Melissa

Rock's great dyke hope

BY Judy Wieder

July 10 1994 12:00 AM ET

You were working on her video when you met? Cypher: I was working as an assistant director on her video “Bring Me Some Water.” There was a very long two-year crazy period where we were both circling in our own relationships, trying to figure out what we were going to do. Then we came together.

What was that like for you, with no other lesbian experiences? Cypher: I think after growing up straight in Texas, when all of a sudden I found myself in a relationship with a woman, I didn’t see any reason why there should be a difference. Why is my relationship with this woman any different than my relationship with a man? So when she was ready to do it publicly, I was completely ready to support her in that. I was already out to my family and in my professional arena. I was just waiting.

Do you now consider yourself a lesbian? Cypher: I absolutely do.

Were you having difficulties with your marriage to Lou Diamond Phillips before Melissa entered the picture? Cypher: The marriage was a troubled one. Lou and I were really young, and Hollywood’s a big place when you’ve just come from Texas. We thought, Well, we’ll just get married, and we’ll have each other no matter what. And then our paths started spinning in different directions, and it was a long and cold separation and ultimately a divorce. But because we took so much time doing it, we’re friends. He’s remarried and actually lives down the street from our new house. He’s also in my first feature film, Teresa’s Tattoo.

Did he have a problem with your leaving him for a woman? Cypher: It certainly wasn’t something he expected, but I don’t think it threw him for too much of a loop because he’s a very open and loving person. When he met Melissa he realized what a wonderful person she is. He could see how the two of us clicked so well.

How long did the whole process—your and Melissa’s leaving your relationships and finally getting together—take? Etheridge: We met in ’88, and we finally were officially together by January of ’90. Cypher: But I didn’t get a divorce until ’92.

Were you frightened to become involved with a woman who hadn’t previously explored her gayness? Etheridge: I wasn’t so worried about her straightness. She’s the perfect example of people being attracted to each other’s souls—whether male or female. So I wasn’t worried that I was just an “experiment.” Of course, there were some different lifestyle things she had to adjust to. Cypher: Like my first rock music festival. Whew! [Laughs] Believe me, it’s harder to be in love with a musician than with a lesbian—that’s the real bottom line.

What do you think you would do romantically if Melissa were no longer with you? Would you be with a man again? Cypher: I doubt it. I would look for the person, for the soul, but I just feel that the female psyche is where I find my satisfaction with relationships.

So then, what is a lesbian? Etheridge: The highest form of life. I heard that in the hierarchy of reincarnation, the lowest form is a heterosexual man. Then as you go up the ladder, the highest reincarnation form is a lesbian.

Melissa, because k.d. came out first, did anybody ever say to you, “Oh, well, sure, now you’re jumping on the bandwagon.” Cypher: I don’t think she was ever accused of jumping on the bandwagon because she admitted right off to jumping on the bandwagon. Etheridge: I think k d. was their first lesbian. I’m their “other” lesbian. Cypher: She’s the vice president of lesbians. Etheridge: I’m the Al Gore of lesbians. k d. is a friend of mine, and I remember talking to her when she was thinking about coming out. I said, “Go for it. It’ll be great!” And she did. And I said to myself, Hey, why don’t I listen to what I’m saying? Helping her come out helped me to come out.

The music trade magazine Billboard called you the “second Top 40 lesbian.” Etheridge: Who ever thought we’d live to see it? I really want to be a positive role model—I hate that expression—to Midwestern people. I’m not some crazy girl. I’m just like you.

Which is the scariest thing you can tell people. Etheridge: I know. I could be anybody, even you. I don’t look strange. I’m not avant-garde.

Did you ever date men? Etheridge: I was 16 years old the last time I dated a man. I dated my first woman when I was 17.

So you were never in an intimate relationship with a man? Etheridge: I had a few crushes, but nothing I wanted to do anything about. I appreciate— Cypher: Sting? Etheridge: Oh, there’s a crush! I opened a few shows for him.

Sting? Oh, well, we’ve all had that crush—jeez. Etheridge: I know, I know. He’d brought me up to sing “Every Breath You Take.” And it was his first encore, so he’d taken off his shirt. He’s so beautiful. I just wanted to touch him. Cypher: And you did. Etheridge: Yes, I did, a couple of times. I appreciate beauty in all its forms—male and female, all energies. But as far as relationships go or really falling in love, I’ve only been attracted to women.

So when you think of yourself, do you think of your sexuality as a choice, do you think you were born that way, was it an environmental thing, or an interaction of everything? Etheridge: I think I was born that way, and I think my environment made it even more possible for me to be who I am.

What was in your environment? Etheridge: My relationship with my mother. It was strained as a child, and I think that adds to my attraction to women. It’s about what I didn’t get as a child: that female energy I crave. But I think I had to be born that way first.

Did you ever feel strange? Etheridge: No, I’ve never felt strange. I felt that the world had to catch up with me. I still feel society and culture have a lot of catching up to do. Being lesbian is very normal and natural to me.

Do you know any closeted gay celebrities who are afraid to hang out with you now because you’re out and someone might say that they’re gay too? Etheridge: Yes. We had that once. Cypher: Guilt by association, yes. But we won’t name them. We won’t do that to anybody. Etheridge: For one thing, I don’t hang around with people like that. Julie, do you think it’s OK for me to mention…? Cypher: What? Etheridge: Brad Pitt! He’s been a good friend for years. He’s just the most amazing person, and he’s a huge fan of mine. He actually came to my London show last week, and we flew here to Amsterdam together. I had a night off, so the three of us went out. But I did have this one thought: I wondered if he ever wonders that by hanging out with us that it makes him look gay. Cypher: That thought would never occur to him. Etheridge: Yeah, he doesn’t think like that. He’s very pure, and he’s very secure with who he is. Everybody is attracted to him—men and women. Cypher: I think you have a little crush on him. Etheridge: I want to be just like him. I want to attract all kinds of sexual energy to me—straight, gay, men, women. Cypher: It’s working, honey. Etheridge: I went to see a Bette Midler concert with Laura Dern. [To Cypher] You were working. And I thought, This is very cool. Laura and I just hangin’.

Nobody tried to link the two of you romantically? Etheridge: No, but I’ve been linked to Martina. Cypher: Oh, Martina! Well, you know, all the famous lesbians sleep with her. Etheridge: Because there’s only six anyway. Cypher: And we’ve pretty much hit every combination. Etheridge: Actually, the only combination I’ve never seen is me and k.d. Cypher: Are you sure? Etheridge: I’m positive. I’ve never seen anywhere that k.d. and I have been together.

What have you seen? Etheridge: I’ve read that Martina was going out with k.d., and then she dropped k.d. for me. Cypher: Yeah. “The Canadian singer k.d. lang and the petite rocker Melissa. Insiders say that they go for long hikes in the mountains.”

And how do you like stuff like that, Julie? Cypher: It cracks me up. You know, they say, “There’s Martina blowing kisses to Melissa in the stands.” Well, I was there too. How did they know that those kisses weren’t directed at me? Etheridge: And Martina says she just wishes she was having half the fun they say she has. Cypher: It’s like whenever anyone comes out, they’ve automatically slept with Martina.

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