Fall 2000 Newsletter
The Newsletter of the Williams College Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, and Transgendered Alumnae/i Network
In this issue...
Relax... It's Just Mitchell Anderson '83
By Dena Luna Zaldúa '98
On Sunday of the BiGALA reunion weekend this April, Mitchell Anderson '83 agreed to meet up with me in the Snack Bar for an interview. Before meeting him, I was nervous. I got to the Snack Bar early to do my homework - I went over what I could remember of his talk the night before (didn't he say something about Ricky Martin's struggle with the closet?) and came up with a list of questions that would cover his many facets.
My girlfriend, Carina [Vance '99], being a huge fan of Jennifer Tilly's after seeing her incarnation of Violet, the ultra-sexy super-femme in Bound, made sure to remind me to ask Mitchell what Ms. Tilly is really like in real life. I of course promised I would. Mitchell worked with Tilly, among others, in the 1998 movie Relax...It's Just Sex, which had been screened the night before, a highlight of the reunion weekend.
Readers may recognize Mitchell from his television credits, which include Popular, Party of Five, and Doogie Howser, M.D. In addition to Relax...It's Just Sex, Mitchell has also starred in If These Walls Could Talk II, The Karen Carpenter Story, and, as his bio states, "audiences of classic bad movies will remember Mitchell as the first to go in Jaws: The Revenge, which featured Lorraine Gary and her enormous shoulder pads." He has also appeared in numerous theatre productions around the country.
It is his accomplishments in the entertainment industry that make Mitchell a successful and glamorous Williams alumnus. But it is the fact that he is also an activist and an out gay actor that make him a credit and asset to both fellow alumni/ae and to the College itself. Mitchell came out at the 1996 GLAAD Awards and has been politically active ever since, a move that even most out members of Hollywood dare not make. He has worked with organizations like The Victory Fund, which raises money for gay and lesbian candidates across the country, and The Human Rights Campaign. Most recently, Mitchell was a leader in the fight against the Knight Initiative - California's proposition 22, "the limit of marriage act," which sought to recognize only marriage between a man and a woman in the state of California.
As I scribbled questions into my notebook, Mitchell soon joined me with a coffee. I immediately felt at ease - the Snack Bar's easy-going common ground was the perfect equalizer and just the right setting to talk about Williams, BiGALA, political activism, and the like.
Dena: What did you think of the BiGALA Reunion Weekend?
Mitchell: It was great for me to come back to a place where I hadn't developed into myself. It's kind of a surreal experience.
D: What was Williams like for you when you were here? What was the queer/LGBT community like?
M: Overall, my Williams experience was great. I loved Williams and campus life. I did my very best to hide my true nature without even knowing it, partly because of high school - the Tracey Flick syndrome. [During his talk the night before, Mitchell spoke of how in high school and at Williams he suffering from the 'Tracey Flick syndrome' - named after the overachieving, overzealous, nearly annoying character in the movie Election.] I had wonderful, close, close friends. As far as the gay and lesbian community, I had no concept of what it was. A few people that my friends and I knew were gay and lesbian. But there was not the same cohesive group that there is today. It's so amazing to see now.
D: What do you think about the whole chalking thing?
M: It was funny last night to hear Kyle [Roberts '95] talk about his idea of activism - chalking. It sounds quaint. I don't know if that's real activism. Also, the whole taking back of hurtful, derogatory language. I'm not sure if it's a good thing. At some point during this weekend I heard the chaplain talking about "Queer Pride Week" and "queer students." Maybe we need to be more sensitive to what we say. What we say means a lot. Language carries a lot of weight. The civil rights movement showed us that.
D: Did your time at Williams play a part (negative or positive) in your coming out?
M: Which coming out? To myself, my family, or the public? In a way, my time at Williams informed everything about my life. It was a very intellectual education, but I also learned how to be an adult, how to be a kind person. I don't think you can go to a school like Williams and not have it change the way you view the world.
D: Did you come to Williams knowing what you wanted to do? If not, when did you know and do you feel Williams helped you or hindered you in any way?
M: No, I did not know what I wanted to do. I thought about being a doctor. I took one theatre class every semester. Then I took Orgo [Organic Chemistry] and never wanted to set foot in the Chemistry Building again. Williams did what it was supposed to - it gave me passion.
D: What was it like to be a closeted actor?
M: It was very hurtful, I think. Acting is about truth. Acting is about bringing every part of yourself to create a new character. When you cut yourself off from a part of yourself, then it can harm your craft. It also hurt my relationship with my family. I asked them to respect me and then they saw me on TV without accepting myself.
D: What was it like when you came out? What was the difference between your closeted life and open life as an actor?
M: All the complicated levels of the closet. It's everyone - not just actors. The difference is that as an actor you're a public figure. People want to know about famous people. To not be able to share yourself is detrimental. We don't get very often to feel like a pioneer, on the edge of a Gay and Lesbian Revolution - it's been happening for thirty years. I can feel that I'm on the edge all the time, as a leading man - it's exhilarating and you also don't know how far you can fall.
D: How have other actors, gay or straight, reacted to your coming out and/or been affected by it?
M: I have a fantasy that at my night at the GLAAD Awards, everyone went, 'Holy shit!' There's a sense of 'good for you, but don't expect me to join you.' People are very respectful. Some probably think I'm crazy. Since college I've developed a sense that social justice is imperative for survival. I may die a pauper but I may also have changed some minds.
D: Why is the fight against the Knight Initiative important to you? Why did you get involved?
M: Because of a couple of factors. First, Pete Knight has no business offering a moral agenda for California. So I'm against him. Second, I'm offended that California could vote on the value of my life and my relationships. It was hurtful and divisive and we need to get beyond that. I couldn't not speak out against it. I believed in an egotistical way that I had a big voice and could stir the gay and lesbian community up. [The proposition] was brilliantly worded: 'valid' and 'recognized.' People focused on word meanings. People on both sides of the issue are squeamish about the word meanings. And that's where we lost.
D: If gay marriage, or something like it, like the civil unions in Vermont, were ever recognized in California, would you get married?
M: I would, if California had something like Vermont. I think I would have to. I couldn't not, because of my activism.
D: Why/how/in what ways is BiGALA important to you?
M: Honestly, it never really was important to me. Registering as a gay alum seemed weird to me. But it's another coming out step. It is important to me now. I spoke at Stanford and it was kind of an amazing and moving experience. BiGALA is important because undergrads get to see people who have created a life and that they're gonna be okay. I am so impressed by younger people who have a sense of themselves at this age.
The preceding is my best attempt to capture Mitchell's every word while scribbling ferociously in my notebook. In my concentrated journalistic mindset, however, I completely forgot to ask about Jennifer Tilly. I still have not been forgiven for my oversight, and so, Mitchell, if you are reading this and get a chance to write some email in the near future, please, inquiring minds need to know: What is Jennifer Tilly really like in real life?
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