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Voices

In my so-called
life

In my so-called
life

Dooley

When my mother, Winnie Holzman, was receiving critical acclaim for writing about gay teenagers, I had no idea that I would someday be one of them. In 1994 her creation My So-called Life first aired on television and became a cult hit about teenagers. Among the angsty ensemble was Rickie, one of the first and most influential gay teen characters on TV (played by out gay actor Wilson Cruz). Living in Los Angeles with two parents in show business, I knew what being gay meant from an early age. But seeing the character of Rickie helped shape my views about homosexuality. I remember my mom getting tons of fan mail from gay teens and adults saying she changed their lives. I was 9 years old. It would be seven more years before I would identify as a gay teenager myself.

My So-called Life ended, and my mom began working on a new series, Once and Again. In the third season one of the main female characters, 14-year-old Jessie, fell in love with a girl. I was 16, and by the time the episode aired, the same fate had befallen me. I related deeply to that story. It's rare to see a gay character on TV who isn't established as gay from the very beginning. That was how I experienced my own sexuality: It took a catalyst for me to realize who I really was.

When I told my mom, she was very understanding while secretly worrying that my life would be hard. She said that writing the Once and Again scripts prepared her emotionally for my coming-out. It helped her to get inside the characters' mind-sets--not just Jessie's but also Lily's, the liberal mother who is unexpectedly distraught when she suspects her daughter may be a lesbian.

My mother and I bond through our writing. She often approaches me to read drafts, and we share ideas and advice. We are very similar writers; I became even more involved in my mother's writing when she moved on from Once and Again to write the book for Wicked, the Broadway musical based on the life of Oz's Wicked Witch of the West. It is rich with her trademarks: a story about an outsider, fully realized characters, and some subversive political commentary. Since coming out I've grown to appreciate my mother's work on a new and deeply personal level. Once I started living as a queer, I became keenly aware of every badly written film and TV show aimed at gays.

I'm grateful to have a mom who is changing that. As with her gay characters, my mother has never pushed cliches or labels on me. Instead, she appreciates me as a human being, a daughter, and a fellow artist. Now, as Wicked has its run in our hometown of Los Angeles, I am prouder of her than I've ever been.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

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Savannah Dooley