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Chastity Bono has faced her share of battles as a spokesperson for gay and lesbian rights, both as the controversial former entertainment and media director for GLAAD, and before that in the early '90s when a national tabloid maliciously outed her. In this riveting memoir she recounts a story of love, commitment, and tragedy lived out beyond the glare of the cameras. At 23, Chastity was well on her way to establishing her own life separate from her superstar parents, Cher and Sonny Bono. Geffen Records had just ...
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Chastity Bono has faced her share of battles as a spokesperson for gay and lesbian rights, both as the controversial former entertainment and media director for GLAAD, and before that in the early '90s when a national tabloid maliciously outed her. In this riveting memoir she recounts a story of love, commitment, and tragedy lived out beyond the glare of the cameras. At 23, Chastity was well on her way to establishing her own life separate from her superstar parents, Cher and Sonny Bono. Geffen Records had just signed her band, Ceremony, and she was poised for musical stardom. And best of all, a love affair began to blossom with Joan Stephens, one of Cher's friends whom Chastity had known all her life. In what began as an unlikely relationship, Chastity and Joan found and nurtured the sort of tender, loving partnership they had both been seeking. But Chastity's aspirations for a life in music were soon thwarted by internal struggles and record company machinations that threatened to destroy Ceremony. These problems, however, paled in comparison with the devastating news of Joan's diagnosis with life-threatening non-Hodgkins lymphoma. As Joan fiercely battled her illness, Chastity's musical career imploded. Chastity became both caretaker and lover, discovering a depth and beauty that intensified the feeling of loss as Joan succumbed to the ravages of cancer. A story of love won and lost, of dreams fulfilled and destroyed, Joan is a coming-of-age story that provides a deeply personal look into the private struggles of a very public and courageous woman.
Chastity Bono is the former Entertainment and Media Director for GLAAD a former reporter at large for TheAdvocate. She is also the author of Family Outing. Michele Kort is a freelance writer whose writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times Magazine, L.A. Weekly,Shape,Redbook,Self, and more!
It was a clear and breezy night in August 1987, and I was brimming with excitement. I had just graduated from high school and was about to attend my first lesbian party. Joan's friend Sandy was throwing it, and Joan invited me to meet her and her girlfriend Leslie there. Now that I was of age, the idea of being in a room full of gay women was almost too wonderful to imagine.
In preparation for the big event, I spent hours blow-drying my long hair and choosing my outfit: black Levi 501s, a blue button-down shirt, a black blazer, and black lizard-skin cowboy boots. I desperately wanted to look like the quintessential, well-dressed young gay woman.
With my newly obtained driver's license in hand (my dad had just taught me to drive), I climbed into my rental car and headed through the hills from Benedict Canyon to Studio City. When I arrived at the party, my pounding heart and fluttering stomach were soothed when I spotted Joan's 1973 Porsche Carerra in the driveway. Already a classic in ‘87, it was the only Porsche I'd seen in such an intense shade of blue, so I knew for certain Joan had arrived.
A lot had happened to me since that hormone-awakening Christmas party when I was 13. That summer, after I turned 14, I kissed a girl for the first time—a classmate of mine at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute in West Hollywood. I had started taking acting and singing classes there in 8th grade, since I hated the fancy private Curtis School I attended. I found the kids at Curtis to be superficial, and I didn't make any friends there at all. My mom saw how depressed I was and thought I'd be more comfortable in a creative environment. She was absolutely right. I also enrolled in the summer program at Strasberg, where I made a lot of friends (including my kissing cohort) and discovered a love of acting.
That led me to audition for, and get accepted at, the High School for Performing Arts in New York City—the school depicted in the movie Fame. At first the students didn't know what to make of me, because of my famous parents. At Strasberg a lot of the kids had celebrity parents, so mine were no big deal, but Performing Arts is a public school, attended by a diverse group of kids, and my classmates really gawked over me. That blew me away. It was the first time in my life that I realized people wanted to be around me—or, conversely, resented me—simply because I was the daughter of Sonny and Cher. There were even crazy rumors flying around that the only reason I got in was because my mom had bought the school new video equipment. I really felt out of place for a while, but after a month or two the novelty wore off, and I became just another freshman. I spent four great years there, majoring in drama.
In the open, artistic environment of Performing Arts, it was safe for me to be gay. I hadn't yet come out to my parents, but I could be honest with my friends, who were completely accepting—a luxury few gay kids get to enjoy. Even after my first kiss, I figured I'd probably remain a virgin until I was 21, since that's when I could legally go to bars in New York City. I assumed gay people only met each other in bars. Thankfully, I was wrong.
In fact, sex wasn't hard to come by in high school; it was more available than I even took advantage of. Since I was the only out lesbian at school, girls who wanted to experiment with their sexuality often hit on me, making me feel like the resident lab rat. But the girls I had crushes on—typically the straight, feminine-looking girls—usually weren't interested in me, while the experimenters were often good friends of mine whom I didn't want as lovers. Finding love was much more of a challenge than going to bed with someone.
In my junior year, I fell particularly hard for a girl named Julie, who was tortured by her sexual orientation. We had an on-again, off-again relationship for the next year and a half, completely dictated by her anxieties. She broke my heart again and again. I was like a puppy dog: She'd snap her fingers and I'd be on the bus to Riverdale, where she lived with her family. Then, when I'd arrive, she'd freak out.
During one of my off-again periods with Julie, I had a brief fling with a fellow drama student. It was the summer before my senior year, and Beth was an uptight, unremarkable-looking girl with short, curly hair who had been in my circle of friends. After seeing a film together one night, we started flirting and ended up sleeping together. I didn't have strong feelings for her—actually, the only thing I found attractive was the smell of the Agree conditioner she used on her hair!—but I was looking for someone to take my mind off Julie. When we returned to school in the fall, Beth started telling people that I was her girlfriend, and that made me uptight, so I broke up with her. She got pissed off, and unfortunately this coincided with us being cast as two of the three witches in Macbeth. It was a riot, actually: Beth was having temper tantrums and walking out of rehearsals, which made for a very tense set. The poor third witch—a very nice straight girl—was unknowingly caught right in the middle of our vicious young dyke drama. Talk about double bubble, toil, and trouble.
During my years in Manhattan, Joan remained a constant in my life, as both a friend and confidante. We'd talk on the phone often and hang out together during the summers I spent in Los Angeles. It wasn't really strange that I wanted to hang out with someone so much older. Having been on the road with my mom, I was used to being around adults. In many ways I was a lot more mature than your average teenager.
My mom wasn't always around, since she was working, so Joan sort of filled in that gap. She always took the time and effort to make me feel loved and appreciated. My mom was completely career-driven, and for good reason—she had two kids and other family members to support. But at the time I wasn't able to rationalize that my mom was thinking of me and my needs by working: I just focused on the fact that I wasn't getting enough attention, and I often felt lonely or abandoned. When I spent time with Joan, I felt like the center of attention, even when there were a lot of other people around her. She had a gift for making people feel special.
Joan didn't have my mom's sort of drive, certainly, and she was very old-fashioned in certain ways. She was perfectly content to be more of a homebody, while the feminist movement passed her by. There was something very simplistic about her; she really focused on enjoying life. It might have been easy for some people to look down on her for not having grander ambitions, but I admired it. Most people drive themselves crazy over how they're going to make their mark and feel complete and worthwhile. There's a great side to being career-driven, but it can also be torturous. Joan's main goal in life was just to have love, give love, and create a loving, comfortable atmosphere around her—and in all of that she succeeded very well.
Joan knew I was gay, of course—she figured that one out pretty quickly—and, because she was older and more experienced, she gave me advice my peers couldn't begin to offer. (I can even remember her girlfriend Leslie taking me aside once, when I was about 15 and telling me what to do sexually with a girl, because I was totally naïve.) Unlike the other adults in my life, Joan was nonjudgmental about issues relating to gender and sexuality. In comparison, during my freshman year at Performing Arts, I lived with acting teacher Anna Strasberg and her two sons, and although Anna realized I was gay she still criticized me for not dressing more feminine or for having friends whose hair was too short. Joan, on the other hand, was always totally accepting of who I was and who I wanted to be.
Joan had had quite a tough childhood herself, with parents who didn't give her nearly the acceptance and love she needed. Maybe that's one reason she was so understanding and why maintaining a nurturing home was so primary to her. An only child born in a Nebraska farm town, she moved with her mother to Los Angeles when she was about 6 years old. Her biker father had left them, but her mom remarried, and Joan's stepfather, a truck driver, turned out to be both sexually suggestive to her and physically abusive. Once he had even split open Joan's lip, which left her with a small scar. She hated him, and was furious with her mother for not doing anything about his abuse. She couldn't wait to move out of the house, she told me, marking the days until her 18th birthday on a calendar. One day her stepfather asked what the marks meant, and she answered, "They're the days until my 18th birthday, when I'll be free to leave." He said, "You don't have to wait," and packed her bags for her. At age 17 she was on her own.
Joan grew up expecting she'd get married and have a family. She told me she had lost her virginity to her boyfriend Jim in 12th grade and had thought she would marry him, but they split up after he was drafted to fight in Vietnam. After Joan left home, she became a go-go dancer—performing in clubs on a stage or platform, fully clothed—which was the only job she'd ever have. She also tried to reestablish some sort of connection with her real father. But her mother freaked out when she found out, still mad at her ex for having left and jealous of Joan for having regained his favor. Her mom's reaction was so strong and bitter that it tore them apart and Joan never saw her mother again.
Sandy's party was at a tastefully decorated three-bedroom house in the Valley. Most of the women were in their mid 30s—professionals, wearing pantsuits. No one looked terribly glamorous or exciting. I was hoping to find some cute women in their 20s, but they just weren't there.
As I entered the house I spotted Leslie, the short, redheaded real estate agent Joan had dated regularly for years. I liked her a lot; she was fun to hang out with, friendly, and good-natured.
"Hey, Les, what's going on?" I greeted her with a hug and some slaps on the back.
"Nothing much," Leslie smiled. "Yourself?"
"Just getting ready to head back to New York and start NYU."
"That's great," she remarked, looking distracted. She probably wasn't particularly interested in a teenager about to go off to college.
I headed for the bar, where I grabbed a beer and scanned the room for someone I might find attractive. If I saw her, I promised myself, I'd try to muster up the courage to talk to her. Since I was 10 to 20 years younger than everyone else, I figured I was at both an advantage and disadvantage: I would at least get some attention because of my youth, but then again I'd be less likely to find such older women to be my type. In fact, no one caught my eye—until I saw Joan in a sleeveless summer dress, sparkling like a Christmas tree in August.
The other guests seemed like obstacles in my path as I dodged them to get closer to her. Near the kitchen I finally reached my target, sneaking up from behind and wrapping my arms around her, burying my face in her fragrant-smelling hair.
"Hi, pretty lady," I whispered boldly in Joan's ear. Although I was just 18, I was surprisingly gutsy with women who interested me—more so than I would be later in life. Even with someone as unlikely as Joan, I wasn't afraid to flirt a little and see what kind of response I'd get. I wasn't making an overt pass, but I was pushing the envelope a bit.
Recognizing my voice immediately, Joan turned to give me a hug and kiss. "Hi, baby," she said. "I'm so glad you came."
"You look great," she said, flashing me a warm smile.
"Thanks." I was almost blushing now. "You're not looking too bad yourself."
Despite our age difference, and even though I was still in my teens, there had always been a subtle sexual charge between us, ever since I realized I was gay. Joan flirted with everyone, but I felt she was somehow more serious with me.
"I want to introduce you to Sandy." Joan took my hand and pulled me toward a dark-haired woman wearing a suit. "Sandy, this is my friend Chas. Chas, meet Sandy, the hostess of this fabulous soiree."
"Nice to meet you," Sandy and I chimed in unison.
"Now, if you'll excuse us," Joan said, politely pulling me away, "I want to take Chas around to mingle."
As we wandered through the party, Joan confessed why Les had acted rather distracted and cool: Joan's other longtime girlfriend, Connie, was also at the party. I wasn't as fond of Connie, a doctor with no bedside manner, let alone personality. Both she and Leslie knew about each other and hated that Joan wouldn't pick one of them to date exclusively, but apparently they didn't hate it enough to stop seeing Joan. This night they spent much of the evening staring each other down from across the room, and in their silent battle they seemed to have forgotten that Joan was even there.
"Since they're ignoring me, will you be my date tonight?" Joan asked me teasingly.
"If I were your date," I told her, "I wouldn't leave your side."
Maybe it was the beer. Maybe it was the fact that I'd had a few years of practice at being gay. I wasn't being coy at all about the vibe between us. But then she threw me a curve ball.
"Anyone you'd like me to introduce you to? Anyone you'd like to get to know a little better?" Joan asked with a devilish glint in her eye.
"I'm insulted," I said, in mock horror. "I thought you were my date tonight, and now you're trying to pawn me off!"
"I just thought you might want to meet a nice woman born in the same decade as you."
I hadn't been paying attention to our age difference. Obviously, Joan had.
"Joan," I locked eyes with her, all business, "there's no one else I'd rather spend the evening with. You are the most beautiful, dazzling woman here. I'd be honored to be your escort, while your date and your other woman waste the evening marking their territory."
"You're absolutely right...about the beautiful and dazzling part," she giggled. "As for Leslie and Connie, they can spend the night pissing on the furniture like a couple of pit bulls. We won't let them spoil our evening. You and I, my darling, are going to have some fun."
And we did. We talked and laughed, drank way too much, and openly flirted with each other while the battling girlfriends didn't even notice. Toward the end of the party, Joan and I danced together oh-so suggestively, in a way I never had before. I was lost in a haze of liquor, possibility, and her.
By the time the party was winding down and it was time to go, I was too smashed to drive. With my license just days old, the last thing I needed was a DUI. Since Joan's house was just a few blocks away, she invited me to sleep over in her guestroom. Leslie, who finally joined us after Connie left, offered to drive my car to Joan's while I rode over with Joan in her Porsche.
Before Joan started the engine, she told me she felt cold, which wasn't surprising, considering the lightweight dress she had on. So I slid my arms around her and gently rubbed my hands over her goose bumps. "Thanks, baby," she said, turning the key in the ignition. "Let's wait here until the heat kicks in."
Of course, it already had for me. After the evening we had shared, being in the car alone with Joan and holding her close, I was on fire. She hugged me to get warm—supposedly—and her flawless face snuggled into my neck. Then, as I turned my own face toward hers, she lifted her head slightly. Before I knew what was happening, my lips were brushing against hers. At first it was tentative, but then we were kissing deeply and passionately. I'd wanted this to happen since the night she appeared in my mom's bedroom doorway five years before. Now I was being carried away, transported, living out my most treasured secret fantasy.
Soon my hand strayed to her breast, which somehow broke the spell. "I think we need to get going," Joan said, flustered. "Les will wonder why we aren't home yet." Without a word, she pulled out into the street and we drove in complete silence, holding hands. After three blocks I couldn't stand it any longer.
"Joan, pull over," I demanded.
Without question she did as told, and we picked up where we left off. I could spend all night kissing her, but this time it was me who pulled back to regain composure. "I think we'd better get home before Les comes looking for us," I said sensibly through the alcohol and lust.
This time we only made it two blocks before Joan abruptly pulled the car over to the curb again. She almost pushed herself on top of me, kissing me with complete abandon and running her hands over my body.
But our third bout didn't last long, as light suddenly flooded the inside of the car. Busted. "Oh, fuck," Joan whispered, as we yanked ourselves apart. "It's Leslie." Leslie had pulled up behind us and turned on her brights at the most inopportune moment possible.
"Follow me back to the house!" Les yelled, taking off.
We dutifully drove after her, and as we pulled into Joan's driveway I panicked.
"Oh, god, Joan, what are we going to do?" I was practically shaking. "Les is going to kill me! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! I can't believe she busted us! Let's just keep driving. I can't deal with this!"
Joan placed a hand on my shoulder in a feeble attempt to calm me down. "Don't worry. I'll deal with her."
Leslie had stepped out of my rental car and was now pacing furiously. "Goddamn it, Joan, I can't fucking believe you! It was bad enough that I had to spend the whole night staring at Connie, but then you go sink your teeth into Chas! Christ, Joan, she's only 18 fucking years old!"
Clearly, Les assumed I was the innocent party. I certainly wasn't going to tell her otherwise.
Somehow, through all the yelling and fighting, we made it into Joan's house.
"You know we don't have an exclusive relationship," Joan told Leslie sternly.
"But are you so fucking desperate that you would stoop to fucking around with a baby?" Leslie screamed.
"Fuck you." Without another word, Joan stormed off to her bedroom. Leslie and I heard the loud click of the lock behind her.
"I'm really sorry about this," I told Leslie, trying to sound as sincere and sober as possible. But we were both very, very drunk.
"I'm not mad at you, Chas," Les said, heading out to Joan's backyard. I followed and offered her a cigarette. We sat outside a while, having a smoke together, but nothing could soothe her or calm my own nerves. When she ranted loudly about Joan being a slut, I suggested she turn down the volume so the neighbors wouldn't complain, but she was very wound up.
"I'm Irish—I've got a hot temper, OK?" she shouted as we headed back inside.
Suddenly Joan's bedroom door flew open, and she poked her head out. "Will you both leave my house? Now!" Then she slammed the door and locked herself in again.
I started to panic again. "I'm still too drunk to drive home," I told Leslie.
"You can crash on my couch."
"Even after what happened tonight?"
"I told you, I'm not mad at you. Come on kid, let's get out of here."
So that night I experienced some rather significant firsts: I attended my first lesbian party. I kissed Joan for the first time. And now I really knew what dyke drama was all about.
Considering the fact that Joan was originally my mom's friend, you might wonder how she felt about my close friendship with her.
Her feelings were mixed. On the one hand, I think she appreciated the fact that I had an older confidante whom she knew and liked. But it also disturbed her that this confidante happened to be one of her only lesbian friends. I wasn't open with my mom then—she wouldn't figure out about my sexuality until I was a freshman in college—but she had long been concerned that I was gay. I'd given her some strong hints in that direction early on, since I always wanted to be a male character (like Dracula or Wolf Man) for Halloween. I gave her more reason for concern at age 11 when my mom, her boyfriend, her manager, and I were in a Paris hotel room and decided to dress up for fun and take Polaroids of each other. I dressed up myself as a leather-jacketed biker, my hair slicked back in a pompadour, a switchblade from my pocketknife collection in my hand, and an unlit cigarette dangling out of my mouth. My mom later told me that the moment I came into her room in Paris wearing that outfit, she felt really scared about me.
There's a long, complicated family history behind my mom's friendship with Joan. It starts back a generation with Scotti, a gay woman who became romantically involved with a good friend of my grandmother's on my mother's side. A petite, almost elfin woman of half-Hawaiian (she grew up in the islands), half-Scottish parentage, Scotti was a classic old-school dyke, with her hair greased back in a D.A. She wasn't conventionally attractive, but she was cute and debonair in a butch way, and in her younger days she often ended up with attractive straight women who would inevitably break her heart. My grandmother never liked her very much. I don't think she ever understood why her friend—one of Scotti's straight conquests—had gotten involved in a lesbian relationship. Rather than disliking her friend, though, my grandmother chose to dislike Scotti.
My mother, though—who was 13 or 14 at the time—gravitated to Scotti. She told me she liked how Scotti listened to her. She was fun to be around and didn't treat my mom like a kid. In fact, my mom enjoyed being around Scotti for many of the same reasons I later appreciated Joan. Of course, my grandmother wasn't thrilled that her adolescent daughter hung around with a lesbian.
It's ironic that when I was in high school my mom became similarly worried about Joan and me. At one point she asked me point blank, "Are you gay or just pro gay?" I told her I just enjoyed being around Joan, that I had a good time with her. My mom then insisted I go to her psychiatrist, who also asked if I was gay. I lied and said I wasn't. I guess she believed me and reported that to my mom. Relieved, my mom let the subject slide after that. The shrink probably told her that if she tried to restrict me from seeing Joan, it would probably make me want to be around her even more.
A couple of years after she met Scotti, my mom became best friends with a classmate named Della, who was basically a straight girl with a wild, experimental streak. Like my mom, Della loved Scotti and became friends with her as well. Now enter Joan, who was also a friend of Della's. When Joan's stepfather kicked her out, she moved in with Della's family, and soon my mom, Della, and Joan were hanging out together.
Both Della and my mom mentioned Scotti to Joan, saying how cool she was. From their PUBCOMMENTS, Joan certainly would have recognized Scotti if she ran into her—which she did one evening at a gay men's club where Joan had gone to dance. Joan loved dancing, and when she had worked as a go-go dancer, it was at a straight club owned by my grandmother's brother. Joan liked to dance at gay men's bars, since she didn't have to worry about getting hit on. (Years later, Joan and my mom went together to men's bars for the same reason.) That night, however, some uptight gay guy hassled Joan about being there. Scotti, being a tough and chivalrous Navy vet, immediately went to the rescue of this attractive, femme blonde.
The minute she saw a 5-foot-tall Hawaiian dyke coming her way, Joan knew right away that this was the famous Scotti. After doing Joan the favor of getting rid of the guy, Scotti spent the rest of the evening with her. Sparks flew. Even though Scotti was 20 years older than Joan, who was about 18 at the time, the two of them ended up having sex that night in Scotti's car. It was Joan's first lesbian experience. Joan had always been boy-crazy and hadn't given a thought to being gay, but Scotti—who was like a small-statured man—somehow swept her off her feet. Joan and Scotti remained lovers for the next two years, living in Scotti's house in the San Fernando Valley, and then their relationship transformed into a lifelong friendship.
Meanwhile, my father had entered the picture when my mom was 16. She dropped out of high school and moved in with him, although they didn't get married until years later, when I was born. After a while, he started getting upset about her friendship with Joan and Scotti. He didn't really want her having any friends, since he was very controlling at the time, but the fact that these particular friends were lesbians made them even more threatening (my mom had experimented slightly with women). Mostly, my dad didn't want my mom to do anything without him, and he wanted her to be working constantly. Once they became famous, the joke was that if Sonny and Cher had a gig in the San Fernando Valley, on their way home to Bel Air he'd book another gig on Mulholland Drive. In those years my mom was pretty much ruled by what my dad said, so over time she lost touch with Joan and Scotti.
Leap ahead to 1980, when my parents had been split up for about seven years and my mom was dating Les Dudek, a rock guitarist. Les mentioned something to my mom about his next-door neighbors in the Valley: Joan and Scotti. What are the odds? my mom thought. So the next time she spent the night at Les's, she went over and knocked on their door. Sure enough, it was her old buddies, and they rekindled their friendship as if no time had passed.
In the years since my mom had lost touch with her, Joan had gone back and forth between women and men. When she and Scotti broke up, she figured that their two years together had just been an isolated lesbian incident and that she really was straight. Her next relationship turned out to be even more unusual, though: When she was 20, she got involved with Scotti's godson, Michael, who at the time they first connected was only 15 or 16 years old.
Michael's mother had been an old lover of Scotti's—Scotti had two godsons whose mothers were straight women with whom she'd had romantic relationships—and Joan had become good friends with her as well. Michael's mom actually encouraged Joan to sleep with her son, because she felt it was time he lost his virginity. She wanted his first time to be with someone she trusted and who would provide a good experience for him. It seems rather bizarre now, but I guess things were different in the late 1960s, when people had more of a free-love attitude toward sex. Joan was definitely game for such exploits, and Michael's youth didn't matter to her. She always said to me that she liked and respected young people; she appreciated how their point of view hadn't yet been tainted or jaded by society's prejudices and the hardships of life. Besides, Joan was an unbelievably free spirit, not restricted by conventional societal views.
Joan's "favor" to Michael turned into much more: She fell in love with him, and they started a relationship that lasted eight years. In the end, he broke up with her because he'd never had the chance to sow his wild oats. Joan was devastated. Michael later realized what he'd lost and wanted to get back together with her, but by then she had moved on.
Even after Joan began seeing Michael, she and Scotti continued to live together, their relationship gradually becoming more like mother (or perhaps father) and daughter. I'm sure it was difficult for Scotti when Joan got involved with Michael, but her connection with Joan remained deep and lasting. From Joan's point of view, after having had such a terrible childhood, she appreciated how well Scotti treated her both emotionally and financially.
There was another odd twist to both Scotti's and Joan's lives: Long before meeting Joan, Scotti had gotten married to a man for the financial support he offered. She tried to make a go of the marriage but couldn't—she was such a full-on dyke—so she left him and moved to Paris for a year. During the time she was away, her husband remained desperate for them to keep the marriage together, so he made a deal with her: As long as she spent one afternoon a week with him and remained his wife, he'd continue to support her. The rest of her life remained private from him; he didn't even know she was a lesbian! She was fortunate that he had a medical condition that rendered him impotent, so she mainly supplied him with companionship during their weekly visits, and they both kept up their end of the bargain until he died in the early 1980s.
Since this arrangement worked so well for her, Scotti suggested that Joan, too, seek out a rich man who would take care of her financial needs other than housing (Scotti owned the house they lived in). So Joan began dating a businessman from Ohio who was the uncle of one of her friends. Irving was 20 years older, married with children, and looking for a woman on the side. Joan was willing to make just such an arrangement. In return for spending a couple of weeks with him twice a year and being available for long phone conversations, Irving sent Joan a regular support check, lavished her with jewelry and designer clothing, and even bought a house in Honolulu (co-owned with Scotti's brother) where they could meet clandestinely. It's hard to understand such a setup today, but Scotti and Joan grew up in a much different era, when lesbians certainly weren't as accepted as they are today. They both expected men to take care of them, so they made that happen.
Amazingly, over the next two decades Irving believed Joan was having a monogamous relationship with him. Even when she'd invite Michael or one of her female lovers to come to Hawaii with her, Irving thought they were just friends and never suspected anything else. Although Joan had to deliver sexually to keep up her end of the bargain, she certainly wasn't interested in Irving that way. She acted so undemonstrative with him in bed, in fact, that he came to believe she was timid about sex—so he bought her a how-to sex manual. Joan and I had quite a laugh about this. Little did he know that Joan was quite a sexual adventurer—just not with him! Sex wasn't the most important part of their relationship, though: Irving, who wasn't a particularly attractive man, mostly loved having a beautiful woman on his arm to show off in places like Los Angeles, Hawaii, or Las Vegas.
Now, back to the aftermath of that drunken night with Joan when I was 18. I was about to return to New York for college, but I had a couple of weeks left in Los Angeles, so Joan and I had a chance to be together a few more times. Even sober, we found ourselves fooling around with each other, kissing and touching. One evening, we even considered sleeping together, but Leslie came over to Joan's that night to do her laundry, so nothing happened. In retrospect I realize it was a good thing, since I would have been way out of my league at that young age.
Eventually Joan and Leslie fell back into their familiar, but not particularly healthy relationship, and my indiscretion with Joan was forgotten. I returned to New York to start the film program at NYU, and although my feelings for Joan that had been aroused lingered a while, I was ready to move on and focus on college. I was also about to meet my first serious lover.
It happened shortly after I began my freshman year. A fellow student named Amy approached me after one of my theater classes, asking if she could borrow my notes for her roommate who was ill. Amy and I became fast friends—she was the first lesbian I'd met at college—and soon after I met her roommate, Rachel. Although Rachel was involved with a woman named Donna, she and I felt an instant attraction to each other (she and Donna were about to break up). Not long after our first encounter, I made plans to meet her in San Francisco to see the Grateful Dead perform on New Year's Eve. (Rachel was a huge Deadhead and had caravanned from show to show when she was a teenager.} By the time we flew back to New York City a couple of days after the concert (the first of about 50 Dead concerts I would see with Rachel), we'd fallen head over heels in love with each other.
At the time, Rachel was a senior in the film department at NYU, five years older than me. She was openly gay, outspoken, funny, an effortless straight-A student, and a talented screenwriter. She had written a play that I thought was amazing. Rachel was also quite beautiful—tall, thin, green-eyed, with curly blond shoulder-length hair. She had a great smile, with cute small teeth and full lips. At first I could hardly look her in the eye—I just stared at her lips, because I loved how they looked when she talked. I'd never met anyone like her. Up to that point, my sexual relationships had all been with straight girls who were experimenting. This was a woman close to my age and proud to be gay.
Our family backgrounds were as different as night and day. Rachel was from an upper-middle-class Jewish family on Long Island, her dad a pharmacist and her mom a stay-at-home mom. Typical American nuclear family, except that Rachel was the black sheep among three sisters because she was artsy and a lesbian—the latter being something her parents didn't react kindly to when she told them at age 19.
In comparison, I grew up in Los Angeles with divorced show business parents, shuttling back and forth between their homes. My mom worked constantly, so at her house nannies usually took care of me, a cook made our meals, and people came in every few days to water the plants. We were always moving too, as my mom liked to buy and renovate houses, and there seemed to always be some sort of construction or remodeling going on. At one point, she spent years building our Benedict Canyon house, so we lived in three or four other houses during that period. My family was a lot more chaotic than nuclear.
The contrasts between Rachel and me didn't set us apart, though. On the contrary, I was completely taken by her intelligence, beauty, and boldness. By the end of March 1988 we were living together, along with Amy.
As a result of our relationship, however, my scholastic career took a nosedive. Since Rachel was a senior, she rarely went to class; since I was in a relationship for the first time, I also didn't go to class. I wasn't enjoying being a film major anyway. I knew I should have been studying acting instead, but I was partially scared away from that by my teachers at Performing Arts. They had drilled into us the difficulty of being a working actor, saying that if we could be happy in any other career we should avoid the profession, because it was so hard to become a successful working actor.
Even more significantly, I didn't believe I'd find parts in commercial films that would suit me. The roles I had excelled at in high school were offbeat—a witch in Macbeth and the rustic man Peter Quince in A Midsummer Night's Dream. I felt I always came up short when I played a conventional female part, because my demeanor was too masculine. All I saw on screen in the late ‘80s were ingenues—independent films hadn't really taken off yet—and I knew I wasn't an ingenue.
So I thought I would make films instead and create roles I could feel comfortable playing. When I went to Europe with my friend Sheila the summer before, I had even written down some ideas for a gay script. (It's interesting that years later I ended up working for GLAAD, advising the entertainment media on portrayals of gays and lesbians.) The problem was, once I got to NYU, I discovered I didn't like making films. I'm not a very visual person, which clearly is something you need to be when you're behind a camera.
So I wasn't motivated to stay in college, especially after Rachel graduated in June. She was 23 and would soon be getting a job, and I was scared of losing her. I guess I thought I made a better lover than student, so at the end of my freshman year I dropped out. My parents weren't concerned about it, since education wasn't really stressed in my family. Neither of them had graduated from high school, and they both had done well in their careers. Not having a college degree hasn't hurt or limited my life, but in retrospect I wish I hadn't dropped out.
With school over for both of us, Rachel and I decided to spend the summer of 1988 bumming around Europe and figuring out what to do with our lives. Actually, we spent much of the trip stressing out about it, talking constantly about what the hell we were going to do. The best we could come up with was the idea of moving to Los Angeles, where Rachel could get a job in film production and I could become a singer—the most logical career for me, given my family background. I didn't play an instrument yet, but I had studied singing at the Strasberg Institute. (I even performed once with my dad, on New Year's Eve 1988, when I sang my mom's part in "I've Got You Babe" and "The Beat Goes On" at a ‘60s revival concert in Palm Springs.)
One warm July night in Paris—one of my favorite places—Rachel and I walked back from the Louvre to our little hotel in the Latin Quarter and stopped on one of the many bridges that cross the Seine. As we watched a painter applying brush to canvas, our conversation turned to our future careers.
"Let's open an antique store here," I said, flashing Rachel a wide smile to let her know I was at least half kidding. After all, in Amsterdam we'd said, "Let's open a hash bar!"
"I love Paris," Rachel said, "but I wouldn't want to be so far away from my family."
"You know I'm joking," I laughed. "But we've got to figure out something, especially since you don't seem that enthused about being a production assistant."
"You're right. P.A.'s are just glorified go-fers. It's not creative enough for me. But I don't know what else I'm qualified to do with my degree."
We were silent for a while, both of us looking out at the gorgeous Paris sunset. Then I had an idea.
"What if we try to do music together?" I asked. I was nervous about going into music on my own, so I hoped Rachel would join me. We'd been harmonizing to songs by the Beatles and Neil Young ever since we'd met, while Rachel accompanied us on her guitar.
"I'm not a singer—what are you talking about?" She looked surprised.
"Our voices blend well together!"
"I like to go to concerts, not be the concert."
"You love music more than anyone I've ever met," I insisted. "Don't tell me you've never fantasized about being on stage. What about all those times you played air guitar with your tennis racket when you were a kid!"
Rachel laughed. "OK, I've fantasized about it, but there's a big difference between fantasy and reality."
"The only difference is having the courage to try," I said. "I've been writing songs since I was 12. You're a great writer yourself—you could easily translate your talent for screenwriting into writing lyrics. Plus, you play guitar and piano. It would be so much fun to do this. I don't know if I could do it alone, but I know I could do it with you."
Rachel paused, and then a smile slowly crossed her face. "We do sound pretty good together."
"Yeah, we do." I could tell I was starting to reel her in. "And when we get back home we can start trying to write and arrange songs for our voices. I have some savings—we can go out and buy some instruments and recording equipment and start making demos."
Rachel stared at the sunset for a time, then turned to me. "All right," she finally agreed. "Who knows what will come out of it, but when we get back home, let's try."
That night we called our roommate Amy and asked her to be our manager. She was a logical choice, since she had excellent people skills, was a pretty good hustler, and knew a bunch of musicians. Amy was totally into the idea and immediately started acting like an uptight manager when we got back to the States, to the point of suggesting that we get fake boyfriends and stop going to gay bars. With that, the wheels were set in motion: We were ready to start a music career, and we were prepared to lock ourselves in the closet.
Of course, I didn't have any concept of how difficult the music industry would be. My parents had been popular since before I was born, so I'd never seen them struggle. I just saw their success. I had a lot to learn. But once Rachel and I made our decision on that Paris bridge, we never looked back
Posted March 21, 2006
I LOVED this book. It was very personal and really well written. It wasn't what I was expecting at first but I still fell in love with it non the least. It carries you all the way on an emotial and true journey. I would recomend it to anyone!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 13, 2002
I've just purchased Chastity's latest book, and could not put it down. I was drawn to read more about her unfortunate failing music career, and the toll it takes on your love life. Learning to grow up quickly, and yet be in love with a woman who is very much in love with her. She'll leave you on the edge of your seat, wanting more. She'll have you crying and yet turning the next page. Your heart will fly high with her accomplishments, and yet your heart will break with the death of a loved one. This story show's the transition's from one point to the other. Of caring what other people think of you, to just caring about a loved one. More power to you Chastity, and thanks for telling a story about love, life and the pursuit of happiness. Peace Love & Prosperity Always 'Your Sister In the Community'Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.