Monday, July 6, 2009

Life out of the closet for Melanie Lowe

Adam Lambert isn't the only Idols runner-up coming out of the closet. On the other side of the world, in South Africa, talented musician Melanie Lowe recently came out in a local magazine interview. Her Story caught up with her to get the low-down on what's happened since then.

Her Story: Congrats on recently 'coming out' of the closet. It couldn't have been an easy decision to make, for you, given your celebrity status in SA. Mel, how long have you known that you were gay? There's a debate about nature or nurture. Which one do you think it was in your case?
Mel: I've known almost my whole life that I was different, I just didn't know what to call it! I knew from a very young age that I was drawn more to women than men. I remember that thought becoming apparent to me when I was in Junior Primary School! I only learnt the word "lesbian" when I was about 16 and then I still didn't associate that name with what I thought was my own personal problem. I didn't know there were others like me.
Regarding the nature vs nurture debate, I don't think anything is just black or white. There are always gray areas. Personally, I believe that I was born like this and no amount of heterosexual influence from my family, changed that! That's just how I am! I know some women who have had really bad experiences with men and, after years of abuse, made a conscious decision to rather date women. Perhaps they were always gay and they just never acknowledged it, or, at the risk of being shot down, perhaps they just made a decision based on being hurt too much. There are gay women who hate men intensely and that makes no sense to me. I think there is something underlying there because, being gay doesn't have to mean you hate men. You just can't fall in love with them. I don't hate men at all and none of my gay friends do. There are certain individuals, both male and female, that I don't see eye to eye with, but that comes down to that particular person and not their sex. I honestly can't speak about the "nature vs nurture" issue with any authority. I can only speak from my own experience. I know that I couldn't just decide to be straight and live a life with a man. I tried that. It didn't feel right. In fact it felt completely wrong! I tried to date men for my family's sake and also because I just wanted to not have to fight anymore and to be seen as "normal" by those around me. I was brought up in a very christian household. We never even spoke about gay people or homosexuality. It wasn't just NOT an option, it was a complete unknown quantity. My parents have been married fo
r 36 years and they are still just as in love as they were when they first got married. I have only had good examples of lasting love in a very heterosexual environment and yet I am 100% gay and because it was so unknown to me, it tipped my world onto its side. I questioned everything I was brought up to believe and I still do. My parents brought me up to have good morals and high standards and to be a good person and I retained all of that, but as for being gay, they were as innocent as I was about it all and yet, here I am, in love with, and marrying, a woman. The jury's still out on this topic, for me, clearly;)

Her Story: What's your advice to gay women out there, of any age, who may be grappling with their own sexuality or denying their attraction to women because they're afraid of being rejected or discriminated against?
Mel: Unfortunately, in some countries it's not just a fear of being rejected or discriminated against. There is a very real fear of being physically hurt and, in those situations I am at a loss for advice. I just think it's so horribly sad and it makes me realise how lucky I actually am. But if it is rejection you fear, I can speak on that, with authority, because I WAS rejected. When I was 19 years old I was given an ultimatum to change or leave. What choice did I have? I had to leave. It took 15 years for everyone to finally come around and they were hard years. I spent a lot of them alone, or going from one equally disastrous relationship to another because I hated myself and didn't feel I deserved any better. I was told repeatedly that I was something to be ashamed of and that I was going to hell and that I was no better than a child molester. The list of names was endless. I was told I couldn't be a teacher because it was thought I wasn't fit to be teaching children and I stopped my studies because I believed it was true. I wasn't welcome in the church, not that I would have gone anyway. By that time I had lost all faith in a God that, I felt, had let me down completely. I had begged him to cure me, so many times over the years and yet, there I was, an outcast because he hadn't listened to anything I'd asked. And then, after all that effort of coming out to my family, I went back IN the closet because, in all my confusion, I took a detour where I tried dating men about 8 years ago! I just got tired of all the antagonism and rejection. Round about that time I also suddenly became a household name and the fear of my past being discovered was so intense and so real that I didn't sleep for years! I imagined all manner of awful things happening when it did come out. Especially when I realised that I definitely was gay and started dating women again! The paranoia was magnified! I blew it out of all proportion in my mind until it nearly drove me mad. And I was, once again, the black sheep (pink sheep as I called myself!) of the family. All this probably only gives everyone reason to stay IN the closet! But there is a happy ending:) Those years were such a growing experience for me and I learnt so much about myself. They weren't easy lessons and I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy but now that I'm on the other side of them I can say I'm grateful. That whole experience taught me to ask questions, to find my own conclusions and for that reason I am 100% sure of who I am and what I believe. I would never have had the strength to come out publicly if I didn't have that knowledge behind me. When I finally found peace within myself and came out officially a month ago, I was well-received by the public and there has been 99% positivity in the feedback. The world is changing and more people are adopting the attitude of ,"Live and let live." My life has changed in so many good ways since I took the step and realised it was time to live my life honestly and with integrity. The peace you feel within yourself is impossible to describe until you experience it for yourself. I do think that, if you are going to take the step, you need to be strong enough in your belief in yourself and who you are, and it helps to have a supportive partner as well, because there will be some negative feedback. That's part of life. You can't please everybody. But you are doing this to be honest with yourself and the sense of freedom is worth any heartache. There are so many irrational fears when you are in the closet and, while you're in there, they're so hugely overwhelming it's scary. It's amazing though, that, when you open those doors and step out, the fear runs out faster than you can and fizzles away into nothing. It happens so swiftly that you wonder why you ever gave them room to breathe at all.

Her Story: I believe that your fans have been very supportive of you. How have those in the music industry reacted? Do you see this move as career limiting in any way or are indications there that it won't be a factor?
Mel: Everyone has been very supportive and I don't just mean my fans (who have been wonderful) but I also mean the media. Every interview I have done has been a positive interview. The journalists/DJ's/Presenters have all been so happy for us and we've had no negative press at all. It's quite incredible. I think this will affect my career as much as I allow it to actually. I really believe we did what was right for us. In terms of my music, I've always felt the hand of destiny on my career. When I went in the direction it pushed me, doors opened. When I fought it, doors slammed left, right and centre! Since we came out, doors have been opening in both our lives so I have to believe destiny is in the driver's seat and we are more than willing passengers!

Her Story: How is your music going to change, if at all, now that you are an 'out' woman?
Mel: My music is always changing as I grow as an artist and no doubt it will continue to do so but it's still inherently me. I think there will be a lot of songs surrounding this time in my life. They've started already!

Her Story: I believe you're writing again. Is there a new album on the horizon and what can you tell us about it?
Mel: I'm always writing and it's usually at times where there are big changes in my life, that I write the most which is why I'm writing so much now. My writing style has definitely taken a far more positive direction which would make sense;) In terms of an album, that is a given. I still have 100s of songs to record. I don't intend to stop!

Her Story: Musically, if you could sing a duet with anyone out there, male or female, who would it be and why?
Mel: So many brilliant artists, so little time;) I already had one dream come true in terms of that. Sarah Bettens, from K's Choice, came out to South Africa last year and I literally begged to be part of that tour! All the costs came out of my own pocket. I sang for free but it was so worth it. I have been a fan for many, many years. First and foremost she is an artist, and an extremely talented one at that. But she is also a gay woman so comfortable in her own skin, and so proud of who she is and she isn't afraid to talk about it. I was so fortunate, on the Durban leg of the tour, to be able to get up on stage next to her and sing "20 000 seconds" with her. I will never forget that moment. I could hardly sing past the lump in my throat. This was an idol of mine for about 13 years. I never dreamt I'd be in that position! It was one of those defining moments in my career when it dawned on me that ANYTHING can happen if you want it enough to make it happen. I sacrificed a lot for that tour and it was worth everything! Now... If someone could just warn Tori Amos that I have my sights set on her next;) I'm sending out a message to the universe!

Her Story: Which women - famous or not - are your role-models? And (I have to ask), who gets your heart racing?
Mel: In terms of role models, I look to Tori Amos for inspiration. I think Tori Amos is one of the most underrated artists in the industry. She is not mainstream at all, and shows no desire to be, and she is my biggest inspiration in terms of music, tenacity and integrity. She really struggled to hold onto that musical integrity. Record labels tried to get her to conform to their style but she remained true to herself and, through perserverance, she has built up an incredibly loyal following. Her fans truly love her as a person, and an artist. Her phenomenal success is due, entirely, to her not giving up and believing in her abilites despite all the odds stacked against her. She inspires me to perservere when I have those moments of thinking, "This is not working!" I just remember how she used to go from hotel to hotel playing piano for a handful of people eating their dinner, earning next to nothing, and then I think of where she is now and it gives me hope for my own future as an artist! And I have to say, the way she plays the piano certainly gets my heart racing!! But seriously, I have always been a one-woman kind of girl! When I'm with someone I love, my eyes only see them!

Her Story: This final question is an 'open mic' question. Is there anything you'd like to say to the readers out there?

Mel: I'd like to share my thoughts regarding the issue of gay marriage and the fact that it remains illegal in most states in America: I can understand people fearing something that they don't understand. We are all guilty of that on different levels. The danger comes in when you use that fear to negatively affect other lives, without a good understanding of the thing you fear. With knowledge, comes understanding, and with understanding, comes peace. Think about how you feel when watching a scary movie: When you hear the scary music, as the girl is walking into the room where you KNOW the murderer is hiding, the fear the music is creating, is based on the unknown. What will happen to her? Will she survive? Will he kill her? Once you know the outcome, be it good or bad, you breathe a sigh of relief and move away from the fear, even though the outcome may not have been what you wanted. The same applies to this kind of fear. It's fear of the unknown. But here's a suggestion: instead of merely saying, “I don't understand it,” or, “I've been told it's wrong,” DO YOUR RESEARCH, find out why and face that fear head on. Then, armed with that knowledge, if you have something intelligent to say about why you believe gay marriage is wrong, I will listen. BUT, if you tell me it's wrong, without a solid reason, I will not afford you that courtesy. That is not to say that I could ever even change how I am. That would be as ludicrous as asking someone to please remove their left arm as it's offending you! It can't be done without enormous pain and sacrifice and you would always know it was meant to be there. You cannot criticise someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes. There's no better way to learn. Until you have done that, you can't decide that gay marriage is wrong. Everybody loves, and everybody deserves to honour that love in the form of a commitment, like marriage, if that is what they want and nobody has the right to take that away from them. I really hope that the world starts to open their eyes and I also believe that the best way we can educate people is if we come out. If more people know someone personally, who is gay, it will really start to change the world's perception and preconceived notions about gay people in general. Look what Ellen has done for the world! I'm nowhere near Ellen's level but I've always known the power that I held in my hands, to change lives. We all have that power. It's not easy and I think it's important that you only do it when you're ready. But you only get one shot at this particular life and I believe that living a life with honesty and integrity, will hold you in very good stead for what is still to come. It doesn't matter if people think of you negatively at first. They will get used to the idea when they realise that you are not going to change just because they don't like it. They will also realise that you are still the same person that they loved before you told them and it will immediately make them more receptive to the next gay person they meet. Never forget that you can do anything if you do it with confidence and people will respect those who respect themselves.

More about Melanie at

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