Her Family Ties



MEREDITH BAXTER X390 (GETTY IMAGES) | ADVOCATE.COMSo much attention is paid in the media to this notion of “late-in-life lesbians.” You came out, Kelly McGillis came out, and that’s how the media sold it. What’s your take on that label?
I think that kind of phrase helps feed this idea of “She couldn’t find a man. so she had to go to women.” Or “She failed at men, now ... ” It doesn’t have a nice feel to it.

Going into your appearance on Today, you said you felt like you’d just set yourself on fire. Looking back, do you have any regrets about how it was handled?
I would have done it differently, but I don’t what that would have been. I don’t know what that would have looked like. I read one thing, it says: “Couldn’t she have just come out as bisexual?” [Laughs] OK, if that had been the truth, but even then, how do you do that without making some kind of an announcement? I write in my book that my sort of playful idea was “Can I put like a birth announcement in the paper?” So if I didn’t do it on television, what was I supposed to do? I guess just start telling people gradually. That makes sense if someone’s not after you, which is what it felt like for me. I didn’t want someone else to run and make something up.

When I first heard you were going to be writing a book, I wondered if this was going to be your coming-out memoir. But you go so much deeper than that. How did you decide how far to go with this book?

I sort of felt when the book was just being talked about that what created their interest was the whole coming-out thing. No one said, “This is what we want you to write about.” Nobody made any demands on me. I certainly felt, Oh please, let me have more to offer than just coming out on television. But I wasn’t really sure that I did, so I had to go back and stop and think, OK, what have I learned in my life? I’m a 63-year-old woman who has gone through a huge change, not just the sexuality, but I’ve been sober for coming up on 21 years.

Which leads me to wonder — the addiction and the abuse you document in the book. Do you think, looking back, that they’re major contributors to not knowing sooner in life that you were gay?
Well, I had other fish to fry. I was so intensely unhappy in my childhood, and then I married someone and went into a relationship that really couldn’t have been any different from that. I was trying to keep my head above water all the time. I didn’t have time to stop and think, Hmm. Who lights my fire? My feelings were so intensely distraught and unhappy all of the time that my mantra was literally, “I can live through this.” A good part of that was because of the intensely horrible relationship between my husband and I, despite his loud pretense that it wasn’t.

Were you expecting that sort of reaction from David [Birney, Meredith’s ex-husband]? Because he essentially denied ever physically or verbally abusing you. And then I saw this interview you did with PopEater where you actually described him as a “good guy.”
I just saw that the other day, and I thought, I wonder why I said that. I think what I wanted to say was that he’s not a demon, and I didn’t set out to demonize him. That was not my perception of what I wrote. I really thought I tried to give a pretty even portrait and I was actually pretty generous to him. I didn’t say so many things. Because it wasn’t about, “Here’s a litany of things, what did David do to me?” It wasn’t about that. I was trying to talk about what happened and what I learned from it and what I tell myself. I only talked about stuff that I had some dialogue around. He’s not a hideous human being. I think he might be a misogynist. He might have difficulty with successful women. I don’t know really what his issues are. I could guess, but I’m not going to go any further than that. I guess I was trying to give him the benefit of the doubt.

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