THE FOLLOWING WAS READ ONSTAGE AT STEPPENWOLF THEATRE IN CHICAGO WITH YOU'RE BEING RIDICULOUS ON JUNE 30TH, 2018. THE THEME WAS PRIDE.
Tolerance—a fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, beliefs and practices differ from one’s own—
NOT a word I would have used to describe my mother when I was growing up.
In the 40’s and 50’s, my mom was raised a good Catholic girl above the Berwyn bakeshop her parents owned. Patricia Francis’ only act of rebellion was marrying my father. She’d met him at a gas station where he worked. To my grandmother, a mechanic apparently was the equivalent of being a “bum”.
Calling someone a bum back in those days doesn’t have the same connotation it does today. It meant he was no good.
He’d wear his hair slicked back in a DA while he worked on cars, and my mom, in her poodle skirt and saddle shoes, was what they called a “good girl” back then.
Think Danny Zucko and Sandy from Grease.
But Patty would show them all. She’d spend the next couple decades raising two girls in a suburb outside Chicago, in a little ranch-style house, on a block with other families. The dads were usually blue-collar workers while the moms stayed at home doing their best Doris Day impression—cooking, cleaning and rearing the children. There were Tupperware parties, block parties, birthdays, anniversaries and graduations were celebrated.
The fourth of July was usually a big affair where we’d all go to the parade, watch fireworks from our driveway and everyone would BBQ. It was like one big family. Everyone was…normal, I guess is how my mom would describe it.
Well, it might not have occurred to Patricia Francis, after all her hard work bringing her daughters up in Catholic school just as she had been brought up, that one day she’d discover her oldest daughter…was attending the Pride Parade.
I know—the horror!
I was a child of the 80’s. I was obsessed with Olivia Newton-John on her roller skates—no wait, I was Olivia Newton-John, at least when I was around ten or twelve. In my teen years, I would discover David Bowie—even HE was the epitome of everything I was into—music, hair, makeup, style. Okay, I was really good with the first three, but I don’t know that anyone would say I had actual style.
But I’d glom onto the latest “thing”…leg warmers, parachute pants, a leather Bon Jovi jacket with fringe on it…okay this isn’t supposed to be about me.
It’s about Mom and this thing that happened in the 90’s.
The 90’s were a time when both grunge and Rico Suave could co-exist.
When shoulder pads and flannel shirts lined closets, and we were on the verge of a political sex scandal that doesn’t quite seem so awful anymore—now that we have some “perspective.”
Oh Bill, you and your white house blowjobs, if you only knew what a trailblazer you were for inappropriate presidencies.
We were still years away from the iPhone craze and the only way Mom could “find her friends”—find me when I was out with my friends—was to beep me on my pager. My mom ALWAYS needed to know where I was at ALL times and when that pager went off, I knew I better DAMN WELL find myself a pay phone.
Remember pay phones? Where we actually had to deposit money into the phone versus now where it just sucks all the money out of our bank accounts.
When my pager went off, I PRAYED the establishment I was at had a pay phone—otherwise we’d all be on a scavenger hunt until she stopped beeping me.
I imagine this is why now, in 2018, if you don’t answer my call or text within 2.2 seconds, I’m plagued with anxiety and think you’re probably dead. So yeah, thanks Mom. Thanks for making me so neurotic.
In June of 1997, I’m meeting my boyfriend’s mom for the first time. We’d taken her down to O’Flanagans on Halsted. While she grabbed a stool at the bar to gab with the bartender she knew, we went outside to meet up with friends and watch the spectacle unfold.
It’s my first pride parade and I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I was excited because growing up, I’d felt so sheltered from things like this. My mom was notorious for being over-reactive and over-protective, I was on a relatively short leash my entire life. I knew better than to tell her the truth of where we were going that day.
This was also a big step in my relationship with my boyfriend. So I’m sure my Mom was thinking, what if this is a thing and this woman becomes part of our lives. But for a second, I don’t care what Mom is concerned about.
We’re surrounded by smiling faces. Music is pumping and people are passing us by holding banners. I even see the WXRT float and my favorite DJs. So much support, so much camaraderie, so much…love.
And that’s when the pager goes off.
This is the part where I can see everything so vividly as if it were yesterday.
I’m standing at the pay phone in the back of the bar, not far from the street where g-string clad men in feather boas passed by on floats comparable to a Macy’s day parade. I’m pressing the receiver of the pay phone to my ear and Mom asks where we are. I give her a noncommittal answer but she can hear the noise and immediate says, “I hope you’re not at THAT parade.”
What could I tell her? I don’t even get the chance to make up an excuse or a lie.
“I can’t believe you’d go to THAT. What if someone sees you there?” Disappointment coated her voice.
“What, is Ryan’s mom gay?” My mom’s snarl could be heard over the din of thumping music outside.
“No, mom, she just likes the pomp and circumstance of parades and this bar is where her friend works. Ryan’s friends are here too. It’s not a big deal.”
But oh, it was.
You would’ve thought I was committing some sort of straight/white person crime. I honestly think she was afraid it was an environment of debauchery, and a news truck might go by and film her Catholic (nope, atheist), straight (eh, still not so sure), daughter (who dresses more like a dude) and HER friends would see ME on TV and think “Wow, poor Patty, where did she go wrong?”
It was a fucking parade—where people celebrated life, and choice, and freedom to love.
I couldn’t understand it. She had NO issues with me dressing in all black to go to the Thirsty Whale to see hair metal bands, who wore makeup than I did. I think she even knew about Bondage Night at the Dome Room. But have her find out I was at the Pride Parade—I thought I was going to be disowned.
Not so many years later, a gay couple moved in down the street from our house.
This was probably the first time GAY had infiltrated my mom’s life in a way she couldn’t control it.
The most drama we’d seen on our street at THIS point was when the cops raided the underage drinking party down the street. But two dudes buying a house on our block—what was the neighborhood coming to?
Well, something really strange happened. When Paul and Gary moved in, my mom walked over to meet them. And I know this because when I got home from work that night she told me about it.
And all I could think was oh god oh god what did she say to them, how do we fix this, maybe we should move, those poor guys…
“They were absolutely DELIGHTFUL,” my mom said to me.
Say what now?
She knew all about their jobs and where they lived before and how long they’d been together and…
At this point I’m pretty sure this person is not my mom. She’d been possessed by Liberace’s ghost or something, I don’t even know if Liberace had kicked it by then.
Then she did the unspeakable, she allowed my younger sister to go clubbing with them.
What in the holy hell? I go to a parade and get shit but my sister gets to go clubbing…maybe I wanted to go clubbing.
I was still pretty proud of her.
I wondered, had getting to know those young men a few houses away shown her how unbelievably ignorant and misled she’d been all those years?
Had she finally felt some sort of freedom to accept what she’d been raised so adamantly to reject?
In my heart, I like to believe, it wasn’t that my mom hated gay people. She hated everyone. And I mean, do you blame her? People are the worst…except you, you’re cool.
When I think about how times have changed, and how she changed, I know my mom would’ve loved that damn parade.
Funny thing is, my mom was unknowingly celebrating Pride back in the 70’s, with her plastic rainbow hanging from the rearview mirror of our brown station wagon. I often wonder if she’d met Paul and Gary back then, would she have looked in that rearview mirror with the rainbow hanging from it and see that it doesn’t matter WHO you love, as long AS you love, and love comes in all shapes and sizes and colors and genders.
I like to think she would’ve changed her view.