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Julie Tarney Headshot

A Straight Mom's Pride

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I figured the less I said, the better, and rehearsed a few lines in my head as I heard the call ring through.

"Campus Cleaners," said a woman on the other end of the line.

I felt an adrenaline rush as I set my tone to upbeat. "Hi, my name is Julie," I began. "May I please speak to the manager?"

"I'm the owner. What can I do for you?"

"Oh, that's great! I'm calling because I signed my son up for your dry cleaning and laundry service this year and wanted to ask about something in the confirmation I received in the mail."

"Sure. What is it?" Her voice was friendly, and I imagined a wicker basket of Dum-Dums on the front counter of her shop.

"It says that if any clothes not belonging to the registered student are included in the laundry bag, the account will be cancelled immediately without a refund." Harry's dad and I agreed to split the cost of the pricey service when our son's double major was approved, guaranteeing his workload would surely double, too.

"Yes, that's correct. We had some problems with that in the past."

"Well, I just wanted you to know that my son's dry cleaning will include an occasional beaded dress or sequined tube top. He's a performer, and those items are definitely his, not a girlfriend's."

"Oh? What kind of performer?"

I hesitated. This was the question I had hoped to avoid. I never knew how people in the general public would respond to my son's theatrical gift. And now I was talking over the phone about it with a complete stranger. I braced myself. "He's a drag queen," I said.

"Really?!" It was the same "really?!" I'd hear from women who recognized my luck at having a gay man for a son, those who knew it meant I had my own free, personal stylist. "My nephew's a drag queen, too!" she said.

"You're kidding!" I exclaimed. "I wasn't sure how you'd react about the women's clothes, and you totally get it."

"Oh, yes," she assured me. "We try to get up to Boston for our nephew's shows whenever we can. They're wonderful!"

I relaxed into the back of my desk chair. I was no longer questioning the company rules, and my newfound friend wasn't challenging my son. "Well, Harry performs in The Rocky Horror Picture Show on campus, if you're ever in the mood for a local show," I told her. I knew I was boasting, but I couldn't help myself.

"I'll look into that," she said. "And I'm making a big note right now on his account information about the special items in his laundry."

I smiled. That was so easy. I had worked myself up over the idea that Harry would be judged, and for nothing.

Later that night, as I stood in front of my full-length mirror, wondering which shoes Harry would tell me looked best with the dress I was holding up, I thought about my conversation with the lady at the cleaners. I felt lighter, encouraged about the future. I wanted to believe that understanding and acceptance would never go out of style. And I knew I would continue to brag about drag.