Love, Ellen: A Mother/Daughter Journey

( 19 )

Overview

"Mom, I'm gay." With three little words, gay sons and daughters can change their parents' lives forever. Twenty years ago, during a walk on a Mississippi beach, Ellen DeGeneres spoke those simple, powerful words to her mother. That emotional moment eventually brought mother and daughter closer than ever, but it was not without a struggle. In Love, Ellen, Betty DeGeneres tells her story: the complicated path to acceptance and the deepening of her friendship with her daughter, the media's scrutiny of their family ...

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Overview

"Mom, I'm gay." With three little words, gay sons and daughters can change their parents' lives forever. Twenty years ago, during a walk on a Mississippi beach, Ellen DeGeneres spoke those simple, powerful words to her mother. That emotional moment eventually brought mother and daughter closer than ever, but it was not without a struggle. In Love, Ellen, Betty DeGeneres tells her story: the complicated path to acceptance and the deepening of her friendship with her daughter, the media's scrutiny of their family life, and the painful and often inspiring stories she's heard on the road as the first nongay spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign's National Coming Out Project.

Insightful, universally touching, and uncommonly wise, Love, Ellen is a story of friendship between mother and daughter and a lesson in understanding for all parents and their children.

"Mom, I'm gay." With three little words, gay children can change their parents' lives forever. Yet at the same times it's a chance for those parents to realize nothing, really, has changed at all; same kid, same life, same bond of enduring love.

Twenty years ago, during a walk on a Mississippi beach, Ellen DeGeneres spoke those simple, powerful words to her mother. That emotional moment eventually brought mother and daughter closer than ever, but not without a struggle. Coming from a republican family with conservative values, Betty needed time and education to understand her daughter's homosexuality -- but her ultimate acceptance would set the stage for a far more public coming out, one that would change history.

In Love, Ellen, Betty DeGeneres tells her story; the complicated path to acceptance and the deepening of her friendship with her daughter; the media's scrutiny of their family life; the painful and often inspiring stories she's heard on the road as the first non-gay spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaigns National Coming Out Project.

With a mother's love, clear minded common sense, and hard won wisdom, Betty DeGeneres offers up her own very personal memoir to help parents understand their gay children, and to help sons and daughters who have been rejected by their families feel less alone."Mom, I'm gay." With three little words, gay children can change their parents' lives forever. Yet at the same times it's a chance for those parents to realize nothing, really, has changed at all; same kid, same life, same bond of enduring love.

Twenty years ago, during a walk on a Mississippi beach, Ellen DeGeneres spoke those simple, powerful words to her mother. That emotional moment eventually brought mother and daughter closer than ever, but not without a struggle. Coming from a republican family with conservative values, Betty needed time and education to understand her daughter's homosexuality -- but her ultimate acceptance would set the stage for a far more public coming out, one that would change history.

In Love, Ellen, Betty DeGeneres tells her story; the complicated path to acceptance and the deepening of her friendship with her daughter; the media's scrutiny of their family life; the painful and often inspiring stories she's heard on the road as the first non-gay spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaigns National Coming Out Project.

With a mother's love, clear minded common sense, and hard won wisdom, Betty DeGeneres offers up her own very personal memoir to help parents understand their gay children, and to help sons and daughters who have been rejected by their families feel less alone.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Ellen DeGeneres has taken an uncompromising approach to life that has challenged and intrigued her fans and detractors alike. But what about her relationship with her mother? Does a sense of honesty and independence run in the family? And what kind of support and encouragement has DeGeneres received at home? These questions and more are answered in Betty DeGeneres's Love, Ellen, the story of a famous -- if sometimes controversial -- daughter and the mother who loves her.
Beth Amos
Nearly 20 years before her historic "outing" on primetime TV, Ellen DeGeneres outed herself to her mother as they walked alone together along a Mississippi shore. Three simple words -- "Mom, I'm gay," -- marked the first step in what would become a long, emotional, and sometimes arduous journey for them both. Now, in a heartfelt and open tale of self-discovery, Ellen's mother Betty tells about her struggle to come to grips with her daughter's sexuality, a struggle that led from total denial 20 years ago to her role today as one of the most outspoken and well-known activists for gay rights.Love, Ellen is a story of confusion and clarity, happiness and pain, laughter and tears. But most of all it's a story of acceptance, support, and unconditional love.

Betty DeGeneres grew up in an era when one didn't rock the boat or make a scene. Being different was not well-tolerated and her own upbringing, as one of three daughters born to Christian Scientist parents, was white, working-class, and Republican: traditional values with traditional roles in a traditional family. And while her young adult years occurred during the turbulent 1960s, when civil rights issues were all de rigueur, her insulated existence left her unaware, unconcerned, and often oblivious. Add it all up and you hardly have the makings of a modern-day activist, yet for the past two years, Betty DeGeneres has been the first nongay spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign's Coming Out Project and a model of hope and inspiration for gays and their families.

Despite her upbringing, Betty's own life had its trials. There were four failed marriages, two of them to the same man. There was an immature attachment to her family that made her reluctant to go out on her own. There was the belief that she needed a man to take care of her, that she was lost if she was on her own, and that a bad relationship just might be preferable to no relationship at all. In fact, one of the most touching aspects of Betty's story is the way both mother and daughter supported one another through thick and thin, loving unconditionally and accepting one another even when they didn't always understand. Their trials brought them closer together -- yet not without conflict. And while they never veered far off the path to love, support, and acceptance, their individual trails were often twisted, winding, and marred with potholes.

The subtitle for Love, Ellen claims it is a mother/daughter journey, but the focus is largely on Betty herself. Some may wonder why anyone should care about the life of Ellen DeGeneres's mother, but Betty answers that question quite aptly. Her message, one of love and acceptance, is an important one, enough so that she feels readers should know something about the messenger. And what makes Betty's deliverance of the message so powerful is the fact that she herself struggled to reach that goal and did so from a point of reference that skewed her beliefs, thoughts, and ideals. Nothing in her life -- her upbringing, the values that shaped her mind and life, the goals she sought, or the dreams she had -- prepared her for that pivotal moment on the beach. In fact, her attitude in the beginning was closed-minded enough that her first response to Ellen's momentous revelation was to suggest it was just a phase she was going through.

Later, as Betty struggled to uphold the lie Ellen was living, the strain took its toll. There were support groups, but Betty was afraid to participate in them lest she give away her very famous daughter's secret. In many ways, Ellen's coming out was also Betty's coming out.

Courageous, touching, funny, and unassuming, Love, Ellen is painfully honest, surprisingly enlightening, and wholly satisfying. For parents or other family members who are dealing with similar issues, Betty's story may well be just the eye-opening reality check needed to make a similar journey. For those who don't have such issues to deal with, it's a delightful tale of the power of love and the human ability to overcome prejudices and achieve meaningful personal growth.

--Beth Amos
Beth Amos is the author of several mainstream suspense thrillers, including Second Sight, Eyes of Night, and Cold White Fury . She lives in Richmond, Virginia, and is at work on her next novel.

People
Touching...Betty DeGeneres has a story worth telling.
Out Front Colorado
Love, Ellen is the story of the extraordinary bond of love between Betty DeGeneres and her daughter, Ellen. It's an intimate look at a celebrated family that lived a very typical American life. And it is the chronicle of a remarkable friendship that grew stronger as mother daughter learned to be more honest with each other, and more honest with themselves.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780688176884
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/28/2000
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 332,937
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Betty DeGeneres was a working mom who held a variety of jobs--from employment counselor to speech pathologist--while her children were growing up. In 1997, after her daughter's coming out, Betty was named the national spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign's National Coming Out Project. Now she travels around the country to promote honesty and openness about being gay, having a gay family member, and supporting equal rights for gay people. She lives in Los Angeles.
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Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


The Importance of Being Different


FIRST OF ALL, WHEN you think about it, we're all stuck here on this planet while it hurtles through space in its orbit. If you imagine yourself free of gravity and floating off in the distance, you get a whole different perspective on us. I imagine us all looking exactly the same—like little ants, but full of self-importance. We're pretty good at dividing. And we're not bad at multiplying, either. (Sorry, I couldn't resist that. I am Ellen's mom, after all.)

    How laughable we would seem from that far-off vantage point—self-obsessed busy-bodies divided by turf and custom and color and you name it. We're divided by everything from what we eat to whom we worship as God and what name we call Him/Her. We're not just divided by our religious differences: we've gone to war because of them; we've actually killed in the name of God. I'm certain that's not what He/She intended when we were first created and put on this good earth to live and thrive together.

    When it comes to embracing diversity, I tend to think of myself as a relatively "average," "regular" person, not endowed with traits that would make me any more accepting than you or your neighbors. There wasn't anything in my upbringing that caused me to be more tolerant than the next person. If anything shaped that inclination, it is the fact that I became a mother. But I'm certainly not supermom. Rather, I'm probably more of an Everymom, with the same dream that most parents have for their kids—a live-and-let-live world where all the antscan celebrate individuality and diversity, yet still recognize each other as part of a larger family.

    There's nothing new or radical about this image of ants. In fact, it's really just a spin on what is more commonly called the golden rule, something I was taught at the beginning of my education as Everygirl.

    That part of my story starts in the depths of the Great Depression: on May 20, 1930, when I was born Betty Jane Pfeffer at home in a rented half of a double house on Dante Street in New Orleans, Louisiana. Despite the Depression and their own poverty, my parents—my father, William Dick Pfeffer, of German descent; and my mother, Mildred Morrill Pfeffer, of Irish descent—were happily anticipating my arrival and were planning for me to be the first of their three children to be born in a hospital. But I came too soon, and Mother gave birth at home, as she had with my sister Helen, seven years my senior, and my sister Audrey, five years my senior. So much for that plan. I've often wondered if it was my early entrance into the world that set the pattern of impulsiveness in my life, a pattern that has persisted to this day.

    In any event, I am quite sure that being the third-born and the baby of the family shaped my early personality. Where Helen, the eldest, was serious, intelligent, and always thoughtful, and Audrey in the middle was fun-loving and vivacious, I was known as the "littlest," and—with my thick golden curls and my apple-red cheeks—I was spoiled rotten, and notorious for never taking no for an answer. I was tenacious. Still am. I consider tenacity one of my great strengths and one of my great weaknesses.

    My earliest memories are from about the age of four. What I remember most about myself was how irrepressibly curious I was about everything. By now we were living in a slightly larger rental, not far from where I was born, a raised half of a double on Apricot Street. This house had a tiny backyard with a dirt plot maybe three feet by six feet. To this day, I can still see myself planting nasturtium seeds there and—with time passing ever so slowly, as it does for the very young—watching the green stalks inch from the ground, the flowers eventually bursting into bloom.

    Some years later, being an impulsive and curious child, when I saw an ad on a bus for cotton seeds, I wrote down the address and sent for them.

    A month later, as we were sitting down to dinner one night, Helen and Audrey began to laugh. Mother and Daddy asked them what was so funny.

    Audrey began, "Have you seen the backyard? She ..."

    "She? Who is she?" Mother said sternly. Mother thought it was extremely rude to refer to someone present as "she" or "her." Otherwise, Mother said, Audrey could have been referring to the cat—or the cat's grandmother. We were taught to refer to company present by name.

    Audrey continued, "Betty Jane is growing cotton in the backyard."

    That was correct. When the seeds arrived I had planted them on my own, per instructions, and I soon had a small but nice cotton crop.

    Mother and Daddy must have thought it a little unusual. But they acted proud. That's how they were whenever I tried new things. The lesson was simple—it's OK to be curious. Over the years, this quality has endured and may be why I've always had quite a collection of hobbies and creative pursuits. And, even more relevant to the work I do now, being naturally curious has always made me open to meeting different kinds of people.

    Of course, growing up in New Orleans—a real melting pot—meant that there were many kinds of people to meet. In later years, everyone started calling my hometown "the Big Easy," to contrast it with the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple and to emphasize its slow southern charm. As I recall, there was genuine ease in the way that the many ethnic groups—including French, Italian, German, Irish, Cajun, Creole, black, and white communities—lived together.

    People had pride in their own culture and individuality, and pride in the city itself. New Orleans has a distinctive kind of beauty, with its streets lined by huge, moss-draped live oaks. When I was little we used to pretend the moss was silver fox fur and drape it over our shoulders. The muddy Mississippi is majestic, and the architecture of the French Quarter and the Garden District is truly distinct and wonderful.

    The place was easier and the pace was easier. We had to take it slow and easy—it was so hot and humid most of the time. Goodness. Looking back, I don't know how we managed without air-conditioning, but we did. The house on Apricot Street had a sleeping porch as the last room, and every afternoon in the summer we had to take a nap, or at least lie down and rest. Afterward, we'd have a bath and put on fresh clothes and sit out on the front steps waiting for Daddy to come home from work.

    Many evenings Mother would have a picnic supper prepared, and when Daddy got home we'd all go to Lake Pontchartrain for a swim. Then we'd drive to City Park and have our supper there, sometimes meeting other family members or friends. What I remember most about those picnics was Mother's iced tea, with lots of sugar, lemon, and ice—the best in the world.

    Many years later, after my move to California, after my retirement, I took a poetry course and paid homage to those times with the following, one of my first efforts:


How did we survive with only
fans—electric and little
cardboard ones on sticks?


How did we survive the muggy south Louisiana summers—
summers that lasted half a year?


With lots of lemonade and iced tea
and cool baths and talcum powder.
And without complaining.


    Back then, there didn't seem to be so much meanness in the world. Maybe it was the times I grew up in. Maybe we really were kinder and gentler.

    Or maybe we were the same divisive ants that we seem to have become today. It's hard to know how much we have really changed. What I do know is that our current divisiveness does not become us. Instead of embracing those who are different from us as part of our human family, more and more we regard them with suspicion, fear, even hate. These divisions only weaken all of us. And what's more, I believe, they don't reflect what most commonsense, fair-minded people actually believe—that at our core, we're all the same; that no human is inferior and no human is superior.

    So where does all the suspicion come from?

    There is a song called "You've Got to Be Carefully Taught" from the musical South Pacific, which I have always remembered. The song says:


You've got to be taught, before it's too late.
Before you are six or seven or eight.
To hate all the people your relatives hate.
You've got to be carefully taught.


    Isn't it true? Somewhere along the way, we were taught that being different was a bad and fearsome thing. Now it's got to be our job to teach a different lesson—that intolerance is unacceptable.

    I got my first lesson about that from Mother when I was five years old.

    Around the corner from our house was a little mom-and-pop grocery owned by Mr. and Mrs. Blanda, Italian-Americans and neighborhood acquaintances who had kids of about our ages. The family lived next door in rooms attached to the store. Every now and then, Mother would let me go to the store by myself for bread or some other item she needed. I'd always see Mrs. Blanda at the cash register in the front and Mr. Blanda in the back, where he ran the meat market.

    One afternoon I was out playing when a few of my little friends dared me to run to the grocery store, put my head in the screen door, and yell out a certain derogatory name for people of Italian descent. It sounded like a reasonable dare to me. Obviously I was not a very bright child.

    I took off, rounded the corner to the Blandas' store, threw open the screen door, and stuck my golden, curly head in, and yelled, "You old dagos!"

    As I ran away, all I could think about was how impressed my little friends were going to be. Oh, and they were.

    But my glory was short-lived. Mrs. Blanda did the right thing—she promptly went to Mother and told her what had happened. And very soon, I caught hell. Mother let me know that what I had done was shameful and stupid. The spanking wasn't the worst of it. The hardest part was having to go to the store and apologize.

    I never forgot that lesson and never repeated a verbal act of intolerance. Mother taught me very young: Derogatory names are unacceptable. That is something we don't do.


Mildred Morrill Pfeffer was right sixty-three years ago, and she would be right today. If more and more parents made the conscious choice to teach their children to accept diversity, I can foresee a day when discrimination and prejudice will be made extinct.

    Mother's lesson is not a sophisticated superprogressive notion. It's simple. It's what the Bible teaches us: Love thy neighbor.

    And yet, these days, when it comes to loving our gay neighbors, we hear derision and hate from some people who claim to follow the Bible. They say things like, "I don't hate gay people; I hate their lifestyle." To me, that's only semantics. Hate is hate.

    I will never forget a heartbreaking story I heard when I spoke to a university group in Ohio. After the speech there was a reception and, to my amazement, more than three hundred students lined up to have me sign their programs or have their picture taken with me. Then it was the turn of a young man who had waited patiently in line. He said simply, "I don't want an autograph and I don't want a picture. I want a hug." Of course, he got one. He explained, "My mom rejected me when I told her I was gay. Now, I'm HIV-positive, and she says I got what I deserve." Then he got another long, long hug.

    What on earth could have made that mother so hateful? How could she have commited such an act of hatred toward her own child?

    Others do not express their hatred so bluntly. They say, "You have the right to be gay, but I don't want to know about it." What they're saying is, "Stay in the closet." That message, in effect, was the one I saw being given to Ellen over the years that she was developing her career. Hide the truth, she was told, cover up, pretend you're someone else. What is it about being gay that is so threatening that others would have a whole segment of society live in hiding? It's the same thing as telling African-Americans to hide their blackness or telling ethnic and religious minorities not to be who they are. Can you imagine anybody telling the Blandas to deny their Italian heritage?

    Of course, at the time when I was growing up, gays and lesbians were in the closet so much that I had no idea they even existed until I went off to college. And even then, my exposure was limited to innuendo and rumor. So although I was not predisposed to be prejudiced, I was totally ignorant. That's why, years later, Ellen wrote to me in her anguished letter, "I know you can't understand—you probably never will.... You were brought up totally different—lifestyle, generation, surroundings, people, environment."

    Well, El was wrong in saying I would never understand. But she was right to recognize how those various aspects of my upbringing would make my process of understanding more difficult.

    The Pfeffer household was almost textbook conservative—white, Christian, working-class, traditional all the way.

    Daddy was the typical male role model who went on to become a working-class American success story. He was the son of a businessman who lost his hardware store to drink. Handsome and hardy, young Dick Pfeffer—he was known to everyone as Dick, never William—started out as a stenographer at Pan American Life Insurance Company and worked there forty-seven and a half years, ultimately rising through the ranks to become a vice president.

    As if it were yesterday, I can still see Daddy sitting alone during the Depression years and later World War II at our big dining room table at night after dinner, with his record books and bills spread out before him, deciding how to make ends meet. I marvel to this day that with his salary stretched as far as it could go, he was able to raise three daughters and later send us all to college.

    Daddy's girl that I was, I also remember doing my version of ballet in the living room while he was paying bills—to get his attention and to cheer him up, but also to avoid Mother's call from the kitchen, "Bets, it's your turn to help with the dishes."

    Then I thought of another ruse: "But, Mother, I have to practice the piano."

    What a scam artist I was! It generally worked—except for a time when Helen brought home some popular sheet music and I taught myself to play and sing a song called "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie." Mother was horrified. She didn't want me playing it because of the words "sin" and "lie."

    While my father exemplified the male role of being the one and only breadwinner and head of the house, Mother was very much a woman of her time: a homemaker and caretaker, proficiently doing everything possible to economize and run the house on what was most certainly a meager budget. Somehow she managed to turn our limited food supplies into meals that, though not fancy, were ample and filling.

    "Waste not, want not," was Mother's credo. Leftovers appeared in every imaginable form. And this idea that being wasteful was nothing short of criminal stayed with her the rest of her life.

    In addition to all that stretching of food, Mother scrimped and saved, crimped and cut, and sewed all our clothes. Following her example, all three girls took up various forms of handiwork later on. But at the time, I hardly appreciated her efforts, especially since the clothes she made for Helen and Audrey became hand-me-downs for me.

    We were like many families of our time, striving to better our lot, all of us playing our rather well-defined roles and doing our part to get ahead.

    Home, family, security—this was the shelter in which I grew up, and I loved it more than anything. The worst day of my young life was having to leave that cocoon and go to kindergarten.

    "But I don't want to go!" I protested daily to Mother, crying every time the topic was raised. "I want to stay home with you!"

    When the day arrived, Mother saw no other recourse than to put me out on the front porch, go back inside, lock the door, and pray. Her prayers, apparently, were answered. After my terrible suffering, I adjusted well to grammar school. Then, at age twelve, when I had a chance to go to summer camp, I went through the whole process all over again.

    By this point, after many long years of striving, we had finally been able to buy a house of our own at 9121 Nelson Street. Finding the right house for what we could afford hadn't been easy.

    Since Helen and Audrey were in their late teens and busy with their own activities, that left me to accompany Daddy and Mother to go look at the various houses, some of them large, some in nicer neighborhoods.

    Daddy had been certified as a real estate appraiser, so whenever we went to see a house for sale he knew just what to look for. He would crawl under the house with an ice pick looking for termites while Mother and I stood outside and prayed that he wouldn't find any.

    Number 9121 Nelson Street was not one of the bigger houses, and not in one of the better neighborhoods, but it had no termites and it turned out to be our house. It had a relatively big backyard with a productive fig tree and Daddy soon built a fish pond and a brick patio. Inside it had two bedrooms and one bath, for a family of five, and no air-conditioning—in New Orleans, yet! Even so, we were definitely moving up in the world. We were achieving the American dream: home ownership.

    Again, the lessons I learned were not unusual. Through my family's example, I was taught that as long as we worked hard and had a positive attitude, all Americans could have the same chance at that dream.

    Maybe that's why, today, I have such a hard time understanding those who don't support laws to protect the rights of gay citizens on the job and their right to live safely where they choose, without the fear of being fired or evicted simply because they're gay.

    When people call these "special" rights, I have only to think of the segregated neighborhood half a block away from us on Nelson Street and the laws that became necessary to provide these very rights for our black citizens.

    In fact, one reason we were able to afford our house was its proximity to this section where the black families lived. There were no visible boundaries, but it was as though we lived in separate cities. Their ramshackle houses made our little house and those around it seem palatial by contrast. Our black neighbors sat on their front porches and steps. Now and then, they passed by our houses. And yet it was as if they were invisible. We just didn't see them. I don't even know where their children went to school. That's how segregated we were.

    Strangely, and sadly, I had forgotten this example of injustice until only recently. But now I remember that time when others were made invisible because of the color of their skin. It wasn't right then, and it isn't right now.


As you might expect, my sisters and I were raised with very traditional ideas about marriage and family. The message was that nice, pretty girls like us grew up and married nice young men who would provide and look out for them and their children. Just like Mother and Daddy.

    Mildred Morrill—"Miss Millie" as Daddy called her—was only seventeen when she became Mrs. Dick Pfeffer, and he was only twenty-one. Imagine—a wife and mother while still a child herself, suddenly thrown into child-rearing and other wifely duties.

    We never tired of hearing the story about our parents' romance. "Was it love at first sight?" I, the romantic, would ask Daddy.

    "Bets!" Mother would quiet me before he could answer. That question was much too personal.

    Audrey, always sunny, giggled. Helen gave me a knowing, thoughtful look as if to say of course it was love at first sight. How could it not be? Mother was very pretty with her pale Irish coloring and slim figure, even though she never seemed to realize how cute she really was.

    Daddy was notoriously impatient—something I inherited in a big way—and he jumped in, "For crying out loud, do you want to hear the story or not? I was making ..."

    "Your father was making ninety dollars a month," Mother interrupted, "and he got a ten-dollar raise, thought he was rich, and proposed." She smiled, deferring to Daddy, the boss, as always, "Right, hon?"

    "That's right, Miss Millie," he said.

    Though Daddy always had the last word, he knew better than to argue or hurt Mother's sensitive feelings. That was how, in her own quiet, deferential way, she wielded a good deal of control in our family.

    "After that," I concluded, "you lived happily ever after."

    Their story to me was just like all the fairy tales that shaped my early consciousness. Like Cinderella and Prince Charming. Then, later on, I learned about love from the movies—all the different versions of Girl Meets Boy. I loved going to the movies. I grew up at our neighborhood theater, Ashton's. Once a week Mother and Daddy and I would walk the eight blocks there, sometimes stopping beforehand for a seafood dinner of delicious fried oysters and fried shrimp.

    The stars I loved most were strong, sensitive young women like Jeanne Crain, Jane Powell, and Elizabeth Taylor; later on I liked Ida Lupino's acting and Anne Baxter in The Razor's Edge. Watching these heroines, I remember being completely carried away. On the way home with Mother and Daddy, I'd always walk half a block ahead of them, in my own world—pretending that I was that beautiful young girl on the screen with the storybook life.

    I remember one of Ida Lupino's speeches in a heartbreaking farewell scene that stayed with me long into adulthood: "All of us are standing in the mud, but some of us are looking at the stars."

    In our sheltered household and with all the love stories that filled my head from the books I read and those I saw in the movies or heard on radio, never once did I encounter the kind of love stories that have, in reality, been happening since the beginning of written history—Girl Meets Girl and Boy Meets Boy.

    No wonder Ellen thought I would have trouble understanding her sexual orientation. In many ways, I really was brought up in the dark. Or, as my sister Helen's kids like to say, in the Dark Ages.


So, how did I get past all those damaging myths? Very slowly, unfortunately. But the point is that I did get past them. And the fact is that as human beings we all have the potential to grow and heal and evolve.

    I recently heard an inspiring example from a young man in the South whom I'll call "Joe." Joe came out to a straight friend who was also a coworker. "I thought he knew," Joe told me. "He seemed to be dropping hints, you know." But the friend looked down and after a moment said, "My coach was right—you should all be put in a stadium and an atom bomb dropped on you." The friend said he no longer wanted Joe to see his wife or children, and warned Joe not to tell the wife—who was pregnant—why, or "She might have a miscarriage." The inspiring part of the story is that over time the friend went from complete rejection to complete acceptance. The friendship has grown even closer and, yes, Joe is also close to his friend's wife and children—proving absolutely that love is always more powerful than hate, ignorance, and fear.


Not long ago, a caller to a radio show on which I was speaking asked if my Christian Science background had made me more readily accepting of diversity. My answer was that it did, to some extent. Christian Science teaches that God created man in his image and likeness. That makes each and every one of us God's perfect child—and that's the way we strive to see our fellow humans.

    Our family journey into Christian Science was interesting. For most of my life, I always thought that it was Daddy, who was raised Protestant, who insisted on Christian Science and that Mother, raised Irish Catholic, just went along with him. As it turned out, although Daddy was attracted to Christian Science as a way to help his severe hay fever, Mother had another reason for breaking with the Catholic church—an argument with the priest over birth control. Mother wanted to use it. She had seen what having eight kids had done to her mother and had decided three were enough for her. Having me was the last straw!

    Birth control? That was forbidden, the priest informed her. So she left the Catholic church. Mousy or not, Mother could sometimes put her foot down and leave it there.

    Christian Science, as you may know, was founded by Mary Baker Eddy in the mid 1800s in New England as a system of healing based on prayer; she insisted that prayer was scientific. She thought the churches would embrace the idea. When they didn't, she started the Churches of Christ, Scientist. There are no ministers. Instead, there are practitioners who pray specifically for others when asked and charge a fee for doing so. In church on Sundays, a First and Second Reader conduct the services. There are also Wednesday night prayer meetings when those attending can stand and give their testimonies of healing.

    Christian Science eschews all "materia medica" and stimulants such as alcohol and cigarettes. But Christian Scientists, as a rule, go to dentists and also have babies in hospitals, using obstetricians. I believe Mary Baker Eddy approved of having a broken bone set by a physician. People over the age of twenty who are attending church on a regular basis, and who wish to become members, go before a committee and are questioned about their knowledge and sincerity.

    Through childhood and into my high school years we attended regularly but didn't join. We would call a practitioner for help, but we still used medicine and took vitamins—something devout, dedicated Christian Scientists don't do. At a later juncture, Mother joined the church, as did I in my college years. But Daddy—who smoked regularly and drank on occasion—never became a member.

(Continues...)

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Table of Contents

Prologue: Coming Out, the First Time 1
Part I: 1930-1978
1. The Importance of Being Different 21
2. Motherhood 50
3. The Paper Doll Family 78
4. Atlanta, Texas 105
Part II: 1978-1997
5. The Importance of Being Honest 143
6. I Love You, Mom; I Love You, El 149
7. Big Breaks 180
8. Come Out, Come Out 210
Part III: April 30, 1997, to the Present
9. Journeys 255
10. Speaking Out, Speaking Up 303
11. Questions 329
Epilogue: It's All About Love 347
Resources 367
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First Chapter

Chapter One: The Importance of Being Different

First of all, when you think about it, we're all stuck here on this planet while it hurtles through space in its orbit. If you imagine yourself free of gravity and floating off in the distance, you get a whole different perspective on us. I imagine us all looking exactly the same -- like little ants, but full of self-importance. We're pretty good at dividing. And we're not bad at multiplying, either. (Sorry, I couldn't resist that. I am Ellen's mom, after all.)

How laughable we would seem from that far-off vantage point -- self-obsessed busy-bodies divided by turf and custom and color and you name it. We're divided by everything from what we eat to whom we worship as God and what name we call Him/Her. We're not just divided by our religious differences: we've gone to war because of them; we've actually killed in the name of God. I'm certain that's not what He/She intended when we were first created and put on this good earth to live and thrive together.

When it comes to embracing diversity, I tend to think of myself as a relatively "average," "regular" person, not endowed with traits that would make me any more accepting than you or your neighbors. There wasn't anything in my upbringing that caused me to be more tolerant than the next person. If anything shaped that inclination, it is the fact that I became a mother. But I'm certainly not supermom. Rather, I'm probably more of an Everymom, with the same dream that most parents have for their kids -- a live-and-let-live world where all the ants can celebrate individuality and diversity, yet still recognize each other as part of a larger family.

There's nothing new or radical about this image of ants. In fact, it's really just a spin on what is more commonly called the golden rule, something I was taught at the beginning of my education as Everygirl.

That part of my story starts in the depths of the Great Depression: on May 20, 1930, when I was born Betty Jane Pfeffer at home in a rented half of a double house on Dante Street in New Orleans, Louisiana. Despite the Depression and their own poverty, my parents -- my father, William Dick Pfeffer, of German descent; and my mother, Mildred Morrill Pfeffer, of Irish descent -- were happily anticipating my arrival and were planning for me to be the first of their three children to be born in a hospital. But I came too soon, and Mother gave birth at home, as she had with my sister Helen, seven years my senior, and my sister Audrey, five years my senior. So much for that plan. I've often wondered if it was my early entrance into the world that set the pattern of impulsiveness in my life, a pattern that has persisted to this day.

In any event, I am quite sure that being the third-born and the baby of the family shaped my early personality. Where Helen, the eldest, was serious, intelligent, and always thoughtful, and Audrey in the middle was fun-loving and vivacious, I was known as the "littlest," and -- with my thick golden curls and my apple-red cheeks -- I was spoiled rotten, and notorious for never taking no for an answer. I was tenacious. Still am. I consider tenacity one of my great strengths and one of my great weaknesses.

My earliest memories are from about the age of four. What I remember most about myself was how irrepressibly curious I was about everything. By now we were living in a slightly larger rental, not far from where I was born, a raised half of a double on Apricot Street. This house had a tiny backyard with a dirt plot maybe three feet by six feet. To this day, I can still see myself planting nasturtium seeds there and -- with time passing ever so slowly, as it does for the very young -- watching the green stalks inch from the ground, the flowers eventually bursting into bloom.

Some years later, being an impulsive and curious child, when I saw an ad on a bus for cotton seeds, I wrote down the address and sent for them.

A month later, as we were sitting down to dinner one night, Helen and Audrey began to laugh. Mother and Daddy asked them what was so funny. Audrey began, "Have you seen the backyard? She..."

"She? Who is she?" Mother said sternly. Mother thought it was extremely rude to refer to someone present as "she" or "her." Otherwise, Mother said, Audrey could have been referring to the cat or the cat's grandmother. We were taught to refer to company present by name.

Audrey continued, "Betty Jane is growing cotton in the backyard."

That was correct. When the seeds arrived I had planted them on my own, per instructions, and I soon had a small but nice cotton crop.

Mother and Daddy must have thought it a little unusual. But they acted proud. That's how they were whenever I tried new things. The lesson was simple -- it's OK to be curious. Over the years, this quality has endured and may be why I've always had quite a collection of hobbies and creative pursuits. And, even more relevant to the work I do now, being naturally curious has always made me open to meeting different kinds of people.

Excerpted by permission of William Morrow and Co. Copyright © 1999 by Betty DeGeneres.

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Interviews & Essays

On Tuesday, April 27th, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Betty DeGeneres to discuss LOVE, ELLEN.


Moderator: Welcome, Betty DeGeneres! Thank you for taking the time to join us online this evening. How are you doing tonight?

Betty DeGeneres: Just great, thank you.


Gretta from Metaire, LA: What do you think is the worst thing a parent can do when he or she first discovers that their child is gay?

Betty DeGeneres: The very worst thing is to completely reject them -- bodily throw them out of the house.


John from JWC901@aol.com: What advice would you give to parents across the country who are learning that their child is gay?

Betty DeGeneres: To keep the lines of communication open -- that is vital.


Sue from New York: If coming out to your parents will hurt them, should you stay closeted?

Betty DeGeneres: You don't know if it will hurt them; you never know how a parent will respond, and if you stay closeted, you can't have an honest relationship.


Krista from Santa Monica, CA: Do you ever feel violated to some degree by letting the general public into such personal aspects of your life?

Betty DeGeneres: No, not at all, because it was my life. I could have glossed over things or omitted things, but I felt, and Ellen felt, that they were vital to our story.


Teddy from San Francisco, CA: What are your thoughts on the general state of acceptance in our country right now?

Betty DeGeneres: I think there are lots and lots of fair-minded people who are accepting, but they don't make as much noise as the ones who are preaching discrimination; we don't make as much noise.


Lana West from Bethlehem, PA: I don't have a question, I just want to tell you how great it is that you wrote such a wonderful book that has been due for some time now. Great book! I really enjoyed it.

Betty DeGeneres: I appreciate that.


Sue from New York: Do you think that someday there will not be any labels on gays and that we will all be treated as equals?

Betty DeGeneres: That is my dream.


Kathy from Seattle: I know about the HBO project; what are Ellen and Anne doing for Showtime?

Betty DeGeneres: Anne has written a movie for Showtime and she is directing it.


Nicole from Westport, CT: Did you know at an early age that Ellen was something special? When did you realize you had a comedic genius for a daughter?

Betty DeGeneres: As she was building her career I realized her comedy genius. Before that, she was just a kid with a great sense of humor.


JL from Florida: What can a gay child do or say to help their parents accept them?

Betty DeGeneres: Give them my book. And get them to PFLAG (www.pflag.org/pflag.html).


Tracy from Marlboro, MA: It is so sad how often I hear about gay children who no longer speak to their parents. Ellen is extremely lucky to have such a caring and open-minded mother. What was the hardest part of being Ellen's mom? Also, how do you react to the Hollywood backlash that I read Ellen was complaining about?

Betty DeGeneres: There is no hard part, there never was a hard part. We always had a great relationship. I think the Hollywood backlash is mainly a thing of the past. They are two very talented women, and there will always be a place for them.


Niki from Niki_palek@yahoo.com: How much do you think the raising of children influences a child's sexuality?

Betty DeGeneres: I don't that influences it at all. Gay people come from every sort of background, just as heterosexual people do.


Sue from New York: Do you think that Anne is Ellen's soul mate?

Betty DeGeneres: Yes.


Katrina from Springfield, VA: I really enjoyed the passage of your book where you go to Washington and are on "This Week on ABC." Why do you think that even educated or perceived smart folk are so naive about gay rights and other issues in the same vein?

Betty DeGeneres: Because we haven't spoken out enough to let people know that gay family members don't have equal rights. And people think we want special rights for them, and in no way is that true.


Trisha Dunn from Baltimore MD: Hi Betty, what new activities do you have planned with the Human Rights Campaign (www.hrc.org/) this year?

Betty DeGeneres: I don't know. I think they are letting me first recover from my book tour, which is just coming to an end now -- Seattle is my last city.


Trisha Dunn from Baltimore MD: Do you get nervous being on TV and being in front of crowds? Or have you become used to it now?

Betty DeGeneres: I never did get nervous since I started this work because I am speaking from my heart.


Sue from New York: Did you ever think that Ellen's career could be destroyed by her coming out publicly?

Betty DeGeneres: Yes, and so did she. She knew she was risking her whole career, but it was more important to be honest and to give that message to gay teens -- that they have nothing to be ashamed of.


Amy from FL: As a person who grew up with Scientology as your religion, how did you view homosexuality before Ellen came out to you?

Betty DeGeneres: Not Scientology, Christian Science, completely different. It teaches that God is love and that he made man in his image and likeness. It is not a hellfire and damnation religion.


Kathy from Seattle: Do Ellen and Anne know about all the web sites devoted to them?

Betty DeGeneres: I think they know there are some, but I am not sure if they have even seen any.


Lenea734@aol.com from Plano, TX: Who are some of Betty DeGeneres's role models?

Betty DeGeneres: Coretta Scott King, Ellen DeGeneres, Anne Heche, Kathy Najimy, who has always spoken out for fairness; I am sure there are more but those come to mind immediately. Medgar Evers's widow as well.


George from New York City: What compelled you to write a book?

Betty DeGeneres: The idea first started with people asking me to write the book to give to their parents. I had so many of Ellen's letters that she had written to me, and I thought that in itself is an interesting story of building her career.


Cummings from LA, CA: Do you know where we can see Ellen next? Will she be in any soon-to-be released movies?

Betty DeGeneres: Yes, "The Love Letter," and the two that are out now -- "Edtv" and "Goodbye Lover."


Moderator: Do you have any books you have been saving to read this summer?

Betty DeGeneres: Yes, Maeve Binchy's new book TARA ROAD -- it is a biggie and I will need time to sit down. The new book by James Baldwin.


Jan from Edmonds: Do Anne and her mom talk, or are they still distant? I think it's terrible that Nancy Heche rejected her daughter.

Betty DeGeneres: They don't talk.


Cindy from Denver, CO: What can we do as a general public to help close the gap between the naive homophobes and more open-minded and tolerant folk?

Betty DeGeneres: The more people come out, the better it will be, so that nobody can say "I don't know anybody who is gay" -- because we all do.


JC from New Jersey: Should teens lie about their sexuality if confronted and called perverse by their family?

Betty DeGeneres: No.


Marie Garretson from NJ: Hi, I'm really proud to talk to you online. I just wanted to say I really liked the "Ellen" show, and it should not have been taken off the air. Since I can't meet her in person, could you tell her she is a wonderful person? Will she answer letters from the address on the Internet? I want to let her know she lifted me out of depressions, and when I've heard her speak live I can tell she is very similar to me. It's a matter of coming to terms with yourself, which is what I'm going through myself

Betty DeGeneres: Thank you, I will tell her.


JL from Florida: Does Ellen plan any more college tours to foster understanding and acceptance of gays? It is very much needed in light of the Colorado tragedy, where the boys were supposedly taunted for being "fags."

Betty DeGeneres: I think she does. She enjoys those very much.


Shawna from Ohio: What new things are coming up for Ellen? Really miss her show; watch the reruns all the time.

Betty DeGeneres: There is a new TV show in the works.


Moderator: Thank you, Betty DeGeneres! Best of luck with everything. Before you leave, do you have any parting thoughts for the online audience?

Betty DeGeneres: Thank you, barnesandnoble.com. I certainly appreciate the wonderful reception that the book has gotten. I hope it will be out there for a long time, as yet another resource to promote understanding.


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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 19 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2008

    AMAZING!!!!!!!!!

    I have been a huge fan of Ellen DeGeneres for a long time, and several months ago I saw a rerun of her coming out episode. I was amazed and very impressed. It was sooooo well done. I admire and respect Ellen to no end for who she is and what she's done to help so many people. I got this book for Christmas from a friend and it just intensified my adoration of Ellen and gave me respect for Betty as well, for loving her daughter unconditionally and being willing to work through her initial shock. Ellen is my favorite celebrity and such a huge role model to me, and I'm so glad Betty wrote this book to help people come to terms with either their own sexuality, or that of a close family member. Love, Ellen can be helpful to all kinds of people in all kinds of ways and I'm so grateful that Betty wrote it. We need more love and affection in this world and it doesn't matter what form it comes in. Ellen and Betty are helping that concept to be more widely accepted by just sharing their story with us, and using their position of celebrity to make a difference in the world. Thank you Ellen and Betty!

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2007

    An Ordinary Family

    Love Ellen is a beautiful story about the unbreakable bond between mother and daughter. No matter how difficult the challenges faced by either Betty or Ellen their love has always remained strong proven in this eye opening book. So many times we read about celebrities lives and are only shown a small portion of their emotions as though they need to hide their most sensitive side from public view. Love Ellen is an exception to that as we see a side of both women as they truly are: sensitive, emotional and very human. Read for yourself the laughter, sadness and tears as you explore their journey together. You will come away with the realization that no matter how difficult your own struggles may be there is help for you if only you can open your heart and trust. As you get to know the DeGeneres family you will realize they are just as ordinary as the rest of us. I highly recommend this book for those who need help coming out, loved ones needing a better understanding of homosexuality and that it is not a choice, but rather just another side of many individuals and also to fans of Ellen's who just want to explore who she is and how she made some of the most difficult decisions of her life. This book is a very real account of the understanding we, as human beings who share so much in this world, need to accept.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2003

    very good book

    would recommend to anyone

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 4, 2014

    Lovely Book

    This mother's story of her very famous daughter, Ellen DeGeneres, is heartwarming, sad, funny, and inspiring to say the least. If you don't have an open mind to diversity, you probably will after reading this book. If you don't, how sad for you. It also tells a story about an awe inspiring mother and the many accomplishments in her life.
    I would recommend this book to all who know how to love unconditionally.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2014

    SERIOUSLY PPL THIS IS FAKE ELLEN IS NOT GA?Y

    She is not i watche her shows and i adore them to the author ur so man and why dont u just go home and stop writting books and get maried and have a life ok and go home and fuq ur mom git hat GOOD

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2014

    Want a free ipad

    Repost this in three books kiss your hand three times then look under your pillow

    0 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2014

    Midniht wolf

    Please, fo the love of all that is holy, spare your brainceels and go and look up the history of dirt. It would be alot less pointless and boreing than this book. Yo pack pups!

    0 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2006

    good

    The ellen book opened my eye's as a nice of a gay family memeber...Ellen is so awsome and as a 24 year old in 2006 ellen as saved my life........

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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