Apparently a good man can make a gay woman straight. Or actually, if you believe Chirlane McCray, who has been married for nearly 20 years to NYC mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio after declaring “I Am A Lesbian” in a groundbreaking ESSENCE magazine essay in 1979, sometimes love is not as much about sexual preference as it is the person you fall for.
She explains her interesting journey in a new interview with ESSENCE:
ESSENCE: Why did you write that first essay?
CHIRLANE McCRAY: Because in 1979, I thought it important to dispel the myth that there are no gay Black people, that Black people just didn’t do that sort of thing. That article was my way of telling Black women across the country, “You are not alone.”
ESSENCE: How did you first meet Bill?
McCRAY: In 1991 I was working in the press office at the [NYC] Commission on Human Rights and was sent over to City Hall. I was wearing West African–inspired clothing and a nose ring, and Bill says he had the love-at-first-sight experience. I did note what a good-looking guy he was and that he was funny and smart and made other people laugh.
ESSENCE: Were you worried about him being a man—and White?
McCRAY: All I could think about was, He’s six years younger than me!
ESSENCE: So how did you go from being a lesbian to falling in love with a man?
McCRAY: By putting aside the assumptions I had about the form and package my love would come in. By letting myself be as free as I felt when I went natural.
ESSENCE: Still, was it strange being with a man, after so long?
McCRAY: I came out at 17. I hadn’t really dated any men. I thought, Whoa, what is this? But I also didn’t think, Oh, now I’m attracted to men. I was attracted to Bill. He felt like the perfect person for me. For two people who look so different, we have a lot in common. We are a very conventional, unconventional couple.
ESSENCE: How did you tell Bill about your past?
McCRAY: Other people told him in the beginning. Then at some point I gave him the article and said, “Look, this is who I am and you should read this.” It shook him up. But he didn’t show it. He was cool about it.
ESSENCE: Do you consider yourself bisexual?
McCRAY: I am more than just a label. Why are people so driven to labeling where we fall on the sexual spectrum? Labels put people in boxes, and those boxes are shaped like coffins. Finding the right person can be so hard that often, when a person finally finds someone she or he is comfortable with, she or he just makes it work. As my friend Vanessa says, “It’s not whom you love; it’s that you love.”
ESSENCE: Are you still attracted to women?
McCRAY: I’m married, I’m monogamous, but I’m not dead and [laughs] Bill isn’t either. I know my husband loves me fiercely and passionately. I know he supports me and will always stand up for me.
ESSENCE: How did you feel when your ESSENCE article from 1979 was leaked online and then the New York Post printed a cartoon of you and your husband in bed?
McCRAY: I thought the article would have [come out] sooner or later. I was rather dismissive of the whole thing. But then that cartoon! What the New York Post did was just really nasty. It was racist, ignorant and crude.
To call this woman anything other than tremendously courageous would be erroneous. She’s a smart good person and she doesn’t deserve to be attacked by the press for her choices. Life has got to be hard for a black gay woman but it can’t be easy being a black woman married to a white politician. She deserves kudos for sharing her story, don’t you think?
At the same time — we’d be remiss not to ask whether her experience only lends credence to the argument that some people “choose” to be gay? What do you think?