Girl Talk With Ilene Chaiken

https://youtu.be/fvQmUs6WKvA
Chaiken counted singer Ronee Blakely among her first two celebrity crushes. This song’s called “I Need A New Sun.”

AB: Let’s talk about your childhood. Where did you grow up?

IC: I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

AB: And would you describe your childhood as a happy one?

IC: Is there any such thing?

AB: I don’t know. You tell me.

IC: I’m not going to make any broad generalizations, because I’ve actually met people who have had a happy childhood and it’s not my place to doubt them. I wouldn’t describe my childhood as happy. It wasn’t tragic, but no, it wasn’t a happy childhood. It was reasonably secure.

AB: I imagine like many gay people, you spent your childhood confused and alienated.

IC: I think that was a part of it. I’m sure some of the feelings of alienation had to do with being gay and not knowing. But there are all types of other reasons for feeling alienated.

AB: Who was your first celebrity crush? Do you remember?

IC: It was one of two people, I can’t remember which came first – Lauren Hutton – I had a really big time Lauren Hutton crush – and an actress-singer-songwriter called Ronee Blakely, which was a much weirder crush because she wasn’t anybody that too many people even knew. I saw her in Nashville – it wasn’t a youthful crush, it must have been a college crush – but for some reason I developed a massive, massive crush on her. I started finding out where she was singing and going to all her concerts. I went to RISD and I remember she was playing in Newport Beach, Rhode Island, and I dragged some boy I was dating out to see her.

AB: I take it that relationship didn’t end well!

IC: That relationship never even began! He was just a guy who would do what I wanted him to do!

AB: [Laughs] How old were you when you came out?

IC: I came out when I was twenty-four. I vaguely started coming out a little before that, but I went all through college not out and not dealing with it apart from major crushes.

AB: What spurred you to finally come out?

IC: Misery.

AB: That’s a big motivator.

IC: Misery and attraction – that ineluctable thing that makes you do the thing that terrifies you because you can’t stay away from it anymore.

AB: It was terrifying for you to come out to your parents?

IC: I didn’t come out to my parents until I was in a relationship.

AB: Were they supportive?

IC: Uh, no. Not to begin with. We had a long period of discord and a slow evolution of acceptance. You know, my parents are liberal Jews, they’re life long Democrats with reasonably progressive ideas, but they still weren’t prepared to have a gay kid and they were pretty upset about it and they said all the wrong things and some vile things. Over the course of time, they became a little more accepting, but the thing that made them fully accepting was having grandchildren.

AB: How do your parents feel about your career trajectory?

IC: They’re mystified by it – and delighted.

AB: Do they watch The L-Word?

IC: And they watch The L-Word! They now live in Tuscon – I grew up in Philadelphia, but for some reason my parents moved to Tuscon, but they found their community, they have their friends and a real community and they all watch The L-Word together and talk about it.

AB: That’s so cute.

IC: Cute and horrifying!