Mama's Got Something to Tell You
BY Trudy Ring
August 16 2010 5:25 PM ET
How long have you been out to your family and your friends?
A long time. My last boyfriend was maybe like ’91—sometime in the early ‘90s, I guess. I had been back with men for a little bit after I started being with women. I was so devastated by a woman early on, I went, "Oh, I can’t do this, this hurts too much, it’s too emotional" — so I think a lot of people, like I say, have very different paths that maybe do make some people uncomfortable. Like, I enjoy sex equally with men and women, but I fall in love with women. There’s so many different stories, and part of my story is to say, “Let’s not judge each other for what our path was or how we got here.” I just said, “Today is the day that I stop cheering gay rights from the sidelines and that I step out on the battlefield.” I was inspired by people — certainly my friend Melissa Etheridge a long time ago, and more recently, my friend Chely Wright — she’s inspired a lot of people. It takes remarkable courage in the country-western world. I’m like, you make me feel like a coward. I’m a liberal radio host. Everyone already thinks we’re all French and gay.
And that’s how you build a civil rights movement. You all stand on the brave shoulders of someone before you who had the courage, and I’m like, if she can have the courage, I can have the courage…[in a way] we were so similar. Any singer, actress, whatever, you’re marketed to men. You’re marketed as a sex symbol, even if that makes you laugh. But it’s that whole thing — look, my ads say, “Making men rise in the morning.” I don’t have anyting to do with that. That’s they way they market me. That’s the way they marketed my late-night TV show. But what I’ve found is it only makes men hotter — you say “gay,” they hear “threesome,” because they think that’s every woman’s dream, is to have a guy watching. But I got off on another tangent… Chely and I in particular, I had never had a friend who was able to shoot down every one of my arguments. It’s different to say you are for something than to say I am that. It makes a difference to that 16-year-old in Iowa who’s about to kill himself because there’s nobody like him. It makes a difference to the teacher who said she has to take Pepto-Bismol every morning because she’s afraid someone’s going to ask her what she did all weekend. Chely said, “You and I have enough — that teacher can’t afford to come out.” I’ve always understood intellectually that if every person in America came out, we’d have marriage equality tomorrow; homophobia would probably disappear. You can only do your part and put a human face on it, say it’s your favorite country singer, it’s your favorite radio host, it’s your brother, it’s your sister, it’s your doctor. The other thing I said to her is I sort of always thought that when I was in a significant relationship again, I would just naturally talk about it. That also hit home with me when she said when you make choices in the dark, you’re gonna choose some twisted, dysfunctional people sometimes. She said, "You don’t have to dig through the Dumpsters for your life partner," and I thought, that’s true. She and I experienced that very unique thing of being gay but not out and well-known… you think that you have such a small selection. You realize that every part of your life is going to be impacted, and my relationships have been. You realize that until you’re fully walking in your truth, you’re probably not going to find that [right partner]. So that was the other thing I never lied about — I am an unmarried, childless loser elderly shut-in. I’m not lying about it.
You were also inspired by the right-wing caller from Chicago.
Yeah, Jerry from Chicago . He’s sort of a character on the show, because he’s this right-winger who argues with me about everything. He was in tears because his sister had just killed herself because she was gay, and he wanted to talk to me about it and he wanted to apologize because he was wrong about gay rights and his family wasn’t supportive, and so I hooked him up with my friend at The Trevor Project and I called him at home later to see if he was OK. He was like, "Oh, my God, thank you, I love you so much. But it was just to go, we’re just human beings and I was concerned about you. That happened a couple of months ago, and in the meantime I’ve had this friend [Lisa Brende] who’s on the board of the Trevor Project, who’s also been a hero to me and an inspiration. She was a homecoming queen in her high school and came out in high school and lost all her friends, and she’s for years been working the suicide hot line at the Trevor Project and now she’s on the board. It takes all those just quiet little heroes, and in my little corner I’m going to do what I can do. I’m gonna be definitely much more heavily involved with Trevor, and I’ll do whatever they want. A lot of people have been kind enough already to make donations in my name to the Trevor Project, because they’re doing great work. What they do is so important. They’re the only 24-hour suicide hotline for gay and lesbian kids and they send people into the schools to talk to kids about bullying and name-calling, and not just gay smears but just bullying in general, because that’s obviously a big issue for a lot of parents.