Often, when we hear someone, especially a celebrity, say they don’t label their sexuality, we take it to mean they’re in the closet. But that’s definitely not the case with actress Maria Bello, who speaks openly about being in love with a woman while emphasizing that labels don’t work for everyone.
“Give me any label you want to help advance human rights,” says Bello, who also acknowledges that labels can be limiting — and who explores these limits in her new book, Whatever … Love Is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves.
In the book, Bello asks herself a series of questions, including: “Am I a partner?” “Am I a Catholic?” “Am I a humanitarian?” “Am I a feminist?” “Am I LGBT or W?”
The W stands for “whatever,” which grew out of Bello’s conversation with her son, Jackson, in which she told him she had fallen in love with her best friend, Clare Munn. Jackson, age 12 at the time, responded, “Whatever, love is love.”
She went on to famously discuss the relationship in a 2013 New York Times essay, “Coming Out as a Modern Family,” which led many LGBT people to celebrate the fact that the talented actress was one of us. While considering herself a “whatever,” she’ll gladly stake a place under the umbrella of LGBT, noting that it may well pick up more letters as time goes on. But writing that essay made her realize she had a lot to say about labels.
“It opened up a lot of questions in myself,” Bello tells The Advocate. “I felt like it was my responsibility to continue that conversation.” In the essay, for instance, she dealt with the idea of partnership, noting that we can have many partners in life, not just the person we happen to be having sex with, and that Jackson’s father, Dan McDermott, will always be her partner because they share their son.
So she wrote the book, further exploring the concept of being a partner and examining the other labels she’s worn over the years. Along the way, she writes movingly and insightfully about her life, including her romances with men, which found her always looking for a Prince Charming; her important friendships with Father Ray Jackson, a Catholic priest who befriended her when she was a student at Villanova University (her son is named for him), and with movie producer John Calley; her love for the country of Haiti, where she has done extensive humanitarian work; her mother’s struggle with cancer; her own experience of bipolar disorder; and her relationship with her father, who was once abusive.
“It was very difficult to write the truth about my father,” says Bello, who has a good relationship with him now. He has also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and medication has helped him a great deal. But he was OK with what she wrote, she says: “He felt like it was good and it was right.”
Now that the book is out, Bello bears the label of “writer,” but that doesn’t mean she’s left acting behind. “I think that I’ll always do both,” she says of writing and acting. The actress, who’s wowed audiences in movies and TV series including The Cooler, A History of Violence, Thank You for Smoking, ER, and Prime Suspect, has no less than seven movies scheduled for release this year and next, according to her IMDB page. She’s particularly excited about The 5th Wave, a dystopian drama due out in 2016; “I finally get to play the wicked bad guy,” she says. She also has a production company and is developing a TV series she wrote.
And she has an important online presence. WhateverLoveIsLove.com seeks to motivate ongoing conversations about labels and also sells products that benefit three nonprofit organizations: the Human Rights Campaign; Equality Now, an international women’s rights group; and We Advance, founded by Bello, Munn, Haitian activist Barbara Guillaume, and others to empower the women of Haiti through education and information. (Find out more at WeAdvance.org.)
Meanwhile, her book is finding a wide audience, who, Bello hopes, will spend some time thinking about their own labels. “My hope is that other people will continue to ask questions of themselves,” she says, “and embrace the labels that empower them and reject those that don’t.”