By Shaley Howard, PQ Monthly
Traci Leigh Taylor had no idea how much her life would change in 1996 when her son Daniel came out to her. Living in Hillsboro, Ore., with her husband and children, most of what Traci knew about the LGBTQ community was through heterocentric, mainstream culture. She loved her son dearly but was confused and worried about how he would be treated and what he might face in life as a gay man. Wanting to understand her son, who in her words at the time “seemed like a stranger to her,” she decided to start a project of interviewing Daniel, his friends, and others about their coming out experiences.
Her book Voices from the Rainbow, released last October, is a collection of interviews from across the US and world—over 50 individuals shared their heartbreaking and remarkably courageous stories and experiences of coming out and being queer in our culture. Through working on her project what Traci Leigh Taylor—aka “Momma Traci”—realized was how many people longed to have their stories told and voices heard—even if that simply meant her listening.
PQ Monthly: Congratulations, Traci, on your book! How long did it take you to complete this project?
Taylor: It took me four years. Originally this book was about the relationship between my son Daniel and me. Very soon I realized I needed to reach out much farther since who we were and what we did was connected to so many others.
PQ: What was your greatest fear in writing this?
Taylor: Not being accepted by the people I was interviewing. It was the strangest feeling. I really noticed it when I went to the LGBTQ homeless youth center in New York. I went in and was introduced, and then I just sat down waiting for someone to come in. I sat there terrified that they wouldn’t accept me and want to talk with me. Finally someone did come in and I discovered we both share the same fear of not being accepted by one another. The same feeling came to me when I visited SMYRC in Portland. Now after all the people I’ve talked with, I think my bigger fear is that I promised these people their stories would be heard. I feel like all these people handed me their hearts and it’s my responsibility to have their stories told. They want and I want people outside of the LGBTQ community to understand what we (the straight world) put LGBTQ people through by not accepting them.
PQ: Did you notice a common reaction or response from family members when people came out to them?
Taylor: Mothers were much more accepting than fathers. I often heard sentiments such as, ‘It’s one thing to have gay friends but another to have your own child be gay’ which was strange to me. And elderly people were more accepting. Perhaps you get to a certain age where you stop caring about what other people think and you realize life is not black and white.
PQ: Was there a noticeable difference in the level of homophobia your interviewees shared based on where they lived or backgrounds?
Taylor: The South was the worst by far in regards to homophobia. But overall, there just seemed to be a general fear and insecurity with coming out everywhere. I mean especially with teenagers who are already going through puberty—in a constant state of insecurity and a feeling of not fitting in—and if they’re gay, that feeling of not fitting in is only magnified.
PQ: What has been the biggest gift you’ve received from writing this book?
Taylor: I started being more aware. I started going places I would normally not go and meeting people outside of my everyday world. Everything opened up. It was great! I received the gift of understanding. I get it now. All I did was worry about Daniel when I first found out he was gay. But through this experience I realized and got it, that all he wants—all anyone wants—is to be loved and accepted.
It was a gift when I realized all the little things I take for granted as a straight person. Things LGBTQ people are afraid to express openly like holding hands or embracing in public. And having people write me and tell me they did it; they came out. That was a huge gift.
PQ: Are there any stories in particular that moved you the most?
Taylor: Yes, ‘Bear,’ whose parents had already died and he wrote them a letter coming out. That was very moving. And another young gay man who wrote me and said he was going to come out but was too afraid. He said it was too hard a task to even start and had no words. He couldn’t do it. That broke my heart. He would never get out of his cage. There were many unfortunately that could not write the words to come out. I call them ‘Unspoken Words.’
PQ: Are you planning on writing any more books about LGBTQ issues?
Taylor: I would like to write more on this topic and include more lesbian and elderly LGBTQ stories.
PQ: As a straight woman, how has writing this book changed your life?
Taylor: I am more comfortable in the gay world than in the straight world, that’s just the way it is. I just am. I feel as though there are not as many barriers and I’m able to be more open, speak freely and am more accepted. But I wasn’t before all of this. It’s definitely been a journey and process. I found that going into these people’s stories made me examine and reflect on my own life and my childhood. I started questioning why I believed what I believed, how it affected me and as a person, why I was so insecure. We’re all human. We all know non-acceptance so why the heck if we know what it feels like and we’ve gone through it in our own lives, how can we possibly not accept somebody else? And the way my straight friends treated me after reading my book. It was different. Perhaps this was because the book spoke to their inner child, that place we don’t reach in general conversations—that we are all connected.
Traci Leigh Taylor’s book Voices from the Rainbow is available now on Amazon, Kobo, ibook and Nook. The links are available on her website at www.mommatraci.com.