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The real Rosie

The real Rosie


365 days of amazing challenges and feisty decisions turned America's sweetheart into the fighter she's always been--and The Advocate's leading lady for 2002

First of all, there are not two Rosies. She was never the "Queen of Nice," and she's not the "Queen of Mean." That's just our media selling tickets to its own headlines. Sure, she's a complicated bunny, but there's still only one Rosie, and one's enough! Passionate, boisterous, creative, sad, fun, generous, and genuine, she is The Advocate's Person of the Year for many reasons--not the least of which is that she survived the year at all!

An authentic Rosie Hood for the underdog, this woman had it all when 2002 began--except what she treasured the most: the ongoing connection to those who have nothing. And that included the Rosie she still remembers: the isolated child who grew up in Commack, Long Island, whose cherished mother died when she was 10 and whose father was never emotionally hers. The kid who ran all the way to Broadway to find her feelings but lost her soul on the wild, empty fame ride.

Exaggeration? A little, but not much. For the rich and famous Rosie, the gap had grown too wide. She missed herself. So starting with her book, Find Me, she decided to put herself back together in an open, honest way.

When Rosie came out this year, she became the most famous gay person in the world. For years her daily daytime TV show made her a regular guest in millions of homes. Her magazine, Rosie, with her name and face all over it, followed suit. Nobody of her stature had ever come out before, and I, for one, can understand her looking at it from all angles before leaping off the cliff. Fortunately, she finally collided with an offer she couldn't refuse: the chance to be on Diane Sawyer's TV special and discuss what it was like to be a gay parent, as did Steve Lofton and Roger Croteau, the gay couple suing Florida to overturn its ban on gay adoption. Not only is Rosie gay and a huge child advocate, she lost her own bid to adopt the daughter she'd fostered in Florida because of this law.

"I occasionally tell Bert [the son Lofton and Croteau are fighting to keep] that he outed Rosie," Roger Croteau jokes. "But really, she did the perfect thing for the issues and the children on that show. Prior to that the media was clueless and uninterested; now they cannot get enough."

Asked about the biggest impact Rosie's had on their personal lives, Steve Lofton refers to Rosie's quiet generosity: "When Rosie found out we didn't have a television, she sent the kids a TV and cable. Now they can choose between a TV movie and a cable movie once a week."

Unfortunately, the good vibes of Rosie's coming-out took a quick turn south when Gruner + Jahr USA, the publishers of Rosie, allegedly thought their star was looking too much like (gasp!) an activist. They worried whether she was still the right figurehead for this onetime McCall's readership. In the end, they wanted her name but not her. Rosie saw things differently. This was her name. They got both, or neither. That's when the real circus started.

"It wasn't the gay thing, " Rosie says, "it was the magazine stuff. That's when the tabloids went nuts. That's when they started in about my hair and me being a man and so tough and scary."

Tough and scary? Not really. You can tell a lot by being in someone's home. Rosie's is warm and easy. Her girlfriend and children adore her, and she brightens whenever they're around. And when they're not, she goes looking for them. After viewing Rosie's unexpectedly cathartic art pieces in her studio, I sat down with Kelli Carpenter, Rosie's partner of five years, and discussed why she thought Rosie should be The Advocate's Person of the Year.

"So much! Her ability to effect change and open people's minds--not just in the big world but in my life," Kelli says. "She was able to change my parents' perspective on being gay and how gay relationships work, that it didn't mean you have to be alone all your life. That was their biggest fear. But there she was."

And there she still is. Vaulting across the family room, trying to get her youngest son, Blake, to sing "It's the Hard-Knock Life" for us--both of them laughing too hard to sing anything.

The following interview took place in Rosie's Manhattan offices and in her home outside New York.

So how was your year, Rosie? Oh, boy, it's been very eventful, I can say that. My whole life and career--I was focused on just that, my career. And the first break in that came when I adopted my son [Parker], and the second break in that career focus came when I met Kelli, and I knew that this was, as I told Parker, the puzzle piece that matched my heart.

Why? Kelli is an unbelievable person. She was just the piece that fit. She's part of the real grace that comes from being able to live the truth. It's too hard to describe.

How did you two first meet? My brother Danny, who's gay, met her at--[calling out to Kelli in the kitchen] what event was that, honey? It was some gay function in New York, and he met Kelli because they were at the same table. She had just moved from Chicago and just broken up with someone. She asked him, did he know anybody who was single.

Kelli [moving into the conversation from the kitchen]: I asked him to introduce me to a nice attorney.

Rosie [rolls her eyes]: Right. And then he called me and said, "I met the perfect girl for you." And I thought, Naw, I'm never going to meet anyone! I never really was a dater, you know?

Kelli: Then there was another event where you--

Rosie: No, no--I know what it was! I buy tables to a lot of charity events, but then I don't go. I send other people instead. I'd rather stay home at night. My brother Danny was going, and he told me Kelli was going, so I told him and everybody else going to "check her out!"

Kelli [laughing]: I had no idea this was going on.

Rosie: So they all came back giving me the [makes "OK" clicking sounds]. But it was four months before we had a date.

So people were reporting to you, but you still hadn't seen or spoken to her? Rosie: Right. Then she called my brother and asked for tickets to the show.

Kelli: My parents were in town.

Rosie: So I was like, "Red alert! Kelli Carpenter's coming to the show!"

You were really nervous? Rosie: Well, I wasn't really nervous, but I looked out there during the show and saw her and thought, Oh, my God, she's so preppy! A-a-ahhh, preppy, this is going to be impossible. So after the show I made my assistant go tell her that if she wanted to have a picture taken with Rosie or meet her, she could. So Kelli was like, "Umm...I don't know." But her mother said [yelling in a Southern accent], "I'd love to meet her!" [Laughs] Little did I know what I was getting into: Gomer Pyle as an in-law!

Kelli: We just found that picture the other day.

Rosie: Yeah, there we all are, posing before Kelli and I had ever even talked. Then she got all flirty with me, saying, "O-o-oh, you burned your hand. Does it hurt?"

Wait a minute! More hand karma? Rosie: Yes, that's true. It started that way, honey. Right up to this [holds up hand, wrapped after still another surgery].

Kelli: Yeah, but she had four months of prep while I didn't even know what was going on.

Rosie: True [laughs]. We were, like, totally setting it up while I was checking her out. [Kelli returns to the kitchen]

Did getting together with Kelli push you toward coming out? There were many people who said to me, "Famous or not, why don't you come out?" and I always said, "I'm out enough," because I never pretended to have a boyfriend. My crush on Tom Cruise is real--I never said I wanted to have sex with him. It stunned me when, after the Diane Sawyer interview, they did a focus group and it said 60% of people didn't know, but I don't believe that. I believe they knew.

I disagree. As long as you didn't say it, they didn't have to know. I guess.

I remember having these discussions with Lily Tomlin. She didn't think she had to come out. She thought she was out. Well, maybe in her world-- It's not just my world. It was with everyone: interns on my show. I felt that I never compromised my integrity or my place in the gay community, ever.

How did you see your place in the community before you came out? What I think the gay community needs to realize is that all the members are in our dugout. Some are playing on the field, but everybody's in uniform. And the person who's pitching is not of more value than the person in the dugout waiting for his turn to bat. I waited until I knew it was my turn to bat. And these men, [Steve] Lofton and [Roger] Croteau--they were a gift from God: what they have lived and the injustice of this law. I heard in my head, This is the time.

Well, it would still have been a big deal if it had just been about you. But I didn't want it to be about me. Because it's not about me. In the same way, when they try to give me the Mother of the Year award, I don't want to take it. I'm a multimillionaire. I have assistants and help. The woman who's trying to put sneakers on her three kids and working three jobs deserves Mother of the Year. Not me.

But certainly, coming out has changed you. I will say this: Since doing it, I'm shocked at the change: Everyone had told me this [would happen]--from my brother to Ellen [DeGeneres]. Everybody who knows me knows that the main focus of my life is the rights of kids. The biggest thing I ever had to get over in my life was my childhood--not my sexuality. I mean, the things that the gay community has harped on me about, I find odd.

Like? When Kathy Kinney came on my show and outed Richard Simmons, I didn't try to "in" Richard Simmons. The gay community accused me of in-ing Richard Simmons, like I was trying to make people think that he was straight. I will tell you this: If Richard Simmons ever wants to discuss his private life with me on national TV, he's welcome to do so. It is not anyone else's right to do that before he decides it's time. That's the reason I said to Kathy Kinney, "We'll be right back with a commercial." I'm simply saying that that right belongs to him. [Loudly] And no matter what community you feel he's a part of or what he represents to you, it is not as relevant as his own truth.

Don't get mad at me! The Advocate doesn't out people. Well, that's how I always talk--this is why people think I'm maniacal. This is how I talk. I should've been a lawyer.

[Laughing] It's not too late. Look, if someone isn't ready-- But I also think it's not fair to judge the person as not ready when they may be living a life that is just as out as yours.

Wait--I'm talking about being ready to climb up on the cover of The Advocate and say, "Here's my life." Correct. Got it, got it. Yeah. Right.

What's important is that you're out and that you did it in a way that is going to help change the world. That's why you're the Person of the Year for The Advocate. I am? I didn't know. They didn't tell me. That's a huge honor, and I think it's wonderful.

And we don't give this honor to people who don't deserve it. [Quietly] No, I don't think that of you.

Why did you do a talk show? Well, here's what happened. Before my talk show, I was a comedian. When you're a comedian, you have free rein to say anything you want. I had a blank canvas, and I painted all the time, all over the country, in Vegas and everywhere. I loved it.

I know you were rowdier back then. Then I got this job that required one thing: It was a specific kind of canvas. It was afternoon TV. It was Merv Griffin or Mike Douglas. It was noncontroversial. It was happy, fun, light, mothers-at-home, and "Relate to them, Rosie, in the best way that you can." To me, it didn't mean hiding my sexuality, but it also did not mean flaunting my sexuality. I never once said, "Well, my boyfriend and I went last night to the premiere." I would sit at the Emmys next to Kelli. I just lived as though everyone knew it.

In addition to Lofton and Croteau, I've always felt that something very personal kicked in and made you say, "I can't do this anymore. I want out. It's my turn at bat." I turned 40. I outlived my mother.

Ah, OK... My mother died at 39. At 39, I was in the hospital with a staph infection. They were going to amputate my finger or my wrist. It's the middle finger; I'm the middle of five children. I don't think it's by accident. And I felt that God was saying to me, I gave you what you thought you wanted, and I've shown you what you need. Where will you go? Toward what I need, or toward what I think I wanted?

And? Well, what I thought I wanted was salvation for free, because Barbra Streisand made me feel emotional and alive, and Bette Midler too. As a young person I would listen to them and the emotions sung in Pippin and the feelings from West Side Story, and that was the only outlet I had to express all the stuff inside me. And I thought that by becoming like them I would feel what they made me feel as a child, constantly.

But it didn't work, did it? No, that was a misunderstanding on my part. It was a 20-year journey. It took a life-threatening injury; it took Kelli sleeping on the floor in ICU. The fame took a toll on my friends and family, on those relationships that are most valuable and most important. Finally I had a shift in perspective, and I'm grateful for that. But when you let go of something, you make space for something else to be there. And what I have found I've been given as a result of the letting go--not just of the show but the magazine and the coming-out--are rewards that I can't even begin to explain.

Try. When I went to opening night at Hairspray and I heard those words and I saw those performances, I was sobbing like I couldn't believe. Because everything came together for me at once.

Because you're out? More vulnerable? Why were you sobbing? It had nothing to do with coming out. The sobbing had to do with the fact that this was the origin of my artistic essence: musical theater. It was the reason I became a performer. It was always Oklahoma! and West Side Story and every musical my mother loved that we would sit and watch on TV together. It was musicals that made me become a performer, and when I saw Barbra onstage, I thought to myself, Well, I love her, and look what she's giving me! But I don't know where you go to do that. Hollywood was a vague and elusive concept. When I came to see Clams on the Half Shell in 1974, I stood at the stage door and watched the woman I had just seen perform miracles [Bette Midler] walk out of the door sweating with a towel on her head, stopping to sign my autograph--I was 11 years old. I knew there was a place to go where I could do what I felt inside of me. And that was Broadway.

So you came full circle? Yes, to be there that night, to have let go of everything, to have it be my first public appearance after my press conference with the magazine, to have that be the first thing that I did. I felt that, again, nothing happens by chance.

So many changes! You were the "Queen of Nice," and now you've become-- The devil incarnate. Right, but here's the thing: If you agree to being sanctified, you need to agree to be vilified.

But did you agree to being this television goody-goody? I never thought I was the "Queen of Nice." In fact, when that came out I remember saying "You know what? Next year it's gonna be the 'Queen of Lice' and then the 'Queen of Fried Rice.'" But at the time that I came on the air, the number 1 show was Jerry Springer. People were beating each other up; guests were killing each other. Compared to that, I was the "Queen of Nice." But in actuality, watch my HBO special. My art form is not based in kindness; it's based in rage.

I'm glad to hear this from you. I always got that from your comedy.But you have to find a way to translate that in your art, as every artist does, so that the message is heard.

What about AIDS activism? Now I understand the rage in ACT UP; I understand it was righteous anger. When your hand is forced, you don't have a choice. But I don't think that going into St. Patrick's Cathedral--those kinds of overt acts of hostility--are going to be productive for anyone.

Was it frustrating for you when certain huge incidents happened to the gay community, like Matthew Shepard or Brandon Teena being murdered, and you couldn't join the protests? Well, I know all of those stories because of your magazine. But I'll tell you why I didn't feel the need to attend the vigils for Matthew Shepard--his death was horrific; it is the worst in us, but that doesn't mean gay people should only stand up when it's a gay person murdered. It also means when a man is dragged to death because he's black in Texas--it means all injustices.

Of course, but the problem with hate-crime laws is that while they cover James Byrd's atrocious death, most states refuse to add gays to their list of those protected by law from hate crimes. Oh, true, I agree.

Did people ask you to come to any of the vigils or marches? When Ellen [DeGeneres] called me and said, did I want to go to the vigil--and I love Ellen, and I've known her many, many, many years--I said no. And she said, "Why?" and I said, "Because you didn't call me to go to James Byrd's. And if you had called me to go to James Byrd's, I might've gone with you to Matthew Shepard's." That's my philosophy.

Judy Shepard told me she had spoken to you about Matthew early on. I was in an elevator with Judy Shepard right before I hosted the Grammys four years ago. I got on an elevator with her, and she looked familiar, and I said, "Are you Ryan White's mother?"

Close... She was in my Filofax somewhere. And she said, "No, I'm Matthew Shepard's mother." And I was like [gasps], "Could you come with me to my room? I would love to talk to you." And she said yes, and I talked to her and I told her about myself being gay and what a horrible thing had happened to her son and how I felt the presence of God in her husband's speech. That speech changed the world because he came from compassion and love. He said that his son would not want the boys to die. And there are moments like when I heard his speech on the radio, where I have to pull off the road because I am crying too much to drive the car. And what I say in those moments is "Thank you, God." We need this compassion and godliness in each other.

Don't people treat you with compassion? The gay community needs to stop pointing fingers at their brothers and sisters and saying "Not gay enough." It's not as though gay people didn't know I was gay; it was the people in Iowa.

Yes, but the people in Iowa need to know. But look, I'm sitting on a plane and the flight attendant goes, "Hi, Rosie--oh, my God, my partner's name is Frank, and I just love you, love your show." I'm sitting next to Kelli, and we both wear matching rings--it's pretty obvious to everyone who's gay.

Yes, of course a gay flight attendant would know, Rosie. OK, OK.

Everything has changed for you now, Rosie. And it's like being on the space shuttle. I was in intense fame for six years. When astronauts come down from being in space, they have to go to a decompression chamber. They need to have therapy and hear someone say "I know you keep saying, 'Oh, my God, I walked on the moon.' But you're back on Earth now--shift!" They have professionals to help them do that.

Don't you? There's no one to help you do that when you let go of fame the way I did. Also, society likes to think what I thought, which is, It's better over there. And when somebody "over there" says "You know what? It isn't, and I'm coming back to where you are," it changes everyone's belief system. It forces them to look again at their own values in life.

Just like you had to? Yes, and that's a gift. It's a gift that I got by being sick enough and trusting enough and having the most amazing, heart-opening experience with the children in my life. These kids came in and broke the cement around my heart and made a space for Kelli to enter. And what has grown as a result is an unbelievably beautiful garden. And the stuff that I won't do anymore is pretend.

You were pretending before? It's part of why the magazine situation came apart. I finally said no. I can't pretend. I didn't [tell G+J I would] want it to be a militant magazine--I just wanted it to be me. If I tell Christopher Reeve "You're on the cover," he should end up on the cover. He shouldn't get cut down to a book excerpt. His life shouldn't get reduced to the headline "My Adventures in Scientology" because Scientology will sell. That is not all right with me.

I can't believe this happened to you too. I had to cancel an Advocate cover with Christopher Reeve when he directed In the Gloaming. Someone above me thought our readers would think we were equating homosexuality with disabilities. A-a-ahhh! So you know what I'm saying! It was just ridiculous. I was on a roller-coaster ride and I kept thinking, It's gonna get real soon. And when I got off the ride, I said to the ticket guy, "Oh, my God, you're not gonna believe what just happened to me." And he said, "Yeah, I know, everybody says that when they get off."

So it's a big relief after being bound up... The best part about coming out was the weekend after. I went to the mall, and people nodded at me, they winked at me and gave me the thumbs-up, but they did not come over to me when I was with my children. That is a profound change. It was as if by saying "I am gay too--I am what you believe and also this," it forced them to see me as a real, full person; three-dimensional. When they see me with Kelli, they know: "Wow, that is who she has chosen. She loves that person." When they see me with my children, they say, "There's a mother with her children," and that moment is more real than the image of Rosie. And it took me a long time to find it out.

The gay community--whatever that is--has been...? Right--on the whole, aside from those few I call the gay Nazis--has been unbelievably supportive of me.

I think I remember that when Ellen DeGeneres came out, you were critical of the circus that went on around her [and Anne Heche]. Well, I knew she was gonna come out because she had told me for a long time. She came on my show, and we did the "Lebanese thing"; I wanted to go there because I wanted people who were smart enough to get it to hear what I was saying: I'm one of you. That's why I did that.

Yes, and the people who knew about both of you, knew. And those watching the show who didn't know, still didn't know. I've been friends with Ellen for 15 years. I like her a lot. I've known Ellen through many partners, and she has known me through many partners. When you think you find the person for your whole life and you're gonna announce it to the world, you'd better be sure.

Well, that was a pretty devastating event for her. For everyone. For everyone.

And the fact that Melissa and Julie blew up at the same time was unbelievable. Right.

But again, now that this media circus has happened to you, do you feel more understanding-- Empathy, yes. But I don't think the same thing happened to me that happened to Ellen. I made a decision to speak up against an unjust law in Florida because I was victimized by that law. Now, all of this stuff that's happened to Rosie the magazine, that's something else. They decided it was no longer gonna have my personality--it was gonna have someone else's. All the huge media came over that. I don't think it's because of the gay thing.

How can you separate any of it? Let me tell you why: We didn't lose one corporate sponsor when I came out on my TV show. We didn't lose one page of advertising in the magazine. It was only after the magazine, people started saying, "She's crazy--look at her, she's changed."

Have you changed? I had a meeting with Warner Bros. eight years ago, at the age of 32, before starting the show, and said, "Before you invest money in the show, I want you to know I'm gay, and I want you to be OK with the fact that I'm gay. Because what would be really bad for me would be if the show is successful and I become tabloid fodder like Oprah, and they put that I'm gay on a tabloid cover and you are horrified--then I don't wanna take this job. So I want to be up-front in the beginning." I said the same thing at G+J. "You realize I am doing the ACLU lawsuit with the Loftons? You realize I am a lesbian and letting go of my show? You realize I want social issues? You realize I am not about beauty and facade? Do you realize this?" "Yes, we realize this."

When did you say this? At the very beginning. Before we signed the contract. That's why I said to them, "Do you realize that if you do this, I will quit the magazine? It will cost you millions of dollars and will drag your name through the mud. You cannot have my name--I worked 20 years to find it. You do not get to say what it means."

Your name is all you've got. Yeah! So I don't believe what happened to Ellen is what happened to me. I think if I went to the White House like she did, a press dinner at the middle of this blitz with my arm around Kelli, maybe. I think if I had met Kelli three weeks before and then had a big announcement that we'd be together for our whole life, maybe.

Well, she was madly in love. Look, Judy, I was sure when I made this announcement about my family. I was sure this was my family forever. Maybe Ellen was sure of that too, but it felt to me a little haphazard to stand up for such a big issue so soon... I mean, you better be sure. I know that Ellen thought she was sure, and I know that Ellen is a good person.

You are a much bigger tabloid fave than Ellen's ever been. I have a great tabloid story; I haven't told it anywhere else. I take my son to the mall; bad timing for me, tabloidwise--the kid can now read. We're at Target, we're getting stuff, and Parker says, "Mommy, you're 300 'libs.'" I go, "Where do you see that?" "Right there--you're 300 'libs.'" I go, "Oh, honey, that means 'pounds.' Here's the thing--these magazines by the cash register, they've got a little bit of truth and a lot of lies. Let me explain it to you: Mommy is 200 'libs.' Some people think women should only be 100 'libs' and men should be 200 'libs' and nobody should be 300 'libs.'"

The next week we go back: "Mommy, are you gonna become a man?" "No. Mommy got a haircut, and some people think that people with short hair look like boys and people with long hair look like girls. I don't want to be a boy; I never wanted to be a boy. And there are some people who are born feeling that they were born in the wrong body and they want to change their body."

The next week he says, "Mommy, is our family breaking up?" I say, "No. That one, Parker, is a pure lie, and Mommy's going to call the man who wrote it and give him one chance to fix it and tell everyone the truth about our family." So on the cover of the Enquirer, there was a photo that I provided of me and Kelli and a story that says they lied and they made up the whole thing.

The psychology of the tabloids fascinates me. I guess it's a window into our society. I think America or society, myself included, likes to build people up and then see their falls--look what's happening to Martha Stewart; it's a sin.

You're supportive of her. It has nothing to do with anything other than the fact that she's a woman. And the fact that other women are standing in line to take her down is horrifically offensive to me.

With all the recent corporate scandals involving men-- Not only do men do it, they screw their employees out of their life savings. It's a sin what they're doing to Martha. If she is guilty of anything, it's answering a phone call from her broker. You know what the difference was between the day before that phone call and the day after? $42,000. [Yelling] She is worth billions.

Why don't you tell me how you really feel, Rosie. [Laughing] I have been muzzled for three months from the press. This is very freeing.

What is all this paint on your clothes? All of my clothes are covered with paint. You know why? For three months they've been telling me, "Don't talk to anyone." For three months the only outlet I have had artistically has been canvas. My studio has probably 3,000 canvases.

You paint? Yes. Because Kelli's been smart, saying to me, "Get in your craft room, honey." She won't let me read one piece of press. They rip up newspapers and magazines so I don't see the articles. Kelli said that if I read them, I would go ballistic. I would have a press conference that day and scream and yell.

Which you are trying not to do? Again, that anger is not the way to go.

Kelli just gave birth to a girl, Vivienne Rose, on November 29. We've done a lot of articles with lesbian mothers and their partners. What was it like for you not to be pregnant? I never wanted physically to have a baby. I don't know why; I never did. Any baby you hand me today will be mine in three minutes. I feel totally like Vivienne Rose is my baby when I feel her and I talk to her. I'll tell you this: Kelly has made me promise this will be our last child.

Is that what you want too? If it was up to me, I would have 10. I love it. I love the chaos of it; I love the insanity of finding a sneaker under the bed; I love them arguing over who's gonna get the prize out of a cereal box. And I never in my life--when I had my son and then my daughter--thought I would ever give up any part of that total ownership of their lives to anyone else. I was doing this by myself--regardless of who I was dating or sleeping with.

This was Parker and Chelsea? Yes. I was like, Your name's on nothing, whoever you are--no way, this is just me! This is my baby. Well, when I fell in love with her, I was like, Oh, my God, I cannot believe I am about to do this. We adopted a baby boy, Blake, together, and when she said she wanted to have a baby, I said, "Excellent." Kelli's an amazing parent; I totally coparent with her; I could not parent without her. She provides stability in a way that I don't.

Like how? Parker gets his first-grade homework: "There's a cow, a dog, a fish, and a chicken. Their names are Binky, Buddy, Sam, and Sue. The chicken likes Binky; Sue is the bunny"--what are the other two names? Now, I literally sat there with him for 20 minutes. And my brain--I never got loaded with that software--blanked, and I finally had to say, "OK, Parker, you're gonna have to wait until Kelli Mommy comes home, because I cannot solve this, even though it's a problem for 7-year-olds. Mommy Kelli's brain can do this in five seconds." But when he lost his first tooth, I helped him make a Lego tooth fairy bridge that the tooth fairy could climb up. I can do that.

Do you anticipate a difference in your family dynamic with your new baby? I do ask Kelli, "Do you think you are gonna feel different because you gave birth to this baby?" Kelli says she doesn't think so, but we'll know when it happens.

That's honest. All I know is that children are a blessing, always. And our job is to make them walk through life "with the grace of having once been cherished." That's a line I stole from Anne Rice. I realized, that is what we need to do to our children--cherish them. Children, to me, are the biggest lesson and gift you can get about yourself.

What do you think your biggest mistake has been? Not telling the people I love the most that I love them.

Why didn't you? Because I didn't grow up in a family that did. And my children and the people that I cherish the most are the ones I have to work hardest at expressing it to. You have to be carefully taught. My children have been taught. And that is my biggest accomplishment and also my biggest regret.

What's the regret? That I didn't get to live that as a child. I wasn't cherished.

What else besides children helps to heal you around all this? I feel like I've been in the spotlight, famewise, and what I would love to do is to frame other people's work. Tennessee Williams wrote an amazing essay called "The Catastrophe of Success." He wrote it after he wrote The Glass Menagerie, about how his life was ruined by the success of that play. He finally realized that he had to check out of the Four Seasons hotel and to go back to Mexico and live amongst real people. Then he'd be able to write his next play. So I kind of felt like, he went to Mexico, I went to Nyack.

I heard you're selling all your properties. Will you stay in New York? I plan on staying here--we're selling all our other residences that I had.

Kelli told me that her parents have become a close part of the family. Kelli was less open about her sexuality than I was--and I was on TV. When I met her, she said, "My mother and father won't ever accept this; they're very religious." When I knew that she was going to be the person for my whole life, I sat down with her mother and father: "I love her and this is my life partner, and I hope that you can get on board with it, because I would like for you to be part of our family." And Kelli was like, "You didn't say that to them!"

I bet they were relieved. You know what? I think so too, and they're here every month. They were in the hospital when I almost died last year. They have been parents and family to me unlike I have ever known. I didn't grow up in a traditional family. I didn't have a mom; I had a dad who was not really available to parent in many ways. And so now I'm seeing what that's like, and it's really, unbelievably soothing to me.

I know you're good friends with Madonna. I've always thought that you and Madonna are the same person... [Laughing] Yes, I think so too.

With different outsides. What do you think would happen if Rosie had Madonna's outside? I recognize that in her, and she me. When we first met--at a time when we were both on the roller coaster, looking for salvation--I was blessed to get to work with her, because I think God went, "Are you sure you want this [fame]? Take a look at what it does!" Madonna and I would walk down the street and people would run and scream at her; she has a thousand people outside her house right now. How can you live in that kind of distorted reality?

Can anyone, really? Well, she has found a way to do it. She has love from her family that is authentic and a spirituality that grounds her. And I have loved the chance to get to the level of intimacy that we now have, which is based in truth and reality and not in the fact that we both ran away from painful childhoods and dead mothers, the way we thought joy was found.

And yet that's the wound that will always be healing. She came into A League of Their Own, and everybody was so nervous when she arrived. I had seen Truth or Dare two days before--totally by chance. The first thing I said to her was: "My mother died when I was a kid, and I too am named after her. And on her gravestone is my name, and I saw your movie yesterday." And that was it. And there was no bullshit from that moment on. The way that we relate is different from the way I relate to anyone else. I have nothing but awe for the way that she's been able to get through what, few people know, is a tidal wave. It might seem like it's a nice, smooth ocean, but can I tell you somethin'? It's a tidal wave! And you've gotta fight just to keep your head above the surface.

I know you're bringing Boy George's musical Taboo to America... Yes. Boy George plays Leigh Bowery. I grew up loving George. He was one of the bravest gay entertainers there ever was. At the time he started I knew I was gay. He was 20, and I'm a year younger. As a young gay girl I remember him on talk shows answering the question "You're homosexual?" with "Well, I rarely have sex at home."

How do you get on with him? He is talented beyond words and, as a result, not easy. Not meaning mean--he's a kindhearted man--but I call him and he's like [imitating George's British accent], "Hello, darling, I'm in Shanghai!" "Great--listen, George, can you get on a plane and come to The Tonight Show with me?" "Oh, darling, I can't possibly fly east! I can only fly west until February, but much love to Kelli and the children."

Someone has to be the diva. He's in his own reality, which is why he's able to be as brilliant as he is. What I want to do as a producer of Taboo--along with Adam Kenwright--is make a beautiful frame and put the greatest light on it and go, "Everybody, come here. Don't be distracted by me--look there." I want to step back. That's why no one can find me right now, because I've had enough of me.

Are you aware of what your coming-out means to people? I see it in the eyes of people who have stopped me since I came out, and I get it. I have seen gay people come over to me and cry and tell me how proud they are of me that I was now a part of them. And what I always say is "Thank you--and just so you know, I was always a part of you." They knew.

No, they didn't. I guess they didn't. But Judy, to me, I thought, Of course they do.

Well, I can't argue with what you thought. Here's another thing, just to tell you a little bit about me. I was on a plane with Kelli, and I had my iPod on. They make that announcement: "Please turn off your electronic devices because they can interfere..." But I don't hear it because I have my iPod on. Kelli looks at me, and I'm grooving out to something. Later we get to the hotel, and she goes, "You know what? Honey, that was really rude." I said, "What was rude?" She said, "You didn't turn off your iPod." I said, "Why?" "Because they announced that it was interfering and because all those other people sitting on the plane within your vicinity thought you didn't care about them and that maybe the plane was gonna crash because you were too ignorant and self-obsessed to turn off your headphones."

Oh, dear! I felt horrified. I said, "In a million years I never would've thought that anybody was thinking that. What I thought was, Oh, my God, an iPod isn't gonna take down a 747." So of course I'm gonna keep on listening to my iPod. I didn't realize what other people were thinking.

It's the same with the gay thing. I mean, come on--I'm adopting kids, I never pretended to have a husband and/or a boyfriend. So I didn't understand that people really didn't know.

All those people across America who didn't want to know colluded with your silence. You know, there's a quote that says that society will be measured not only by the noise of the bad but by the silence of the good. And only recently did I realize, My silence was complacency. My silence did equal death in some ways. I only know now, having jumped off the bridge, what people are talking about. Because I was on the bridge with my headphones on, going [yelling], "What're you talking about? Kelli, why are you being mean to me? I wasn't being rude!" It's the same kind of thing. Now I go to her and say: "You have to know, honey, that I didn't know." She goes, "I know you didn't know--that's why I'm telling you. Wake up!" And I kept telling her, "I'm awake! I'm awake!" Well, you know what? I'm not.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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Judy Wieder