Sally Field’s long-awaited autobiography, In Pieces, is out next week. One thing not in the book is her son Sam’s story. “It's Sam's business, and not mine to talk about,” she said. “But I will say there are parents who shut their kids out of their hearts and their homes because they’re gay and it’s unacceptable! They're just different from their brothers and sisters. And so the #$#% what!”
Hey, there's this new movie called Brokeback Mountain – let's go see it together? By the way, is there anything you wanted to tell me . . . ?- SALLY FIELD to her son, Sam, then 18
On Brothers & Sisters, Field was the mum all gay guys wished they had. What would it be like if you were gay and she really was your mum?
Sam Greisman knows. “In your face! I was 18 and she comes home and says: 'Hey, there's this new movie showing called Brokeback Mountain. Let's go see it together? By the way honey, is there anything you wanted to tell me . . . ?' "
You’ve said you have the most gay-supportive family on the planet but that doesn’t give you a free pass. A lot of young gay men would kill to have Sally Field as a mom. And a lot of parents of gay kids could learn a lot from her. I'm very, very lucky. My coming out was definitely different to a lot of people. My family is so extremely supportive, my mom especially. The question of it causing a problem or even having to sit down and talk to them was never part of it. Sure, growing up I was more sensitive, more comfortable around girls. But I was also into sports. It started to become clear to me in high school. What made me anxious was just me. I knew my family and my mom especially were trying hard to create a space where it was OK to be gay. That made me more anxious. So many times my mom would say "Watch this with me" or "Let’s talk about this" and I knew at 15 she was doing it because she knew I was probably gay and she was trying to help. I was embarrassed. Mortified. Yet that was the best she could possibly do! You couldn't ask for anything more!
What did she suggest to do together? I have a vivid memory of her wanting me to go see Brokeback Mountain with her [smiles] and I was like, OK, I know why you're doing that. Obviously, it was great on her part. But it was never gonna happen. I wasn’t anywhere near ready. She’d push anything about being in touch with your true self. I grew up in West LA, a very liberal place, and I wasn’t going to be bullied about being gay. At high school they all knew.
Your family knew before you did? For sure. Often the way. They were wanting to have the conversation and I was putting it off. I suspected I was gay at 14, 15. Looking back I remember having crushes on guys but it wasn't until mid-teens I started to be aware of it and worry about others figuring it out before I had a handle on it.
How did you come out to yourself? That was the only coming-out I had to do and it took a long time. It was something I tried to swallow down and keep in the back of my mind. A friend in high school was in the same boat which made it easier because there was something we were both not talking about. I was very aware everyone else knew and it was a subject off-limits. I couldn't get involved when others would talk about crushes or hooking up. I was back home in LA, the year of the writers' strike, and my mom was nominated for a Golden Globe for Brothers & Sisters. They didn't have the Globes because of the strike so they played interviews with the nominees. My mom was in Santa Barbara for a work thing and I was home alone, flipping round the channels. I came across her interview and they showed a video of her and I on a red carpet when I was 11. Suddenly I was irretrievably sad, looking at my younger self, not knowing who that person was. I was weirdly obsessed with finding all our home movies and I watched them over and over, desperate to see myself as a little kid and try to connect. I had this insane sense of loss, sadness. Mom came home and I was crying and saying I felt like I missed myself and we talked. Not really about my sexuality but she was asking what was it about being a little kid I missed. I said I didn’t feel a connection, or maybe I was fighting off making the connection? She was just hinting round the subject, not forcing things. I went back to New York. I was 19. It gradually became clear, inescapably, that I was swallowing my sexuality and it was suffocating me. Saying it out loud didn't make me feel better but after time and going on dates and stuff and stepping out into the world I now look back on it and understand.
Then it was time to have the talk? Or more a drip-feed conversation? More drip-feed. I never had to have the talk. Whether with my brothers, Eli and Peter, or my mom or my dad [producer Alan Greisman]. It was just a case of start accepting, start experiencing. It wasn't like I'd secretly been sleeping with people. I needed to go out into the big gay world in New York and figure this out.
Sally has said gay kids can teach their parents a lot. What have you taught your mum? I definitely had to explain she’s a gay icon. Other than that, maybe the importance of me going at my own pace. She didn't want to see me conflicted or feeling shame about being gay. But there's really no way to stop that. I have the most supportive gay-friendly family on the planet and still I felt anxious and stressed and uncomfortable. They did the best they could do and they did everything right from day one but it couldn’t get easier for me until I dealt with it.
How did you explain to her she’s a gay icon? I still try. She still doesn't get it. I didn't understand it myself until I came out and started dating. I said you're a strong woman who wears her heart on her sleeve and you're a protective mother and you're emotional and you celebrate being emotional. And she says: "But I don't sing!" And I say: "OK, you don't sing but these days gay icons have branched out beyond singing . . ."
Ever see Brokeback Mountain? I did. I liked it. I must say I feel very blessed to be able to call Sally Field my mother. In addition to being an extraordinarily talented actress, I know she will have my back for as long as she lives.
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