, not Arabic, and Palestinians, who are usually of semitic origins.
(which is all kind of funny in a sick sort of way, considering many Israelis are of semitic origins as well. No accounting for hate.)

Jerame...great post. I think you and I have grown up in very similar neighborhoods. Mine just happened to be in central California, Bakersfield.

I'm glad your dad is finally starting to come around and make an effort. When my southern baptist minister's wife grandmother came to me last year after I broke up with my ex and said, "he was a nice man, but a little too old for you," I thought I would fall over dead.

We talk about changing the world, but its most satisfying when it starts with those closest to us.

beergoggles | March 27, 2008 7:50 PM

Don't get me wrong, I think it's nice that such conversions happen. However, each time I hear stories about them, I get flashbacks to the movie "Jeffrey" and Sigourney Weaver's character saying: Mom, you're old, you've got a broken hip, you're weak - and now I'm the one with the baseball bat. The baseball bat doesn't have to be real. It can be figurative like not allowing parents to visit the grandkids like a friend of mine did.

The final effect is what matters right? Just be glad you didn't have to pull out the baseball bat to get em to come around.

Great story, Jerame. Sounds like your dad's not only become more sensitive himself but he's paying attention to what others say too. Pretty impressive... especially since my Pop was almost defiant about using the offensive terms he'd grown up suing in the Mississippi delta

What's even better is that after she called Jerame, before he could even call Daniele to check in, she was on the phone with me! She called me to reiterate the apology and get my opinion on whether or not she'd offended Daniele. She was seriously worried about it.

Funny thing? She asked me if "queer" was offensive. She was confused because I say it sometimes. I recommended that she not use it outside of our circle. :)