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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".

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. "He was just scared about the whole idea."

When their relationship really started to deteriorate, McMillan says, it was over issues of money. She claims she had been planning to divorce him as early as May 2002, when she discovered that he had taken large sums of money from her checking account, something Plummer admits to in court documents.

"I threw his wedding ring off the bridge and said 'I'm divorcing you,'" she remembers. "He did everything he could do to get back into my good graces." Plummer assured her that he would make it up to her and pay her back but, McMillan says, she was adamant that when she was finished with her new novel she wanted a divorce. In June 2002, she continues, Plummer presented her with a business plan for a dog grooming enterprise that required a $150,000 investment, which McMillan provided with the intention of making him financially independent. Over the next two years the relationship continued to sour, as McMillan noticed he was spending longer and longer hours at the gym.

"I sensed that Jonathan had another side to him and that it was one that he might pursue if we ever split up," she says. She confronted him in December 2004. "I said, 'Jonathan, why don't you tell the truth about something for a change?' He said, 'You couldn't handle the truth.' I said, "Why don't you try me?'" She was shocked when he announced that he was "confused about his sexuality" and was likely gay. Plummer assured her that he hadn't "done anything yet." McMillan didn't believe him. "I started crying, he started crying," she says. "That night I held him in my arms all night until 4 o'clock in the morning, when I asked myself why I was feeling sorry for him--he'd just told me he was gay and he wasn't interested in me." She says at that moment she pushed him away in bed.

McMillan believes that making her feel sorry for him that night was a deliberate ploy on Plummer's part. "That night," she says, "I was dealing with him as someone who I saw as suffering." Then, she adds, "I stepped outside of it."

The next morning, says McMillan, Plummer had left her a note thanking her for "understanding about his true identity" and hoping that someday she would find someone who would love her as she deserved to be loved. Wounded by what she saw as the blithe, preemptively dismissive tone of the note, McMillan says, she went upstairs and opened two of his cell phone bills. "There were 30 to 40 calls a day to the same number," she says, naming a male friend Plummer had met in Las Vegas at a pet grooming convention who she says was presented as a friend from the gym. She adds that many of the calls were in the middle of the night when she was asleep.

"I called this guy's number, and he says, 'Hi, this is....'" McMillan recognized the name. She went to Plummer's place of business and told him she wanted him out of the house. McMillan says she installed Plummer in an apartment for three weeks until he could find a place to live. Then she went to a divorce lawyer on Christmas Eve.

What followed was a gossip columnist's wet dream of a he said/ she said brawl. Plummet promptly sued for spousal support and to overturn the prenuptial agreement in order to gain access to what would have amounted to millions of McMillan's earned income. His contention was that he had "no choice" but to sign it since it was a deal breaker for marriage to McMillan. Plummer further claimed that he'd been defrauded of money owed him by McMillan for royalties promised him on the income from How Stella Got Her Groove Back.

McMillan retaliated with a charge of marital fraud, asserting that Plummer had married her knowing he was gay and had used her to gain U.S. citizenship. McMillan claims Plummer taunted her with the possibility that he'd had unsafe sex with a boyfriend, all the while telling her she "had nothing to worry about."

He alleges that she sent him a bottle of Jamaican hot spices with the words FAG JUICE, BURN BABY BURN written on it.

She scoffs at the "fag juice" story in particular. "I don't even write that way," she says witheringly of the clumsy expression. According to McMillan, what she actually sent was a bottle of Jamaican jerk chicken sauce, which Plummer had called McMillan's assistant to request. And what she really wrote on the bottle, she says, was the word APPROPRIATE, with an arrow drawn on the label indicating that Plummet was the "Jamaican jerk."

But the barrage clearly took its toll. "The way Jonathan chose to go public and make the announcement that he was gay was done in a manner that he thought would garner him sympathy and make me look bad, by referring to me as a homophobe based on my reaction to his announcement," McMillan says. "He has used so many tactics to get my money, to garner sympathy for himself, to catapult himself into the limelight. He made this very high-profile when it didn't have to be. He and his attorney pimped me and my fame. They used it, and that's why we're having this conversation," referring to her decision to grant this interview to The Advocate. When asked if she would have tried to get her groove back with Plummet had she known at the outset he was at least bisexual, McMillan is unequivocal.

"I wouldn't have wanted to deal with a man who I knew was having sex with both men and women," she admits. "Most people don't want to share someone they love with other people. My thing is this: I know there are people who are bisexual, but he was my husband. He wasn't my boyfriend. He led me to believe, right up to the end, that he loved me. When I left the courtroom, I couldn't look at him. I couldn't believe this was how it ended. Gay or not gay, it didn't have to end this way. We could have been friends."

Of her own behavior, McMillan says, "I had told him, 'Chances are, we will say things we will regret. Later on, we won't mean them.' But I wanted to sting him. To hurt him as much as I'd been hurt. A heart that's broken is a heart that's broken. There's no color, age, or sexual orientation on it."

Rowe is a Toronto-based journalist, essayist, and author.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:CULTURE
Author:Rowe, Michael
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 22, 2005
Words:1777
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