by Blase DiStefano
OutSmart: In 1999 you played a lesbian in Tea with Mussolini. What was it like working with those wonderful women?
Lily Tomlin: Here you’ve got Cher, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, and Joan Plowright. As a teenager I was mad for Maggie. We were on location in these old villas. It wasn’t like the stage where they have people assisting them. So when we first got to Florence, I would be running around trying to get teacups so I could serve them. And I would even save their cigarette butts. Joan and Maggie were there first, and Judi came about two weeks later, and then we were all together, and Maggie would say, “Darling, don’t you want Judi’s cigarette butt?”
Cher was there for only about a month. [Most of] her scenes were shot in one city. They arranged it that way so she wouldn’t have to be there for three months. But Cher is so outrageous. At one point, she turns to me all of a sudden and says, “Doesn’t Maggie just scare the shit out of you?”
OutSmart: On to gay marriage . . . I must say I was appalled to learn you’re against it.
Joan Rivers: I don’t wanna give gifts. All my friends are gay. It’ll put me in the poor house. Nonono-nono. I’m very vocal about it. And my friends would expect good gifts. If all my friends got married, do you know how much that would set me back? God. And then they’ll have children. I’ll have to buy those little stinkers gifts. It goes on. Then they get a second home. And then the divorce. And which one are you going to stay with? It’s a nightmare.
Do you remember how you became aware of your gay following?
They were always there from the beginning, God bless ’em, because I started in Greenwich Village. And they were the smartest and the brightest and the ones who were willing to go out and listen to somebody before everybody else gets you. And they were always there—and still are. Whenever I walk out . . . if I walk out [at my Houston show], and there are 12 gay men in the front row, I’m home free.
You know we love you . . .
And it’s so mutual, darling.
OutSmart: Since you’ve started talking about your life as a gay man to the press, has that changed your fan base or brought out a different crowd to the conventions?
George Takei: I think a lot of a gay fan base was already there, so they just felt more comfortable discussing LGBT-related issues at conventions, but yes, I do think that has expanded my fan base. Certainly with my Facebook and my Tweets. I aim it at not just Star Trek fans but the geek community. They’re out now as proudly geek. And I deal with social issues, so issues-oriented people have connected, as well as humor-oriented people and animal-oriented people, so I’ve been increasing the support base, but the general core base is the sci-fi, geek community.
I read your autobigraphy, To the Stars, and when I came to the chapter about the [World War II] loyalty questionnaire, the title of the musical Allegiance made sense to me. So I’m guessing the plot hinges on this questionnaire and Question 28?
That’s right. That one question, but with two ideas: will you swear your loyalty to the United States of America and forswear your loyalty to the emperor of Japan? To an American, the assumption that we had an inborn existing loyalty to the emperor was outrageous and offensive. So if you answered no, meaning “I have no loyalty to the emperor to forswear,” you were answering “no” to the first part as well. If you answered yes, meaning “yes, I do swear my loyalty to the United States of America,” then you were fessing up that you had been loyal to the emperor, thus justifying the internment. It was a no-win question. And this after a year of imprisonment, and after having lost everything. My father used to say, “They took my business, they took our home, they took our freedom. The one thing I will not do is grovel before this government.” So yes, that is where the title, Allegiance, comes from.
OutSmart: There was one song that was especially beautiful. You sang about people who you’ve lost.
Cyndi Lauper: “Say a Prayer.”
It really got to me, ’cause I’ve had a lot of friends . . .
Yeah, I have too. I wrote that because my best friend was really ill. That was before the cocktails came out. Still, everybody struggles, but the cocktails have made it easier. And then there are people who are still trying to find out which ones don’t work. And that’s been really tough for a few of my friends. I’ve been really excited about my buddies, but when I wrote that song, I had just come back from his house. I love this person very much and he wasn’t doing good, and it was the first time I really had to like consider what was going on. I was in denial and I’m still in denial, because some people are made of very strong stock and not everybody dies from the plague. But it was really tough. And someone else I really loved was on the phone just complaining, and he’s healthy—I said, “There are people struggling every day just to live, and you’re weaving all kinds of problems here.”
OutSmart: Does it matter that Sophia is played by an actual trans person?
Laverne Cox: The fact that they wanted to hire someone who is actually trans for the role [in Orange Is the New Black] is really fantastic. Trans actors should be able to work in the business. It’s made such a difference for the viewers to see a trans person in their homes. It think it worked out pretty well. The world hasn’t ended because a trans person is playing a trans person. It’s quite the opposite.
If you could go back at any point in your path, would you give yourself any advice? Would you change anything?
I wouldn’t change a thing, and that’s real. I try not to frame anything I do as a mistake. I try to frame it as a lesson. If I would give my younger self some advice, I’d say, “Don’t be so hard on yourself. You are lovely and smart and beautiful, and don’t say those things about yourself, because they’re not true.” I internalized the voices of my bullies and took them on as my own voice. Everything has happened to get me to this place. Non, je ne regrette rien, as Edith Piaf would say.
I can’t think of a black trans woman who has had this kind of platform, so I’m going to say what I get to say for as long as people let me say it. And then I’m going to keep saying it. In reality, I’ve been saying it for years, and only now are people noticing.
OutSmart: You know your muscled, buff figure propelled you into the eyes of gay men. I mean, here was this really handsome guy who, unlike most rockers of the day, was built like a brick shithouse. When did you first realize that gay guys started looking at you . . . how can I say this . . . differently?
Henry Rollins: Actually when I was about 16. I worked in Washington DC—it’s a very gay town. I had men hitting on me all through high school at different jobs I had. It never bothered me. I know how men are—we are always looking to get something going. It was never a big deal. Through the music tours, there were men who hit on me, sent letters, etc., but it was never a thing for me.
Homosexuality is not the kind of thing that bothers me.
Your stance on gay rights caused a lot of speculation on your own sexuality. I get it that pundits and some of the public would speculate, but did you ever get any flack from your own world? Musicians? Artists? Did any of your friends ask, “Henry, is there something you want to tell us?”
Not really. I think in the mid ’90s some guy “outed” me at some club in New York. That lead to some questions, but I have always been “straight,” and it was never much of an issue. If I were gay, I would have said so. Someone’s sexuality is really not an issue to me. Too bad it seems to be so threatening to so many with the “God hates fags” thing and all the rest.
OutSmart: You grew up in the South, in the Bible Belt. How did that influence you?
Leslie Jordan: There’s a line that my friend Del Shores [creator of Sordid Lives] uses that’s so poignant: we learn to hate ourselves in a church pew. Until you’ve gone through that—sat in a Baptist church in the 1960s—you can’t understand. There was so much shame over who I was. I’ve been baptized 14 times because I just didn’t think it ever took. I started drinking and doing drugs when I was 14 because that was my way of dealing with being gay—it was a lot easier when I was loaded. When I finally got sober at 42, I was riddled with internal homophobia. What it finally took was me getting rid of all that I learned growing up.
What role are you most proud of?
Probably my involvement with Will & Grace [for which Jordan won an Emmy]. I just think that show was so important. I’ve always thought there were two ways to combat homophobia. One was to be funny. I’ve always used that even as a kid who got bullied. And the other way is to put a face to what people fear. Many Americans allowed gay characters into their homes for the first time with Will & Grace. Today, I really believe the tide has turned on gay rights. But we have to keep it going. I tell kids all the time, it’s so important that you vote. When I finally got sober at 42, I had never registered to vote, and I’m not proud of that. I was in the bars seven nights a week. Who could get to a voting booth? I couldn’t even get out of my bedroom. I was a mess, honey.
OutSmart: So you’ve got a new tour coming up. Excited?
Wanda Sykes: Very! Very. You know, it all started with standup for me, so that’s my first love, and I still get a kick out of it. Just being there live, with the audience. It’s still the hardest thing, but it gives me the most joy.
That’s a beautiful sentiment. But let’s cut through the crap. Did you miss it that much, or did any part of you think, “Shit, I’ve got two college tuitions to pay for soon”?
Exactly. You’re right. That’s it. You know, I don’t know if you can tell by baby teeth, but they look a little jacked up to me, so there might be a big dentist bill ahead of me, too.
Christian groups and individuals heavily criticized Griffin for her Emmy acceptance speech in 2008, where she said, “A lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus. He didn’t help me a bit. . . . So all I can say is ‘Suck it, Jesus. This award is my god now.’”
OutSmart: When I interviewed you again in 2005 you said you were a complete militant atheist, and that got OutSmart on CNN.
Kathy Griffin: Ooooooh!
So is there something you can tell me that could get us national coverage again?
Let’s make up something that’s really revealing. Let’s say that I reveal in my new book that I’m lovers with Kate Gosselin from Jon & Kate Plus 8. Because I think the lesbians will like that as well as the boy gays. It’s very topical. And then you guys can break that story.
Part of the problem is that this interview isn’t going to run until October.
Okay, so we have to try to anticipate who I can be in an affair with in October. Whoo! Are there any Kardashians left? We could say I’m banging one of the Kardashians. . . . Oh, we could also say that I’m sleeping with Bruce Jenner and that I think he’s actually had more face work than I have. So that’s got to be better for him than his Olympic gold medal.
OutSmart: About 20 or 25 years ago The Advocate asked how you would feel if you were in a lesbian relationship, and you said, “Gee, I don’t have any objection to it, except that I don’t have the time to have but one good f–k a week with a man.”
Shirley McLaine: That’s right. [Laughs]
Would I be correct in assuming that you’ve been a lesbian in a past life and a gay man and a bisexual and a transgender?
Oh, yes. I think we’ve all had so many lifetimes that we’re bound to have traipsed the sexual landscape, the gender landscape. And maybe these people that are so homophobic had really bad experiences before, or maybe a man is homophobic because he was a woman who was trampled upon before. That’s why we have got to start looking at this whole idea of how much energy is left in our soul memory that is dictating how we feel today.
Fran Drescher was married to Peter Marc Jacobson. He came out, and they are now best friends.
OutSmart: You were born in Queens, right?
Fran Drescher: Yes, I was born in Queens.
Did you know any queens growing up in Queens?
[Laughs] You know, I probably wouldn’t know if I did, so I’m going to say no. Does Peter count, because he was my high school sweetheart? [Both laugh]
I was doomed from the beginning—I remember when I was very young, I had a crush on [now openly gay] Johnny Mathis. [Both laugh] So, you know, the handwriting was on the wall.
OutSmart: For a lot of LGBT folks, “All-American Boy” is instantly relatable because everyone has had the experience of being attracted to or falling in love with someone straight or unattainable. How personal is that experience for you?
Steve Grand: We’ve all been there, and I mean gay, straight, bi—whoever you are. We’ve all fallen for someone that we can’t have, but it especially rings true in the specific story for LGBT people. It is the story of my life since I was 13. I was always crushing on the straight guy. I think it’s always been there because I grew up in a place where gay people weren’t visible. I was always crushing on my best friends. I think that’s the case, probably, for a lot of us. The song isn’t about anyone specific. It’s the accumulation of experiences. . . . I think all of that was influenced by everything I’ve been through, growing up and having this happen to me over and over again.
What kind of advice would you offer in that situation?
[Laughs] Hold on and don’t make yourself f–king crazy. It’s tough, but it’s going to happen. It’s a part of life. Unless you’re in a world that’s exclusively gay, which I think few of us are, it’s going to happen. I think there’s a great power in being able to express it. I
needed to get the song off my chest, because I feel like that’s how I reconciled how I felt. I think it has helped people. I’ve read their messages saying “Thank you for telling my story,” and then they tell me what happened to them with their guys. I try to play therapist. [Laughs] As a songwriter and performer, you get to play a lot of different roles that I’m in various stages of being ready for.
OutSmart: So it sounds like the best way to help our oppressed LGBT brothers and sisters in Africa is to be sure they have clean water and medicine, and meet their basic needs.
Bishop Gene Robinson: And not to be reticent to let them know that some of the people who are helping them are gay Christians. The fact of the matter is that the reason we are where we are in America right now is that so many of us have come out. Now that people know us, they are unwilling to believe the awful things that have traditionally been said about us. So that needs to be replicated on a worldwide scale so that people come to know us, are in relationship with us, and then they come to know that some of us are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. And just as it has changed everything in America, I think it will change the world.
OutSmart: I love the story about the straight cab driver who kept pressuring you to discuss your sex life and hook up with lesbians.
David Sedaris: It’s my belief that all men know that cab driver. I was in Toronto and I went to a barber shop and I got my hair cut, and the guy, who was Italian, asked me where I live, and I said I live in France, and he said, “Do you get a lot of pussy in France? Do you get a lot of French pussy?” Does that ever happen to you? It’ll be a barber or a cab driver and part of me is like, Can’t you tell I’m gay?
I think you should get into cabs wearing a bib that instead of a picture of a lobster has a picture of a penis.
[Laughs] That’s a good one.
You have homes in London and France, where same-sex civil unions exist. Have you been keeping an eye on the gay
marriage struggle here in the USA?
I guess it’s one of those things where when people oppose it, I don’t understand what they’re talking about. I watched this Chris Rock concert, and he was talking about how people say gay marriage threatens the sanctity of straight marriage but Michael Jackson got married. There are shows like I Want to Marry a Millionaire. How sacred can it be? It’s just something I don’t understand the opposition to. I don’t understand how, if two lesbians want to exchange bad poetry on a mountaintop, that would threaten the marriage of the people who grew up next door to me in North Carolina. I don’t get it.
by Nancy Ford
OutSmart: You had a lot to lose [by coming out].
Chely Wright: I had a lot to lose. I had social ridicule that I just thought I couldn’t handle. I had family ridicule. Cultural ridicule. I didn’t want to lose my job. You know, people sometimes forget that singing is how I eat. That’s how I pay for my electricity. It’s not my hobby. It’s not model planes in the park on the weekends. This is how I make my living. And so I reached my tipping point when I had a gun in my mouth.
Absolutely chilling. And it happens every day.
It happens every day, and that’s the crisis. So my balance sheet tipped over on itself. I found myself on my knees praying to God, but praying a different prayer. My prayer had always been, “Help me navigate these waters and keep my secret and find a way to make it all work and have my career and my secret and my partner.” It was always that prayer.
When I reached my tipping point, and my prayer was, “Give me a moment’s peace,” I didn’t care anymore about the property and the real estate and the financial portfolio I had acquired. I am telling you, had somebody said, “I will give you peace, and empty your bank account,” I would have said “Take it.” In fact, that’s exactly what I did.
OutSmart: You recently recorded “Blessing,” which benefits The Trevor Project and the Hetrick-Martin Institute. Could you tell us more about those charities and why you choose to support them?
Cheyenne Jackson: I became an ambassador for HMI last year after going to an event and being moved to take some action. I contacted them and subsequently spent some time touring the facility and the Harvey Milk High School, meeting the kids and the staff who work there—inspiring doesn’t even begin to cover it. They are a haven for the young GLBT community who have nowhere to go—some homeless, some kicked out of their homes because their parents found out they are gay. I highly recommend reaching out to them and see what you can do to help. It will change your life. I’ve done some work with the Trevor Project in the past and, again, what these folks do for GLBT youth is astonishing. The testimonials from the workers of the 24-hour suicide prevention line will break your heart and open your mind.