Shedding her skin

As Melissa Etheridge prepares her new CD, Skin, for its summer release, she talks for the first time about her split with Julie Cypher, the revelations in her upcoming book, and how she makes no apologies for turning her life into her art

BY Dennis Hensley

April 21 2001 11:00 PM ET

You’ve only been living in this house since
November. Yet, I have to say, the place feels like
a home.
That was very important. We wanted the kids to feel as
comfortable as possible as soon as possible. So we
wanted to make the move together so it wasn’t
one of us moving out. Julie’s place is right back
there [gestures to her backyard].

You could borrow a cup of sugar if you want.
Have done that. Have said “I don’t
have a pacifier.” It’s very important to
us that, even though our relationship changed, the family
unit stayed together. The kids actually are doing
really well. I certainly would rather be with them
every day, but now it’s four days [that
they’re with me] and four days [with
Julie].

This living arrangement seems great for the kids, but do
you ever think, for yourself, that you might need
more space to heal?

If we didn’t have children, we definitely
wouldn’t be living close to each other.
I’ve sacrificed a bit of that need for space in order
that I can still be close to my children. It’s
totally worth it.

Do you think that they pick up on tension between you?
Well, I think they know that it’s not
always fun when Julie and I cross paths. They see that
it’s strained, but I don’t see this
[arrangement] lasting forever. When the kids are
older, they will be better equipped for more space
apart.

It just seems like it would be tough to look out your
window and wonder “Whose car is that?”

You can’t see any cars, just the
backyard—and it’s a big fence, so I
don’t know what’s coming.

So I guess that means hot-tub orgies in the backyard are
out of the question.
Probably, yeah. But you never know.
[Laughs]

[Suddenly,
Etheridge’s dimpled and adorable 4-year-old
daughter, Bailey, charges into the room with her
caretaker. The pair are on a hunt for a missing
Barbie. After introductions all around and a kiss for
Mommy, they’re off.
]

As a modern woman, do you have any thoughts on the Barbie phenomenon?
Barbie is. And there’s nothin’ I
can do about it. [Laughs]

If you were Bailey’s age, what toy in this room
would appeal to you?

Those trucks. Are you kidding?

Meanwhile, I
would be dressing the Barbies and feeling ashamed about it.

I remember when
my grandfather gave me a blue steel truck for Christmas,
and I cried. Cried. And my family were like,
“What’s the matter?” And I
couldn’t say—

That he was on to you.
That he was on to me. It was my favorite toy,
but it was also like, “Uh-oh, my
secret’s out.”

What’s a day from your childhood you’d like
to go back and relive?

Boy, I don’t wanna go back. Maybe a day I
spent fishing with my dad.

What’s your relationship with your mom like now?
It’s been fun. We communicate much more
now. I’ve sort of forced that.

Your parents were children of alcoholics. What is your
relationship like with alcohol and drugs?
Fortunately, I’ve never been addicted to any
substance.

How the hell did you get a VH1 Behind the Music special then?
I think because I was queer. It’s like,
“She worked hard. Her dreams came true.
Doesn’t sound that interesting.”

“Thank God she’s gay!”
Exactly. [Laughs]

When you drank for the first time, were you conflicted
about it?
No. I was playing in bars and watching people get drunk,
so I saw what it can do. By the time I got to high
school my friends were like, “Let’s get
a six-pack!” I’m like, “Yeah,
I’ll drive. Not interested.” It
didn’t hold any mystery for me at all. The first time
I was ever out of my mind, it was mescaline, which is
just this side of acid. I’d never been high or
drunk, and it was a total trip. I was in a club in Boston
and I was out of my mind. I didn’t not do drugs or
alcohol, but it was very recreational.

Tell me about your upcoming book, The Truth Is.

I started it last year when things were
different. I found with my last album that people
wanted to know more about me personally, so I thought
maybe I can include lyrics and answer questions about
growing up and coming out. Then the breakup happened,
and it became something else.

Was there a part of you that was dealing with the pain by
working? Like, I’m going to lose myself in work?

I think that’s what happened. As I felt
things starting to unravel, I just tried to make
myself very, very busy. But it was also healing. I
would sit down for hours with my cowriter, Laura Morton, and
it was like therapy. It was a major self-realization.
Huge.

I think a lot of people would do the opposite in your
situation and keep everything inside.

I kind of wish I could have done that, but
that’s not where I am. I’m definitely
into purging, getting it out.

What was your process like with your cowriter, Laura?
She would just take me down roads, like “Who was
your first girlfriend?” “What are you
going through right now?” We finally had to get
to that.

I read in the press release for it that you talk about
being sexually abused by your older sister.

Well, the press release was not a press release
of mine. It was very unfortunate what happened. Laura
put out an outline that we sent to seven publishers.
It’s an unwritten rule that they are not for public
consumption. We made a deal withour publisher, and the next
week that outline was sent out to the media by someone
at one of these [other] publishing houses. I still
don’t know. I mean, there’s one small part
about my sister and being sexually abused, but it’s
not what the book is about. Of course, the media
zeroes in on that one thing. I had to call my sister
and my mom, whom I hadn’t talked about the book with.

How did they react?
Not good. It’s the truth, so I can’t say
it’s not, but unfortunately, my mom and my
sister think I’m writing a tell-all book where
I’m gonna slander my family, and that’s
not it at all.

But it is in the book?
Yeah. It’s interesting, people’s
perceptions about that issue. I know that my sister
thinks, “Oh, I was just playing doctor.” But
to me, it was definitely abuse and fear and control.
In the book, you’ll see the theme that was sort
of set up with that in my relationships—my taking
care of people.

How old were you?
I blocked a lot of it out, but I believe it started when
I was about 7 or 8 and lasted until I was about 10. My
sister’s four years older than me.

When you were sitting down to work on the book, did you
think, Is it right to talk about this?

I knew that I would. I knew that it would not be
like me to leave something like that out. I’ve
gotten this far by speaking the truth. How could I not
speak the complete truth because I’m ashamed or
something?

Because you don’t want to hurt them.
But that would be protecting them, and that’s
part of what I’m trying not to do. I’m
speaking the truth, and if they can’t handle it, they
need to deal with their own truths. It’s my
path and my lesson to stop taking care of everybody
else.

Do you hope that it will help people that have gone
through similar things?

Yes. And I know that it will open debate in my
life about “What is
homosexuality?”

Like, “Is that abuse what made her gay?”
Yeah. I’ve always had my own theory that some
people are born with leanings a certain way, and then
circumstances in their life might help push them. I
think I was definitely born gay. The experience with my
sister pushed me further that way. The experience with my
mother being very distant pushed me more that way. I
don’t think that I’m gay because of
those experiences, but I think that it definitely set me up
to go down that road.

Do you think it affected the kinds of people
you’ve been attracted to in relationships?

Oh, yeah. Distant, unavailable people. “I
need to make this work!” Yeah.

Do you feel like you’ve been able to break that?
Uh, not yet. [Laughs] We’ll see what the
next relationship is like. It’s so funny being
single and looking at what I’m attracted to and
just laughing at myself. As far as Julie, I don’t
have anything bad to say about her. I spent 12 years
with her, so there’s a lot of good there. But
when you get down to the bottom line, certain parts of her
emotional life were unavailable to me.

Do you wanna fall in love again?
That’s my next single, “I Wanna Be in
Love.” I’m built for it, man. This is
the first thing people are going to hear from me.

[Etheridge
cranks track number 6, a remarkably unjaded ditty about
the joys of new romance:

In front of total
strangers Won’t you kiss me
Flowers for no reason But you miss me
Oh, I wanna be in love…

While the song plays, Etheridge picks up the phone,
dials, and waits. “I just asked this woman
out,” she whispers, “and I have to check
my messages to see whether she said yes or
no.” She listens for a while, then hangs
up, clearly happy.
]

How long has dating seemed like something you’d
want to even consider?
Just the last couple weeks. It’s weird. I
haven’t really ever dated.

Well, guess what. It’s a nightmare.
[Laughs] I know. I just asked somebody
out. I was like, “Do you wanna go to some
pre-Grammy party on Tuesday?” They said, “But
I’m not really ready to get my picture
taken.” There’s stuff that goes with it
that I don’t even think about. I have to be aware
that there is nothing at all normal about me.

If you’re interested in somebody, are you good at
initiating, or do you wait to have them come to you?

I tried waiting, but I got kind of lonely
there.

Is the woman who called famous?
No. That’s really good. I’m not
going to be serious for a long time. This is
just…company.

What qualities are you attracted to in a person?
I like a person who likes themselves. That’s
probably the main thing.

If somebody has all your records and is a big fan, is
that a plus or a minus?
I’m probably not gonna date fans.

So if you met a hot chick and she was like, “Oh,
yeah, I think I saw one of your videos once, but
I’m not sure—”

It would so turn me on.

Then you have to win her over.
Yeah. Yeah.

Does it turn you on if a girl can dance?
Oh, yes, if they can dance, that goes a long
way, yeah.

How long do you wait to call somebody back that
you’re sweet on?

Oh, God, please don’t ask dating tips
from me. I so don’t know. I’m just doing
this one step at a time.

You want any advice from our readers?
Could they give me tips on dating? We could call it
“Help Melissa.” I mean, this is the
craziest time in my life, being single. It’s good for
me because the energy that I used to put into another person
is just hanging around me and I’m like,
“OK, I’ve got all this energy. What am I
going to do with it?”

What kind of women are throwing themselves at you?
Unfortunately, it’s mostly married women.

What do they say to you?
Oh, they’re very safe. [Laughs]
Women are more bisexual, I think, than anybody thinks.
I think that married women just wanna try it, and
it’s not really cheating. But I’m here to put
in print that I’m not going to do that again,
period. Learned my lesson. No. No, no, no. It’s like,
“You’re pretty, but you’re married.
Bye.”

Did the fact that Julie had been with men before add
stress to your relationship?

No. We were definitely in love. It wasn’t
a man thing. It was the breakdown of a relationship
and it was falling out of love. I never felt stress
from a man, or jealous or anything. At all.

There was never a part of you that thought, Well, she
might go back that way.

She might. She’s just sexual. I think
she’s just open to both.

But it wasn’t something you lost sleep over.
No. But I would not be surprised if she dated a
guy. I believe she’s a person that falls in
love with people and is attracted to the soul,
totally.

In the past you’ve talked about the volatile
relationship you had when you were a teenager. Is
that going to be in the book?

Yes. My first girlfriend was from 17 to about
19. It was dark in some ways. I think it raised some
red flags like, Oh, I’m attracted to this.
Uh-oh. I was never involved with anyone abusive after
that.

Was it physically abusive?
Maybe twice physically, but psychologically,
really.

Did you end it?
Yes.

Was it hard to do it?
Yes, because what did I know? I was 19.

Do you have any idea where she is?
We E-mail each other now.

I think E-mail is great for people you don’t
really want to hear from.

[Laughs] Because it’s not like
I’m talking to them. They just come on your
screen and you’re like, Well, all right. I
don’t remember who wrote the first one. I think
someone asked if it was OK if they gave my [E-mail]
address to her.

Tags: Commentary

AddThis

READER COMMENTS ()

Quantcast