Tammy Lynn Michaels: ‘I Want Mayor Pete to Be President! I’m From Indiana, Man! Get Up There and Represent!’
The ‘L Word’ actor tells Tim Teeman: ‘There is nothing I can say that would in any way reflect how deeply grateful I am to those brothers and sisters of ours at Stonewall in 1969.’
In this special series, LGBT celebrities and public figures talk to Tim Teeman about the Stonewall Riots and their legacy—see more here.
Tammy Lynn Michaels is an actor (The L Word, Popular, and soon Heartstrings on Netflix).
How and when did you first hear about the Stonewall Riots, and what did you make of them?
I first heard about them from my first girlfriend in New York City. I always liked older ladies: delicious, with a little life under their belts. I had just turned 20 and was dating someone in their 30s. She had grown up in Brooklyn and dealt with an Italian family unhappy she had decided to be a butch lesbian.
We were in Greenwich Village and walked past the Stonewall, and she said, “Have you ever heard of the Stonewall?” I was like, “What?” I was blown away by it. She didn’t tell me the whole thing. As time went by, I put my ears out and figured out what the whole story was. I was a spoiled baby queer who hadn’t even been born when the riots happened, and I had been benefiting from it in ways paved for us to live peacefully.
It’s unfortunate, and kind of poignant, that I didn’t feel the same suppression and oppression those people of the Stonewall generation had felt. That I hadn’t had been because of them. I don’t think I fully appreciated what they had done for our community until my mid- to late 20s.
When I first hit my 20s, graduating from childhood, I thought I knew everything. I was floating along on ego. At high school, laws for same-sex unions were being proposed in Colorado. People were fighting about it. I was juvenile in my response: “What’s the big deal?” I saw the reactions of our society and felt incredibly insulted and offended.
That’s when I looked into the history of what it was like when I could have been arrested for wearing boxers under my jeans. That was when I first got interested in our beautiful ancestors and what they had gone through to get us to where we were.
When I got into a relationship and had stepkids [with Melissa Etheridge, with whom she later had twins] I became more curious about how the wider world looked at and judged gays, queers, and trans people.
I had to become “mom,” to explain this to tiny little kids. I educated myself because I wanted to be a good parent. In all likelihood I was not raising gay kids, although I would support whatever sexuality they were. I looked up our history to be a good role model for the younger ones.
What is the significance of the riots for you now?
They were our first brave solders who took on a war they didn’t ask for. They had to fight to live, and I am living the benefits of that today. My life is so much more because of what our brothers and sisters did in 1969.
They just wanted to dance while wearing mascara, or in men’s suits, and they were called to duty and that night people didn’t back down. They came out in their droves, and we continue to. A protest march gave birth to the Pride parade. There is nothing I can say that would in any way reflect how deeply grateful I am to those brothers and sisters of ours at Stonewall in 1969.
How far have LGBT people come since 1969?
We used to get arrested for wearing one or two articles of opposite sex-assigned clothing. Now we have visible and brilliant trans people speaking out. We’re so out loud. I don’t think younger generations know much we have fought and how far we have come.
It feels like we took 10 steps forward in 1969, then Reagan set us back eight steps. In the late ’90s there were gay characters on TV, Rosie O’Donnell. People got much more comfortable with it. More LGBT people are out now. Trump has set us so far back, and helped give a voice to so many narrow-minded, uneducated bigots. And it is a scary time. My kids ask me, “Why do people have a problem with it?”
Within the agony of this president I still hear the young generation asking, “What’s the big deal?” If we can get through this ring of fire we call Trump, it’s going to be another 10 steps forward. Right now, we’re being stepped on, degraded, and dismissed. So many of our trans friends and family are getting kicked right now. The rest of us have to show up.
Wherever you fall in the LGBTQ rainbow, we have to show our numbers, if for no other reason than to let our other queer family members know they have our support and are not alone—just as the Stonewall demonstrators did.
What would you like to see, LGBT-wise, in the next 50 years?
I want a gay guy from Indiana, Mayor Pete, to be president! I’m from Indiana, man, are you kidding me? Get up there and represent. I’m so ashamed of Mike Pence. Pete is brilliant: self-deprecating, funny, intelligent, a Rhodes scholar.
I would love to see political platforms get away from beating up on minorities. That’s where politics has come to. Nothing binds people like having a common enemy, such as a minority. What we do in our bedrooms nothing to do with how we could run the world. We need more out-LGBT people in politics. I think we’re ready for it.