By Trudy Ring
Originally published on Advocate.com August 16 2010 5:25 PM ET
No longer cheering for gay rights from the sidelines but getting down on the field, as she puts it, progressive radio talk-show host Stephanie Miller came out as a lesbian on the air Friday. Miller, 48, who teased fans before her announcement with the tweet "Mama's got something to tell you," has often voiced support for gay causes on the nationally syndicated Stephanie Miller Show. In fact, she notes that she once thought she could be more effective if perceived as a straight ally. But now, she says, it feels freeing and empowering to walk in her truth.
Miller says listeners’ reactions have been overwhelmingly positive, and she’s long been out to and had support from colleagues, friends, and yes, her Republican family. Her late father, William Miller, was a Republican congressman from upstate New York and Barry Goldwater’s running mate on the 1964 GOP presidential ticket. Her mother, she notes, even prepared a statement to read on-air in the wake of her public coming-out.
Some listeners just want her to get back to fart jokes, and she assures The Advocate that her show, about to begin its seventh year, will still provide laughs along with as liberal activism. Her “mooks,” sidekicks Jim Ward and Chris Lavoie, now have more reasons to make fun of her, she notes, and she remains a single, childless loser.
The Advocate: First of all, let me say, I’m a longtime listener.
Stephanie Miller: You have exquisite taste in both broads and broadcasting, I have to say.
I heard your historic coming-out announcement. If you could tell our readers, why now? What inspired you?
As I said on the show, I think we all have our own tipping point or perfect storm or combination of events in our life, history, and people that inspire you. Something I wish we could get out of our dialogue is the people who say, “Why’d you wait so long? Why now?” We should respect everybody’s process and everybody’s path, and my point is to say, “Let’s start judging people less.” There are a lot of rationales that I had; as I said, I’ve always been a very private person and I’ve never lied. I’ve never said I’m straight, I’ve never said I’m not gay, I’ve just not talked about my private life. I certainly thought things like the “future husbands,” if people didn’t get that that was a joke, I’m pretty shocked. I think it was pretty clear they’re political crushes, like what liberal woman doesn’t have a crush on Keith Olbermann, for God’s sake? I also talked about that I often thought, Can I reach more of the hearts and minds I want to reach, particularly on the Right, if they don’t define me a certain way? [I thought otherwise] that they’d just dismiss me — "Oh, she’s just a lez, who cares what she thinks." And part of the message of the show has always been that you don’t have to be gay to be for equal rights for everybody, you don’t have to be black to think it’s wrong for a white radio host to say the n word 11 times on the air, you don’t have to be Muslim to think you should be able to build a mosque wherever you want in the United States of America, you don’t have to be Hispanic to think the Arizona law is racist and not the right way to solve the immigration problem. Interestingly, one segment of letters I got was from gay people that, while supportive, were kind of sad because they thought they had lost a straight advocate, and so it’s almost like some gay people thought the same thing I did for a while.
It’s a complex subject. I almost worried that would I hurt gay rights at a critical time in the fight for marriage equality if I talked about my particular path and that I’ve been with men and been in love with men. I think that as I said this morning, sexuality’s probably a lot more fluid and a lot more gray area than a lot of people are probably comfortable with. Will I hurt the whole “you’re born gay” argument? A lot of women I know have been married, have been in love with [men] … everybody just has a different sort of process. What I believe is that there’s a continuum some people are gay gay gay and others are straight straight and I think a lot of us are somewhere in the middle. However, when some people said to me, "Maybe you should say that you’re bisexual," I said, "I really don’t think that’s authentic either." I made a joke about saying the last date I had with a man was in a Packard… it’s been almost 20 years since I’ve had a boyfriend, so you kind of go, look, I think that Princess Cruise has sailed. But as I say, that’s part of me flirting with men on the air or whatever. I love men. I’m attracted to men. It’s the way I explained it to my 87-year-old Republican mother — she said, “Aren’t you attracted to men? You’re so pretty.” I said, “Yes, it’s just that I feel more comfortable in a relationship with a woman.”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.It seems like most of the feedback you’ve gotten has been really positive.
It’s been overwhelmingly positive. You have fears your whole life about things and it just turns out to be completely the opposite. I hadn’t really planned this … but with the [Proposition 8] ruling, the stay was lifted on Thursday, and I just went, "You know what, this is my tipping point," and like I say, I’d been talking to Chely a lot, a lot of the things she said just hit home in a way that they hadn’t before, and talking to Lisa, and having people on, like Ted Olson on the Prop. 8 thing — when you hear the conservative case for gay marriage you just realize that we are in a really critical moment in our history in civil rights.
What has been the most surprising reaction you’ve gotten?
I think the thing I was the most shocked at was how shocked people were. There were funny stories on the Internet like, “This just in: Radio Shack is recalling all their gaydar devices.” I sort of thought people knew — like I say, I wasn’t in the closet. I’ve been out to my friends and family and coworkers for years; I just didn’t talk about it on the radio. It is interesting how there’s such a presumption of heterosexuality when you look a certain way. We talked this morning about the subsets of letters — I was touched by all the straight people who wrote in and said they cried all the way through the show, not just gay people, but I guess there is something in what they say, like, “walking in your truth.” One letter-writer said, “Can we stop with this Oprah ‘walking your truth’ shit and get back to the fart jokes?” The biggest subsets of letters: men who are disappointed who are used to holding my picture and with one hand; straight women that said, “Yay. more men for me.” Straight elderly single unmarried losers who thought I was their role model and were disappointed that it’s because I’m gay. A lot of grateful gay people, but an interesting subset of gay people who said, “Thank you, but there’s part of me that’s a little sad because we lost a great straight cheerleader.” Again, maybe they had the same thought I had, what if I lose my platform because I’m talking about who I am personally? But in the end, it’s what everybody says it is; it’s remarkably empowering and freeing,
I take it your mooks are cool with this?
They’re my good friends. We’ve been close friends for many, many years. As they said, there’s just more things to make fun of me for.
How about your Republican family?
That was also the lesson I wanted to try to impart with my story. Way back when, I spent so much time worrying about if they’d judge me that I judged them. And they could not have all been more supporting and loving. From the listeners, the letter I got the most, they said, thank you so much for trusting us with your truth, and I realized I was doing the same thing to my listeners that I was to my family for all those years. My 87-year-old Republican mom, I called to leave her a message, to give her a heads up, I said, “Hey, mom, if you want to come on the air, it’s OK.” When I finally got her it was after the show and she had actually written a prepared statement and was reading it — I said, “Mom, we’re not on the radio, that’s OK. Mom, it’s just me, we’re not on their air.” But she was prepared for me.