Being Young & Coming Out To Bette Midler
‘You Make Me Happy To Be Who I Am’
BY NICOLAS WYSOCKI
Originally printed 12/4/2014 (Issue 2249 – Between The Lines News)
When you’re a 12-year-old gay boy in middle school, you don’t really have an overt sexuality, just many flamboyant hobbies. Yes, I still gravitated toward all the hyperfeminized figurines and performed exquisitely executed cartwheels at a very early age, but most of the time I was watching and imitating Bette Midler. That fabulous laugh, that energy, her ferocious tenacity to proudly proclaim “I’m beautiful dammit!” – what is not to adore about the woman?
I didn’t know I was gay, or even know what “gay” really was in the mid-’90s, but I knew I didn’t fit with my classroom peers, or even with society as I then knew it. I generally heard the word “gay” alongside “AIDS” in schoolyard conversation or at home on the couch while watching the evening news with my parents, so in my naive rationale, “gay” was already taboo.
A premature gay person naturally learns to find his or her defenses very quickly, and so, by the seventh grade I was very well aware of the bus-stop repercussions of not being like the other boys. I wanted Midler’s divineness, but foremost I wanted her confidence. If Delores DeLago, Bette’s mermaid alter ego, could seem so confident, why couldn’t I?
Imagine the day I got the opportunity to meet Bette Midler at a Harmony House meet-and-greet in Farmington Hills for her 1998 album “Bathhouse Betty.” It was utterly unnerving, and it didn’t feel surreal until the line drew nearer and I actually gained a clear view of The Divine Miss M. She was wearing a couture skin-tight leather jumpsuit. Naturally, I was slightly intimidated holding just a Michigan Wolverines Starter jacket my mom bought me from Kmart.
So there I was, and there Bette was. The only question now: What do I say to Miss M? Do I try to woo her with quotables from “The First Wives Club“? Do I tell her the first R-rated movie I saw was “Ruthless People“? Before I could make a sound decision, I was signaled by the usher to step forward. Then it happened: I was greeted by the one and only Bette Midler.
She was glowing. She was sweet. She was real.
Shyly, and with a nervous stammer, I told her my name, and that I loved all her music and films since I could remember. I told her I practiced being Winifred Sanderson after school; that I wanted to sing “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” for my sixth grade choir recital, but my teacher didn’t take to the idea. Then I confided to her something deeper than my own fundamental understanding of myself at that age. In an awkward rush of words, I remember saying, “You make me happy to be who I am.” Bette looked at me warmly, her face melting with tenderness. In a way, I indirectly came out to Bette Midler before I fully understood what coming out was, and in that brief encounter, it’s likely Bette understood my own self better than I did.
Bette Midler was the first person that I dared to divulge the most personal thing in my life to, and in my logic she accepted me, so then, at age 12, it was enough for me to do the same. I didn’t discover a complete resolve to my life, of course, but, when I met her nearly 20 years ago, I found a purpose. So, I graciously thank you, Bette Midler. And forgive me for the silly cliche, but you’re truly and consistently The Wind Beneath My Wings.
Nicolas Wysocki was raised in Rochester and is an appraiser and web seller for men’s vintage clothing and antique collectibles at Lost and Found Vintage in downtown Royal Oak. He is also an art collector and avid reader of pre-Stonewall gay literature.