By Brantley Bardin

Originally published on Advocate.com April 09 2010 4:00 AM ET

“I wanted to call it ‘a mom-oir,’ but they wouldn’t let me,” says actor-designer-activist and now author Bryan Batt about his autobiographical tale, She Ain’t Heavy, She’s My Mother (Harmony Books, $24). The book is a collection of très gay coming-of-age stories starring the New Orleans–born-and-bred writer and his heavily coiffed and perfumed Southern belle of a mother, Gayle. “It’s an ode to the Steel Magnolias, Auntie Mame–ish sort of Southern woman who is, I think, a dying breed,” Batt says. “There are so few of them left with the real core strength and real core heart that my mother just innately possesses.”

Indeed, Mama Gayle is as charmingly nonplussed as she is loving and supportive, whether it’s when she discovers her son’s childhood “fetish” for her antebellum hoop skirt (she simply sends her 7-year-old “Bryanny boy” off with a kiss and a wink to a child therapist with whom Bryan eventually shares his newfound adoration of Cabaret and all things Liza) or when she first learns about her Broadway veteran son’s long-hidden homosexuality. “I still wonder how she didn’t already know. I mean, I had picked out her clothes, shoes, handbags, and jewelry since sixth grade,” Batt writes. Still, once Gayle is filled in she doesn’t hesitate to gush to Batt’s partner of 21 years, “I am so lucky to have you as a son-in-law.”

Most famous for playing closeted art director Sal Romano on TV’s Mad Men—a character who was fired from Sterling Cooper, the show’s fictional ad agency, last year and whose presence in the coming season remains uncertain—Batt is thrilled that, with or without Sal, he’ll be back in the public’s consciousness with She Ain’t Heavy. “It’s, like, when a window opens, jump out of it!” he jokes of his debut writing experience. “I just had to celebrate my mother’s life because she’s had such an influence on me, and you know how you read so many books where people trash their parents? Well, look, no one has the perfect upbringing. Everyone has their flaws, but, come on, you get over it, you move on, you have a cocktail, and you enjoy your life!”