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Op-ed: If My Mom and a Hair Dresser Could Change the World

Op-ed: If My Mom and a Hair Dresser Could Change the World


Sitting in my Manhattan apartment several years ago staring at my computer hoping to find inspiration to write, as I often do, I received a perplexing phone call from my Midwestern mother.She'd been to the hair salon in my hometown and had quite an exchange with her hairdresser, Mona, whom she'd been to see only a few times previously. After being shampooed, my mom sat in Mona's chair ready for a new look. "Something fun and young," my mom explained. While Mona outlined some of the latest and greatest in hair, my mom revealed that she was at the salon because she'd be flying to New York City to visit her son -- me -- the following day.

"Why are you going to New York? For some gay thing?" Mona said with a disgusted look on her face and then laughed.

"Um, actually I am," my mom said astonished. She wondered if perhaps Mona also moonlighted as a psychic. "I wrote a book with my son who happens to be gay," my mom said proudly.

"Ugh. I don't agree with that lifestyle at all," Mona said curtly and stared at my mother in the mirror.

"OK, but there are a few things I think you should know," my mom said and took a deep breath. "First, my son is not a 'lifestyle,' he's a person just as you and I are. Second, we can either 'agree' or 'disagree' on what shade of pink this polish on my sad looking nails is, but to use that same logic on a human being is well, illogical."

Mona became more and more agitated at my mom's response. She tried as best as she could to hold her tongue until finally, it was too much. "It goes against everything that I believe in and my faith," she said.

Whereas my immediate reaction would have been to get out of the chair, march back home, and start my call for a boycott of Mona and the salon, my mom remained in her seat.

When my mom finished her sentence, telling me what had happened moments earlier, I could feel my heart begin to beat faster and my cheeks flush. Anger coursed its way through me. If I was there, in that situation, I would have left even had my hair already been cut.But not my mom. She calmly stayed in her hairdresser's chair. Three thousand miles away, I began to angrily march around my small Manhattan apartment. listening as my mom continued her retelling of the story. Who was this moronic woman to talk to my mom this way? Who says such complete crap in this day and age? What hairdresser doesn't like gay people? I wanted to go off on a diatribe and incite the same kind of anger in my mother that I was feeling.

I couldn't take it any longer and finally blurted out, "Are you kidding me mom? Why would you sit there and listen to this woman when you don't have to?"

My mom interrupted, "Let me finish."

I was still burning with anger but knew better than to interrupt her again. I took a few deep breaths and did my best to put aside my own feelings so she could complete her story.

She continued. "Mona, do you remember after I'd come to see you the very first time and you out of nowhere opened up to me about the harsh discrimination and judgment you felt when you were out with your husband?"

"Yes, but..." Mona began.

"No," my mom interrupted her. "You told me how much all the comments and dirty looks hurt you and your children."

"Yes, but my husband was born African-American. Your son chose to be gay."

"We're going to have to agree to disagree on that fact. At least for now. For the time being, I simply want you to remember how those words hurt you, how it made you feel inside, what it did to your children."

"But, it's different," Mona argued.

My mom held up her hand and asked, "How did it make you feel?"

Mona was silent for the rest of the haircut.

Back in my apartment, I'd finally calmed down and started to see my mom's logic. While I applauded her bravery and resolve, I had to ask: "Mom, why would you stay there? I know we're from a fairly small town, but surely there are other hairdressers around."

"Do you remember why I agreed to write this book?" she asked me.

I did, but I wasn't quite ready to admit to her that I remembered.

She continued, "I agreed to write this book in order to open a dialogue."

"Yes, I know but..." I snidely began.

"No 'buts.' Had I walked away from that conversation it would have meant that everything else was a lie. You can call me a lot of things Robert, but a liar is not one of them."

"Yes, but no one would have blamed you for walking away. This woman was clearly out-of-line."

"She was," my mom agreed. "However, a dialogue consists of more than just one person," she teased.

I spoke with her a little while longer and finally calmed down. I hung up the phone and had never felt more proud of my mom. She didn't just "talk the talk,"she stayed true to her convictions. After an inauspicious start, my mom and Mona were able to continue a dialogue.

The same anger resurfaced when I heard Brett Ratner's pejorative "fag" remarks that have been widely reported. To be honest, I quickly joined the chorus of "fire him" or "step down." The outrage was understandable. His comments were reflective of a giant douche bag, a friend and I concluded over lunch. As we paid the bill, my friend read me Ratner's apology, posted on a popular entertainment blog. The blogger called his sudden remorse "half-assed" and "insincere." My anger once again returned at what I believed to be a lame attempt to for Mr. Ratner to keep his job as producer for the Academy Awards (which he eventually resigned from). I declared to my friend that I had wished I'd been there during the Q&A. I would've had the nerve to actually call him out on his slur or leave him stammering for answers until he'd had the revelation that what he said was idiotic, perhaps even dangerous. Clearly, I needed to lay off the caffeine.

Still miffed, I got into my car and saw a copy of Conversations and Cosmopolitans, the book that I co-wrote with my mom that was set for release the following day.

Weirdly, my mind flashed to the memory of my mom and her experience in the salon. Despite having heard my mom tell me the story over a decade ago, I remembered it as if I'd just hung up the phone. I immediately saw the parallels between the beautician and the director. Granted, Mona the hairdresser doesn't have the same platform, influence, or power as someone like Brett Ratner. However, for me personally, the lesson is the same.

I could help in creating a great divide by calling for a boycott of his movies and joined in the movement that demanded he withdrawfrom producing the Academy Awards, or I could metaphorically stay in my chair like my mom had and listen to what he had to say. My mom didn't acquiesce; she remained firm in her convictions while having a calm and rational discussion with a person whom she strongly disagreed. I certainly could do the same.

In no way do I agree with Mr. Ratner's comments, but I do accept his apology. Forgiveness is a powerful gift that we all have. Quick fixes and instant gratification are what drive the world we live in and while they may seem like the most appropriate course of action in the moment, they also could have detrimental long-term effects because often the dialogue comes to a halt.

I'd like to propose that we continue the conversation...

ROBERT RAVE is the author, with his mother Janet Rave, ofConversations and Cosmopolitans: Awkward Moments, Mixed Drinks, and How a Mother and Son Finally Shared Who They Really Are, which was released this month in paperback.

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