You’re Not a Lesbian Until You Tell Your Mother
Marjorie Hill is the CEO of Gay Men's Health Crisis, the oldest AIDS service organization in the world. She is the first African American to become the head of a major LGBT organization. She is also a licensed clinical psychologist, having received her Ph.D. in Psychology from Adelphi University. Before joining GMHC, she worked for the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene as well as former New York Mayor David Dinkins.
Question: What’s your coming out story?
Marjorie Hill: Coming out is sometimes -- people think of it as you know, one day you’re straight and then the next day, you know, you wake up and you’re gay and you come out. And while the experience may very much feel like that, it’s not the reality. I’ve been a lesbian for most of my professional life. I worked at Director of the Mayor’s Office – Director of the Mayor’s Office for Lesbian and Gay Community in the Dinkins administration. I’ve been at GMHC and have been an out lesbian, you know, running GMHC. I’ve done a number of television pieces. I was on Sallie Jesse Raphael many years ago, so you know, I’ve been very out. However, there are still occasions when I’ll have a guy say to me, “Well, do you like short guys?” And I’ll say, “Well, actually, I like short women.” Or I’m in a cab going to the airport and you know, the cab driver says, “Well, where you going?” And I’ll say to a conference. “and what kind of conference?” “National Gay and Lesbian’s Task Force.” And, well why would you go there? You know, so coming out is really something that people do – have the opportunity to do throughout the course of their life.
But in terms of an early experience, I had just broken up with – maybe a month or so, with my last boyfriend. And he was wanting to speak with me, so he picked me up from school. I was going to Adelphi. And he picked me up at Adelphi and he gave me a ride home to Brooklyn. And we’re driving in the car and he says, “So, Marjorie, just why don’t you say it? Why don’t you say, you’re a lesbian?” And I had sort of been avoiding having this conversation with him because he’s a nice guy, didn’t want to hurt his feelings. But I finally said, what the heck, “Yes, I’m a lesbian.”
So we’re driving about 60 mph, now we’re going 100 mph, and I thought maybe this wasn’t such a smart thing to do. And he’s driving and he says, “Well, have you told your mother?” And I said, “Well, no, I haven’t told my mother.” So immediately he calms down. He slows down, he says, “Well you’re not a lesbian ‘cause you didn’t tell your mother.”
So he drops me off at home, I go upstairs and I wake up my mother. It’s midnight. “Mom, mom, wake up. Wake up.” And my mother’s like, “What’s going on?” “I just want to tell you, I’m a lesbian.” So my mother’s like, “Les who? Leslie, Les-what?” And I said, “Mommy, I’m a lesbian.” And she goes like, not quite getting it, she’s still half asleep. And I said, “Mom, I’m gay, I’m gay.” And she said, “Well baby, I’m happy too. So why don’t you go to sleep.” And I finally said, “Mom, I’m a homosexual.” That got her attention. So she sat up in bed and she’s looking at me and she said, “Baby, you gonna quit school?” And I thought, oh my god, my mother’s having a psychotic episode, “No, I’m not gonna quit school.” She said, “Fine, I love you. Go to bed.”
And then you know, the rest of the weekend was pretty non-eventful until Monday morning, on my way to school to catch the Long Island Railroad, I’m getting ready to leave the house, “Bye mom.” And “Bye, have a good day. And oh, by the way, tell that girl she can’t come to my house anymore.” And that was pretty much my mother’s attitude for a couple of months. And then eventually, you know, she came around. But it was an interesting experience of proving that I was a lesbian.
Recorded November 4, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller
Directed / Produced by Jonathan Fowler
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