9:00am PT by Chris Gardner
Nikki Blonsky on Coming Out as Gay: "It Was a Long Time Coming"
The first thing Nikki Blonsky said when getting on the phone to discuss how she came out over the weekend is apologize.
“My voice is a little hoarse because I’ve literally been doing nothing but singing Debbie Gibson and ‘I’m Coming Out’ by Diana Ross all weekend,” she told The Hollywood Reporter early Monday evening. Her voice — the one that helped land her a breakout role at 17 in Adam Shankman’s 2007 musical Hairspray — was raspy but not enough to quiet the excitement of sharing her experience as a new member of the LGBTQ community, announced just days before the end of June’s Pride month. Blonsky, now 31, opened up on the surprise announcement, fielding reactions from Gibson, Shankman and Hairspray co-star Brittany Snow, and how she strategized the reveal with her publicist.
You had quite a weekend …
I guess I did, yeah [laughs] …
How did you decide to do it in this way?
I had already kind of come out on Alec Mapa’s Instagram Live during a charity event for the Transgender Law Center, and we just decided that, you know, I've never been a person that likes to do anything really [quietly] so, I was like, if I’m going to come out, I'm going to say it, you know?
Let’s talk about the announcement itself. How did you arrive at the decision to dance to Diana Ross on TikTok in a backyard by lip syncing to one of the most iconic gay anthems?
I have performed at a couple Pride events this year, online obviously, and so I started to think of a few different song choices. My publicist, Diana, and I kept sending song choices back and forth. Then one night after Alec’s show, she messaged me at 1 a.m. and said, “I have an idea.” I told her to lay it on me. “How about a TikTok?” I instantly said that I’m so down. We filmed it at her husband’s surprise socially distant birthday party where everyone was sitting six feet apart in a backyard. Diana said, “Why don’t we do it right now?” That was that.
— Nikki Blonsky (@NikkiBlonsky) June 28, 2020
But you had already said it on Alec’s show. How did that go down?
Alec, a friend of mine, is a brilliant actor and amazing activist. He was doing a charity event to raise money for the Transgender Law Center, and he had asked me to come on and chat. He had done my show before and we're great friends. Something just happened. He and I met on a gay cruise, we were both performing and he was there with his husband. I was incredibly inspired by their love. I was talking to him on the Instagram Live, and I felt incredibly safe. He had said that he’d never met two straight women on a gay cruise — speaking of me and my mother — and he said, “But I don’t know how it is now.” This wave came over my chest and I couldn't get the sensation out. I just literally had to get it out. It was incredible. I was a little surprised that I did it but I just felt right at the time.
You had already been embraced by the community so when did you know that you were actually part of the community?
The LGBTQIA community has embraced me since the moment I got Hairspray. They welcomed me with open arms and I felt so a part of the community already. For me, it was a long time coming. I was wanting to date women and it just was a moment in my life where I was finally just really ready to be myself.
Have you been in any relationships with women?
I have. I had a girlfriend, ex now, but we didn’t part on bad terms. I think she’s wonderful. I will always wish her well, but it was just simply it wasn't going to work. She was a wonderful first female for me to be with.
How long ago was that?
It’s been officially over since January.
Oh, wow. So, relatively new.
Yeah, it was, uh, it was just this year.
Well, I'm sorry about the break-up …
No, no, no, everything happens for a reason. I'm now seeing what's the future holds for me relationship-wise, who knows, but I'm not going to lose sleep. It is what it is.
Not to pry too much, but had you only dated men up until that point?
No, it’s fine, this is a great time to set the record straight. I had dated someone who is non-binary, Dani. Everybody has been putting it in the media saying they didn’t know if we’re still together, and we’re not. We couldn't be further apart. So let's just put that out there. I'm single. I'm not with anybody. I am with me and I am loving it. This quarantine has just really gotten me more in touch with myself. I'm not saying like, “Oh, I'm with me,” like I'm some incredibly human being. I'm just really finally in tune with my feelings. I’m OK with being solo and rocking out right now.
Did you have feelings growing up that you were gay or was it something that just came up in the last few years?
I had feelings all along. I just maybe didn’t pay attention to them, I think is what it was. I have always been a career-driven person, so my relationships have been something that I didn’t give a lot of care to.
You were just a teenager when you got Hairspray so did you have time for much of a love life?
No, I fell in love for the first time on set. I was 17. Anthony Carr was my first boyfriend and he was in Hairspray. He has been so incredibly valuable in my coming out. He’s been there for me every step of the way. I was kind of most nervous telling him because I love and respect him so much. He couldn't have been kinder and he calls me every day to check on me. I'm just so incredibly grateful.
What were your past relationships like?
My experiences weren’t always the most positive but it didn’t have any lasting impact on what I want for the future. I dealt with domestic abuse in one of my relationships, but I haven’t let that get in the way. I’m determined to be open. If I am meant to settle down with somebody, great. If I’m meant to go solo, that’s great too.
Since we’re setting the record straight, I read some other headlines about you being on Tinder or having other boyfriends …
I am! I am on Tinder. Everybody thinks that it’s not me, but it is.
What is it like out there for gay women right now?
I got a Tinder match from a girl and her first question to me was what it was like to kiss Zac Efron [laughs]. I just thought, “How did you think that was going to work out, opening with that question? Did you think we were going to fall madly in love?” I wrote her a really nice message back saying, “He’s wonderful, thank you.” That was that [laughs]. It’s definitely interesting in the dating world right now, but I’ve never been one who needs to be in a relationship. Even when I was in high school, that wasn’t my thing. I’m just seeing what comes. You know, I’m not out there really going for it but I'm also not throwing things away if something great comes along.
You posted your announcement also on Twitter and Instagram, where you fielded so many responses from fans and former colleagues. What has it been like to see the support?
My hands haven’t stopped shaking. I’ve been replying to people like Billie Jean King and Debbie Gibson — it’s absolutely mind-blowing the love and support I’ve been shown. I just feel so incredibly blessed. I got to meet Billie when I sang on Pride night for the [Los Angeles Dodgers]. I wasn’t fully out then and it was bubbling up inside of me. I wanted to tell her how much I admired her because she’s out here, living her truth. When she sent me that message, I felt incredibly seen. To experience the outpouring of love and support is totally kicking me off my feet. I’m overwhelmed and floored and thankful more than anything, overwhelmed in a good way.
And from your Hairspray collaborators, Adam Shankman, Brittany Snow and others wishing you well...?
I was most nervous about my Hairspray family, I think. Hearing from Adam and from Brittany and people who I think so incredibly highly of, it means more than they will ever know. I was so nervous because I didn't want them to think I was keeping something from them. I wasn't ready at the time to put it all out there.
You have performed at many Pride and LGBTQ events. Were you torn being there or did it make this process easier having so many friends in the community?
Yeah, was I not dropping hints the whole time? Like Hansel and Gretel dropping bread crumbs everywhere. The love and support that I’ve been getting from the community, I don't know if I would have been able to do it so loudly and in such a way without that.
What is your plan for activism and visibility moving forward?
It's incredibly important to stand up for what’s right and I will continue to do that by sharing my story. I have been pouring it all into a book that I've been writing during quarantine. It covers everything — from Hairspray to the domestic violence in my life. I'm writing what I know and, for me, it's been a long time coming.
So much of your work has tackled issues of body image and size. The gay community often is criticized for not always welcoming — or at least promoting — body types that aren't sample size. How do you feel about that?
This is what I’ve always said since Hairspray: Our bodies are going to change. We're all going to get old. We’re going to be remembered for our hearts, the good we did in the world and the difference we made in people's lives. For me, no matter what shape, size, sexuality, ethnicity, you deserve to be loved and respected as a human being. Plus-sized women, myself included, we deserve to be loved and if we want to do that in short shorts, we will be in short shorts. It's all about every body living their truths and being authentically themselves. If you believe in love, you should believe in love for all people. Weight, for me, is something that I've obviously dealt with my entire life but it has never defined me.
Do you have a gay role model?
Honestly, there’s one person that I look up to immensely and it's our choreographer, Jamal Sims. He lives his truth and he is a beautiful soul inside and out and I look up to him. Also, friends like Shangela, Dot Marie Jones, Billie Jean King and Melissa Etheridge. Her music, singlehandedly, lifted me up. I've sung "I'm the Only One" more than she probably intended it to be sung.
What are you working on right now?
I am working on a lot of things career-wise. For a while, I didn’t have the most go-getter people behind me and I do now. I feel incredibly blessed to have them. I’ve also started developing my own projects. I’ve written a pitch that’s in a very early development stage and a friend of mine also wrote something for us. We’re crossing our fingers and praying to that the good lord above hears us, wherever she is.
When this extended period of isolation is over, now that you’re out and proud, what’s the first thing you want to do?
[Crying] Honestly, I want to hug my best friend of 17 years. He’s a gay man who lives in Harlem with his husband and dog. All I want to do is wrap my arms around him and scratch his little beard like I always do. I’ve never been prouder to be his best friend.
Have you heard from John Travolta?
I have. I did not want the person who played my mother to have to find out about this from anybody else. I felt the need to tell him myself so I texted him and we had a lovely conversation. I love him with all my heart. I couldn’t have been more honored to have played his daughter. He is one of the finest human beings you’re ever going to meet.
Interview edited for length and clarity.