since the release in July 1984 of the extraordinary song "You Think You're a Man" by the
even more extraordinary Divine. It was the first single produced by Stock/Aitken/Waterman to reach the UK Top 40 chart,
peaking at number 16 a couple of months after release.
Divine, was an American actor, singer, and drag queen, who died in the late 80's at the age of 42, having stunned the entertainment world,
the gay world and indeed the entire world with his outrageous camp. Closely associated with the independent filmmaker John Waters,
Divine was a character actor, usually performing female roles in cinematic and theatrical productions (Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, Polyester, and Hairspray), and adopting a female drag
persona for his music career. People magazine called him the "Drag Queen of the Century" and dispite his early death he has remained
a cult figure, particularly within the LGBT community, and has provided the inspiration for many fictional characters, artworks, and songs.
Frances Milstead, the mother of Harris Glenn Milstead
- Divine's real name, has decided to sort fact from fiction and tell the amazing and moving story of
how one chubby effeminate choirboy from Smalltown USA became an outrageous
Her book My Son Divine provides a never before seen look at the man behind the makeup,
from his birth, to his untimely death from heart
failure just as his acting career was achieving mainstream success with his performance
in Hairspray and he was having Top 10 hits across the world with hi-energy anthems like
"You Think You're A Man".
As Frances told OutUK's Mike Gray even though she knew her son was gay, he'd kept his underground
movie career with director John Waters a secret from her, till it became impossible to keep quiet.
"I didn't even know who Divine was until I moved to Florida in 1972. He was already mixed up with
John Waters. He kept that all a secret until I read it in Life magazine. One of my co-workers had
it, and I was reading it over his shoulder when I saw this picture of a fella called Divine.
I thought, boy, those eyes look like my sons". In the interview John Waters mentioned his discovery Divine
who was keeping his underground movie career a secret from his family. "He moved away from
home", Waters told Life magazine,"... and never told his mother where he moved too".
"Glenn was born before civil rights, gay rights, or women's rights...God doesn't want people
created out of a Xerox machine...The tragedy is that Glenn was cut off right at the point of
becoming who he really was, and the world will never see how that flower could have unfolded"
Reverend Leland Higginbotham in his Eulogy at Divine's funeral
Baltimore, Maryland, March 1988
The reconciliation came when Divine came to perform in Florida. Frances sent her
phone number to Divine at the club and asked him to ring it.
"When he called this number
he didn't know he was going to talk to me. We had a crying good time and he said 'Mom,
can I come home so we can be a family again?' and I said 'Yes, Glenn'."
Frances believes her
son's desire to perform came from her, "I'd been a social director and was always putting
on shows". Incredibly, she says her son was shocked when he discovered she'd once
done bellydancing in front of an audience.
You Think You're A Man But You're Only A Boy...
While onstage or on camera Divine did anything to shock, offstage the real life
Glenn was a completely different person.
"I get angry when I hear people talk against gay people," Frances told OutUK, "I speak my piece.
The Lord gave me a son that was gay and I love him. He was a human being. He was lovable,
he was caring, giving and he helped gay people to come out the closet and helped
heavy set people to love themselves."
While Frances has been able to tell much about the real Glenn Millstead her co-authors
Steve Yeager and Kevin Heffernan, the
award-winning filmmakers whose documentary film on director John Waters won the
Filmmakers Trophy at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, have also included never before read
interviews with Waters, Ricki Lake, Zandra Rhodes, and other
celebrities, artists, friends, and fans who all became Divine's extended
family over the course of his career.
There's little doubt that without John Waters' early movies Divine would never
have achieved such a degree of notorierty, and it's probably for the best that his
mother hadn't seen all the films her son made. "I saw Female Trouble and Hairspray...
he asked me not to go see several of them and I never did." Mother's don't always have
to know everything.
Frances & Glenn at the Hairspray premiere
My Son Divine published by Alyson Books can be ordered direct from Amazon. Click
here for more details.
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