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How Wayne Brady found the courage to come out: 'I finally dealt with all those demons'

Wayne Bradt
Britt Carpenter

The Emmy-winning star of The Wiz opens up about how family support and finding self-love allowed him to come out as pansexual at 50.

“He went to grab a coffee, so he should be right back,” the stage door attendant of the Marquis Theatre in Times Square said. And before I could respond, the door flew open, and with a gust of wind and rain from the monsoon jettisoning, Wayne Brady stepped in, right on time for our meeting.

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Brady, along with that coffee and being wet from the monsoon, was carrying two bags from the legendary Max Brenner chocolate shop nearby. He pulled a beautifully wrapped package out of one, and said to the attendant, “This is for you.” He pulled out another box. “And these are for your kids.” The attendant was overwhelmed.

Polono Micho Royal purple overcoat with gold embroidery and pin; Emporio Armani beige viscose shirt with jacquard floral motif, beige ASV super-light sustainable virgin-wool trousers; Aamo gold collar necklace; Donzella gold Artwill chainlink necklace; Sunni Sunni whiskey color leather Lonel mule (Photo by Britt Carpenter)

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by Brady, particularly by the love he exudes. It’s evident, not only by those chocolate presents, but in the intense emotion behind his voice, the gregariousness of his always open arms, and in the words of fulfillment that pour out of him like a pouring rain.

Part of those outbursts might stem from the quick thinking Brady’s known for as an improvisationalist. His career really began to take off with the hit series Whose Line is it Anyway?, over 20 years ago. Early on, in 2003, Brady won his first Emmy for his work on the show. It would be the first of five Emmys he has won, including two for his talk show, also in the early 2000s, and two as the long-time host of the rebooted Let’s Make a Deal.

Brady has been on television, in one capacity or another, since 1996. He has also appeared as Billy Flynn on Broadway in Chicago and replaced Billy Porter as the lead in Kinky Boots. In 2020, Brady won a special innovation Tony Award for his collaboration with Lin-Manuel Miranda on a unique hip-hop, improv comedy, Freestyle Love Supreme.

Paul Smith multi-color oversized 'Life Drawing' print cotton trench coat (right) and viscose-linen shirt; black 'A Suit To Travel In' slim fit drawstring-waist wool pants; Mad as Hell People burgundy-metallic Blockbuster, gender-neutral boots; Koromo jewelry; Romeo Hunte tan trench coat with train (left); Gigi Burris aabaster Willem NYC felt baseball cap (left). (Photo by Britt Carpenter)

Currently, Brady is starring on Broadway in the revival of The Wiz, as The Wiz, a role the legendary André De Shields originated exactly 50 years ago. Brady is also premiering a new reality series this summer, Wayne Brady: The Family Remix, on Freeform and Hulu. It’s a peek inside of his life, along with his best friend, business partner, soulmate, and ex-wife Mandie Taketa, her life partner Jason Michael Fordham, and Brady and Taketa’s daughter, Maile.

Part of what viewers may learn from watching the series is what it’s like to be pansexual; Brady made news last year when he came out as such. Undoubtedly, the revelations sent many to Google searching for a definition. And for those who do know the meaning of pansexual, the first question Brady usually gets is, “Why not just say you’re bisexual?”

“For me, the term is too limiting,” Brady says. “Why do I have to choose this or that? What if I love someone who is nonbinary or a trans woman or man? I don’t have to apologize for any of that. And this is the first time in my life that I feel okay with that. So if you have a problem with that term, or you don’t understand it, I can’t help you.”

When he turned 50 last year, the eternally youthful Brady finally reached a point where he was happy with himself. The age was also several years past his willed expiration date. “My father passed away when he was in his early 40s, and the day he died, I went, ‘Oh, I’m gonna die at that age too.’ You couldn’t tell me that wasn’t going to happen, so I kept it so close to my chest, and then threw myself into my career. But you can’t keep that pace up for long, because the wheels eventually come off.”

And they did for Brady. His father had mental health issues, and when Brady turned 40, faced with what he believed was his imminent demise and other issues that lie behind a facade of “having it together,” it all came crashing down. Brady reached that “point” that anyone who has suffered from depression has experienced.

Emporio Armani black single-breasted overcoat and double-breasted tuxedo jacket in compact virgin wool gabardine with ginkgo embroidery and cut-outs; black pleated trouser in natural stretch tropical light wool; Sunni Sunni Black leather Lonel mule with broken chains (Photo by Britt Carpenter)

“I dropped Maile off for a school trip one morning, and when I got home, I locked my bedroom door, and sobbed uncontrollably. I didn’t know why I was crying that hard. I had never cried like that before. I was 40. I felt lonely, and that no one would ever want to be with me. There was a moment when I thought the world would be better off without me.”

That’s when Mandie, Brady’s ex-wife, who was happily partnered at the time, stepped in to help her best friend. “I’m here, thank God because of Mandie. She forced me into therapy, helped me deal with so many unresolved issues, and kept me constantly under her watchful eye. It was a lot of work, over a lot of time, but I finally dealt with all those demons.”

Related: 15 pansexual icons to celebrate every day

One of those demons was his suppressed sexuality, and Mandie was the first person he told. “Growing up, there was so much hyper masculinity, particularly in the Black community, and I always felt like I had to play that character. So when it came to sexuality, I always knew that I love women, but then I’d question why I was attracted to a male. I’d never heard of somebody being bisexual. I didn’t know what that was, and so I fought against it.”

In high school, Brady lucked out by getting a gig working as a performer at Walt Disney World in Orlando, near where he grew up. He was surrounded by some cast members who were gay. “I had no problem hanging out with them, I felt happy, whether they were straight or gay, we were all like a family.” That is until one of his male co-workers complimented his physique.

“You have a great back,” Brady recalled. “And I freaked out.”

Polono Micho Royal purple overcoat with gold embroidery and pin; Emporio Armani beige viscose shirt with jacquard floral motif, beige ASV super-light sustainable virgin-wool trousers; Aamo gold collar necklace; Donzella gold Artwill chainlink necklace; Sunni Sunni whiskey color leather Lonel mule (Photo by Britt Carpenter)

Brady went to his high school drama teacher, Karen Rugerio, who remains close to him. “I began to tell her what happened, and I got the point where I was going to call him a f**, and she stopped me. She said something I’ll never forget. ‘How dare you say that as a young Black man. You’re gonna say this about somebody, and discriminate against them in this community? You don’t know what they’re going through. Don’t you ever, ever do that again.’ And I’ve lived by that advice till this day.”

“Part of this journey, and part of coming forward about my sexuality is because of what she said,” Brady affirms. “Rather than discriminate against someone because of who they love, or the color of their skin, if I can now help someone, even if it’s one person, going through a difficult time like I did, particularly with my sexuality, then this journey has been worth it.”

In the meantime, Brady has found unbridled contentment with his current work on stage. “I’m surrounded by love, not just here in the theater with the cast and crew, and with our audiences, but at home as well. I’m so grateful to be where I am.”

And Brady has a message for all those who question his pansexuality. “I read the conversations online after I came out, and there was so much love, love, love. And then there were those who said, ‘You liberals making up these terms, why don’t you just say you’re gay.’ There was a time when that might have bothered me, but not anymore. I feel so free now, and I’ve never been happier.”

Photographer: Britt Carpenter @brittcarpenterstudio

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John Casey

John Casey is senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. The columns include interviews with Sam Altman, Neil Patrick Harris, Ellen DeGeneres, Colman Domingo, Jennifer Coolidge, Kelly Ripa and Mark Counselos, Jamie Lee Curtis, Shirley MacLaine, Nancy Pelosi, Tony Fauci, Leon Panetta, John Brennan, and many others. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the Nobel Prize-winning UN IPCC, and with four of the largest retailers in the U.S.
John Casey is senior editor of The Advocate, writing columns about political, societal, and topical issues with leading newsmakers of the day. The columns include interviews with Sam Altman, Neil Patrick Harris, Ellen DeGeneres, Colman Domingo, Jennifer Coolidge, Kelly Ripa and Mark Counselos, Jamie Lee Curtis, Shirley MacLaine, Nancy Pelosi, Tony Fauci, Leon Panetta, John Brennan, and many others. John spent 30 years working as a PR professional on Capitol Hill, Hollywood, the Nobel Prize-winning UN IPCC, and with four of the largest retailers in the U.S.