Nearly 20 years before her historic "outing" on primetime TV, Ellen DeGeneres outed herself to her mother as they walked alone together along a Mississippi shore. Three simple words -- "Mom, I'm gay," -- marked the first step in what would become a long, emotional, and sometimes arduous journey for them both. Now, in a heartfelt and open tale of self-discovery, Ellen's mother Betty tells about her struggle to come to grips with her daughter's sexuality, a struggle that led from total denial 20 years ago to her role today as one of the most outspoken and well-known activists for gay rights.Love, Ellen is a story of confusion and clarity, happiness and pain, laughter and tears. But most of all it's a story of acceptance, support, and unconditional love.
Betty DeGeneres grew up in an era when one didn't rock the boat or make a scene. Being different was not well-tolerated and her own upbringing, as one of three daughters born to Christian Scientist parents, was white, working-class, and Republican: traditional values with traditional roles in a traditional family. And while her young adult years occurred during the turbulent 1960s, when civil rights issues were all de rigueur, her insulated existence left her unaware, unconcerned, and often oblivious. Add it all up and you hardly have the makings of a modern-day activist, yet for the past two years, Betty DeGeneres has been the first nongay spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign's Coming Out Project and a model of hope and inspiration for gays and their families.
Despite her upbringing, Betty's own life had its trials. There were four failed marriages, two of them to the same man. There was an immature attachment to her family that made her reluctant to go out on her own. There was the belief that she needed a man to take care of her, that she was lost if she was on her own, and that a bad relationship just might be preferable to no relationship at all. In fact, one of the most touching aspects of Betty's story is the way both mother and daughter supported one another through thick and thin, loving unconditionally and accepting one another even when they didn't always understand. Their trials brought them closer together -- yet not without conflict. And while they never veered far off the path to love, support, and acceptance, their individual trails were often twisted, winding, and marred with potholes.
The subtitle for Love, Ellen claims it is a mother/daughter journey, but the focus is largely on Betty herself. Some may wonder why anyone should care about the life of Ellen DeGeneres's mother, but Betty answers that question quite aptly. Her message, one of love and acceptance, is an important one, enough so that she feels readers should know something about the messenger. And what makes Betty's deliverance of the message so powerful is the fact that she herself struggled to reach that goal and did so from a point of reference that skewed her beliefs, thoughts, and ideals. Nothing in her life -- her upbringing, the values that shaped her mind and life, the goals she sought, or the dreams she had -- prepared her for that pivotal moment on the beach. In fact, her attitude in the beginning was closed-minded enough that her first response to Ellen's momentous revelation was to suggest it was just a phase she was going through.
Later, as Betty struggled to uphold the lie Ellen was living, the strain took its toll. There were support groups, but Betty was afraid to participate in them lest she give away her very famous daughter's secret. In many ways, Ellen's coming out was also Betty's coming out.
Courageous, touching, funny, and unassuming, Love, Ellen is painfully honest, surprisingly enlightening, and wholly satisfying. For parents or other family members who are dealing with similar issues, Betty's story may well be just the eye-opening reality check needed to make a similar journey. For those who don't have such issues to deal with, it's a delightful tale of the power of love and the human ability to overcome prejudices and achieve meaningful personal growth.
Beth Amos is the author of several mainstream suspense thrillers, including Second Sight, Eyes of Night, and Cold White Fury . She lives in Richmond, Virginia, and is at work on her next novel.