Aly Winningham

As Interviewed by Ori Green, March 9, 2013

Aly Winningham: In Her Own Words

First of all, Barack Obama – President Obama has done more for the gay rights movement than any and all presidents combined up until now. The most obvious thing would be last year, when he stated, in one of his Union addresses I think it was – I was actually in my studio working, and I was listening to his address over the radio; I usually listen to his addresses because I think he is a great president – and he said publicly over the airwaves that he believes all gay people deserve the same rights as any other group of people, any other couples in America.

One of the things he said was that when his children grew up, he would have to face them, and he wanted to make sure that he was on the right side of history. But to hear the president of the United States make a statement like that over the airwaves was shocking. I had to sit down and take a few breaths. I will even confess that I held back tears or even shed a few tears at what it felt like to have the leader of our country to make a statement like that over the radio. It was profound. I started getting text messages and phone calls from my gay friends, and some of my family even, just calling to basically say, “How did you feel?” or “I thought of you,” or whatever. Obama has done so much for civil rights.

Living in Bastrop County is definitely different. Austin is an insulated city full of highly-educated, intellectual, artist-type people. I mean Austin is like a – what do they call it? – “A blue dot on a red blanket,” Meaning most of the state is conservative, and then there’s Austin. One of the funny things that happens to me: I’ll be going to Home Depot or whatever, and I’m talking to some guy about something I need. He sees the wedding ring on my hand, you know, and he says, “Just go home and be sweet to your husband, cook him a nice meal, and get him to do it.” That’s pretty harmless right? But I think, though, there is just that assumption that there are no gay people in Bastrop or whatever.

If I had been in Austin I would have maybe said, “Oh, you mean my wife?” But I will admit that out there I am hesitant, and I don’t necessarily feel the desire to out myself everywhere I go in “Redneckville.” It doesn’t seem worth it. Maybe it is, maybe I should. I had to fight a lot of that growing up, and I had my share of confrontations and assaults. I’ve seen it all, and now I’m in my mid 40s. I’m a little bit more laid-back and choose to take a more passive approach, like voting or being the person that I want to be – an interesting, honest, hard-working, loving, respecting lesbian. Make change like that. I’m not interested in fighting with anybody anymore, so I let stuff like that slide.

When I was 17 years-old I got cast into a public high school. When I got there, I didn’t fit in very well. I had already realized my sexuality, and I was myself – I was a tomboy kid, 17 years-old; I wore my hair short because I liked it; I wore boys clothes just like I do now. I wasn’t trying to offend anybody. I wasn’t trying to make some kind of statement.

The quarterback of the football team, he didn’t like me. He had a real problem with me. He was throwing his chewing gum at me, he was trying to trip me in the hall or whatever. He liked to harass me in between classes, when everybody could hear it, and yell things like, “Are you a boy or girl? I’m confused,” and stuff like that. And the one time I stand up to him I turned around and said “Why don’t you just blank off and leave me alone?” He went nuts-o, and he assaulted me, twice within five minutes. My friend, who was with me, insisted that we go up to the principal’s office, so you know we go up there.

I didn’t want to go up there. I was just kind of in shock. I just wanted to go back to class. I wasn’t thinking. I had all these red marks on me and stuff. I’m sitting in there and here was the principal of the school. My friend was with me because she witnessed the whole thing and we’re talking. And he says – I’ll never forget this; this is the principal of the high school in 1987, and he looked at me and said – “Alison, I have one question for you.” I said “Yes? What?” And he says “I just wondered how you expect to be treated when you dress and look the way you do.” This was what the principal of the school said to me.