Large and In Charge



Back in 2005, Savannah Dooley was studying literature at Bennington College and freelancing for The Advocate. Five years later she’s a writer and producer of Huge, an ABC Family series based on Sasha Paley’s book of the same name about a group of teens at a weight-loss camp. The 24-year-old lesbian developed the show, which debuted June 28, with writing partner Winnie Holzman (who is also her mom), the Emmy-nominated creator of My So-Called Life and Tony-nominated librettist of the musical Wicked. Dooley reconnects with her favorite gay publication to flesh out Huge’s big gay future and to preview her new short film Snapshot, which screens July 16 and 18 as part of Outfest’s Girls’ Shorts collection.

A former contributing writer for The Advocate now has a hit TV show. We’re so proud!
Savannah Dooley: Thank you! Yeah, that was one of my first publishing experiences, and it was such a thrill to be published in The Advocate. I must’ve been 19 at the time.

I read a first-person piece you wrote for The Advocate, “In my so-called life,” in which you discussed your relationship with your mother, your connection with her gay characters, and your relatively smooth coming-out process. You wrote that even though you were only 9 at the time, Rickie, the gay character on My So-Called Life, helped shape your views on sexuality.
Yeah. I understood what being gay meant, but my gaydar wasn’t very attuned. I understood that Wilson Cruz was playing a gay character, but I still had a crush on him, because I didn’t realize he was gay in real life. I was like, “I’m going to marry Wilson!” [Laughs] But the fact that I even knew what male homosexuality was at that point is an extension of the fact that my parents are really gay-friendly and have a lot of gay friends I interacted with growing up. Homosexuality was never a big deal in our house.

I was surprised to read that Jessie, the 14-year-old character on your mother’s next series, Once and Again, fell in love with another girl while you were secretly experiencing the same issues at 16.
That was the weirdest coincidence that has ever happened. Like any teenager, I was distancing myself from my parents, so I didn’t want to tell them about my crushes or love life on any level. When my mom did that story, she had almost no idea that it was reflecting my life to the extent that it was. By the time I came out to my mother officially, the show was over.

Referring to Once and Again’s Jessie, you wrote in the Advocate piece, “It’s rare to see a gay character on TV who isn’t established as gay from the very beginning. That was how I experienced my own sexuality: It took a catalyst for me to realize who I really was.” What was your catalyst?
I think most people start to socialize assuming heterosexuality. I knew lesbians existed, I saw some lesbians on TV, and my mom was friends with lesbians, but they were older women, so I couldn’t reconcile the image of myself with the image of a lesbian as I knew it. I started getting crushes on girls, but I would tell myself, “No, you’re not a lesbian. This is different because you just have this crush on this one girl. And these three other girls.” [Laughs] With each new crush, it got harder to say, “But I’m still basically straight.”

Tags: television