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WSW: When Dana Scott Came Out, it Changed Her Life - and Her Mom's

Andreea Alexandru
AP Photo

When Dana Scott came out as a lesbian at the end of the 1980s, her life started to get better. She was 27 and had struggled for years pretending to be something she wasn’t.

“At some point I think I was trying to drink myself to death because I was so afraid and so unhappy,” she said.

After she came out, Dana’s mom Jeannie Scott stood by her side. But privately Jeannie took the news hard.

“Coming from a mother’s point of view, I felt like I was a failure. I had not given you what you needed to have a healthy marriage and a relationship and to wear pink dresses with a ribbon in your hair,” she said.

Dana asked her mom about those times and how both of their lives have changed since then, in September 2017 at People’s Church in Kalamazoo. They were attending a reunion for the lesbian group Lavender Morning.

Credit Courtesy Photo
Jeannie Scott (middle) with her daughters Dana (left) and Tracey Holder

Interview with Dana and Jeannie Scott

Dana Scott: So Mom, I came out when I was 27, and you and Tracey, my sister took it pretty well really, although I don’t know what you two talked about in private. So what were your thoughts when I first said, ‘I think I’m a lesbian’ or ‘I am a lesbian’?

Jeannie Scott: I was devastated. But you didn’t actually tell me. Actually your ex-husband told me. And I called Tracey your sister immediately and said, ‘Dan said Dana’s a lesbian and I don’t believe it. What do you know about this?’ And she said, ‘it’s not something we can talk about now.’ I was like all right and I cried and I went into your Dad in the living room and said, ‘Dan said Dana’s a lesbian! And he’s like “yeah?”’ Football game or something. I was devastated. Because, coming from a mother’s point of view, I felt like I was a failure.

I had not given you what you needed to have a healthy marriage and a relationship and to wear pink dresses with a ribbon in your hair. And now to be perfectly honest I did believe over the years that you possibly could be a lesbian but my thought to myself was, I don’t really care as long as she’s happy. That’s the only thing I care about, is that she’s happy. But when I actually knew it for a fact it was devastating. I was embarrassed. I was - it was very hard.

DS: Well you did a good job of hiding that, because I felt very supported, honestly. And I kind of look back and, I had no idea that my ex-husband did that, so that doesn’t surprise me but it’s like well OK! But I appreciate you, because I don’t know what happened or maybe you saw that I was healthy and happy because you know, I quit drinking, and had some support systems and was doing rather well so maybe you saw that and you weren’t as worried? Or no. What changed your - because in the last 20 years you’ve been very, you seem to have been very supportive of me and my - any partners that I would have or anything like that, so what changed?

JS: I had to wrestle with it for quite a while, but what really changed for me is I told myself, this is my Dana, this is my daughter, this is my child that I’ve known for 27 years, this is Tuesday, I love her, on Wednesday she’s gay, I still love her, she’s not any different. She’s the same person and it’s my daughter and I love her and I’ll support her in whatever she chooses.

DS: I remember Dad who was not supportive at all, his main thing was how it reflected on him I think. And I remember him saying, ‘don’t be bringing anybody over here with spiky hair and - looking like a man’ or whatever. But he definitely struggled with it. Over the years he got better with it or whatever, but - so thank you for being supportive and stuff. I mean it is who I am, you’re right. It is what it is and there’s no changing it. And I remember I felt really free finally when I was able to be who I was and that was really important. And a lot of folks don’t have family, so.

JS: And I think that Tracey your sister took it very well. It wasn’t a problem for her at all. She is just - she is who she is. It was very difficult for your dad, and it took me a long time because we both worked at Bronson Hospital and some of the people would say to me, ‘I heard Dana’s gay. Is she gay?’ And I was mortified. How could I tell anyone my daughter was gay? It was horrible! It was my secret!

DS: We both had secrets.

JS: But I wished that people when they say, when parents say ‘I just cannot accept this,’ I wish that they would step back and know that this is their child and who they were on Monday is not any difference in who they are on Tuesday and I, at this time I’m very very proud of you, you’ve turned into a delightful young woman, I am supportive of you and all the other people that have gone through this and I wish that more parents would be more understanding and realize that it’s not a choice, that it’s something that happens. For whatever reason. And that they go, well ‘I could never have a gay child,’ well, how can you say that until you actually have one? So it’s difficult for the parents also.

DS: So do you feel, are there any ways you can think of that it has enriched your life or made you a different person?

JS: Yes I think so. I think knowing the lesbian community because you’ve included me and your sister into it a great deal - I mean everyone’s very accepting, they’re very kind, and it’s shown me a different exposure to things I wouldn’t have been exposed like some of the dances it’s hard to tell who’s - in my eyes who’s the male and who’s the female (Dana laughing) but when I went to them before - but I am nonjudgmental, you know? I mean it’s like this is who they are. But that gave me an experience that I wouldn’t have had if I wouldn’t have been involved in your life. If I’d have cut you loose, I would have - I’m more enriched by your lesbianism, if that’s a word.

DS: So it’s funny because I think that Dad or you maybe even thought that well, ‘she wants to be a man.’ That’s what the whole thing is and it’s never about that. For me it wasn’t and for most lesbians that I know, it’s not about wanting to be a man or look for a woman who looks like a man necessarily, it’s really just about being a woman in my body how I am and not necessarily the stereotypical woman that society says we should be in order to be accepted or to be genuine.

I think that’s a common misconception for not only the older generation - older than me,  your generation - but even now I think sometimes there’s that misconception. And really, you know everybody has a different experience but for the most part, it’s just about two women who love each other and are fine being women and same with the men, they’re fine being men, they just fall in love with other men, so. It’s an interesting thing, interesting concept or misconception I should say.

JS Yes I think so too but I think that if people would just sit back and realize that what you see visually is not necessarily who they are - and I think people take the visual look and feel uncomfortable, and I think part of it being uncomfortable is because it’s unfamiliar...

But I feel very fortunate that I have Dana in my life, and that she’s such a delightful young woman and - (Dana laughing) you said you’d pay me - and that I get so many good compliments about her on what a real person she is.

And I think that that comes from her life experiences, that she is kind to other people because she knows what it means to be ridiculed. She was ridiculed on the Sunday school bus one time - everybody’s like ‘what are you, a boy?’ and she wouldn’t go back to Sunday school. So there were a lot of negative things in her life that she did face because of her, she had a stocky build, her mother kept her hair really short, she was, she excelled at sports and it just made her different from the other daughter who was a Cinderella.

DS: My sister, who I adore.

Sehvilla Mann: Do you remember some of that?

DS: I do, yeah. Definitely wanting to dress in boys’ clothes. But it was more comfortable! I just, that just wasn’t me. I remember my mom trying to give me a perm one time and it was torture. And it was like, why do I have to have a perm? So that was in a way probably her way of trying to mold me into what was comfortable for the family really. And it just you know wasn’t comfortable for me. So I wanted to wear boys’ clothes, I wanted to be an athlete, and it’s something I remember from, as young as I can remember that I just felt like I am not like these other girls.

And you know, it was a struggle of course, because of society and stuff like that. I think it’s important for the younger folks to remember, the younger lesbians that it hasn’t always been so accepting and I know that there’s still pockets of issues and discrimination and things like that. But it’s much, much better than it used to be.

JS: you should say, Dana, what years that you were going through this because, this is 2017 but your, you were born in what - ’62, so it was the ‘60s and the early ‘70s that you struggled. And then she got married, and I remember on her wedding day we all went to fix up the reception hall and things and Dana called me and she said, ‘what am I supposed to be doing’? And she went to wash her car. Because there wasn’t anything for her to do. She had no idea. She was heavily into alcohol at that time so she wanted to close up the reception hall.

But she married a good friend, I think. That he - and I think that’s why she said well - I mean I think she said, ‘I’m supposed to get married so I guess I’ll marry Dan.’

DS: Yeah that’s exactly it. I thought, well he asked me and I think that’s, I’m 19 or 20 so I guess that’s the next step. I didn’t go to college and that’s what happened a lot back in the day. Because you know a lot of us were trying to conform and so we did marry and have kids and so, it’s unfortunate in some ways because other people are involved. But at the same time that’s again, society. It’s a bigger issue than just one little pocket so.

JS: And I would hope with the younger people coming back the parents will try to be more understanding and realize that this is still your child. And I think it’s changing. I think it’s not as taboo as it used to be. But there may be some problems with accepting these young men and women that want to live their own life. And the parents are worried about society and how they’ll be judged too.

SM: Just because it is a Lavender Morning reunion, I’m guessing you found your way to that group at some point.

DS: I did. After I went to treatment for alcohol, and then I was in the process of a divorce and I didn’t have any resources, and I can’t remember, somebody told me about Pandora’s bookstore, and so I went down there and kind of slyly went in, scared to death, and River was working. Asked if she knew of any attorneys and she gave me a couple names.

And then from then on I frequented the bookstore because that was a safe place and also I might meet other people that were like me, and I also you know had a misconception of what a lesbian looked like or whatever. And to my delight, we’re every shape size and everything. So the whole stereotypical thing of, you know the ‘dykes on bikes’ are the only, are the only lesbians, is just, wasn’t true but that’s all I knew growing up and it was something to be disdained at the time unfortunately.

So then yeah the dances were super important, to come and meet folks like myself in a safe place, women-only event, so I owe a ton of gratitude to River and Pandora’s and the whole LM community for really embracing a young scared-to-death lesbian and really, with open arms. I mean I think that honestly, in some ways it helped save my life really because at some point I think I was trying to drink myself to death because I was so afraid and so unhappy and so I think they were a definitely a safety net and still continue to be really.

Sehvilla Mann joined WMUK’s news team in 2014 as a reporter on the local government and education beats. She covered those topics and more in eight years of reporting for the Station, before becoming news director in 2022.
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