When Melissa Etheridge came out as a lesbian in 1993, she was just a few months shy of releasing her fourth album, Yes I Am. With singles like “Come To My Window” and “I’m The Only One,” Yes I Am became her mainstream breakthrough, going six-times Platinum and earning her a handful of Grammy nods.
In other words, Etheridge was one of the most prominent, out LGBTQ celebrities at the time. So you just know she’s got some stories…
In a revealing new interview with The Daily Beast, the singer-songwriter opened up about this thrilling time in her life, one filled with raucous pool parties and just as many soul-baring conversations with closeted stars who turned to her for advice.
“They would always come and confess,” Etheridge shared. “I had people come to me and say, ‘I see you being out,’ and they would apologize to me because they were not out. I would say, ‘Look, it’s very personal. It’s totally up to you, you don’t have to explain anything to me.’ There were a lot, and some have since come out.”
One such star was Ricky Martin, whose solo career was beginning to take off internationally in the mid-to-late ’90s:
“Ricky Martin was concerned because he was a sex symbol. I was like, ‘Dude, it’s obvious you’re gay.’ It’s been wonderful to see all these people finally come into themselves.”
Among the other celebrities Etheridge says she “consulted” were Barry Manilow, Jodie Foster, and Ellen Degeneres—who famously came out in 1997 on her hit sitcom, Ellen.
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But not everyone Etheridge spoke with ultimately decided to come out. She shares that some chose to stay closeted, “shut that part of themselves off,” and even get married.
“It’s their choice, it’s always their choice, our choice. I would never out anyone. But to me, it just solidifies and tells me how good it is to come out, because one can see the difference between their lives and those of us who have come out and our happiness. Ultimately, your fame, success, and career are not going to keep you happy when you’re old.”
For Etheridge, these interactions further solidified the importance of living in your truth, saying that those who came out have ended up living happier lives than those who didn’t.
Elsewhere in the piece, the musician reflected on those aforementioned raucous pool parties. She was married to filmmaker Julie Cypher at the time and, between the two of them, they had a number of soon-to-be-super-famous friends who they spent a lot of time with, everyone from Degeneres and Rosie O’Donnell to Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts. Their get-togethers sound like the stuff of every ’90s kids’ dreams:
“I tell you. It had this pool in the backyard. It was just an open house constantly,” Etheridge reflects. “There was a lot of drinking, a lot of cannabis-smoking, and a whole lot of fun when I look back on it. I’m really glad I got to go through that in my life and know all these people. Now I only see Ellen like once a year maybe. I don’t see Rosie. I haven’t seen Brad in 10 years. Everyone got on with their lives, but this was a beautiful, golden time when we all had our dreams of what we wanted, and then we saw each of us just explode in our lives and careers. It was really nice.”
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As The Daily Beast pointed out, it sounded like The L Word but in real life. According to Etheridge, there’s a very good reason for that:
“Oh, The L Word was written about all that happened!” Etheridge laughed. “I knew (show co-creator and executive producer) Ilene Chaiken. She was part of that group. She was very, very much inspired by all of us. I stopped watching The L Word because I lived it!”
In other words, we have Etheridge to thank. Not just for The L Word, but for an entire generation of out, gay celebrities!
Etheridge’s one-woman show, My Window: A Journey Through Life opens at the New World Stages in New York City on October 9 and runs through the month. You can read her full interview with The Daily Beast here.