Melissa Harris-Perry: It's The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. In our ongoing series Aging While Queer, we've been exploring the lives and labors of members of the LGBTQ+ community living in their later years. This week, we spoke with Pat and Paulette Martin. Now, Paulette Martin knew she was a lesbian from a young age, but she didn't feel safe enough to be her fully authentic self until later in life.
She married a man, raised three children before finally coming out in her 40s. Today, Paulette is happily married to Pat Martin. While coming out was also a challenge for Pat, most of her family quickly accepted her after she came out as a teenage. I started by talking with Paulette about her childhood.
Paulette Martin: Growing up, my mother and father had a gay man, a family friend, and that was acceptable. It was time where I didn't have a voice. I couldn't truly say that I was attracted to girls. I didn't have the word gay at that time in my vocabulary. I just knew that I like girls and I liked the comfort and being around the softness, but I wasn't able to share that so I buried it and I felt that I'll do the norm, which was to get married, have children, build a family.
Underneath all of that, I was not happy. I felt like I can do this for a moment in time and that too shall pass. That moment lasted a long time, like 20 years, but it was never one of peace. It was okay that someone else had a gay family member or went to an all-girl school. There were gay people in school, but when they got home to the neighborhood, they became straight.
Melissa Harris-Perry: That duality, that multiplicity and being able like, I can perform this but who I truly am is someone else. Pat, to what extent does that resonate with your own story?
Pat Martin: Well, most of my family knew that I was gay. The only one who I think she knew, but she was just in total denial was my mother. My family also had gay friends. The person that did my hair growing up was a gay man and he was totally accepted in our house at any time. When they would do the weekend fish fries, he was there.
My mother just always said, if one of my children grow up to be-- The word at that time was bulldagger. If one of my children grow up to be a bulldagger, I'll kill them. As she said, she always looked at me. That tells me that she knew and she was just trying to give me a warning that I better not come out.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Pat, what do you make of that strange dichotomy between being willing to love and know and welcome into the family fish fries, someone who is gay, but also that intensity of opposition to your own child being gay?
Pat Martin: I think it is that stigma, that thing where if my child is gay, I did something wrong. It's a reflection on me. If the world see that one of mine is gay, then I didn't do my job by bringing a girl into the world.
Melissa Harris-Perry: It is true. We can pretty easily over-identify with our kids in ways that make their lives just about us. Yet Pat and Paulette, the two of you found each other, can you tell me your love story?
Pat Martin: Well, I have always been an event planner. I had brought together a team and we were preparing to do a women's dance and SAGE Center Harlem giving us space to meet. This was the night before the dance. We were packing up our swag bag and Paulette had volunteered to help fill the swag bags. During my meeting, my team were getting a little nervous and they were saying some stuff that was rather upsetting and Paulette chimed in and she said, "Can I say something?" Go ahead, babe, you do it.
Paulette Martin: From that point, what I noticed was that Pat had a plan. I could see her vision and they didn't so I asked if I could interject and told them that since Pat knew what she was saying and I didn't know her background, I didn't know her, first time meeting her, that they should be in submission to her. Pat eyebrow raised like, "Oh, okay." We had the dance the next night, and everything was fine. I had her number.
I had also prepared some food for the event. When the dance was over, I actually deleted her phone number because I felt like I needed to clean my phone out and we were done with our business. She attended one of my church's event to support one of the ministers there who was doing the sermon that day and we sat together. I remember that every time her leg touched mine it was like, "Oh my goodness, I'm in church. Stop it."
It was so exciting. When we left church, I had informed her I didn't have her number. She just said, "Well, call me." I said, "Well, I deleted it." She gave me her business card and she said, "Don't delete it." The next weekend I was dressed, looking good, wanted someone on my arm to go out to Henrietta Hudson so I called her and asked her out. She said yes and then she proceeded to call me back with a message saying that she couldn't go. That was her way of getting me back for losing her number. I called her back and said, "When a lady asks you out, you do not refuse them." We went to Henrietta's house. She met me there. We went there and Pat, take it away.
Pat Martin: She wore me down, Melissa. She kept calling saying, "But it's not raining." I'm looking out the window and I know it's not raining and I'm saying, "But yes, it is."
But she wouldn't give up so I said, "You know what, this lady is not going to let me sleep so let me go and get this over with." We've been together ever since.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Tell me about MILCC.
Pat Martin: You're touching my heart now. MILCC is Masculine Identified Lesbians of Color Collective. It's an organization that supports other masculine-identified lesbians of color. We found that there's so much available to our white counterparts and we needed to do something that we could identify with. I got together with some of my buddies and we created MILCC and we do workshops. We do symposiums.
We do our safe chat. It's a safe space for lesbians of color who identify as masculine-identified and masculine of center lesbians where we can come together and just talk. We can support each other because of our like-mindedness. We are a great group right now. We have a membership of 238. Our membership is throughout the United States, and in Africa, Canada and I think we have a young lady from London who are members.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Earlier Paulette, you were talking about being a person of faith and a couple of faith. You sound like every South Carolina-born Black lady I know, especially who is in her 60s and 70s. I also sometimes see this church that we love, not to embrace our LGBTQ+ family members and beloveds and elders. There is no question you love God. Have you ever wondered whether or not God did not love you?
Paulette Martin: I will say that's a powerful question. Yes. I was brought up Roman Catholic with the nuns hitting you and telling you you're bad. I used to always wonder, what did I do to be punished? I didn't get it. I didn't understand the doctrine I just knew that I wasn't of any worth. At least that's what I was being told. Up until the point where I had the understanding that I can talk to God because I stepped away from any religion, and when I occasionally would go to church because I had children, I would look at the person on the pulpit and go, "If they can talk to God, I can talk to God," but I didn't feel worthy. I didn't feel like God can hear me, but then I just started talking. Then I realized one day I was just sitting there and crying and crying that God hears me. He hears me, he hears my words, he's responding to me. She told me that I am a child of excellence. I am his/her child and I exist in this world with a purpose and a passion. Sometimes, yes, I forget my faith. When I have cancer, I forget my faith. That's why I asked God.
I used to have a list of 75 things I wanted in a mate. That was a little ridiculous. When I narrowed it down actually to two things and one of the first thing was to have a godly woman. When I realized that's what God has given exactly what I asked for, I embraced it. Then I was blessed to find Unity Fellowship of Christ Church, which is a LGBTQ church headed by Bishop Zachary Jones, where total acceptance of whomever, however, you choose to live. That just once again fortified my belief that there is a place for each and every one of us.
The church will shame us. They make us feel less than because I could not understand if I am created and I'm created in God's image. How does that make it wrong? No one can ever answer me. How am I not a child of God? You're here. I'm here. We look different. We believe different, but the bottom line is I am God's child and that has-- Our lives, my life has just so solidified that. We are here with a purpose and a passion that was gifted to us. I hope that answered your question.
Melissa Harris-Perry: The purpose and the passion of Pat and of Paulette Martin. The love that you clearly have for each other, that you've shown to your community, that you have engaged through MILCC organizing, and in the ministry that you just gave us, Paulette. Thank you so much for living your best lives and for sharing them with us.
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