She's No Homophobe: Exclusive: How Stella Got Her Groove Back Author Terry McMillan Tells Her Side of the Story on Discovering Her Husband Is Gay, Going through a Tabloid Divorce, and Using the Word "Fag"
Rowe, Michael, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Author Terry McMillan embodies the American dream. She's rich and successful, a best-selling novelist whose devoted fans have made her books and movies commercial blockbusters. When the film version of her 1996 novel How Stella Got Her Groove Back was released in 1998 starring Angela
Bassett and Taye Diggs, everyone in the world seemed to know that it was based on her romance with Jonathan Plummer, a handsome Jamaican hotel employee 23 years her junior she met while on vacation in Negril in 1995, when he was 20 years old. Her readers vicariously celebrated this apparent fulfillment of their own romantic hopes and dreams when McMillan married Plummer in Maui in September 1998.
"I saw him as being free of baggage," McMillan says with unintentional irony. "He was good to have around. I wasn't trying to mold him. I saw goodness in the young man I met. He was young, but he knew what he was doing. No one was twisting his arms."
It all seemed too good to be true. And of course, it was.
On October 4, McMillan and Plummer's seven-year marriage--which had effectively ended, McMillan asserts, on the night in December 2004 when Plummer told her he was gay--was declared officially over. The announcement ended nine months of ugly legal wrangling over the couple's ironclad prenuptial agreement. More painful to McMillan, however, was the fact that Plummer chose to take their divorce to the media, granting interviews and going on Good Morning America telling the world that he hadn't known he was gay when he married McMillan and that his wife had attacked him in a "homophobic" rage when he announced he was gay. [Repeated requests by The Advocate for an interview with Jonathan Plummer, made through his attorney, received no response by press time.] He released transcripts of angry letters and phone messages his wife had allegedly sent him, some of which contained cruel language. McMillan claims many of the messages were doctored, stating that Hummer and his attorneys failed to produce the originals in court.
Now, in an exclusive gay-press interview, McMillan says, yes, she called Plummer a "fag" in a heated moment but that it doesn't make her homophobic. "Jonathan knows how many gay and lesbian friends I have had, both personally and professionally," she says. "In all the years we were together, he never heard me use the word 'fag' or 'faggot' in referring to anybody. The first time he heard me use that word was when I used it to him. A lot of black women who read my books couldn't even understand why I was offended by being referred to as a homophobe. Their attitude was 'Who gives a shit what gay people think?' Well, I do care. I have a lot of gay and lesbian friends, and they knew I was offended. They knew that the [generalizations] Jonathan said I'd made about gay people were not true."
The charge of homophobia has outraged McMillan's gay friends--notably, prolific best-selling author E. Lynn Harris.
"Knowing, full well, homophobic people, I would say that Terry is absolutely not homophobic," declares Harris, who has been close friends with McMillan for years. "She's like my sister. I'm really saddened that she's had to go through this. And then to be called homophobic as well--it's disgusting. If any of the statements attributed to her are true, they were made in a moment of rage."
McMillan indicates she would have missed early signs of her husband's burgeoning homosexuality in the first years of their relationship. "He was young," she says. "So there were things I took to be lack of experience. In some ways, he was shy. Sexually, he was pretty keen for a long time, but after a while it got boring, and he seemed happy with the way things were."
Just prior to their 1998 wedding, McMillan says, she became pregnant by Plummer, though she miscarried shortly thereafter. "Jonathan acted as though he was excited [by the pregnancy], but I could tell he wasn't," she says. …