High Yella: A Modern Family Memoir recounts the story of Steve Majors’ life. The following is a Q&A with Majors himself in which he expands on how the struggles detailed in his book helped him move forward in the conceptualization of his own identity and offers opinions on what the future could look like for gay families and mixed-race populations.
Please join us on Wednesday, November 10th at 7:00 pm to celebrate the launch of High Yella: A Modern Family Memoir with Steve Majors, introduced by Valerie Boyd. Register for the online event held via Zoom here.
Reconciling discrete and sometimes disparate aspects of your identity to construct a whole is an important part of your journey and this book. How did reuniting with your family after such a long period of time help you discover more about your identity and how you fit into both of your families? In what other ways did reconnecting with them impact you?
There’s an old saying that proximity breeds discontent. And for many years, that was the case with my siblings and extended family members. There were too many dark secrets and shared traumas in my family and the pain that resulted from those would often come spilling out in terrible ways whenever we met. But as we grew older, we realized that there was healing in being able to come together and confront some of those things. So, reuniting with my family eventually allowed me to integrate disparate parts of myself – the part that held on to the past shame and the part that had moved on to become a better person. Where I once was one person with my family of birth and a second with my family of choice (my husband and adopted children), I now feel like there is only one version of me.
Religion comes up in High Yella several times, from your prayer to God in the first few pages and attendance of religious school in your youth, to humorously calling yourself “Chewish” after marrying into and raising your daughter in the Jewish faith. How has your view of faith and organized religion evolved over the course of your life, especially as a gay man?
Religion has always been in the background for me. I recall going to the Pentecostal church with my grandmother as a young child and watching her and other family members “get slain in the Spirit” and fall to the floor in religious ecstasy. After my mother converted to Catholicism, my siblings and I went to parochial schools where the priests and nuns had a profound impact on our religious beliefs. At some point, I considered becoming a priest. Today, I’m a lapsed Catholic because some of the beliefs and rituals of the church don’t make me feel particularly connected to God. Its stance on sexual orientation is one example of that. But I still believe that organized religion can play a positive role in people’s lives. It’s for that reason that I agreed with my husband to raise our kids in the Jewish faith and that I myself occasionally attend Synagogue and observe the high holy days with them.
Your description of raising daughters shows both the difficulties and the joys of being a father. What aspects of raising children do you think would have been different if you and your husband had adopted sons?
It’s hard to tell. But I was raised in a fatherless household so my own parenting role models, both good and bad, were the strong women in my life – my grandmother, mother, aunt and sister. I’ve sometimes wondered how that experience influenced how I relate to my own daughters. What I do know is that my husband and I understood at the outset that no matter the gender of the children we adopted, we could not fulfill the role of mother for our kids.
A phrase we often hear nowadays is “ending the cycle of abuse.” Your book details the physical abuse that you went through as a child and the violent fights that sometimes broke out in your household with your husband and daughters. In your Acknowledgments, you apologize to your daughters for any trauma they may have endured as a result of not dealing with your own in a display of vulnerability. Do you believe that this cycle of generational trauma can end? How have you found the courage to continuously make changes in your own behavior?
I do believe you can end the cycle, but the first step is recognizing that it exists in the first place. My mother’s generation and the one before her, did not have the words to explain the dynamic of family trauma and how it can be passed on through the generations. My own older siblings and cousins probably did not either, until late in their adulthood. Now I feel I have the responsibility to name it, claim it and then make the necessary changes in behavior to ensure that the next generation is not impacted by it. The naming and the claiming are one of the main reasons I wrote High Yella.
“Now I feel I have the responsibility to name it, claim it and then make the necessary changes in behavior to ensure that the next generation is not impacted by it. The naming and the claiming are one of the main reasons I wrote High Yella.”
At certain points in the book, your daughters seem resentful of having gay parents, including their lack of desire to attend your marriage ceremony and Mariah’s remark that the issue on a trip was “too many gay people.” How did you and your husband handle and move past these hurtful episodes?
I think we’ve tried to keep those things in perspective. At some point, all kids are embarrassed by their parents and do anything in their power to create separate identities apart from their family. If it wasn’t being gay dads, they would have found something else to be resentful about. Having said that, we also recognize that LGBTQ+ parents are still not considered by some to be part of the mainstream. In many ways, our kids were responding to signals from the world that their parents were something to be ashamed of. I’m grateful that in the past few years, they’ve largely moved past those feelings.
No two families are ever the same, but what advice do you have for other same-sex couples considering adopting children? What additional considerations should they keep in mind with a mixed-race family?
My advice for same-sex couples is to take some of the pressure off yourselves to be the model parents you think the world expects. I think early in our parenting journey, my husband and I were mindful that the world was watching us and making judgements about our parenting skills as gay men. At some point, the struggles within our family didn’t leave the time or energy for us to worry about what other people thought. We were doing the best we could. The same is true for all parents, no matter whether they are same-sex or opposite sex, married or single. I think interracial families have to be aware of the responsibilities they have to understand, value and support the racial and cultural diversity of their children, particularly if they and their kids are from different races.
Your two essays in the Washington Post, published in 2018 and 2021, discuss the increase in multiracial babies being born and in the number of people that identified as multiracial on the Census, respectively. As these numbers continue to grow, what impact will we see them have on future generations?
Multiracial does not mean post-racial. So the growing number of multiracial people in our country will still confront many of the same systems of racism, discrimination and oppression that have been part of this country for more than 400 years. My hope, though, is that the growing visibility and number of mixed race people in our country might start a conversation about how we all are more alike than different.