Photo: OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network
Life With La Toya

By Jase Peeples

Originally published on Advocate.com May 17 2013 5:00 AM ET

As a member of one of the most famous families in the history of entertainment, La Toya Jackson appeared to be living the Hollywood dream. It was only after she escaped the reach of her former manager and ex-husband, Jack Gordon, that we learned she had actually been living a nightmare.

In her 2011 memoir Starting Over, Jackson revealed the details of the years of abuse she’d suffered at the hands of Gordon and how he’d threatened her life if she ever tried to leave him. Her experience motivated her to help other victims of abuse by not only sharing her story, but also living as an example that survivors of domestic abuse can lead fulfilling lives unencumbered by fear.

Life With La Toya, the new OWN network reality series focusing on Jackson’s life, gives the talented performer the opportunity to be that example while also allowing her to do something in front of the camera that she says she’s never before been able to do — be herself.

Jackson spoke with The Advocate about the genesis of her latest project, her love of LGBT culture, and the public misconceptions she’s working to overcome.

The Advocate: You’ve been a very private person in the past. What inspired you to open your doors to a camera crew and record a reality TV series?
La Toya Jackson: I’d been approached about doing my own show many times over the years, but I always said no because it wasn’t going to be done the way I wanted it to be done, which was just me being me. But eventually I decided to put a reel together because everyone kept asking me how I escaped my abusive relationship and I wanted people to know that just because you’ve been abused doesn’t mean you have to stay in a corner and cry and not really experience life for what it’s worth. I thought I’d never get out of that relationship, but I managed and I’m living my life. I wanted people to see what I was doing and know you can own yourself and do whatever you want.

In addition to domestic abuse, you’ve overcome numerous obstacles in your life. Yet you’ve managed to maintain a positive outlook. What’s your secret?
I’m so happy that I’m free and I’m alive and I can express myself and take control of me. Doing Life with LaToya has helped me regain me and it’s given me back my life. I’m happy I can show people, no matter what you go through in life, you can always start over. It’s like they say, “it could be worse” and for me it has been worse. That’s why I’m so excited about life now.

You come from a very famous family. Do you ever feel the need to compete with any of your siblings?
Not at all, because when you know who you are and you don’t allow anyone to pressure you, you’re OK with doing what you want in life.

In addition to you, we’ve had the chance to see a more personal side of your mother, Katherine, on Life With La Toya. What’s it been like getting the chance to work together with her in front of the cameras?
It’s been fun because my mother is very natural. She’s always herself and I love that about her. In fact, one of the reasons I love doing Life With La Toya is that I’m getting to spend time with her. When your parents start getting older, you realize they’re not going to be here for the rest of your life and you want to spend quality time with them. So I’m happy I’ll have the chance to look back and see this time because it’s been documented on film.

Growing up in the spotlight, you’re aware of the pressures of the entertainment business. What advice have you shared with your niece and nephews now that they’ve begun perusing their own careers in the field?
I’ve told them if this is truly what they want then they should put their best foot forward, but be aware of the responsibilities that come with it. It’s not as easy as you think. There’s a lot that comes along that people don’t realize. Even something as simple as the demand of the public, taking pictures and asking for autographs and them feeling like they own you. However, you have to remember they do in a sense because you’re out there and you have to give back when they ask for those things.

And you’ve been adored by the LGBT community from the beginning of your career.
Yes, I realized it right after I put out my first record which was If You Feel the Funk. The record company came up to me and told me “98% percent of your following and fans are gay.” I thought it was wonderful! I was so elated because I love everything about [gay culture.]

Speaking of gay culture, you’ve been a frequent guest judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Do you remember the first time you ever saw a drag queen impersonate you? How did you react?
I think I was in Europe and it was very interesting. At first I remember thinking, “I sound like that?” “I talk like that?” But what’s funny is the performance really was so close to mine. I thought it was amazing.

We got to hear a snippet of your new duet with RuPaul, “I Feel Like Dancing,” on the finale of Drag Race earlier this month. The two of you have been trying to find the time to record a duet together for years. How does it feel to have it completed?
It’s so great! I really love Ru. I have a lot of respect for him. But he likes it and I like it. So that’s wonderful.

How did the two of you finally settle on this song?
That will unfold in the storyline of the show and the song will be released after that episode airs.

So we’ll have to stay tuned to see how your musical kiki with Ru went down.
[Laughs] Yes, you will.

Does this mean a new album is in the works?
Well, I will say you will definitely hear at least one or two more new tracks for sure.

What is the most frequent assumption people incorrectly make about La Toya Jackson?
It’s the same misconception people have about my whole family. They say we’re strange. We’re weird. We’re different. But we’re not. We’re just like everybody else. It’s funny, because that’s one of the main reasons I wanted to do Life With La Toya. A lot of people think they know me and they don’t. It feels like we always get this great big snowball of lies and it’s hard to see my mother watching these things on television and saying “That’s not true.” So by doing this, I can show who I really am and if people want to judge me after that and tell me what they like and don’t like, I can respect that now because judging a person you know nothing about is absolutely unfair and it’s wrong. Finally, what you’re seeing on Life With La Toya is exactly who I am and it feels great. 

Watch as La Toya opens up about her abusive ex-husband in the below video clip. Life With La Toya airs Saturdays at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.