Teenage Diaries Revisited: A Gay Teen's Family, 'Evolved'
Name: Amanda Brand
Hometown: Queens, N.Y.
Current city: New York, N.Y.
Occupation: Massage therapist
"My mother's always yelling at me, 'How are you supposed to find a man?'... I tell her, I'm like, 'I'm not interested in men.' "
Amanda is gay. Her family is Catholic, and when she was a teenager, her parents were convinced she was only going through a phase. Back then, Amanda recorded a diary about coming out to her parents and to the world. "When I was in first grade, I remember one day we were playing a game that was kind of like Sleeping Beauty, where like the prettiest girl on the block fell asleep on a picnic bench. And you know, somebody had to go and wake her up, to like, kiss her and revive her, and it would always be one of the boys. And I always felt like I wanted to go and revive her."
Amanda sat down again with her mother and father, in the same house where she grew up, to revisit her tumultuous teen years. Not only have her parents accepted her sexuality, they've even helped counsel other families dealing with the same thing. Her mother says, "We were brought up being taught differently, but I think we as a family have really evolved."
On recording her teen audio diary:
"It was strange to carry around this big tape recorder. It was a big clunky clumsy thing, but I'm really proud of what became of it and the results from the whole experience."
Produced for All Things Considered by Joe Richman and Sarah Kate Kramer of Radio Diaries, edited by Deborah George and Ben Shapiro.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I'm Melissa Block. On this program in 1996, we introduced a series of teenagers. They had been given tape recorders and the chance to tell their own stories.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING
AMANDA BRAND: Hello? Nope, wrong button. There. Hello?
JOSH: I'm going to do the introduction now. Hi, my name is Josh.
BLOCK: My name is Amanda.
MELISSA RODRIGUEZ: My name is Melissa Rodriquez.
FRANKIE: Hi, my name is Frankie and I'm going to give you a little tour of my Cadillac here.
JUAN: Here I am. My name is Juan, and I'm here in the U.S.
JOSH: It's my radio show, thank you.
BLOCK: Teenagers telling their own stories about teen pregnancy, living illegally in the U.S., life with Tourette's syndrome, and the struggles of a losing high school football season. Well, this week, in a new series we're calling Teenage Diaries Revisited, we return to Josh, Juan, Frankie, Melissa and today Amanda, whom we first met in 1996, when she was 17.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
AMANDA BRAND: Who has that cigarette?
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL #2: Me.
AMANDA BRAND: Give it to me.
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL #3: Is it bad?
AMANDA BRAND: Oh, yes.
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL #2: That's all you do.
UNIDENTIFIED GIRL #3: Let me try it. Let me try it.
AMANDA BRAND: Oh, God.
Fridays and Saturday nights, we just drive around like a bunch of lowlifes, looking for things to do.
(NIRVANA SONG, "ABOUT A GIRL")
NIRVANA: (Singing) But I can't see you every night...
AMANDA BRAND: Who are these people - anybody you know?
BLOCK: Amanda grew up in Queens, in a conservative Catholic family. Back then, she told her story about coming out to her parents.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
AMANDA BRAND: Yeah? That's my mother, making coffee.
AMANDA BRAND: Excuse me. God, I burp like a fanatic. My mother is always yelling at me - how are you supposed to find a man? There we go again - how are we supposed to find a man. I tell her - I'm like, I'm not interested in men, you know? (Laughter) And she just like - she's like, all right, whatever.
BLOCK: And Amanda Brand is here, 17 years later; here in the studio with me. Amanda, it's great to see you.
AMANDA BRAND: Nice to see you. too, Melissa.
BLOCK: The story - your teenage diary that you did was all about your talking to your parents about your sexuality, as a gay - or as you thought then, bisexual teenager. What's it like to listen to that now?
AMANDA BRAND: It feels good to listen to it now because I feel like now, I'm in such a better place.
BLOCK: So a lot has happened in 17 years.
AMANDA BRAND: For sure.
BLOCK: We brought you in Amanda, we should explain, because we are having you help us introduce a series that are going to be airing all week. It's from independent producer Joe Richmond of Radio Dairies, and we're calling it Teenage Diaries Revisited. Joe has once again given recorders to you, and to some of the other former teen diarists. And you're going to be telling new stories all this week, on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
But let's think back to the first recordings you made. What sorts of things were you recording back then?
AMANDA BRAND: Well, everything and anything, you know, because we really didn't know what was going to develop. So it was just basically what I looked like and, you know, what me and my friends and my sister were doing at the time with our extra time. And my girlfriend at the time, what she looked like, and our relationship. And then, of course, what my parents' opinions were.
BLOCK: And your dad didn't have much to say. But your mom had a lot to say about that. And I want to play one scene that's really the central point of your radio diary, when you're talking with your mother about your sexuality. And she's having a very hard time accepting the fact that you're gay. Why don't we take a listen to that?
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
CATHY BRAND: It's not natural. And I mentioned that to you several times - that is not what God intended.
AMANDA BRAND: You don't know this, but how come when I was like, younger, I felt this way?
CATHY BRAND: All girls go that way.
AMANDA BRAND: Since I was in first grade?
CATHY BRAND: Yes, little girls feel that way all the time.
AMANDA BRAND: You felt that way, too.
CATHY BRAND: Yes, that's common.
AMANDA BRAND: How do you feel about it, Dad?
AL BRAND: About what?
AMANDA BRAND: How do you feel about me?
AL BRAND: Fine. What about it?
AMANDA BRAND: Sexuality wise.
AL BRAND: Oh, you're 17 years old. You're not definite. You're not formed in your ways.
CATHY BRAND: Someone at 17 does not know what is at the other end of the line - anybody.
AMANDA BRAND: How do you know?
CATHY BRAND: (Laughter) There's just not enough life that you've seen. You haven't seen enough. You haven't done enough. You have not lived.
AMANDA BRAND: Well, over two years and five months have gone by, and that's what I believe.
CATHY BRAND: I think if a good fella came by and really treated you right, your mind will switch.
AMANDA BRAND: My mind will switch - so it's all in my mind?
CATHY BRAND: It is. It's all in your mind right now. You just don't say, well, this is how I feel, and that's just - this is how I'm going to be for the rest of my life.
AMANDA BRAND: I'm not saying that's how I'm going to be for the rest of my life. And I'm not saying that I'm not going to have sex with a guy. I'm saying that I do - I want to go and have sex with a guy. It's not happened yet.
CATHY BRAND: Well, I hope not.
AMANDA BRAND: No, it's not. But I mean, I'm going to. I'm not going to like, deny myself of that.
CATHY BRAND: Well, that's what I say; don't deny yourself of that. And you may find, when you do that, that your whole outlook may change.
AMANDA BRAND: It's just not like, oh, this is somebody's decision; they don't really know what they want right now. There's guy - I mean, I've been out with guys while I've been going out with Dawn. Dawn's been out with guys while she's been going out with me. I mean, we are so - like, we're really close. And there's like, a love there, more from me towards her than her towards me. You know I mean?
CATHY BRAND: Mm-hmm.
AMANDA BRAND: But we're with each other. You know?
CATHY BRAND: Well, maybe that's just a good friendship. You would love friends.
AMANDA BRAND: Yeah, but I don't do what I do with Dawn, with friends. Do you know what I mean? You don't do what you do with Dad, with friends.
BLOCK: That's Amanda Brand with her mom, at 17. Amanda, I'm watching you as you listen to this and you're - you've been laughing, but your eyes are also tearing up.
AMANDA BRAND: Yeah, they are little bit. It always gets me.
BLOCK: When you listen to that.
AMANDA BRAND: Yeah. Because, you know, she is an amazing person. And she's even more amazing today. And I just wish - I don't know. It's weird for me to even talk about because I have it so good. You know, so many other kids out there - at the age that I was during that time - if they would have come out to their parents, it would've been a whole different situation. You know, they could have gotten kicked out of their house or completely banished from a family, in a sense - right? And I wasn't.
AMANDA BRAND: She was - even though she disagreed with me, she was still so loving and still so, you know, just telling me her raw truth; her raw opinion. And it wasn't to be hurtful to me. It was just to let me know where she's coming from, and how she feels. So looking back at it, as an older person, I feel like, you know, a little bit more comfortable with where she came from.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
AMANDA BRAND: All right, I'm just going to record. Dad, give us a little bit of some...
AL BRAND: This is a test of the recording, to see if it records at a good volume.
AMANDA BRAND: And Mom, give us a little something.
CATHY BRAND: This is also a test, coming from the other side of the table.
BLOCK: Amanda recently returned to that same house in Queens to revisit her old radio diary with her parents, and talk about it.
(SOUNDBITE OF RECORDING)
AMANDA BRAND: All right, so we just took a listen to the old story and...
CATHY BRAND: And do you still think it's a phase? (Laughing)
AMANDA BRAND: So we know it's not a phase.
CATHY BRAND: But it did take me a few years to accept the whole thing.
AMANDA BRAND: Well, one of the reasons why I have a little bit of a hard time listening to the story from before is because I feel that even though you love me unconditionally - and you always have - there was that little sting of, you're sick; you're not normal. It kind of hurts to hear that.
CATHY BRAND: You know, we were brought up being taught differently. But I think we, as a family, have really evolved. Everything is changing. I mean, you can even see it in television programs and movies. And it's such an accepted thing. And it's a good thing because now, I see your side.
AL BRAND: You see, you have the personality to be kind of pushing the limits whereas my personality is, work within the system as it exists. So I think that the evolution came about because of people like you, who are pushing the edge; and allowing people like me to grow from within.
AMANDA BRAND: Right. But like, so now, does it make you nervous in any way?
CATHY BRAND: Not at all. As a matter of fact, I am so proud of you that I just brag about you to my friends. And I say, she's gay, you know. And that's fine.
AMANDA BRAND: That's a good answer. That makes me sad, like a good way. But no, that's really nice to hear.
AL BRAND: You know, we hope you continue to be happy, and that you find companionship; and that's what we're looking forward to.
CATHY BRAND: Dad sure is talking a lot more than he did. (Laughing)
AMANDA BRAND: I know, what a turnaround. And what are people going to say?
CATHY BRAND: (Laughing)
AMANDA BRAND: Well, thank you very much.
CATHY BRAND: Well, thank you for opening our eyes.
AMANDA BRAND: Aw, that was nice. Oh, I need to sign off. Hey, this is Amanda Brand. Cathy and Al are my parents - awesome people; supportive, loving, religious. And it's all good. So, Amanda signing out.
BLOCK: Amanda Brand lives now in Greenwich Village. She works as a massage therapist. Her story and our entire series this week, Teenage Diaries Revisited, comes to us from the independent producers at Radio Diaries. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.