Molly Graham has a story to tell. And she will on June 21 at the Pride-themed show of storytelling organization Story District. But first, the 33-year-old Pittsburgh native talked to WJW about what it’s like for your mom to come out when you’re 11, the seriousness of microwave s’mores and how her dog is definitely not named “Eliza Zoe.”
You have this storytelling gig coming up. What story did you choose and why did you choose it?
Our June show is our Pride show, so the perspective I’m bringing is as a child of gay parents. I’m not a typical child of gay parents. I had heterosexual parents who were married to each other when I was born, but my mom came out when I was in fifth grade. So, I sort of focus on the experience of having your mom come out when you’re 11 and it’s 1994. No one really knows what a lesbian is yet in Pittsburgh. I’m probably underselling Pittsburgh in saying that, but that’s how it felt at the time.
Tell me the story.
My mom came out to my sister and I in the kitchen of the little apartment that she had moved into after her and my father had divorced, which was the place that we had all our serious conversations. So, when you’re called in to the kitchen you sort of know this is serious. And my very embarrassing first questions was, ‘Oh, who’s going to be the boy?’ because I was 11 and it was 1994 and there were no lesbians in popular culture really. It was pre-Ellen [DeGeneres] kiss on TV and really people did not know what lesbians were and 11 year-olds certainly didn’t know.
But then my mom met her wife, who moved in with us. And at that point it’s no longer this abstract thing, but a human being. And my mom’s wife is actually where all my Judaism comes from. My father is Jewish, but neither of my parents were interested in raising their kids in organized religion. [But Harriet] is reform, pretty active and I know all the Hebrew prayers for Chanukah because of her.
So, your mom came out after your parents divorced?
Yeah, a while after. They divorced when I was maybe 2 and a half. The divorce was very settled. And my parents were a totally united parenting front.
And now, they have Thanksgiving together. And when my mom’s on vacation — now that my sister has kids — my mom has welcomed my dad and his wife to come down to the beach. That wasn’t true initially when they got divorced, but as we’ve gotten older they do everything together again.
When you look back on this memory, what sticks out to you?
Definitely my reaction to it. Especially because it’s so funny now. And [my mom] made microwave s’mores, which were sort of a special snack and in retrospect are completely disgusting — a graham cracker, a marshmallow and like Hershey’s syrup in a microwave. But we loved it. So it was like “Oh. Oh no. We’re having a kitchen discussion and microwave s’mores? Okay, something’s happening here.”
And 11 is a weird age — not a teenager, but not really a kid. What was that like?
I think there’s definitely a feeling in my family of like “We’re OK, we’re going to be OK. We’re going to push through it.” So when I was talking to my sister and family in trying to remember stuff, my sister was like, “Can you just tell a story about how it was fine and you’re not scarred?” And I was like, “One, no. And, two, that’s not true.” But we did all sort of just buck up and move past this. And, luckily, so did the world, eventually.
And [at 11] you’re super gangly and the worst thing in the world is attention. It was being thrust into focus in a way that was uncomfortable. But the experience of not dying from that is, I think, really positive. So, in the story, I really focus on the experience of learning to stand up and go, “I’m just not going to take your opinion of what’s good or bad as my own and I’m not going to allow my life to be affected by that.”
It’s something you learned at a young age.
Yeah, and I think it’s a positive lesson for an 11-year-old girl. Especially being at that age where everyone else’s opinions are so important, it’s that object lesson of “People are wrong. And you have a mind, and you have the ability to make decisions about what is and isn’t OK.”
And you can appreciate it now. But at the time…
At the time it was a lot more like, OK, that was bad, but we’re going to go home and have dinner and start over again tomorrow.
When not telling stories, what do you do for fun?
Improv is absolutely the biggest social thing I do. I also work with another theater organization called TBD Immersives. It’s like a choose-your-own adventure theater. Other than that, I have a dog and a cat and a boyfriend.
Aw, what are their names?
The boyfriend is Ryan. The dog is EZ — two letters, like EZ Pass — and the cat is Conan.
Is the dog named for EZ Pass?
No, she’s kind of striped like a tiger and we wanted a tiger-themed name. So we went with EZ, like “Easy, tiger.” But my boyfriend’s mother would not let us name her the word “easy” — I’m not sure why she got to have an opinion, but there you go — so she pretends her name is Eliza Zoe. Which it is not.
And the cat is Conan The Fugees O’Brien Graham-Graves. We couldn’t decide what to name him, so he got all the names. But he’s mostly just “Cat.”
Molly Graham will tell her story on June 21 at 8 p.m. at the 9:30 Club, storydistrict.org.