In my so-called life

BY Savannah Dooley

July 04 2005 11:00 PM ET

When my mother,
Winnie Holzman, was receiving critical acclaim for
writing about gay teenagers, I had no idea that I would
someday be one of them. In 1994 her creation My
So-called Life
first aired on television and
became a cult hit about teenagers. Among the angsty
ensemble was Rickie, one of the first and most influential
gay teen characters on TV (played by out gay actor
Wilson Cruz). Living in Los Angeles with two parents
in show business, I knew what being gay meant from an
early age. But seeing the character of Rickie helped shape
my views about homosexuality. I remember my mom getting tons
of fan mail from gay teens and adults saying she
changed their lives. I was 9 years old. It would be
seven more years before I would identify as a gay
teenager myself.

My So-called Life ended, and my mom began
working on a new series, Once and Again. In the
third season one of the main female characters, 14-year-old
Jessie, fell in love with a girl. I was 16, and by the
time the episode aired, the same fate had befallen me.
I related deeply to that story. 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.

When I told my
mom, she was very understanding while secretly worrying
that my life would be hard. She said that writing the
Once and Again scripts prepared her emotionally
for my coming-out. It helped her to get inside the
characters’ mind-sets—not just
Jessie’s but also Lily’s, the liberal mother
who is unexpectedly distraught when she suspects her
daughter may be a lesbian.

My mother and I
bond through our writing. She often approaches me to read
drafts, and we share ideas and advice. We are very similar
writers; I became even more involved in my
mother’s writing when she moved on from Once
and Again
to write the book for Wicked, the
Broadway musical based on the life of Oz’s
Wicked Witch of the West. It is rich with her trademarks: a
story about an outsider, fully realized characters,
and some subversive political commentary. Since coming
out I’ve grown to appreciate my mother’s
work on a new and deeply personal level. Once I started
living as a queer, I became keenly aware of every
badly written film and TV show aimed at gays.

I’m
grateful to have a mom who is changing that. As with her gay
characters, my mother has never pushed clichés or
labels on me. Instead, she appreciates me as a human
being, a daughter, and a fellow artist. Now, as
Wicked has its run in our hometown of Los Angeles, I
am prouder of her than I’ve ever been.

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