I grew up on Long Island, which is filled with all kinds of people from diverse backgrounds and identities and not far from the cultural wonders of New York City. Still, I wasn’t really exposed to the LGBTQIA community because I spent my elementary school years as a student at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic school and as an altar server at St. Aloysius Roman Catholic Church.
I didn’t come from a family of high holy rollers but I was raised to be faithful, so my parents felt Catholic school would be good for me, and it was ― to some extent. I learned a lot there, but learning about my sexuality was never part of the curriculum. I can’t remember a single sermon ever referencing homosexuality ― let alone sexuality ― or claiming it was wrong. Sexuality was simply never brought up. But that’s not the reason I wasn’t a fan of the school.
I wasn’t happy there because they didn’t have a choir or singing program, and that was pure torture for me. From a very young age, I needed to sing to be happy. Once my parents realized music and performing were truly my passions, they took me out of Catholic school and enrolled me in public school and I attended my first music class. I was finally singing, and my soul felt free. Still, I couldn’t escape the feeling that there was something different about me. I didn’t quite know what it was yet, but I wasn’t worried about it. I figured I’d find out when the time was right.
As I got older, I tended to follow my friends’ lead. So when they started to have crushes on boys, I did too, and we would giggle about them together after our softball games. In reality, the only love affair I was truly involved in started when I saw “Hairspray” for the first time at age 15. I didn’t go on dates, I just practiced my vocal training and rehearsed every role I could get my hands on in our school shows. I was focused on making acting and singing my career, so I didn’t concentrate on dating like my friends did. In fact, I didn’t have my first kiss until I was on the set of “Hairspray,” my first movie, when I was 17. It was then that I decided to let myself experience dating, and I did so on and off throughout my 20s. But it definitely was not the main focus of my life ― living out my dreams was.
Despite all of these changes and the exploration I’d done to decide what I really wanted my life to be about, I still hadn’t discovered what that “different” feeling that had been living inside of me for so many years was. In fact, it had only grown stronger as I’d gotten older.
“I wish there were a defining moment in my life that stood out as 'the moment I knew I was gay' or 'the moment I decided to be myself and live my truth.' But honestly, I’ve always been true to who I was, even if my truth wasn’t apparent to me as soon or as clearly as it was for some other members of the LGBTQIA community.”
I wish there were a defining moment in my life that stood out as “the moment I knew I was gay” or “the moment I decided to be myself and live my truth.” But honestly, I’ve always been true to who I was, even if my truth wasn’t apparent to me as soon or as clearly as it was for some other members of the LGBTQIA community. I learned that everyone ends up coming out in their own way, in their own time, and we each embark on a different journey to get there. We each have our own story, and here is mine.
Before coming out publicly, I knew I had to come out to my family. I had already sat down with myself years ago and had that heart-to-heart about my true identity, but now it was my family’s turn to hear from me ― to hear how I identified and what I truly felt in my heart. I first sat down with my brother and his fiance, and they were incredibly supportive. Later that day, I shared with my parents that I had finally discovered what that “different” feeling I’d had my entire life was ― I was gay. The love and acceptance my family showed me was palpable. It felt incredible to be embraced by them, but I also knew I had to share the news with the rest of the world.
I knew coming out publicly would be different for me than it was for many others because I was aware that whenever it finally happened, it would be widely talked about. Because of this, I didn’t know exactly how I’d do it ― I just knew I wanted to do it. The feeling continued to grow stronger and stronger this past year, so I got my creative team together and told them that I was ready to do it, and they couldn’t have been more supportive. We came up with several ideas that would allow me to say, “It’s Nikki Blonsky from the movie ‘Hairspray’ and I’m gay,” as my Instagram bio read shortly after I came out.
As much as I appreciated the brainstorming that my team and I had done, I always go with my gut and when I feel something and it feels right, I run with it. That very afternoon, I felt something bubbling up inside of me and I knew I couldn’t ignore it.
I was set to be a guest on my friend Alec Mapa’s Instagram live show, which he had been hosting to raise money for the Transgender Law Center, and I knew something was about to happen. After he explained that he met me on a gay cruise where we’d both been performing, he made a joke about not knowing if I was straight or not. While I laughed at this, I felt weird having the word “straight” and my name in the same sentence, because I was not straight. I knew it was exactly the right time to fulfill my dream of saying what was “different” about me.
As we continued talking, I looked at my sweet friend’s face and I knew I was safe and supported — so I decided to come out right then and there. I immediately felt more like myself than I ever did before, but I also wanted a physical way to acknowledge my coming out, so that night I went outside and danced to Fergie’s “London Bridge”in the pouring rain while tears ran down my cheeks. I felt absolutely free.
And just like that, the pressure was gone. I was out and that “different” feeling had disappeared. I immediately felt welcomed into the LGBTQIA community as I read the supportive comments from the fans who had been watching Alec’s show. As excited and relieved as I was, it suddenly sunk in that I had just come out on a livestream and it was just a matter of time before the rest of the world caught on to what had happened. I also became aware of comments from some viewers who said they weren’t totally sure that I was gay or if what had just happened was really me coming out. In order to dispel any remaining doubt, I filmed a TikTok video of myself dancing and lip syncing to Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out” and posted a big “I’M GAY” graphic on my Instagram page. I wanted to make it absolutely clear so there would be no questions about my authenticity as a gay woman, and I felt that I had now cemented my identity.
Sexuality is extremely personal and to have people question mine unnerved me a little bit, but not as much as being called the “F” word in one of the comments on my post. No, not “fat,” the “F” word that I normally hear. I’ve been called “fat” for years, so whenever I see comments like that, they roll off me like water off a duck’s back. But this “F” word hit differently. It saddened me to think that in 2020, there are still people out there who project hate onto the LGBTQIA community.
Those people are bullies, and seeing that word reminded me of when I was growing up and kids would be cruel about my weight. Then, I heard the sweet words of my grandma in my head: “Nikki, people make fun of you and others because they are insecure with themselves or they are suffering in some way. So don’t feel hate for them. Pray that they find happiness within themselves because when people are truly happy, they don’t have to bring others down to try to make themselves feel better.”
I’ve taken all of my Grandma’s wise words to heart throughout my life, but these ones in particular now have a deeper meaning for me. Bolstered by her love, I know any hate that might come my way can never diminish what I’d done or take my coming out story away from me. Her words remind me to treat others with kindness, even if they don’t treat me the same way. Most importantly, they remind me that I am on my own path in life. We all deserve to live authentically and be happy, whether our journey aligns with another person’s agenda or not. Just because someone doesn’t understand or agree with something doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It just means it’s different, and, as Tracy Turnblad, my character in “Hairspray,” says, “People who are different, your time is coming.” Actually, I’d like to amend that a bit: “People who are different, your time is now!”
If I could share one thing with someone who’s scared of coming out, I would tell them to do it on their own time. Know that there is a community of people who will support you and love you even if your own family and friends aren’t capable of doing so. Do it for you because you deserve to live life freely ― your way ― and not according to somebody else’s ideals.
When I started getting DMs from fans announcing that they came out after I did, a mixture of feelings washed over me. As honored as I was, I was a little overwhelmed because I wanted to make sure they were doing this because they felt it was the right time for them to come out ― not just because I did. After chatting with each of them, my mind was put at ease. They all assured me that they had been wanting to come out for a very long time and when I did, I inspired them to. I was so moved to hear each of their stories. Sharing this special time in our lives with each other bonded me with these fans for life and I will cherish those experiences forever.
For the past 14 years, I’ve been a part of the “Hairspray” family, who instantly accepted me and made me feel at home. I was shown love and support from everyone and it was truly a magical experience. There is only one other community of people other than the “Hairspray” family and my own family and friends that has welcomed me in such a kind and beautiful way, and that is the LGBTQIA family. As the kid in school who was picked last for sports in gym class and sat alone at lunch for many years during elementary school, I never felt like I fit in or belonged anywhere until I found theater. And it wasn’t until now, after coming out, that I truly feel accepted for all that I am.
Being a part of this community, I finally feel at home again like I did so many years ago when I sat there in the Neil Simon Theatre in New York City at the age of 15 and heard “Good Morning Baltimore″ for the first time. It was in that instant that I knew I was right where I was meant to be and I felt as though I was looking into my future. Now, once again, I find myself full of those same feelings of hope and excitement as I look forward to living my life as the proud gay woman that I am.
Nikki Blonsky is an American actress best known for her starring role as Tracy in the 2007 film “Hairspray.” The role earned her several prestigious award nominations, including a Golden Globe nom. She has also starred in movies such as “Queen Sized,” a Lifetime original movie, ABC Family original series “Huge,” and the film “Geography Club.” Most recently, Nikki launched her own podcast, “Nikki Nights,” where she talks with celebrities and industry professionals about current issues, quarantine, pop culture and anything else on their minds! For more from her, follow her on Instagram, TikTok and Twitter.
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