Marilyn Berman
Marilyn Berman

As society changed and became more open, she was more willing to not keep it such a secret.

We recently reviewed Travelling the Two Lane: A memoir and travelogue by Marilyn Berman. Here LLL speaks with Berman’s nephew Marty Weil, a business writer in North Carolina.

How well did you know your aunt?

I knew her pretty well, my whole life. She was 26 when I was born, and she lived in Atlanta from the early 1970s until her death. I grew up in Chicago but she was a frequent visitor, coming back to Chicago quite often to visit her brother and sister, my mom. Then I moved to North Carolina, and since Asheville and Atlanta are fairly close I would see her every year for Thanksgiving. So I’ve seen her a couple of times a year since I was a child.

What was it like having her as an aunt?

Marilyn was a very interesting person. She was highly intelligent. She held a PhD from Michigan and taught for a while at Indiana University. She also taught later in life at Emory and she was [Chief of Audiology and Speech Pathology] at the VA hospital in Atlanta. Her specialty was speech therapy. So she was extremely bright and funny and always highly involved in life. She had an interesting career, and tons of friends in Atlanta, and she was close to everyone in the family. She was a really nice aunt, and we got along very well.

Were you aware growing up that she was gay?

Sort of a yes and no answer. I had a pretty distinct idea about it by my teens but she didn’t come out until after her parents passed away in the late 1980s. So when she sort of made it official I was already around 20, but it was a pretty openly known fact among family members. She had a partner for a long time who I never met, so she did keep her private life pretty private from the family — she goes into this in detail in the book about not wanting her parents to know, although they were highly suspicious.

As society changed and became more and more open, I think she was more willing to not keep it such a secret anymore, but she did wait until her parents both passed before she came out officially. So there was a point in life I didn’t know, and then there was a point where I was pretty sure I knew, and finally when she said for sure then it was okay to acknowledge it.

Knowing your grandparents, do you think that they would have been as upset as she thought if they’d known she was gay?

Gosh, that’s really hard to say. They were very proud of their kids; they loved all their kids very much. They had made veiled references to things like, ‘Whatever choices our kids make we support it.’ For instance, my mom didn’t go to college, but her brother and sister both have advanced degrees, yet their parents were just as proud of my mom who chose a career as a beautician. They made statements in a broad, categorical way — and Marilyn mentions it in the book — saying they were proud of all their kids regardless of what they chose to do in their lives, they were very happy with them. They had a very close relationship with Marilyn. I think they suspected [she was lesbian] but I don’t think that affected their relationship with her at all. If she had come out — it’s hard to say. I think they didn’t want to know for sure. They were from a different era and I think they preferred not to know for sure.