dark lady

Cassandra Peterson, the gay icon that came out as part of the family

This profile is part of Queerty’s 2021 Out For Good series, recognizing public figures who’ve had the courage to come out and make a difference in the past year, in celebration of National Coming Out Day on October 11.

Name: Cassandra Peterson, 70

Bio: Kansas-born Peterson always seemed destined for show business. At age 17, she ran off to Las Vegas to become a showgirl. Bit parts in movies and modeling gigs followed before Peterson moved to Los Angeles to work with the famed comedy troupe The Groundlings. In 1981, what seemed like a minor job turned out to be her big break: local LA TV station KJH-TV invited Peterson to join the station hosting late-night horror movies in character as a sort of “Valley Girl” she’d performed with the Groundlings. Peterson overhauled the character to become Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, a buxom, boy crazed, goth girl who loved watching horror films…no matter how bad.

The Elvira character struck an immediate chord with audiences, and brands rushed to secure Elvira as a spokesperson of sorts. Even after Elvira’s Movie Macabre ended in 1986, Peterson continued to find work in character promoting consumer products, doing guest spots on TV shows and even landing a movie vehicle, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. Over the course of her 40-year career as Elvira, Peterson has also championed the queer community, raising money for AIDS charities, and citing the influence of drag queens on the Elvira character.

Coming Out: Peterson shocked the world with the release of her 2021 memoir Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the DarkIn the book, Peterson detailed her career in showbiz, as well as that she’s enjoyed a 19-year relationship with a woman, Teresa “T” Wierson, who also works as her assistant. Peterson further explained that while she felt no shame over the relationship, she feared that coming out would harm the Elvira brand. At age 70 and with the release of her memoir, Peterson felt she no longer needed to hide.

“Keeping a secret doesn’t feel good,” Peterson told The Orange County Register. “I’m glad to have it out there. I mean, it does worry me. I have moments where I go, ‘Maybe people won’t like me anymore’ and ‘Maybe I won’t get work anymore.’ It’s ridiculous to think that, but I have friends who are gay and have come out of the closet and it affected their work, relationships and their life. So it’s not so far-fetched to be worried. But on the other side of that, it’s so draining keeping it a secret. It’s not good for you, it’s not good for us. It sucks the energy out of you.”

Chosen Family: Elvira–and Cassandra Peterson–have always had a special relationship with the LGBTQ community, both for her allyship and for her campy humor. Knowing that she’s actually part of the community only enhances the love. For Peterson, coming out and acknowledging her relationship only enhanced love as well–a love for her partner, and love for herself.

“For the first time in my life, I’m with someone who makes me feel safe, blessed, and truly loved,” she writes in her book.

Somehow, we feel blessed too knowing that we have Peterson in our queer family.