Life as (Award-Winning) Art, Lena Waithe
As a writer for “Master of None,” Lena Waithe got the chance to turn one of her life stories into an episode that won an Emmy Award.
JANET: I remember after the summer of my freshman year in high school, I finally began to socially and medically transition. And so I was going by Janet. I was taking hormones. I was living my life in my true identity and my true gender. And so when I returned to school in the 10th grade, we had a back to school kind of assembly for sophomores. And I remember, it was my turn to go on stage and I was finally confident in the way that I was presenting. I was wearing clothes that I chose with the name that I chose. And I stood on that stage and grabbed the microphone and reintroduced myself at 15 as Janet. I acknowledged to my classmates and to my peers that, I know that you all knew me in a certain way in the ninth grade, but this is who I am. And I'm one of your class leaders.
And that was probably the first time that I truly revealed who I was on a public stage and really just kind of owned who I was. When I look back, that kind of self-assuredness still kind of stuns me, because I couldn't imagine being a 15-year-old standing on such a stage going through these life experiences and this shift in my life and standing there and kind of telling people to follow my lead and to respect my name, my pronouns, and my gender.
CHERRIE MORAGA: When I had graduated from high school and got into college, and it was the first time I became sexually active, and that just then really brought back all those feelings again around desire for women. And it became very evident. I couldn't deny it. And so then I'd have to eventually tell my family and everything.
And basically, I was just going to move up North and not tell anybody. But my mother made me. She basically had said to me, you're living with a secret. She totally busted me. And so I did come out to her. And she wasn't nice about it for the first half of the conversation. But she was really upset and really horrified, really, really sad.
I mean, for her that was just like, oh my god. Your life is going to be so bad, because that's what she knew. And so she got mean. What parents do when they get afraid, they get mean. And so she got really mean and really vulgar about it.
And that was the best thing she did, because she wasn't hurting at that moment, or I couldn't see it. Because when she was hurting, I was hurting. We're both crying. And I just felt so bad for hurting her. But when she got mean, it was really good, because then I was able to defend myself.
I had to defend who I was. And I told her that I would never-- that it wasn't going to change. This was who I was. And that if it meant I couldn't have a relationship with my family, then I'd have to choose my life, because it was no choice.
And my mother said to me, there is nothing you could do in this life that you would not be my daughter. End of story, right? I mean, I love her for that moment. I love her for that moment, because it meant that she saw me.
And I think that's what every young person wants, really, from their parents is just to be seen and still loved. And that's exactly what happened in that moment between my mother and me.
LENA WAITHE: I went to New York to sit with Al and Aziz and all the other writers just to, like, talk story ideas. In the midst of just having a conversation, Alan asked how I came out, and I proceeded to tell them, not thinking that it was that interesting. And I got back to my hotel, and they were like, they both called me and said, we want to do an episode about that.
But Aziz was like, you have to help write it, because it's so specific, and it's your story, and I can't write that by myself. So it was really just a beautiful, perfect storm. I was very open about my experiences, and we-- I was trying to make it funny, because that's what we like to do, but without taking away from story or belittling anything in it.
So when people reacted to it the way they did, it was icing on the cake, because we had already had so much fun making the episode. I felt, you know, really humbled by all of it. Because there's a lot of me's out there, and I think they felt really represented with the episode, which I'm really proud of.