December 24 2003 1:00 AM ET
Tammy: A love story
same-sex marriage debate raged in 2003, Melissa Etheridge
and Tammy Lynn Michaels took matters into their own
hands and threw themselves a wedding. Now the couple
sit down for their first joint interview,
Tammy’s first since coming out. An exclusive glimpse
inside the Etheridge-Michaels household—and of
Melissa’s rocking new album, Lucky;
Tammy’s debut on The L Word; and the two
mothers’ plans for another child
same-sex marriage look like? On some fall Sundays, in one
big house with classic white siding in the rolling
hills of western Los Angeles, it looks like this:
Melissa Etheridge and friends are watching the Kansas
City Chiefs play football on a big-screen TV in the family
room. Etheridge’s partner of two years, Tammy Lynn
Michaels, and their children—Bailey, 6, and
Beckett, 5—are likely dividing their time
between the family room, the cozy and chaotic playroom that
the children govern, and, weather permitting, the inviting
green lawn out front.
In a home not far away resides Julie Cypher, the
children’s other mother, who shares custody:
Seven days here, seven days there. And dropping by for
occasional visits is David Crosby, the children’s
biological father, and his wife, Jan. “They’re
definitely one wing of our family,” Michaels
says. “We have, like, a family mansion, and
they live in one wing. We’ve got all these little
wings that make it nice.”
She’s speaking metaphorically, because
the big white house feels not like a mansion but like
a lived-in suburban home, with comfy furniture,
children’s rooms that have toys spilling out in all
directions, and family photos crowding the walls. Sure,
there’s a cluster of Etheridge’s cowboy
hats on one wall and a scarf that belonged to Janis
Joplin in the family room, but every married couple has
its unique mementos.
For Etheridge, this family life is the most
precious time she’s known. That’s why
she asked Michaels to marry her and why they
celebrated their union in front of 200 friends and family
members in a ceremony in nearby Malibu on September
20. “I’d never been so clearly and
purely in love before—ever in my life,”
Etheridge says, sitting with Michaels on the living
room couch for their first-ever joint interview.
“Not until I was 40 did I find something so clear
and clean. For my children, for my partner, I wanted to get
married.” (By design, the children are not home
today: The press will not meet them “until
they’re older,” Etheridge says firmly.)
Etheridge and Michaels met just as each was
emerging from her own dark period. Etheridge still
ached from her breakup with Cypher after 12 years, a
painful split that she turned into her searing, defiant
album Skin. Michaels was shedding the self-loathing
of the Hollywood closet, where she’d been when
she joined the cast of the WB series Popular.
How their marriage has transformed both of them is
evident in the way they sit, cuddled and intertwined,
in the way their eyes meet as they recall intimate moments,
and in Etheridge’s kick-ass new record, due out
February 10. Titled Lucky, it’s her most
celebratory music since Yes I Am. “When
you make a choice to believe in your
existence,” she sings on Lucky’s sweet
finale, “When You Find the One,”
“with ‘hello,’ you will know.”
This time, she knows. They both do.
Tell me about the wedding.
Etheridge: There isn’t a word for it.
Whenever someone asks me, I go, “It was
really…” Great and wonderful
doesn’t even begin to explain it. It was moving. It
was more than I ever thought something like that would
be. I never invested much into
that—especially in my last relationship.
It was something that— [pauses]
That you thought other people did?
Etheridge: Yeah. I mean, growing up gay,
knowing I was different—marriage was just,
“Well, I won’t do that,” and you
push it aside. It wasn’t until just a few years
ago that our whole community started talking about gay marriage.
It came along a lot quicker than anybody expected.
Etheridge: Oh, my gosh! Even when I met her
[Michaels giggles] and started the relationship
with her, I was like, I ain’t getting
married or anything. I ain’t getting
married until some day in the future when they make it
legal. She was respectful of my feelings, but I
would see her talk with her friends—her
girlfriends from high school—because she’d
go to their weddings. And I said, “Why should I keep
her from having that?” And it was about a year
of me changing my mind.
Michaels: But without telling me. I
didn’t know this until after the proposal.
Etheridge: Until I got down on my knees! [Laughs]
When did this happen? Where were you?
Etheridge: About a year and a half ago. At a
Did you preplan it?
Etheridge: I did. I did. The Hamptons have been
a special place for us for a whole lot of reasons, and I
knew that that’s where I wanted to ask her to
marry me. Because I’d never been so clearly and
purely in love before, ever—ever in my life.
So you got down on your knee.
Etheridge: Oh, I did. Yeah, I went the full—
Michaels: Oh, she had the speech in one hand—
Etheridge: I had the ring all made.
Michaels: She designed it. She had it in her
pocket. She picked the evening and got the kids distracted
with the other kids that were there. She took care of
everything, and we went on a walk.
Etheridge: [Chuckles] And then, you
know—she knew when she turned around. I was on
my knee. She said, “Oh, my God!”
Michaels: I freaked out!
Etheridge: [Laughs] She was just
wonderful. And then she realized that I was being very
serious. It was a very special moment that I will always remember.
Did you plan the ceremony itself as carefully?
Etheridge: Yes. Yes. It was—
Michaels: Step number 1, we were like, OK,
this has to be original. And so we looked into every
tradition: Why was it important? Was it valid in our
lives? And what is it that the tradition had not
provided that we needed to provide?
Etheridge: We found a reverend from the Agape
Church, [which] is amazingly and truly nondenominational.
Did you write your own vows?
Etheridge: Yeah. And our community that was
with us was so supportive, it was wonderful.
Michaels: And fun.
Etheridge: And fun, yes.
Is there any part of your vows that keep coming
back to you?
Michaels: One of my vows was to be a [Kansas
City] Chiefs fan. [Etheridge laughs] And
I’m very happy right now, because for the first time
ever, they’re undefeated. It’s 9 and 0.
I’m very excited.
Etheridge: I want to write the Kansas City
Chiefs football team a letter and tell them it’s
because my wife vowed to be a Chiefs fan that we
obviously are having an undefeated season.
And what was your vow in return? There’s
always a give-and-take.
Etheridge: See, I didn’t know what her
vows would be.
Michaels: We wouldn’t tell each other.
I couldn’t have handled that, because I
would have been a puddle 30 seconds into it.
Etheridge: Oh, we were. We were both complete
puddles—at the beginning, the middle…and the
vows were just our personal way of making our
commitment, just to say, “I know there will be
ups and downs, but I will always be here for
you.” And it’s very, very powerful to say that
in front of 200 people.
Michaels: Every promise and every vow we made
had to ring completely true, and that made me get to know
myself better. It forced me to go, Well, what am I
capable of promising? What do I see as forever?
What do I see as what I need in a relationship and what
she needs in a relationship?
Was there any discussion between the two of you
that this would also have a larger meaning to a lot of
people beyond those 200 guests?
Etheridge: [Slowly] We acknowledged it. In
some ways we have no control over that. The best thing
that I can do with this wedding—and the best
thing that we can do—is just be true to each
other, to walk on a path that we are proud of and just live
a good life.
But this is a perfect example of the personal as political.
Etheridge: We did talk to Badgley Mischka, who
designed our outfits—fabulous,
fabulous—acknowledging with them that we will be
giving a look to something that people don’t
know what it looks like.
Michaels: You know, Grandma and Grandpa,
they’re out there hearing about this newfangled gay
marriage, and we knew that this might be their first
view of “Well, that’s what a lesbian
So no tuxedo. [Michaels laughs]
Etheridge: Exactly. But what do I wear? Because if
I’m in a dress, then I’m going to feel
like I’m in drag. So if you’ve seen the pictures—
Michaels: Have you?
I only saw the one picture.
Michaels: You know what? I’m going to
show you it. [Leaves to get pictures]
Wedding pictures! So, Melissa, why not go to Canada?
Etheridge: Because I have a belief in my heart
that very soon, the walls and the gates that have been held
closed by people with narrow minds and fear and hate
in their hearts will burst open. And it has to. When
they finally let the “coloreds” use
their bathroom or their washroom, we all didn’t die,
did we? No. It’s the same thing.
Michaels: [Showing photos]
There’s Melissa getting ready.
Etheridge: We had two bouquets.
Michaels: I designed this whole
thing—the bouquet. It’s hydrangeas and roses.
[Showing another photo] And here’s the
dresses. Here we go.
Etheridge: How gorgeous is my wife. Holy cow.
Michaels: There’s my mom.
Etheridge: Oh, her mother’s wonderful.
Her mother gave a speech at the reception that moved the
whole place. And Tammy got up and gave a speech that
acknowledged her family from Indiana.
Michaels: They’ve never been on
airplanes before. Can you believe that? Like, two of them
had flown, and the others had not, and my uncle Don
was like, “Do you know, I looked down and I saw
the Grand Canyon.”
Etheridge: And here they were at this big
And what did they tell the folks back home, do you think?
Etheridge: That Steven Spielberg’s
really nice. [Laughs]
Was there a honeymoon?
Michaels: Yes. We went to Vermont.
And in the two months since then, has the marriage
changed your relationship?
Tell me how.
Michaels: Any choice I make is much heavier. Anything
that comes up, whether it’s a job, an audition,
a run to the grocery store—it is part of my
life to make sure that Melissa has what she needs too.
The devotion runs much deeper. For me anyway.
Etheridge: Yes, yes, yes. I found that that
fear that she will leave me is no longer there.
There’s a solid ground to the relationship
where you land and you go, OK, we had a
disagreement—now, how do I make this work?
There’s no out door anymore.
Now, people are going to inevitably say,
“Shouldn’t you have done that with your
previous relationship? Wouldn’t that have helped?”
Etheridge: Oh. No. No, no, no. You
can’t—then [marriage] becomes a Band-Aid, and
not a solid commitment. I never had that solid
commitment in my relationship. It didn’t exist.
Michaels: Marriage is not a toy. People seem to
think it’s like a fancy toy that you can buy and play
with and use and then discard when you’ve
outgrown it and you’ve started to change.
That’s not marriage. That’s not what it
Tammy, is this your first marriage?
Michaels: Oh, yeah. I just got out of high
school! [Both laugh] Class of ’93!
This is your first adult committed relationship?
Michaels: Oh, no. Melissa’s one of the
younger ones I’ve dated. I’ve been in
relationships. One of my exes went through rehab.
I’ve been through the darkness of
relationships. I think it’s the first time I chose to
be with somebody because of what a good person they
are instead of how I could fix my childhood by dating
them. Do you know what I mean? And so it is the first
adult, mature emotional relationship.
Etheridge: I’ve never had sex with
anyone else, ever. [Michaels laughs]
Is that what you told her?
Etheridge: It’s a joke. Just kidding.
Michaels: I’ve been with people who were
not proud to be gay: Some were actively unproud of being
gay; some were still actively ashamed by their
parents; some, you just weren’t allowed to talk
about it. I was the “roommate” in a
one-bedroom apartment. So I haven’t been with
somebody who’s like, “Young, gay,
anyway—what are we having for dinner?” I
hadn’t experienced that, so it was such a breath
of fresh air to be with somebody like “Yeah yeah
So how much of that was the journey of the people
you were with, and how much was your own journey?
Michaels: I’m going to go ahead and say
it was all my journey, because I’m the one who made
the choices to be with them. I was advised by a lot of
people in my career not to come out and that I would
never be anything—do anything, get cast in
anything—if anybody had any idea that I was gay.
That’s what I was told, and this was not too
long ago—’96, ’97. And so
I’m not surprised that I chose people who
wouldn’t fight with me to walk down the red carpet at
the premieres and at the WB media shindigs.
The closet is a heavy burden on a relationship.
Michaels: [Sighs] The closet is a heavy burden
on the soul, period. You get two people in that, and
it’s too dark—you can’t even see
’em. And then she walked in.
The way I hear it, you walked up to her at lesbian
night at Felt [a West Hollywood bar].
Michaels: I had lots of wine, thank you! [Laughs]
Is that what gave you the nerve?
Michaels: You know what? It was some pushy
friends and a glass of wine and a bunch of girls talking
about how you really ask a lady out. And so I was,
“You tell her you want to take her out to
dinner. You don’t come on to her. You don’t
flirt with her. You don’t make sexual innuendoes. You
look her right in the eye and you say, ‘I would
love to take you out to dinner.’ And
Etheridge: She went to Felt because she was
ready to come out.
Really? So you had more of an agenda than finding a girlfriend?
Michaels: You know what? I had been outed by
somebody at work—
Someone on the show?
Michaels: Somebody at work is all I’m
going to say. They then turned my sexuality against me and
started whispering it shamefully to our grips and our camera
guys that I worshipped and still do to this day. And I
was devastated that somebody else had to tell my
friends, my guys that I work with 18 hours a day.
I’ve been in therapy 15 years to learn how to live my
life honestly and be OK with who I am, and I’m
sure as hell not going to come out here and sell all
of that away for a job, because you can’t sleep
at night. And so I was talking to some professionals, and
they were like, “Look, baby, you’re
depressed, and the only way you’re going to get
out of it is if you start with the truth.” I was
like, “OK—we wrap at 4 in the morning.
Why don’t we go to Felt that night? I hear
it’s ladies’ night.” I
hadn’t been in a lesbian bar in forever; I was like,
I need to own being gay again and quit being
ashamed of it again. And then this one comes
in and I was like, Whoa! Jesus! [Etheridge laughs]
Your first therapeutic night out as a lesbian, and
you met Melissa!
Michaels: And she said yes [to the dinner
invite]! I was like, This coming-out stuff is good!
So how are you different as a couple in private
than you are as a couple in public?
Etheridge: Much more affectionate, I think.
I can relate to that. My boyfriend doesn’t
like the PDAs.
Etheridge: I’m actually more
affectionate now in public than I ever was. Just in a
natural way, not in an overt way. Just holding hands
and being a couple.
Was there any sense, Melissa—because you had
been through a lot and she was younger—that you
expected her to be less mature? And then
that’s what surprised you?
Etheridge: She is young in
years—she’s 28—but in experience, she
can often be wiser than me, and more experienced. And
well along her journey. But I knew from that very
first date that she was not just some young thing.
So, Tammy, when was your “Eureka!”
moment with Melissa?
Michaels: You have to understand that as much
as I really liked her, she was also telling me that she
didn’t know which way was up and that she was
cracked in half and broken. So I kept having to push
away any “Eureka!” moments. But there was
a night where she crossed a room and brought me a blackberry—
Etheridge: The fruit, not the electronic—
Michaels: “She brought me a cell phone
and I knew she was the one!” [Etheridge
laughs] We were at a GLAAD function—she had gone
to present something to k.d. lang, and I was there for
Popular. For dessert there was this crème
brûlée with a couple raspberries and a blackberry
on top. It was our third week together; I had just
told her that I love blackberries. And in the midst of
that crazy thing and the media and people all over and
people getting up and down and talking and applauding,
she sneaks across this giant ballroom to my little table in
the back. And she opened my hand and put the blackberry in
my hand and closed it. And then she went back to her
table. That is the most priceless thing she has given
me. Well, it’s one of
them—there’s a lot of them. It’s in the
And you probably just ate it!
Michaels: I did. Of course, I did—I wanted to
hurry up and put it inside. I’ve never had
somebody love me the same way I love them, who shows
love in the same ways.
But this was also a big deal for you, because if
you’re going to date Melissa, people are
going to talk.
Michaels: That came up on our first date. Melissa was
like, “Look, I know that you want to live your
life honestly, but if you date me, people are going to
talk.” And I said, “That’s fine,
but I’m not showing up anywhere with you until I have
some sort of commitment, until something’s
going on.” And she wasn’t ready for
that, and I wasn’t ready for that. I had just
gotten out of a really, really, really bad
relationship—I was not looking for anything.
And I didn’t want to use the fame I was getting
from dating her to further my career.
Were you stalked by paparazzi?
Etheridge: We were noticing if we’d go out to
dinner or something, there’d be paparazzi out
front. We snuck out of a few restaurants,
and—pre-9/11—we were ambushed at the airport,
which is a pretty frightening thing. So we decided,
“You know what? A friend of ours, Alan Cumming,
is having his premiere for [the film he codirected,]
The Anniversary Party, a little small
movie—no big deal. Let’s walk down the
red carpet; let’s hold hands. It’s been
a couple months; we are definitely dating. We want people
to see this.” We were some of the last people to
arrive, and the photographers were like—
[bored] Oh, it’s Melissa
Etheridge. And then Tammy stepped out, and
they’re like, [excited] And her new
girlfriend! Let’s take a picture! Snap
snap snap snap snap, and it was in the tabloids the
next week and there you go. It took a lot of the pressure
off. The price [for a photo of us together] dropped.
It just made our lives more comfortable.
How did you handle Tammy meeting the children?
Michaels: I met them well, well, well into our first
year together. I had told her from the beginning that
I didn’t want to meet them [right away] because
I didn’t want to fall in love with the children
and not in love with Melissa. I didn’t want anything
to interrupt this woman and I getting to know each
other—and that included, I didn’t want
to see her in concert for a while. I wanted to really
know just who she was.
Once you felt the time was right, how did you meet the children?
Michaels: I became one of the members of their large
group of friends with all the kids. I just kind of
came in when lots of people were there.
Etheridge: And they got to know her and form their
own relationship with her. Then it became clear that
we were romantically involved. And I told them
constantly what was going on. Taking one step at a
time. They are in love with Tammy. In love. If you were ever
to see my kids—which you won’t until
they’re older [Michaels
laughs]—you would see the amazing bond and
relationship she has with both my children. I’m so
grateful for that.
Michaels: I had never pictured that my introduction
into the kids’ lives would go as smoothly as it
did. I mean, there was no uncomfortableness, and I
think that’s because Melissa and I took such
careful, careful steps. And I was fortunate to meet them
Etheridge: My son doesn’t remember you not
Michaels: He’s going to be 5. He was like
21⁄2 when I met him. And I potty-trained him.
So that’s my boy too. He’s got lots of
mommies to love him. [Etheridge chuckles]
But you no longer have Julie [Cypher] across the back alley.
Etheridge: No. No, that was good for the year that we
split up, and it really helped them get used to two
different places. We still live close—they
actually live in this neighborhood—so it’s
still that sort of community thing. But—
Michaels: We can’t see her kitchen window from here.
Probably a good thing.
Etheridge: Yes. Ultimately, as one moves on with
their life, yes.
What do the kids call each of their moms?
Etheridge: Well, she’s Tammy—sometimes
Michaels: ’Cause they have a Mommo and a Mama,
and it was decided after the wedding that I’m
now the Mommy. Not by choice—I didn’t
bring it up.
Etheridge: These are my creative kids. Mostly, if
they stub their toe, it’ll be
“Tammy!” And I’m Mama. Or Mom.
“Mom” pretty much covers anybody and everybody.
Michaels: Unless… Bailey likes to call her
[mockingly] “Me-lis-sa Eth-er-idge!”
She’s figuring out Mom’s famous?
Etheridge: Yeah. I wanted to let her know that; I
didn’t want it to be this sort of secret life
where we’re actually famous. I have to spend a
lot of time describing it. I’ll say, “Say
you met Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. [Michaels
giggles] You would know them—but you
don’t really know them.” Because
there would be people that would come up [to me] and [the
children] would say, “Who is that?”
“Well, I don’t know who that is, but
they know me.” And so if you’re truthful
and open and clear with kids, they get it.
Tammy, you have such an affinity for children, do you
want to have biological children of your own?
Michaels: Um—I don’t think it has to do
with “biological.” I think that Melissa
and I will choose to bring a child into the world
together, she and I. I love Beckett and Bailey more
than I ever thought I would or could, and there is a desire
to bring another little person into our lives. Definitely.
Have you met David Crosby?
Michaels: Oh, my God, yeah. Look, my mother raised me
on John Denver and Engelbert Humperdinck, and I was
like, The Byrds? They spell it with a Y? Crosby,
Stills, Nash, and Young; Crosby, Stills, and Nash;
Crosby and Stills; Crosby and Young—what? I
had heard of him truly because I had heard he had
fathered the children of Melissa Etheridge.
But isn’t it kind of cool that you know David
mostly because of his connection to your family?
Michaels: Well, I don’t know if it’s
cool or not; it’s just the way it is. I mean,
David hates that I don’t know all the words to
his songs. He’s a sweet man who definitely
likes to be appreciated, and I think he got a real kick out
of, Are you kidding me, kid? You don’t know
who I am? You like me just ’cause you like
me? He’s a sweetheart; he’s one of
the warmest souls I’ve ever met.
Let’s change the subject for a moment and talk
about your careers. Tammy, tell me about The L
Word. Who do you play?
Michaels: Lacey. She’s that lesbian who,
unfortunately, caught you on your bad night when you
were really drunk and in the mood for sex, so she
slept with you, but now she’s going to stalk you.
How did you get cast?
Michaels: Angela Robinson, who wrote and
directed D.E.B.S., this little short film that
I’m in, was writing an episode of The L
Word, so when they asked me to guest-star, I said yes.
And then they kept just asking me, “Will you do
another one? Another one?” So it turned into
three of the first four episodes.
As a lesbian, what do you think of the show?
Michaels: They are so respectful. It’s
not a joke. They don’t take lesbianism as a way to
get [men] hard, which is how some people have dealt
Respectful is good. But is it fun? Is it sexy?
Michaels: OK, it’s hot. I’ll
tell you, there was a pool built on the set for some
of the love scenes, whereupon there will be nudity
with steam coming off the pool. It’s hot. And those
girls kiss each other. They’re sexy, they throw
themselves at it, they’re not afraid.
Is your career going in a different path since
Melissa came along?
Michaels: I don’t think it’s that
Melissa came along.
Well, then, since being out, I guess.
Michaels: You know, I had so many people tell
me at the very formation of my career, “You cannot be
out and a successful actress.” And I think when
I was like, I can’t continue going to bed at night
crying and having anxiety attacks about my
life—when all that stuff started kicking
in, I wonder if there was a piece of me that went, This
is not worth it. Acting is not worth this. Acting
is just cheap, cheap time that’s making me feel
rotten because I’m lying. I can tell
you that I’d rather make peanut butter and
jelly sandwiches than hit my mark. I’d rather
make sure that all their slippers fit and all of their
clothes are warm and they’ve got their stuff
for school and that [Melissa]’s got the stuff
she needs. That fills me up and makes me go to
bed full, rather than memorizing some lines.
What do you think acting meant to you that brought
you into the career in the first place?
Michaels: [Sighs] I had to get out of Indiana,
and I needed a vehicle that would move me out, and my
dreams were my vehicle. My first passion is writing. I
would love for something to happen with my
You write children’s books? Just like Madonna!
Michaels: Yeah. Mine are for children from
alternative homes. There’s no books for kids about
sharing, playing, copycat little sisters, hitting with
their younger brother—a nice sweet
story—where the two daddies are lecturing them,
Etheridge: But the book is not about two dads.
They just happen to be gay.
But at the same time, Tammy, you haven’t
given up on acting.
Michaels: Oh, no, no, no, no. I went to an
audition yesterday, I met my agent. Etheridge: She would
like to work, but she would like to work on projects
that move her. Not just anything that comes along.
The L Word, she was so excited—not
only did she love the part, but she loved the writers
and the people. I think she’s more selective now.
Which leads me to ask you, Melissa: What impact has
Tammy had on your music?
Etheridge: The next project, called Lucky, is
some of the most powerful— it’s not just a
bunch of happy songs, it’s songs of discovery.
It’s just—I’m back on my feet.
I’m rocking; I don’t have this black
hole in me where everything’s just seeping through.
It’s real. I cannot wait to get onstage with these
songs and play and lose my mind with this solid base
underneath me. I don’t have to get in front of
an audience to fill me up anymore. I get to get in
front of an audience and have a celebration and have a great
time. Not suck it all out of them, but be there with them.
Is this a new direction for you?
Etheridge: It’s not a new direction.
It’s just better at what I do, you know? I’ve
realized in the last few years, being out in the world, that
there are people who love my music, and there are
people who know me just for me. Every now and then
I’d like for [those two] to meet. And I think
this is one of those albums that can do that.
Skin was almost a concept album, very
specific to a painful moment in your life. And
Michaels: —a kegger party! [Both laugh]
So, Tammy, when Melissa starts touring in February,
will you go along or stay home with the kids?
Michaels: Sometimes she goes out and we have
the kids, so I’ll just stay here and take care of the
kids. And then she’ll come and meet us, or
we’ll go out and meet her. Whatever she needs.
You’re both entertainers? Any kind of
Michaels: Oh, no. [Laughs] I can’t sing.
Etheridge: And I can’t act. She’s
a fabulous, fabulous actress, and I love her talent. I
watched every episode of Popular. I became this
crazy kind of fan about it, and I was sad that it got
canceled, because I loved it. But no, there’s
not a competition at all. When I first was with her, I
remember once we were up in San Francisco and we got caught in—
Michaels: Oh, at the museum.
Etheridge: There’s a little museum where
15-year-old girls were on a field trip. And [to them] she
was like the Beatles. They were screaming, and they
all were gathered around her asking her for an autograph.
Michaels: Pushing her out of the way.
Etheridge: Literally! I literally held her
purse while she signed a hundred autographs, while the
chaperones were looking at me like— [mimes
surprised recognition and pointing].
Gay people have certainly been the center of
attention in the news this year. Did you experience the
victories of the year together? Did you sit down
at night and go, “I can’t believe
Etheridge: Yeah. She was up in Canada when all
that was happening. And she would bring the newspapers back,
and we would hang them up.
Michaels: There was a clipping that I had for
Etheridge: “Court Approves Gay
Marriage.” We stuck it up [on the wall]. A Canadian
paper, but we had it up there. Yeah, as homosexuals in
this world, it is an interesting time and a good time.
And I am just about to do a press conference call with
20 journalists from Iowa to talk about Howard Dean.
[Melissa leaves to do her telephone interview.]
So, Tammy, now it’s your turn. Take me to
the point of wanting to leave Indiana when you were 18.
Tell me a little bit about your growing-up.
Michaels: It is really hard to grow up in a
very small, religious town when there is no father in the
picture, when the town looks at your mother like
she’s got the scarlet letter on her chest
because she’s [whispers] divorced in a
Catholic town. And there were times we were homeless
and sleeping in other friends’ houses. It was
hard. Me and my mom and my older sister.
When did your father leave the picture? After you
Michaels: Yeah, I look at him as a sperm donor
that happened to my mother for a second. So he was pretty
much gone, but my mom worked. My mom was a
bartender—she worked as an account clerk during
the day; she was a bartender and a cocktail waitress
at night. I had to get my own job when I was 11. My poor
mother could barely afford the rent. The family had
shunned her completely—no help. My uncle Don
kept his true ties with us; he’s the one man
that was my angel. He’s one of my guardian angels, my
When did you know you were gay?
Michaels: I knew I was gay in first grade. I wanted to
grow up to be a boy so I could marry my teacher. Like,
I was in love with her. I found her to be so beautiful
and so kind and so wonderful, and I just thought,
Well, she’s not married, so I’ll just
grow up and be a boy. I didn’t know how that
was going to happen, but I knew that I wanted to marry
When did you know what gay was?
Michaels: I put the word to my feelings when I
was 13, and that was when I was very suicidal. I went
through about four years, five years praying to not
wake up every morning. I had no clue how to get
through the day.
Did you ever try anything?
Michaels: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It’s the
most difficult thing to be a gay teenager, especially in
the Bible Belt—that belt will strangle you dead. It
will kill you. My mom did the best she could, but she
had a lot to do—she had jobs, she had to keep
her jobs. My sister—out of respect, I
don’t want to talk about her life much, but she had
quite a journey. And overall, I was abused in every
way until I was 12. And so my adolescent years were
about I’ve got to put myself together if
I’m going to get through this
alive—I’m on my own. And so I wrote. I
kept journals, and that’s how I got through my
life. And they’re all in there [points to a
side room] in the office—I have rows of tearstained,
wrinkled journals saying, “Please, God, don’t
let me be gay.” It was hard. Parents looked me
in the face and called me a dime-store hood and told
me to get my white-trash self out of the school. And
the born-again Christian church in our town hired private
investigators to follow suspected gay teachers and then kept
transcripts of all their movements for a year, and
they were all fired. Seven of them. Actually,
I’m sorry—they were “asked to
resign.” And in a small town, you resign and move on.
What’s the name of the town?
Michaels: Lafayette. It’s across the
river from Purdue [University]. It’s in Tippecanoe
County. But does that give you an idea of my path?
I’m 28, and I’ve been in therapy since I
Michaels: Yeah, my mother—God bless her,
this woman, so smart—saw that something was not OK
with me. I got back from a visit with my dad once, and
she looked at me rocking myself in the corner and
said, “I need to get my little girl to talk to
somebody.” And so she took me to a therapist.
When you wrote in your journals about how you
didn’t want to be gay, were you at the same
time able to connect with anybody who would
Michaels: Oh, no. I was so in love with [one of my teachers].
Was she gay, do you think?
Michaels: All I can think of, it’s such a
small town, and if they read this, are they going to
break her windows too? I can tell you this:
I’ve had a gaydar from the time I was born. And I
was awakened with this intense crush.
When you were a teenager?
Michaels: Yeah, when I was 13 and at Central Catholic
High School. It was the first feeling that
wouldn’t leave me alone—wanting to be
around her all the time, being sad if she
wasn’t [there]. And she was young—she was in
her early 20s, so there was a 10-year age difference.
That’s when I went, I know nobody else [in
class] is experiencing this. There were a couple
of girls where I was like, Hmm, maybe, but I don’t
know if they ever decided to be honest with it. But
for me, that was when I really went down to my journal
and I was like, “Oh, my God—what if
I’m gay? That’s disgusting!” And I
started repeating everything I’d learned in CCD
and in church and the Bible. And so it took quite a
bit to get over that shame. It took moving to New York
and seeing a gay pride parade! [Laughs]
So you never came out to anyone in Indiana.
Michaels: No. I told two girls on a field trip once.
It was like that, you know, when you’re in
ninth grade and it’s dark outside and
everybody’s asleep on the bus and you’ve been
in Chicago all day watching Miss Saigon. And it
was me and these two girls, and we were having
midnight talks on the bus and nobody was listening.
And we all said, “Sometimes I think I’m
gay.” I don’t know what the other two girls
are up to now, but I know that they never spoke about
that night again. Ever. And then the summer before I
moved to New York, I told my friend Brooke,
“I’m moving to New York to be gay.” She
was like, “OK.” She was a big fag hag,
so she was like, “Whatever!”
When did you know that things were going to work out?
Michaels: Oh, sweet baby. I dropped out; I got into
psychotherapy three times a week for two years, cleaned up
any old, unhealthy patterns I’d learned; I
started nannying, which was the best job I ever had,
nannying for this little baby for three years. And
I’d say when I started nannying, I knew I was going
to be OK. The family took me in, they got me an
apartment, they bought me food. Up until then,
I’d been eating cereal and water. So I knew it was
going to be OK about the second, third year. But let me tell
you something: It was never an option to go home.
There was no home to go home to. And thank God,
because it made me build something better for myself
than what had been provided in my family’s legacy.
What did you do when you actually got to New York?
Michaels: I tried to date boys for a while! [Laughs]
Michaels: I did! I tried. And they were so nice! But
then they’d move in to kiss me, and I’d
be like [groans], “You were doing so
well until then!” I was still carrying a great
deal of shame and baggage and that “trashy
Tammy” now. I just was like, Let me just
make sure that it wasn’t just the guys in
Indiana I disliked. And then a friend of mine said,
“Hey, I work at a restaurant with this girl and she
says she’s gay,” and I ran down to the
restaurant and sat and waited for her to show up to
work. I immediately fell in love with her. I just was
like, There is one other lesbian on this planet. That has
to be my girlfriend. And I stalked her for
about a month.
Good material for The L Word.
Michaels: [Laughs] See? They knew! And I would
“just happen” to show up at work when I knew
she was going to be there. And then she was my first
girlfriend. One of the ways that I was loved as a
child was by abusers, so I thought to be abused was to be
loved. And it took me a couple relationships to go, Oh,
I’m just fucked up and this is not
OK—I’m not going to be happy if I
keep seeking out this kind of relationship.
[Melissa returns] And then she walked in.
By pure accident.
Etheridge: By accident.
Michaels: By God, I say.
So what’s the takeaway lesson for Advocate
readers from your story?
Etheridge: Love happens.
It’s worth saying.
Etheridge: Yeah. You know, I have made a career of
singing about love and writing about love and dreaming
about love. Romanticizing about it. To actually sit
and be surrounded by love is amazing. And it can
happen. Once you love yourself. As corny as it is, love
yourself enough to be loved right. That’s my
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