Rosie Perez Honors the Women Who Raised Her | 2017 MAKERS Conference
Rosie Perez opens up about living with a mother with a mental illness and enduring years of physical abuse at a Catholic orphanage in an emotional speech that honors the women who saw "a light" in her during her darkest times. The actor and activist delivered her candid monologue as part of Kathy Najimy's series "Real.Life.Stories" at the 2017 MAKERS Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.
AMBER TAMBLYN: It was the night of the 2016 election, and the energy inside the Javits Center in New York City was charged with excitement, anxiety, and a wild, ferocious joy. I was standing in a small room of fellow Hillary Clinton surrogates and supporters, surrounded by men and women who had spent literally years working on her bid for the presidency, which we now knew we were about to win.
I stood in a circle smiling and laughing with two of my best friends, America Ferrera and Amy Schumer. You may have heard of them. We all happened to show up to the occasion wearing matching white pantsuits complete with white blazers, looking like some cast of a new primetime medical drama on an all-new San Bernardino Medical, Friday nights on NBC.
America was drinking champagne Amy was double-fisting two plastic cups of chardonnay, and I was enjoying a lovely cup of Maalox because I was extremely pregnant. Mary Steenburgen, a longtime friend of Hillary's, arrived with her husband Ted Danson, and we immediately locked eyes from across the room.
Mary had played my mother on a TV show a decade prior and was the woman who introduced me to Hillary Clinton. For years I had followed her political career and listened to her speak at events. She had encouraged and inspired me to speak up and out as a feminist. She grew to be a powerful symbol of what women can grow up to achieve, of what I hoped to someday achieve. Look at me. Look what I achieved. Nasty woman.
I ran into Mary's arms and we began to cry with happiness. Bams, your breath is so minty-- that's my Arkansas accent. It's not right-- she said, and we pulled apart and wiped our tears away. Did you just brush your teeth? Yes, I did, I said, with peppermint-flavored antacid. We laughed and hugged, and tonight was the night. It was our night. We were going to see the glass ceiling finally shatter.
But it wasn't long before everyone in the Javits Center started to realize it was not going to be the ceiling shattering, but rather our hearts. A giant television in the middle of the room began to report the ominous news that Hillary was losing. The energy in the room shifted from uplifted and celebratory, partying and taking selfies, to quiet, focused on the TV, our phones tucked back in our pockets.
I found myself sitting across from Mary, once again locking eyes with her, only this time they were filled with sickening fear. I swigged more Maalox. My baby shoved its foot in my ribs as if to foreshadow more pain was on the way. Katy Perry anxiously chewed on a celery stick. Lady Gaga anxiously chewed on her leather riding crop. The Clinton staff huddled in corners whispering . Kate McKinnon, who earlier had been the life of the party, now stood quietly by herself overlooking the balcony. Below her were a sea of thousands of heartbroken faces, husbands and wives and kids in pink pussy hats, farmers who had driven in from neighboring states, drag queens in blond Hillary wigs, a Nick Nolte impersonator. I didn't even know those were a thing.
Devastation began to drop a heavy anchor in my body. I knew where it was all heading and so did everyone else in the room. Some people tried to cheer each other up by saying, she hasn't lost yet. Don't worry, don't worry. There's still a strategy. There's still some time. There is still a path to win. But the words rang more and true as the night went on. And eventually the Clinton staff delicately told the room that we wouldn't know the full results until the morning, so we should all go home and get some sleep.
People grabbed their totes and Birkins and briefcases and quietly began to pack up. In the elevator ride on the way down, my friend Lena Dunham grabbed my hand and said, it's going to be OK, baby. It's going to be OK. It was past midnight, so Mary and Ted offered to drive me back home. We were all very emotional, and it was well past my pregnancy bedtime, which on any other night would have been 8:30, 8:31 lights out.
But on this night it was different. We were stunned, numb. We rode in the car in silence. Mary finally broke it by saying, the last time I was in this much pain was when my mother died.
Early the next morning, I rolled my giant albino walrus stomach over towards my phone and looked at it. I grabbed it and there it was, the news. Hillary had won the popular vote, but ultimately, by a large number of delegates, lost the election. I lowered my phone, touched my stomach, and stared at the ceiling, dazed. I wondered if Hillary was somewhere in some hotel room doing the exact same thing, wondering how she would bring herself to get out of bed at all.
I got on the subway to head to a meeting, but the world felt like a tableau of itself, a frozen painting of sorrow. It had shattered overnight and every face around me was a slivered shard. I looked at the people across from me on the train, and they mumbled. They were numb and stared back, eyes red and swollen.
My heart began to pound as a dark realization swam over me. I was going to bring a baby into the world, and not just any baby, a girl. And not just any world, this world, the world of Donald Trump. My heart sunk as I quietly thought to myself, maybe I don't want this baby after all. Maybe I can give her to Canadians or to a nice family in Sweden. I mean, they have amazing furniture. They probably make amazing parents. I just couldn't bear the thought of bringing a girl into this new world. I knew I loved her more than I could bear and wanted to protect her from any of this.
My heart began to pound and I felt lightheaded. I stepped out of the train-- waddled, rather-- and felt my legs quiver beneath me. My stomach lurched and I began to sweat. Something wasn't right. I began to climb the stairs at the Columbus Circle exit and a deep, piercing pain slithered through my spine. I grabbed the railing and groaned. My god, I thought, this is it. I'm going into labor. I'm going into fucking labor in a subway stairwell.
I couldn't catch my breath, so I sat down on the step halfway up the staircase. I was breathing hard, clutching my stomach and crying. And a homeless man emerged from around the corner carrying a plastic bag of fruit. Oh, shit, it's going down, he hollered when he saw me. A few more people stopped and came to my side, checking to see if I was OK. And all I could do was gasp and wheeze and cry.
Listen, the homeless man said to bystanders, I can help cut an umbilical cord if anyone needs me to. I have beard scissors. I just need some Purell if anybody has some handy. My god, I thought. This is it. I'm going into labor in a fucking stairwell and a fascist is president and a homeless man is about to cut my cord with his beard clippers.
Siren cue on point. Someone had the good sense to call 911, and soon an ambulance arrived/ the paramedics put me in the back of their ambulance and began to ask me questions. Ma'am, do you think you're going into labor? I don't know, I don't know, I said between attempts to catch my breath. Either Hillary Clinton's loss just broke my water or Donald Trump's election just gave me a miscarriage.
I took a breath. I don't want her, I cried to them. She deserves better than me. She deserves better than this The paramedic placed an oxygen mask over my mouth and began to take my pulse. The homeless man who had been standing there the whole time at the foot of the ambulance doors pulled an orange out of his plastic bag and placed it on the edge of the stretcher before quietly walking away.
They took me to the hospital, where it was quickly discovered that I was not going into labor. I wasn't even going into contractions. I was having a massive panic attack. I called my birthing doctor and she instructed me to come directly to her office immediately. When I walked into her suite she took me by the hand and brought me to her room, said, OK, kiddo, she said in her tough accent. Give it to me. What's going on?
When you become a mother, people to tell you to expect many things. Expect to be exhausted all the time, to lose a lot of sleep, to never have sex with your husband again, all of which is true, especially if your husband was a Bernie supporter. But no one ever tells women how incredibly vulnerable it is that you live in a perpetual state of rawness, of constant fear for your child and the life that child will live or miss out on or never get to live at all. No one prepares you for the type of love you experience because it cannot be described.
I tried to gather my thoughts I told her, Hillary's loss was not just about the loss of a fucking candidate I admired. It was a critical loss for Americans' identity. It was a robbery for womankind. Her loss was a projection of all of our losses as women throughout history, a culmination of our collective sacrifices, our abuses, our disparities, our silences, our injustices. Hillary was the cherry on top, symbolic of all that we had fought for and lost for generations.
Dr. Maron, I have no idea how to raise a daughter in that kind of loss and that kind of void. I don't know how to love something that much, so much that it owns me. I'm confused, estranged from myself and this world. I'm losing it. I'm fucking losing it. Come on, you gotta have something. Can I take-- can I have something like an anti-anxiety pill or bourbon or Ryan Gosling? I just don't want to feel so much all the time.
OK, kiddo, you done? She said to me. Listen, we're going to do something right now, OK? We're going to do something for you and that worn out soul of yours.
She held a heart monitor up on my stomach and told me to pull out my iPhone. She proceeded to tell me that I could do whatever I wanted to do all day long. I could torture myself by reading the news. I could watch the inauguration. I could read Twitter. Go nuts, she said. But I want you to do two things every morning and every night, every morning when you first wake up and every night before you go to bed, the first and last things you do every day. I want you to play this recording for yourself and remember your own capacity to love, how deeply, dangerously, and daringly we all choose to love in this world, no matter its cruelties.
I began to cry. I love her so much, Dr. Maron. How do I know if she loves me back? This is how, she said. This.
MARY MCCORMACK: I'm happy to be here, and I'm really sorry just right up front that I'm not Lena Dunham.
In so many ways. This is a piece called Cooking by Lena Dunham. I'm going to start this piece the way I start most days, by blaming my mother. Well, first I'll list some things that she excelled at. Protecting us from harm. Explaining adult concepts in ways that didn't terrify her children. Organizing treasure hunts in and around our home. Pretending her hand was a pet alligator named Allie. Defending us at parent-teacher conferences. You haven't shuddered till your mom has told her middle school teacher, your middle school theater teacher, she has no sense of true art. She made every weeknight an act of rebellion, and every weekend a safari through the city, and the only people she ever got angrier at than us were those that didn't recognize what she believed was our Mensa level genius. Average intelligence my ass, she screamed, as she ripped up my lengthy ADHD testing report.
She picked the chicest items in Delia's Warehouse sale catalog, the best nail polishes from Wet n Wild, and she modified our McDonald's takeout order so they had more flavor, less filler. She let me wear her sweaters as dresses. I may have been the last to lose my virginity, but I was the first to have pink hair. She was Cher in Clueless and Cher in Mermaids. She was magic.
This is all, of course, a lead up to what she didn't do. She refused to sit through school plays. She refused to listen when we read our poetry aloud. She refused to get off the phone, ever, or cook. She did not cook. She will fight this assertion like a Long Island-bred samurai. She will say, I slaved over a hot stove just like my Russian grandmother. She will remind me of the Chez Panisse cookbook that sat behind the answering machine, and she will ask, were you ever hungry? No. No, you were not hungry. No, because I cooked.
But her definition of cooking is wildly skewed, and therefore, so is mine. Defrosting a hamburger patty for my father to pan fry? Cooking. Frozen tortellini? I mean, if you talk on the phone, then suddenly realize the stove isn't lit, it's al dente. And the worst offender of all, she'll go to her death defending this horrible gourmet snack of raw cauliflower covered with cumin and mayonnaise.
I never judged her for it. Instead, I became obsessed with takeout. The joy of picking your variant of Chinese chicken, the luxurious reveal of the congealed contents of the carton. To this day, even home-cooked meals made by caring friends cannot match the thrill of the plastic bag of possibility. In my 20s, it was easy to excuse the constant ordering. I lived alone, worked insane hours, and often forgot to take my jeans off to sleep. For a brief time, I even took to ordering a muffin every night and placing it by my bedside for the morning. Cereal plus milk? Waste of time and manual labor.
The circumstances of my life, combined with a penchant for using processed food as a sedative-- that's another story-- meant take out was my religion. I could have anything I wanted without speaking to anyone. Summer rolls and a hamburger? I'll take it all, like some willful child dictator sitting on a throne of wrappers, napkins, and receipts. But as I started to spend time in more adult homes, it was becoming clear this was not the norm.
I've been busy declaring home cooks to be people with random time on their hands while I comforted myself picturing important relevant families picking up a bag from Boston Market. But it turns out some of the world's busiest people-- I love this picture. I can't stop. Love it so much. So many jokes, so little time, really. Anyway, it turns out some of the world's busiest people cook for themselves.
Even people raising kids on their own while holding down two jobs are finding time to shop and to make their own food, an approach that is altogether more sensible, not to mention more affordable. And if they could do it, what was my excuse? After all my work partner, someone whose career I had a pretty solid sense of, because, you know, it's a shared career. Not only cooks for her children nightly, but also cooks to relax. This shocking awareness made my own appetites feel excessive, almost immoral. It was one thing to be starving, quite another to be so fucking lazy about it.
I started to consider changing my ways when I thought about having a family. And when every single magazine and newspaper article screamed at me, gluten's gonna kill you, and sugar is the Antichrist, I realized I had myself a conundrum. We all know home cooking and shared meals are age old ways to bond and unite our clans. We also know that, by cooking, you can control what's being put in your food and your children's food. And the first tenet of many diets is cook ahead, start preparing your own lunches. Why don't you start preparing my grave?
So maybe I can use my busy life as an excuse. We're all pretty busy. But then how do I explain away my aversion to preparing healthful meals? The same way I'm learning to explain so much to myself. I just don't want to. The thrill of a sizzling pan? Lost on me. Pinches of spice? Too restrained. Raw meat? No! Ugh. Can't. So for many years I didn't consider "I just don't want to" as a valid excuse. But our goal, I think, as actualised adults, is to know what bores us, and to lean toward the things that we're passionate about and to spread joy using our specific skill set.
For example, I benefit daily from my own thrifty creativity. My excellent taste in weirdos, my ability to handle blood, vomit, and even the unspeakable third substance, and my passion for essential overlooked media. My theoretical children will have janky but spirited themed parties and an array of radical aunts and uncles, and I won't barf when they barf. They'll know about Gidget and Moesha, and the soundtrack to Tick, Tick, Boom! the Jonathan Larson musical that predated Rent.
I'll write poems for their lunchboxes every day, even at the lunch is a sandwich we pick up in a Lyft. Oh yeah, I can't drive either. I'll keep them healthy with the age-old battle cry of Jewish-American princesses everywhere. Dressing on the side, please! However, I admit I may need to know how to at least turn on the stove. My 13-year-old goddaughter eating pizza in my living room and using her uncanny knack for zeroing in on adult insecurities told me, at least you have to learn about pasta for an emergency. This was after she led me, as confused and sweaty as I might be at a SoulCycle class, down the aisles of our local supermarket.
OK, I conceded, because I will concede her anything. She says a quesadilla is as easy as making toast. That's going on the assumption that I've made toast, but fine. But beautifully roasted chickens and home-whipped cream will have to happen at her normal house, not with her Auntie Mame. I like fantasizing about my currently imaginary children. We'll head to the Pakistan tea house with all the cab drivers changing shifts at 4:30 to grab the $5.99 vegetarian special. They'll get really into those little bags and nuts by the register at Starbucks. And if I fish around for loose change, I'll say, nothing says New York like a street hotdog.
Maybe their friends will tease them about their lunches, like I was teased for having a roll and an apple and a raw hotdog in a plastic bag. No one will want to trade. They can take it. I did. 'Course, fantasies are just that. If I get my ass handed to me by my angry, hungry children, it's gonna be for something, right? I'd rather it be for my meals than my politics. Lord help me if it's both.
Ironically, it was when my little sister and I left the house that my mother began cooking in earnest. Just recently I saw an Instagram in which one of her friends thanked her for her delicious homegrown tomato salad. I mean, who is she? Who is this freak with a ladle, and what did she do with my mother? Nothing, if not surprising, my mother is now learning to make meals for the people she loves. The betrayal stings, but not as much as the burn I got the one time I tried to make lasagna. No apologies. I inherited my appetites. And I'm almost ready to pass them on.
DYLLAN MCGEE: So, some of you were here last year, and experienced for the first time, something that we did that is so special that we were like, "We got to do it again," the amazing Kathy Najimy. Yeah, yeah. So she put together something called "Real Life Stories," and this is something that you don't see in a lot of places. This is women coming up on the stage and telling very real and raw stories of their lives. And they do it because of Kathy.
Kathy is the Makers fairy godmother. She has been so extraordinary to us, and if you know the hours that go behind the scenes into putting this together, you'd be blown away. And Kathy has done, I mean, you know, she's on, you know Veep right now. She is, you know, Graves, and all these incredible things. But what really matters to her is the real work. And I'm going to read this, because it's so inspiring.
She's currently working on a documentary to meet and understand the 53% of white women who voted for Trump. She's also working on her true passion with one of her best friends, a play about the life of Gloria Steinem. Ladies and gentlemen, the one and only Kathy Najimy.
I do what I want. Yes, she does. Did what you say. I work real hard every day. I'm a mother f-[BLEEP] bullet, baby, all right. I don't need a man.
KATHY NAJIMY: Wow-wee. I want to meet me after that, and I have my own theme music. I'm never leaving Los Angeles. So this is one of my favorite evenings of the year. Are you guys having a good time so far? It's so great. It's almost like a fantasy. So, our prompt from Makers this year is Raise Your Voice, although full disclosure, I have to tell you, raising my voice has never been a problem for me. Most would agree. But it's a groovy sentiment. I like it.
And in line with Raise Your Voice tonight, we've scored three of the most potent voices of their generation. Events like the Makers gala gives us a place to call our own, and to welcome 2018 with resolve, hope, commitment, and a huge mug of Grey Goose, let's hope. These next couple days were celebrating the feeling of having almost landed, almost. We're almost there. For me, as a longtime feminist, I am freaking thrilled to now be a part of the Time's Up movement. Oh, it's so rewarding.
And as you all know, Time's Up was a response to #MeToo, an unearthing of an army of pain, courage, and resolve. The only possible way to heal is together. It's not required we have to agree with each other's views, Gloria. It's not required that we have to agree with each other's views. The only possible way to heal is that we agree with lifting up each other's voices.
So, that's maybe-- that's not true, because full disclosure, I am not in line for lifting up Kellyanne Conway or Ann Coulter's voice. So not-- I wrote that, and I thought, Kathy, you're lying. You don't want to lift up everybody's voice, just those of us who are into compassion, humanity, and equality. And oh, speaking of equality, Patty Arquette asked me to remind you that our discrimination, assault, and sadness would vanish with the passing of the ERA. We have to get on that.
So, for the past six years, I've had the pleasure of working with some known women, spending time with them, helping to write, curate, and direct personal stories. Too deep for a talk show appearance, like you can't sit on the couch at Jimmy Kimmel and talk about this, and too long to tweet. And maybe, some personal info. What I can tell you is that these stories support-- that we don't-- that the response to the feeling that we don't have the right to speak up. We end up thinking of ourselves, of what, at every turn, we've been told about ourselves.
I had-- I'm going to tell a quick story. I had dinner with a bunch of people and Katie Couric a couple of months ago, and she was sitting at this long table with these young actors, and they were asking her questions and they were having this great political discussion. And at one point, I reached across and I thought, "Oh my god." I grabbed her hand and I said, "Katie, you have to run for office." And Katie Couric, the most experienced, smartest person I've ever met, said to me, "Ah, Kathy, I don't think I am smart enough." So that's the impostor syndrome at its very, very worst. Katie freaking Couric.
So, these stories are a response to that, our experience and intelligence. The bar has-- and speaking of running for office, the bar has been raised so low that it's like the limbo stick for like a Keebler elf, like anybody can run. It becomes clear that we're just one big coven of people. And in that, we gain strength, the strength that men are told from birth that they deserve. So, these personal stories, and us sharing our stories makes it easier for us to take hands, to look into each other's eyes, as Gloria says, "Don't look up, look in," and rise the hell up together.
KATHY NAJIMY: Gabourey Sidibe and I originally read through this process of creating her first piece that we're going to do tonight and it was an experience beyond translation we are so grateful to have-- from her award winning work in Precious, her hit TV show Empire and the Big C, her best seller, "This is Just My Face. Try Not to Stare," and fresh off her directing of her first film, The Tale of Four, my heart and soul friend, Gabourey Sidibe.
[MUSIC PLAYING-- QUEEN LATIFAH, "U.N.I.T.Y"] Who you calling a bitch? U N I T Y. You gotta let them know. U N I T Y. Yo, come on here we go. U N I T Y. You gotta let them know. I'm a black woman trying-- You ain't a bitch, you're a ho. Here we go. U N I T Y. You gotta let them know. U N I T Y. Come on, come on, here we go. U N I T Y.
GABOUREY SIDIBE: I want everyone to see the outfit.
[LAUGHS] Thanks. I wanted everyone to see my outfit.
Happy Black History Month, mostly white people.
Let's do it big. Let's all go see Black Panther. OK, one of the first things people ask me is, Gabourey how are you so confident? I always wonder if that's the first thing they ask Rihanna when they meet her. Ri-Ri, how are you so confident? Of course not. Everybody knows why Rihanna is confident. She's beautiful. But me? Constantly.
And they always ask the same, incredulous disbelief every, single time. You seem so confident. How is that? So what is with all this unwarranted confidence? Well when I was about 10 years old and in the fifth grade, that was me. [LAUGHS] I know, I was stunning.
Um, when I was in fifth grade my teacher, Mrs. Loeb, announced that my class would be having a holiday party right before Christmas break. And she asked that we all bring snacks, and soda, and juice to share with class for the party. She also said that we have the option of cooking something for the class if we wanted to. And I was super, super excited, OK?
I immediately decided that I was going to bake gingerbread cookies and that everyone was going to love them. Doye. Right? So I told my mom my plan. And I asked her for money so that I can buy the ingredients. And she thought I should just, like, buy some cookies. But I told her that look, store bought cookies just don't have love in them. And so-- so they had to be homemade.
So I bought the mix and cookie cutters in the shape of like bells and Christmas trees-- like Christmas-y stuff, you know? And I made a practice batch of cookies that went horribly wrong, like really, really bad. But the good thing is that they were just a practice batch. And so the night before the party, I made the hero batch. And they were still terrible, but they looked a lot better. So, doing good.
So I carefully put them all into a giant Ziploc bag and I stashed them for the party, the next day. When I got to school in the morning, I just, like, could not wait until that party. I was so proud of those cookies and all of the effort and the love that I put right into them, you know? And you know, they were really pretty.
And I was starting to think you know, maybe I wouldn't just be the first black female president. You know? Like, maybe I'd also be a celebrity chef. I mean, like, why should I limit myself? Right?
So the party was set to take place during the last hour of school. And I waited excitedly for that party all day long. So finally, it's the last hours school. And it was finally party time. And my teacher asked what every one brought. And I proudly announce that I baked cookies for the class. I was even prouder knowing that, like, everyone else just bought stuff. OK? I was the only one who actually made anything because I'm just, like, a little more clever than, like, most people. You know? It was like a little, like, a better person, you know?
So as the party starts, I walk around the class and I proudly offer up these cookies to every single person in the class. And no one took a cookie-- no one. No one, except for Nicholas who-- he was the first person I offered to. But after a few of our other classmates set him straight, he actually caught up with me as I walked around the class. And he gave the cookie back-- like, that's shade, right?
But I continued my walk around the class until I ended up back at my desk with the same amount of cookies that I'd started out with. And I just sat at my desk alone, eating those gross gingerbread cookies that took me hours to make. And I ate them all by myself.
You know, I wasn't surprised. I just sort of forgot for a moment that everyone in my entire class actually hated me. I didn't have any friends at all. I actually had zero friends from fourth grade to sixth grade. I mean, who the hell was I making cookies for? I really just got so excited to bake that I'd forgotten that everyone hated my guts.
Why didn't they like me? Well, I was fat. That's true. I still am. I had dark skin and weird hair. I still do. But the truth is, this isn't a story about bullying-- OK-- or color or weight. They hated me because I was an asshole--
--like a real asshole, like a pompous asshole you guys, I swear. So like remember back like a few minutes ago when I said that I thought I was like a little bit cleverer and like a better person than most, I did believe that. And I told them that every single day. Like really, those kids couldn't get a single-- they couldn't get a word in edgewise without me cutting them off and reminding them that I was smarter, I was funnier, I was wittier-- just again, a better person.
I was always, like, really sarcastic. I always called sarcasm my birth defect. But you know, kids don't, like, get sarcasm-- stupid kids.
It's not my fault if you don't get it. I'm just saying. But they never knew what the hell I was talking about. And when they'd say, wait huh? I'd say, my God Alicia, read a book. Who was I-- asshole, right? I just spoke differently than them. I sounded more like a valley girl than a Brooklyn girl. And my classmates always asked me if I were adopted by white people. And I'd say, oh no-- both of my parents went to college.
And I was I feel like that's too advanced, like that's too advanced shade for a child, but I had it. I had it. I was a prodigy. So but, you know, actually I have to say that I'm still really proud of that. To be fair, in my neighborhood not everyone's parents had the opportunity to go to college. Most of my classmates' parents were actually teenagers when they had them. And my parents were 30 when they had me.
My father was born in Senegal. And his father was the mayor of the capital city, Dekar. And we often went back to Africa with him. My mother was a teacher in my school, which is why I went there. But also, my mom had a really great voice. And so, she was a singer. And when I was nine years old, she quit teaching in order to become a subway singer, full-time. She actually made more money singing in the subway than she ever made as a teacher.
Either way, that equaled out to me being, like, a huge snob. And I just kind of really did think I was better than the kids in my class. And I just-- it was my duty to let them know that I was better. And that's why they didn't like me, surprisingly. I think the reason I spoke so highly of myself all the time is because no one else ever did. I figured out that I was smart because when my mother yelled at my older brother she'd say, your little sister is going to pass you in school. She's going to graduate before you.
But she never turned to me and said, you are smart. What she did say was, you are fat. I got the message that I might not be pretty. I might not be normal. But I was smart, like, I had that at least. Well, why wouldn't they just say that to me? You're smart. See how easy that was? You're smart.
My dad would yell at my brother and say, Gabourey does her homework by herself. Why can't you? But he never said to me, good job. He said, you need to lose weight so that I can be proud of you. So I got made fun of at school and I got made fun of at home, too.
My older brother hated me. My dad didn't really understand me. And my mother, who was a fat little girl herself at my age, understood me perfectly but she berated me because she was so afraid of the life she thought I would lead. So I only felt safe when I was alone. And my response was always to eat more because nothing says, you hurt my feelings-- fuck you-- like a delicious cookie.
Gabourey, how are you so confident? It's actually not super easy. It's really hard to get dressed up for award shows and red carpets when I know that I will be made fun of because of my weight. There's always a big chance that if I wear purple, somebody will call me Barney-- if I wear white, a frozen turkey-- if I wear a red, a pitcher of Kool-Aid.
These are actual tweets I've gotten, you guys. Twitter will blow up with nasty comments about how that recent earthquake was caused by me running to a hot dog cart. [LAUGHS] This is super shady. I don't-- I didn't read this, but it's really funny also.
Diet or die, they say. This is what I deal with every time I put on a dress. It's what I deal with every time someone takes a picture of me. Sometimes when I'm being interviewed by a fashion reporter, I can just hear their inner dialogue in their eyes. How is she getting away with this? Why is she so confident? Like, what does she do? How is she-- how does she deal with that body? Oh my God, that body-- holy shit, I'm going to catch fat!
When I was eight, my mom moved my brother and I to my aunt's house. Her name is Dorothy Pitman Hughes and she's a feminist, an activist, and a longtime friend of Gloria Steinem. Every day, I had to get up and go to school where everyone made fun of me. And then, I had to go home where everyone made fun of me. And every day, it was really hard to get going no matter which direction I was going.
But on my way out of the house, I found strength. In the morning on my way out into the world, I passed a portrait of my aunt and Gloria together.
Side by side, they stood-- one with long beautiful hair and the other with the roundest afro I've ever seen.
They both held their fists really high in the air-- powerful, confident. And everyday, I'd leave the room my mother, my brother, and I shared. And I'd give that photo the fist right back. And I'd march off into battle. And at the end of the day when I walked back up the stairs, I'd give that photo the face again. And I'd continue my march back into more battle. And I didn't really know that I was being inspired, then. But I was. I mean, if-- if they could be that cool and that strong, like, maybe I could too.
So OK, let's go back. We're still in fifth grade. I'd just been rejected by 28 kids in a row. And now, I'm sitting alone at my desk with an empty Ziploc bag, crumbs on my lap because I ate every single one of those gross cookies. I looked at this great party that I had waited all week for that I actually wasn't invited to.
But for some reason, I got up. You know? I got up. I sat on my desk. I laughed really loud when something funny happened. And when my teacher put on music, I was the first one to get up and dance. I joined a limbo contest. And I ate chips and I ate other people's cookies. And I drank soda. And I had the best time ever. And you know why? Because I'm still an asshole. And what I wanted was more important than what those 28 other kids wanted. I wanted a party and they didn't want me to be there. But all I know is, I actually had a super good time.
So how am I so confident? Because it's my good time and my good life, despite what you think of me. I live my life.
I live my life because I dare. I dare to show up still when anyone else might hide their face and their entire body in shame. I show up because I want to have a good time. My mother and my father-- they wanted the best for me. And I'm grateful to them. And I'm grateful to my fifth grade class. Because if they hadn't made me cry, I wouldn't be able to cry on cue right now. These are fake tears.
If I hadn't been told that I was garbage, I wouldn't have learned how to show people that I'm talented. If everyone had always laughed at my jokes, I wouldn't have figured out how to be funny. And if they hadn't told me I was ugly, I never would have searched for my beauty. And if they hadn't tried to break me, I wouldn't know that I am fucking unbreakable.
So when you ask me how I'm so confident, I know what you're really asking. How could someone like me be confident? Go ask Rhianna and stop undressing me with your eyes!
[LAUGHTER] [MUSIC PLAYING-- RIHANNA, "DIAMONDS"] So shine bright, tonight. You and I, we're beautiful like diamonds in the sky. I'm too high, so alive. We're beautiful like diamonds in the sky.