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Ben Mims asks his mom in Kosciusko for understanding, and consoles himself with cake.

Mississippi native Ben Mims begins an article about layer cakes in Saveur magazine by describing his relationship with his mother:

Prior to October 7, 2010, my mother and I were the best of friends. A consummate Southern lady, Judy Mims is a fantastic cook, gossiper, and mom—and in her relationship with me she had always drawn on all those talents. But on that October day, I flew from New York City to my childhood home in Kosciusko, Mississippi, to come out, at 25 years old, as a gay man to my parents. As anyone who grew up in the Bible Belt can imagine, the outcome was heartbreaking. My mother and I used to talk at least weekly; now months go by without a call. I miss her. And I can’t help feeling like I’ve lost touch with not only my mother, but also my lifeline to the world I grew up in. Thank goodness I still have the cakes.

It’s a really nice essay.  One brief moment in the story went clang, slightly:  “most Southern women have a subscription to Southern Living magazine…” Well, maybe among one substantial population in the South, most Southern women subscribed.  He accurately describes that population, later in the same paragraph:  “my mother’s ceramic-white skin contrasted by her lips, always burnished with brick-red lipstick.”

His effort to rise above his mother’s failure with whipped cream frosting almost achieves poignancy.  And there’s one I do want a slice of:

It was the coconut cake recipe, though, that the sisters agreed was the one to save if ever the house caught on fire. The first time I tried the recipe, it exceeded all my expectations. The cake was filled with freshly grated coconut, the sweet water seeping into the yellow layers surrounded by fluffy Italian meringue. Left for a day to “mature” in the refrigerator, every inch of it was suffused with rich coconut flavor.

The pictures with this story really and seriously caught my attention.  I hadn’t gone back to the text yet until Christen Hemmins noted on Facebook: “I would like to give this sweet man’s mother a talking to.”

35 comments to Ben Mims asks his mom in Kosciusko for understanding, and consoles himself with cake.

  • NotZachScruggs

    His mother sounds beyond redemption, but I’d sure like some of that coconut cake. Meanness in a cook never has, in my experience, interfered with the quality of his or her handiwork. On reflection, some of the best pastries I can recall from childhood were baked by bitter, isolated old women with cause to be mean — one in particular never, to my knowledge, caught the eye of any man or, for that matter, any woman, but she sure could bake, and she and her similarly wizened sister made a decent living, in a small town, selling their cakes and pies.

  • Anderson

    So interesting psychologically. It beggars imagination that a woman could raise a gay son and not realize he was gay.

    Which leads me to suspect, tho I can’t guess in Ben Mims’s case, that such angry denial springs in part from the unjustified, and perhaps unconscious, fear that the mother somehow *made* her son gay.

    (Cf. the school of paternal character-building that adheres to proverbs like “don’t coddle that boy so, Wife, you’ll make him a sissy,” etc.)

    If that’s the case, I hope Mrs. Mims figures out one day that the good Lord made her son gay, and learns to accept it.

  • If his mother couldn’t stand to hear it in person, she certainly won’t like reading it in the newspaper.

    Maybe they just need official “coming out” stationary where children can write their coming out statements. At the end they could say, “Can you accept me as I am? If yes, open envelope 2. If no, open envelope 3.

    Envelope 2 could say, “Thank you for accepting me as I am. I love you so much. See you at Thanksgiving. Envelope 3 could say, “Ha, ha, fooled you! Always the kidder that son of yours. I’ll be having a nice girl down for Thanksgiving. Be sure to make your strawberry turnover cake!”

    And everyone would live happily ever after.

  • P.B. Pike

    Interesting armchair psychology, you mean. I don’t quite follow how it would “beggar belief” that any woman could raise a gay son and not know it before he came out — especially when that young man is surrounded by anti-gay hostility that makes hiding it a reasonable reaction — unless you think every gay young man has all the same obvious, stereotypically gay “tells.” (We don’t.)

  • P.B. Pike

    Just charming, CRS. Really, such wit and sensitivity at once.

  • Lee

    I live in a household owned by a gay couple who have become my surrogate family. I often find myself sitting by the pool listening to gay guys exchange horror stories about having told their southern parents they were gay. It’s fucking heart-rending (excuse my language). Short of war, there’s very few things more butch than being a gay guy telling your southern parents you are gay. It’s easy to be glib btw and not always worthwhile. Check the suicide rate among gay kids in the south, and you’ll realized the stationary is often employed for a suicide note. People who come out gay are brave.

  • P.B. Pike

    Very eloquent, Lee — thanks for that. CRS and his ilk pine for the days when gay men and women suffered in silence within their own families for the sake of other people’s blinkered comfort and convenience. His heavy-handed “coming out” stationery joke is as humane an understanding as we’re gonna get from that narrow corner, I’m afraid.

  • meanderline

    Ah come on guys. I’ve got relatives I love who are still in the closet in their 50s with regard their parents. I think I appreciate the problem. That said I thought CRS’s comment was humorous and trenchant.

    Moving on from irony, there might actually be some value to a Hallmark coming out card. It would imply that the situation is not uncommon, and that it is recognized by society as an important life event. Just saying…

  • P.B. Pike

    How about proposing marriage with a Hallmark card? It’s not uncommon and recognized by society as an important life event. Or how about word that a loved one has passed away? Also not uncommon, also important. Or do these suggestions sound cheap, tacky and crass?

  • meanwhile

    the mean wedge (we are talking cakes here) of me wonders if these recipes were closely held family secrets up until now.

  • Anderson

    Oh P.B. A mother can always tell!

    Seriously, my (male) gay friends who have good relations with their families have had the common experience that it was no surprise to Mom. My best friend’s brother is gay, and his mom had that figured when he was five.

    Now, for some reason, my lesbian friends were much more shy of their parents. I recall one in college whose dad was in on the secret and they both hid it from the mom. Never learned how that came out, so to speak.

    But by all means, share your observations.

  • Floyd Pink

    Some of my best friends are gay and they all make fabulous cake, especially coconut cake. Once I had a cook off between my gay and straight friends and on a blind taste test I chose the gay cake everytime! I haven’t ever asked them about their relationships with their mothers but I never turn down cake from them. If I was stranded on a desert island with nothing but coconut trees and I could chose between a beautiful woman or a gay chef, I would chose the gay chef everytime. I love women but I really, really love good cake.

  • P.B. Pike

    Well I’ve heard the gamut of stories. A friend who was a star high school running back came out to his Pentecostal minister father and homemaker mother and has barely spoken to them since he left the house with his mother still screaming. Occasionally he has tried to check back in. Last I heard, he told her he had signed up to mentor kids whose fathers are incarcerated, and she thoughtfully told him gay men should not be allowed in close proximity to children like that. I don’t think she knew beforehand in any meaningful sense. About anything.

    I think a lot of parents have their reasonable suspicions for all sorts of reasons, and when they hear their child make it official, some say “I knew it” in the same way a wife who confirms her husband is cheating says “I knew it” despite having no proof before then. But those suspicions are often wrong, too. I had a good college friend who is straight, but his pronounced shyness around girls led his mother to ask him seriously and compassionately if he liked guys better. I noticed he started getting over his shyness soon after that.

    Interesting about your lesbian friend in college who told her father but not her mother for some time (and maybe not yet still). I experienced the mirror image: out to my mother and not my father for a good four years. It was always the guys whose homophobia got to me, and my father’s was first among them, unfortunately. Even off-hand comments were quietly devastating. Maybe he suspected it and his declarations, sometimes apropos of nothing, were his unconscious forcing itself into the silent conversation. When I came out, he claimed he didn’t know. I don’t know if he was lying, but that’s another common dynamic: some friends and family who already know don’t want to “disappoint” the newly out person, so they feign surprise.

    Every coming out story is unique, and they usually tell you quite a lot about a person and where he or she has come from. Even the most mundane stories are moving, in my opinion. There are recurring behavioral patterns of course, but the varieties of experience in this area are virtually infinite. The vagaries of human nature come out.

  • RazorRedux

    PB: don’t believe for one moment that we in the South don’t love our eccentric relatives. Or our gay ones. We may not always know how to express it, but we do, “…the vagaries of human nature come out…” Thanks for sharing. Sincerely.

  • P.B. Pike

    Nice of you to say, Razor. Thanks.

  • NMC

    Without going into great detail, I’m going to talk about two families where I have first hand experience: One where the mother missed nothing, but may not have ever expressly acknowledged it, and the father lived in a cloud of his own devising that allowed him to pretend the world was as he wished it would be; and one where the opposite pertained.

    But yet somehow, I’m inclined to think that both PB and Anderson are correct about this…

  • Floyd Pink

    And I’ll pick a gay hairstylist over a woman hairstylist any day of the week. Even if the woman is a lesbian. Out or not out, it doesn’t matter, I march right in there and make the gay appointment everytime.

    I went to a hair salon in Beverly Hills where they give you Coconut Cake while you are waiting. It is delish.

  • Ben

    I thought some recipes for good cakes would emerge here.

  • Anderson

    My recipe for cake is “drive to Primos.”

  • I agree that it takes courage to “come out.” I was making a joke and don’t think it was in poor taste at all. My point was that some parents would prefer an obvious lie to the obvious truth.

    It is characteristic of the small town South that many people are more concerned about what the neighbors feel than what their family members feel.

  • meanderline

    Hmmm, “cheap, tacky and crass.” Oh my. Well, I’ve always made my own cards, and do my best to commemorate our family’s life events in poetry, so on a very personal level I agree with you P.B. about Hallmark.

    On the other hand I do receive wedding invitations (albeit not proposals), and on occasion in memoriam cards. I don’t believe I’ve ever thought their senders were cheap, tacky or crass. These days I even receive email notices about departed friends which I appreciate since, when you have people you care about scattered around the world, their obituaries don’t necessarily appear in the local paper.

    I suspect we’ll see a coming out Hallmark Card soon, if it doesn’t already exist. It will be an indicator that society has moved a long way towards acceptance when we do.

  • NMC

    The cards already exist, of course. A quick google search turned some up.

  • Ignatius

    Coming out in the eighties and nineties was the worst. Mothers thought it was a death sentence, and the idea that psychotherapy might be able to “cure” it was much more prevalent. Things have changed so much since then. Every TV show has a gay character. The cocktail is keeping people with HIV not just alive, but healthy and thriving, and HIV is certainly not thought of as a gay disease anymore. I know gay couples who have been together decades and younger gay couples who have rushed off to other states to get married.

    I thought that society was close to leaving it behind as a social issue, but hell, now we’re back to debating contraception (Santorum: “The state has a right to do that, I have never questioned that the state has a right to do that”) so I figure that there’s a ways to go there, at least in the insanity realm of the GOP.

    And I was going to defend the Colonel for his Hallmark comments, but I read his column entitled “Mad-dog racist Obama plays race card, dares whites to complain” so he will be getting no sanctuary from me.

  • Anderson

    The good Colonel forgot there’s already an organization of white people for the Republican Party.

    It’s called “the Republican Party.”

  • Ha Ignatius! Can’t mess with your Obama. I just want the same rules for everyone, and am tired of the racism and discrimination coming out of the White House.

    As for the coming out thing, there’s been a huge shift in the past 10 years, and I think sometimes people forget just how huge that shift has been. In the space of 10 years we’ve gone from arguing whether homosexual activity should be a felony to whether it should be recognized by a legal marriage. I hope the mother down in Kosciusko can accept her son as he is. He isn’t going to change, and he is the same son today as he was two years ago. I still say if she had a hard time taking the news in person he shouldn’t have blared it out in the “newspaper.”

    p.s. Anderson, you are a hoot!

  • P.B. Pike

    CRS,

    He didn’t “blare it out in the ‘newspaper.’” He mentioned it in a single paragraph in an article in Saveur Magazine, which, I daresay, is not as closely examined in Kosciuscko social circles as the Attala County paper of record. And if his mother’s un-Christian, un-charitable, un-maternal prejudices are all it takes for her to estrange her own child at his moment of greatest need, that is 100 percent on her. Your admonishment to the young man to keep it quiet is, at bottom, for him to cower and censor himself in deference to the black, cold comfort of somebody else’s backwardness. If I had to guess, this article is a solid stepping stone in his career as a journalist or food writer — and good for him. She forfeited her entitlement to expect his Mayberry politesse when she gave him the cold shoulder. If she’s embarrassed, I could not give a shit and neither should her boy. He owes her his life, but not his dignity and honor. Her anxiety is ALL on her.

  • WantedToBeALawyer

    PB: I think you cast more aspersions upon the author’s mother than he intends.

    CRS: I think you cast more aspersions upon the author than his mother intends.

  • RazorRedux

    I could only hope that I that I had taught my children, and they had learned, tolerance to the point that they would consider ME the outcast should I display any amount of un-acceptance of them, as my children, no matter the societal un-acceptance of their choice of “sexual” lifestyle. They, and not I, would say it is NONE of my business. And I would consider that a victory in parental teaching and acceptance.

  • Lee

    I didn’t think any of the comments were out of line, though by carelessness I might have implied that. Sorry.

  • Phil Woods

    That’s it, Lee. I know your face and the next time I see it, I’m gong to bust it up for you.

  • Floyd Pink

    I once worked in a restaurant where the other two assistant managers were Mark and Mark, a gay couple. This was in Memphis in the early eighties. One Mark was the kitchen manager and the other a floor manager and bartender, like me. I recall that they had their checking account together and maybe bought a house together and were doing everything they could do, under the law at that time, to function as a “married” couple.

    I don’t have Mark’s coconut cake recipe but the cake was really moist and tasty. I wish I had it so I could get one of my gay friends to make it for me.

  • WantedToBeALawyer

    Watching Chelsea Lately; hoping for a good coconut pie recipe. This must be the right place.

  • meanderline

    On the peripheral topic of anti-Obama racist assholes (and no I am not nominating any contributor to this blog for that distinction) anyone else noticed Montana Federal Judge Cebull’s email stating that a joke implying that Obama’s recently deceased mother conceived him by having sex with a dog “touched his heart.”?

    I think Obama could enhance his odds of reelection by flying out to Montana and giving Judge Cebull an old fashioned beat down. Not quite sure how the Secret Service and the Federal Marshall service would handle such a confrontation, but I’m pretty sure the country would approve, perhaps especially the republican redneck demographic.

  • Anderson

    What fun to file a recusal motion for a black defendant in his court, calmly stating as grounds that the judge is a racist jerk.

    I’d love to see the contempt hearing. “So, Your Honor, on the record, you *deny* being a racist jerk?”

    Then appeal to the 9th Circuit.

    Breaking: the judge has filed a judicial-misconduct complaint against himself.

    And he’s sending a “formal apology to President Obama.” Whatever that means.

  • Dear Ben,
    I’ll be glad to adopt you. I’ve baked my whole life and would be proud to have another son like you.

    Betsy

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