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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Cecil W. Wooten, July 16, 2001. Interview K-0849. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Coming out to father and stepmother

Wooten describes coming out to his father during the late 1970s. Wooten explains that he decided he must tell his family about his sexuality once he decided to live openly as a gay man. Wooten's father was not only supportive of Wooten's coming out, but he was unsurprised by it and told Wooten that he had tried to indicate to Wooten that he could talk about his sexuality while he was growing up. Wooten then recalls how he had an uncle who was gay that his father had been supportive of in early years. Additionally, Wooten describes how his stepmother, "a Jesse Helms Republican," also supported his decision to live openly as a gay man and always welcomed his boyfriends into her home.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Cecil W. Wooten, July 16, 2001. Interview K-0849. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

CHRIS MCGINNIS:
So when did you come out to your parents and family?
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
About 1978, it was when I was moving to Indiana, and as I said, I had all of these gay friends and most of my social life was with gay people. I felt that, "I really shouldn't be doing this unless I told my parents." So, I remember, I called my father one weekend and I said, "There is something important to me that I would like to discuss with you." And he said, "Well, the next time that you are in Kinston, we can talk about it." And I said, "Well, I am flying in from Indianapolis tomorrow night."
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
So you were planning on handling it immediately.
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
Yes, I just decided that I just feltߞI really like my family and my family has always been good to me, and I felt like a hypocrite, I mean, running around with all of these gay people, feeling more and more that I wanted that to be an important and open part of my life. But yet, never having discussed it with my family. So, I flew in, my father picked me up at the airport, and after dinnerߞhe had re-marriedߞhe had married a woman with four children and there were all of these people around and after dinner he said, "Would you like to go over to my office?" and I said, "Yeah". It was funny, we sat down, I was in the patient's position and he was in the doctor's positionߞ
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Did he have an office in his home?
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
No, it was in a clinic. We went over there, and I started my little preamble and said, "There is something that becoming increasingly important to me. . ." He was looking down the whole time. All of a sudden, he interrupted me and he looked up and he said, do we have to discuss this?
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Oh my God!
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
I said, "Yes we do." [said with emphasis]. He then said, "Okay, that is all right." We talked for about two hours. It was perfectly friendly, he was very reasonable, he was not terribly enthusiastic about it, but it seemed to be fine.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
So, he obviously knew, he just did not want to talk about it.
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
Well, it was funny, he said to me, "Don't you remember when you were twelve, every night, very visibly was reading this book called "Toward an Understanding of homosexuality? It was about thick" [Laughter, Cecil makes a motion indicating thickness with his hands]
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Oh, I see, I thought you meant that the was reading it too you, putting you to sleep. He was just reading it to himself.
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
But every time, he would go into the den and read, when I would walk in, it was almost as if he was holding the book up. He told me that that was an invitation for me to talk to him about it. Well, one of my uncles lived with us, and it was very obvious, you know, that he was gay. Back in those days in Eastern North Carolina, people did not go to psychiatrists or therapists and he was talking with my father. I assumed that my father was reading this book for my uncle.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
So you uncle was probably the first openly gay person.
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
Probably, but he was not openly gay, but he had a Harvard Law Degree. He was very cosmopolitan and intelligent and every year, would sort of adopt a high school student, who he sent to college. He would take him to Europe and take him to California, they were up at our house all of the time. They always came from sort of an under privileged background and also good looking. [Laughter] Nobody ever talked about it. But, people in my family have talked about it since then. He killed himself eventually.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Oh my goodness, how old was he when that happened?
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
He was 79.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Oh, he was much older.
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
It was pretty clear to everybody. I don't know if he had any sexual relations with these boys, I don't know what the nature of it was, and I guess that nobody ever will. But, he was very good to them, he took them to Europe and he sent them to collegeߞ
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Were there any other gay people, or people that you suspected that were gay in your family? [pause]
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
Noߞwell, I have a second cousin in Raleigh who is gay, but he is younger than I am. It was, my father told me that this was an invitation for me to talk to him about it. I said, "Look, this was 1957, I was 12 years old," I didn't have a very good relationship him, it wasn't nasty, I mean he worked all of time, I mean, I didn't see him very much. He was very distant and I said, "What do you expect of me? This is just totally unreasonable." But, he was very good about it. At the end of this conversation, he said, "Look, this is fine, I have no problem with this," and then he said in a very condescending sort of way, "You know, your stepmother is not as educated as we are." And he said, "I don't think that she would understand this, so would appreciate it if you would not tell her." I said, "Look your relationship is with her. That is not any of my business, I will do whatever you want me to do." It was interesting, she called me about two months later, and she said, "Your father just told me that you told him that you are gay. And he said that he did not want you to tell me, because he thought that it would make a difference," and she said, "I just want to tell you that it makes no difference whatsoever." It is fascinating because she is a Jesse Helms Republican, but the one issue that she is very liberal on is gays. I have had boyfriends over there at Christmas, I have taken lots of gay friends home, it has never been a problem at all.