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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William E. White Jr., October 29, 2000. Interview R-0147. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

A gay man's family receives the news of his sexuality rather well

White remembers the lack of privacy at his family compound: his aunts, uncles, and cousins lived in close proximity. This close proximity contributed to the fact that some of his family members learned that he was gay before he came out to them. When he did so, his family took the news relatively well, White remembers.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William E. White Jr., October 29, 2000. Interview R-0147. 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

ASHLEY CROWE:
Could you describe again how your family lived all clumped together, like how they were, so I can write it down? 'Cause I didn't -
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
Oh sure. You mean the family compound?
ASHLEY CROWE:
Yes.
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
Let's see in my house were [pause] all the people you have listed under names.
ASHLEY CROWE:
Right.
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
In the house next to ours - oh god, here we go -
ASHLEY CROWE:
Was that just next door?
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
Just next door, not quite as close as the neighbors here, but almost. Oh lord, Aunt Bessie, Uncle Ed, John, Richard, and Wallace, their kids. Let's see. My house -
ASHLEY CROWE:
Was it the aunt that was related to you?
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
Yes, that was my mother's sister. My house was perpendicular to Aunt Bessie's and if you looked out across Aunt Bessie's front yard and driveway, Another house faced hers. And that house contained, my grandmother and grandfather Couch, my great-aunt Omi, and my Aunt Mabel. And these were all kinda fairly grouped around a large circular drive, and you hit the main drive and you could go out to Page Road, or you could go the other way onto the dirt road, which is called Sorrell's Grove Road [Extension].
ASHLEY CROWE:
And then, that was the only group of your family that lived right there?
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
Nope, actually come to think of it, across the street from Aunt Bessie, were my, oh gracious, Aunt Beatrice, Uncle Dennis, and my two cousins Floyd and Ruth.
ASHLEY CROWE:
And what was it like living with all that family so close by?
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
[Laughter] A lot of times it was really nurturing, and strengthening. But it was also frustrating because no matter how much I tried to say, "Well they just cared," these were nosey people. Every body in all the households knew what was going on in other households, in detail. And I found that a little uncomfortable; it was kinda like living in fish bowls. Prime example is when my foster brother and I came out to my mom and she said, "Sure go to the bars." We'd get home at one, two o'clock in the morning, the very next morning my Aunt Bessie would call the house and go, [puts on accent] "Mildred, which one of your kids came in this morning at two AM?"
ASHLEY CROWE:
So did you pretty much come out to all your family right away or just your mother?
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
Just my mom initially. I mean after all she worked for two psychiatrist and a psychiatric social worker, so she was pretty cool about it. Um, my dad was a little tougher; he was a little freaked. But yeah, actually, when I came out to my mom, of course, I came out to my brothers and sister. And it was easier because my foster brother had paved the way; he'd already come out. So, it was a little easier.
ASHLEY CROWE:
What were your siblings' reactions?
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
Um, at the time they really didn't care. It was like, "Yeah fine, no big deal."
ASHLEY CROWE:
Did that change?
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
It changed when we grew up and my younger brother got [puts on stuffy accent] very religious. And then, of course, it became an abomination in the [unclear] of God. It was like, "Oh, fine." But I think he's - no - he and I have reached a point where it's a subject we agree to disagree and that's about as far as it goes.
ASHLEY CROWE:
Right. How about you extended family?
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
Alot of my extended family knew and I didn't. I didn't know they were aware. My sister was living with my Aunt Bessie next door at one point, and I was going down to the drug store. She said, "Can I ride?" I said, "Sure." On the way back she kinda henned and hogged. She said, "Umm, Bill, Aunt Bessie knows your gay." I said, "What? How'd she find out?" Pat said, "Well, she backed me into a corner." So we got back to Aunt Bessie's house, went in the living room, sat down. Now my aunt was just a definite country woman. Great big old country woman. I said, "Well, Aunt Bessie, I hear you know more about me than I thought you did." She just grinned. I said, "You never said anything!?" She said, [puts on southern accent] "Well, Bill, son, who am I to judge you?" I thought, "Who are you?" [pause] That wasn't the answer I expected. So, everyone that knows - well I've got a couple cousins by marriage that are quadruple-faced-rednecks - but other than that most everybody is fine with it. [Puts on dramatic voice] Which is a good thing. [Off voice] So it makes things a lot easier.