“Didn’t you used to be gay?” a reporter from The Observer asked me when she interviewed me for my wedding announcement in 2003. We had run in overlapping circles in New York City in the 90s. The interview hadn’t actually started, and I assumed we were off-the-record. I told her I had had a girlfriend when I was 14. She wrote in my wedding announcement that I had had a “flirtation with lesbianism.” I had not come out to my very religious (and homophobic) future in-laws. I was mortified.
In truth, I’ve since realized, I had not come out to myself.
Even, at 12-years-old, as I privately began experimenting with thinking of myself as queer, wondering about it in my diary, or with close friends who were also future queers, I couldn’t see myself publicly embracing the label of bisexual or lesbian. To make matters more complicated, my mother was dying of cancer. My struggles with sexuality were not a priority.
Her name was Sierra. The girl I dated when I was 14. She had red hair down to her waist. I don’t think we ever did much more than hold hands. I broke up with her because I was worried what being out would do to my acting career. I’d been working since I was nine years old, and had won a Tony Award at 11. And while the musical theater community embraced gay men, I couldn’t point to a single out gay woman in musical theater.
I hardly even knew of any out women in the wider culture or my own personal world. It was still four years before Ellen DeGeneres came out (after which ABC canceled her show). The lesbians I did know were either the members of the small theater company the Five Lesbian Brothers or Dykes on Bikes, and they weren’t exactly considered mainstream. I was equally fascinated by and terrified of them. To be an out lesbian in the early 90s meant being counter-culture, punk, or butch. To be an actor in the early 90s meant being a blank enough slate to fit as many kinds of characters as possible. There was no room for counter-culture or butch in my industry yet. We were still a few years off from John Cameron Mitchell’s boundary-pushing Hedwig and the Angry Inch. I couldn’t be a lesbian.
And forget bisexuality. Sure, I had heard of it, but… no one actually was bi. Not in my world.
Bi-erasure is insidious. Straight people often assume “bisexual” is code for “promiscuous” and that it’s just a phase. At times even members of the LGBTQIA+ community also tend to dismiss bisexuality (even though it’s literally a part of the acronym) either overtly or by ignoring it. When Cynthia Nixon ran for governor of New York, she was almost exclusively referred to as a lesbian, even though she identifies as bisexual. Even some bisexuals erase their own bisexuality, convincing themselves they are actually either gay or straight depending on who their current partner is.
Bi-erasure is so insidious that I erased that part of myself, only allowing myself brief dalliances while away at college (and enduring “friendly” comments that I was a “L.U.G.”). I got married way too young, to a man, and forgot my queerness so much that I was horrified when a friend of mine said “vagina” out loud.
Until my late-30s I almost exclusively dated men (for myriad reasons, most of which were not necessarily healthy or good for me). When I was 29, I met a guy named Kurt and we began dating. Neither of us were particularly healthy. Our relationship was held together with alcohol and cigarettes. We had already broken up when I found out I was more than 10 weeks pregnant. Despite neither of us wanting kids, we decided to have our son, Monty, and got back together. We made it another three years before breaking up again. It turned out having a child together was not a magic elixir to fix the problems within ourselves and our relationship.
Less than a year after we’d split up, I fell in love with a woman. I felt beautiful in a way I hadn’t before. I felt authentic. I was drawn to her every curve. Her body was exciting. I actually wanted to look at her naked form, as opposed to every man I had ever been with whose body I saw as an impediment to basic attraction. Sex with her was deeply personal and political all at once. I was 100% certain that I was done with men. The thought of being with a man again was unfathomable.
When I finally came out publicly, no one was really surprised. I guess I hadn’t been hiding my queerness as well as I thought after all.
The relationship was fraught and short-lived. But it was the final piece in the puzzle of my sexuality. My commitment to myself as an out and proud queer person was solid. In 2018, I was in a queer, polyamorous relationship. A friend joked that I had gone from “kind of Bi to full on Queer poly in under six months.” I was making up for lost time.
Once I felt my sexuality was sorted out, I began a journey with my gender-identity. I had always considered myself a tomboy. When I was young, I never felt I fit in with the other girls. I didn’t have much interest in fitting in with the boys either. As I got older, I began to feel less and less comfortable presenting in typically feminine ways. I always felt awkward in skirts. Most of the time I felt like a linebacker in a tutu. Long hair was always something I kept for career purposes. But I hated it. I hated dealing with it. I hated the way it felt on my neck. I hated how it made my face look. So, I cut my hair short and threw away all my skirts—I finally allowed myself to embrace what made me feel most attractive, no longer focused on the fear of what people would assume they knew about me because of it and what that would mean for my career. At close to 40, I finally decided that if I couldn’t be authentically myself, I would never truly be happy, or bring authenticity to my work. I was almost immediately rewarded with a job on a TV show.
In an article in Teen Vogue, I learned the term “non-binary female.” Finally I found a gender label that spoke to my experience. Definitely not male, but not entirely female.
Kurt and I, having been split up for three years, moved in together so we could both be in our son’s life. We weren’t a couple, but the three of us lived in a tiny two bedroom in Brooklyn. As Kurt and I co-parented, we found we liked each other a lot more than we had before we split up. He’d begun the lifelong task of putting down the drink and facing his alcoholism head-on. He was grieving the loss of his father. He had access to feelings he had previously been dampening. Our separate journeys had led us to adjacent roads leading toward similar goals.
I watched Kurt make his way through an unfamiliar city which he loathed (Sorry, NYC), make it home from work each night in time to watch the end of Monty’s karate lessons, and spend countless hours pushing Monty on the swings on weekends. He made me laugh like no one else, his sense of humor sharpened without the blur of alcohol on top of it. And he was talking about his feelings for the first time in the 10 years I had known him.
I think we both found, walking our individual paths, side by side, a respect and admiration for each other that hadn’t been there before. It helped that the shroud of cigarettes and alcohol had been lifted. And one day, quite surprisingly, I looked over at him and thought, “I love that man.” That night, I reached across the divide and took his hand and have not let go.
At 12:45pm Wednesday, May 6th, after 11 years together, more or less, during a pandemic that had shut down all the local court houses, Kurt and I stood in the Honda Center parking lot in Anaheim waiting for a man from the County Clerk’s office to cue our vows from behind bullet-proof glass. Our seven-year-old son stood between us.
Behind face masks I had sewn myself, we vowed to love and protect each other. In sickness and in health. In prosperous and lean times. To honor and cherish each other ‘til death do us part.
Our witness, my sister, was there for all the ups and downs of our relationship. Through the first break-up, the unplanned pregnancy, our move from Los Angeles to New York in 2015, our break up in 2016, our reconciliation, and our move back to Los Angeles last year. She had been my maid-of-honor at my first wedding 17 years ago and regretted not talking me out of that one. This time, she gave me a safe-word. “We can still get to Mexico,” she whispered as we approached the altar in the parking lot. “Got it,” I laughed. I knew I wouldn’t be needing the out.
After decades of denying who I was, I had made a choice borne of authenticity. We both found ourselves, and loved each other for who we were and who we will become.
On the evening of my 40th birthday, as Kurt and I walked down the street, hand-in-hand, I asked him if he was ever embarrassed to be affectionate with me in public.
“Why in the world would I be embarrassed?” he asked.
“Because I look…very gay. And I’m not exactly, you know, female.”
He laughed and reached into his pocket.
“I was going to give this to you at dinner,” he said, slipping something into my hand.
It was a refrigerator magnet that read “Just be you.”