Episode 22: Stephen Mancuso
Make-up artist, former Broadway dancer, as well as Paul’s friend and co-worker, Stephen talks about surviving an abusive upbringing, the pain of being gay in a homophobic household, the impact of AIDS on NYC in the 80’s, and finding his voice.
Paul: Welcome to episode 22 with my guest Stephen Mancuso. I’m Paul Gilmartin. This is the Mental Illness Happy Hour, an hour of honesty of all the battles in our heads. From medically diagnosed conditions to everyday compulsive negative thinking, feelings of dissatisfaction, disconnection, inadequacy, and that vague, sinking feeling that the world is passing us by. You give us an hour, and we’ll give you a hot ladle of awkward and icky. But first, a few notes. Mentalpod.com, that’s the website for this podcast. Mentalpod is also the Twitter name you can follow me by and it’s the Skype name if you want to leave me a voicemail, leave me a comment or question, or a fear. You can also call 818-574-7177, and leave a voice message on that as well. That’s the same place that you would reach if you went via Skype.
Thank you for taking the survey. I can’t believe that 1,100 people have taken the survey so far, that is, that is just, I think that’s just the coolest thing. And I love looking through there and getting to know you guys and see what your fears are, and your negative thoughts towards yourself, and the things that you struggle with, and your comments about the podcast, which have been very helpful to me. They’ve helped me become a better host, and there were things that I was doing, that I didn’t realize I was doing, and I appreciate you being honest. Sometimes it hurts to find that truth out, but ultimately, I think it’s making me a better host. So, thank you for that.
It’s been a really hard couple of days for me, as you’ll find out on this, this upcoming podcast, this upcoming episode with my friend Stephen Mancuso, it was taped an hour after we wrapped our very final episode of a Dinner and a Movie, the show I’ve been hosting since 1995. It’s been my primary job for 16 years, a third of my life. I’m 48 years old, and it, I wasn’t feeling anything that last day of taping, and I just kept thinking to myself ‘why are you not feeling anything? You’re broken. See? See how fucked you are? Your co-host is moved to tears, but you’re just the fucking pillar who’s never going to feel the way other people feel’— see when people cry, I get jealous, because I want to cry. The rare occasions when I am able to cry, it feels so good. It feels like my soul is taking a big shit, and it, it is, I always feel more peace on the other side of it. But I wasn’t really feeling anything at the taping, and then we went to the wrap party after I got done doing the episode with Stephen, there was this three hour wrap party for the show, and it was all the cast and crew, and I was dreading going to it because I don’t like goodbyes, and I don’t like being in an emotional situation and not feeling anything.
I remember my grandmother’s funeral, like twelve years ago, and it was at this black church, and we had always gone to this white church, but my mom had gotten bored with that parish and had recently starting going to this black parish, and needless to say, the music at a black parish is, usually a whole lot better, than the music at a white parish. And they were singing these gospel songs during my grandmother’s funeral and I wasn’t feeling anything, and about halfway through the song, I just started crying, and everybody around me, was like, ‘oh that’s so sweet, he’s crying’, and what I didn’t tell them was I wasn’t sad that my grandmother was dead. I was sad that I was in the family that I was in, and that’s such a fucked up horrible thing to admit, but I hadn’t, I was still drinking at that point. I hadn’t, I was still blaming everybody else in my life for my problems. But I just thought it was so funny being at a funeral, and people are comforting you, and they have no idea that you’re not sad over the person who died. You’re sad because you’re pissed off that you’re stuck in the family you’re stuck in. I don’t feel that way about my family any more, I’m happy to say. But I did, but I did back then.
And the reason I tell that story in relation to not feeling anything at the wrap party, is because I want to always feel the appropriate emotion when I’m, I want to feel that I’m experiencing life. One of the things that sucks about depression is sometimes you feel things too intensely, or sometimes you don’t feel anything at all. And it always feels that you’re feeling the wrong fucking thing at the wrong fucking time. And I just get tired of it. I get tired of it. And I was feeling that at the party. I was there for about two and a half hours, putting on a brave face, pretending to enjoy myself, some moments of my actually enjoying myself, but for the most part, just wanting to go and be alone, and just not talk to anybody. And a PA came up to me, and we were saying all our goodbyes, and I’ve had conversations before with this guy, nice enough guy, but not a guy that I ever really connected to, so I wasn’t really kind of anticipating and intense goodbye. And he was saying something that everybody else was saying, which was ‘you’re going to be fine, you’re a talented guy’ and I’d usually let it go in one ear and out the other, because that’s what you expect people to say. But this guy said it in a way that just stuck me as sincere. And it’s like this little shaft of light hit my heart, and I started crying. And I realized, maybe everybody isn’t lying. Maybe I am going to be okay. Maybe I do have some value in the world. Maybe I am a talented guy. And it felt so fucking good to cry. It didn’t feel great to have snot running down my face around 20 people, some of whom didn’t really know, how to do deal with it. They kind of give you that pat on the back, ‘it’ll be okay buddy’, and you just want to say, ‘no motherfucker, this is what I want to be feeling’. And I just, I just drank it in. I drank it in. And thank god Janet was there, my co-host, who cries at the fucking drop of a hat. We went into this, you know how they have those photo-booths where you go, and you get your crazy picture taken with your buddy. And that was the only place where she and I could go, and just bawl together. And so we pulled the curtain on this photo-booth, and just sat in there and bawled for like five minutes, and came out and I got onto the shuttle bus, and Claude, the other guy that we do the show with who I love, and fucking knows me better than anybody, and he’s there with his wife and a couple of other people who know me, and he said, and he could see how red my eyes were, and he said, ‘Paul, you know, if you felt just a little bit all the time, you wouldn’t have to feel everything all at once’.
Paul: I’m here with my good friend Stephen Mancuso. I’ve known Stephen for, since 2004—
Stephen: No, 2002.
Paul: No, we moved the show in 2004 from Dinner and a Movie—
Stephen: No, it’s been eight years. Since you came—
Paul: Yeah, okay. 2003, 2004, somewhere around there we moved Dinner and a Movie to Los Angeles from Atlanta and Stephen was the makeup artist for my female co-host, who was Janet, and at first it was Lisa, then it was Janet. So I’ve known you for, seven eight years, and you and I just hit if off just right off the bat. I know you think I’m a closet gay, that is, that you’re trying to lure out. And you could be right, for all I know. You know I try to be open minded and never rule anything out. I always say that the deal breaker for me, I can appreciate the shaft of the penis, but the scrotum is the deal breaker for me. Just looks like it needs to be ironed.
Stephen: Well you don’t even, you don’t have to touch the scrotum—
Paul: Oh, okay, alright.
Stephen: There’s lots of other things.
Paul: So as you can guess, Stephen is a gay man. And he, has such a, I think you have such an interesting life, just the stories you’ve told me. And you’ve always been so open and honest with me about the trials and tribulations that you’ve been through, and your childhood, and I don’t know, we’ve always just been really comfortable opening up to each other, and so, today is kind of an intense day, because we’ve just literally less than an hour ago, finished our final episode of Dinner and a Movie. The show’s been canceled, and yet I feel, I don’t really feel much of anything. I feel kind of, kind of dead inside, but I’m glad you’re here with me, because I’m, ‘a’ I think interviewing you will help me kind of take my mind off it, and keep me from obsessing about it, and why I’m not feeling anything about it, and why other people are crying and I’m just standing there wishing I could cry. Wishing I—
Stephen: You’re latent.
Paul: Yeah, I’m latent in every way. But lets talk about you and your life. You were raised in an Italian American household in Buffalo, New York. And your, at what age did you know that you’re gay?
Stephen: I don’t know. I mean, I probably knew that, I knew that I was different, right from the get go.
Paul: Different how?
Stephen: I didn’t want to watch football with my father. I didn’t want to go hunting with my brother. I was always in the kitchen with my mother. I was a mama’s boy. I didn’t know what gay was, but I knew that it was, but I knew that I was not my father. I was not my brother, and I was never going to be them. And I wasn’t like the othe—
Paul: Did you, was there ever a time when you wanted to be like them, or tried to be like them?
Stephen: Oh yeah.
Paul: What was that like?
Stephen: It was hard. It was really hard because, I like also didn’t grow up privileged so, like the school, all the schools that I went to, we had to go to like catechism, it was very catholic Irish, you know, lower middle class people. And you know, I grew up, like my best friends lived in the projects, I hung out in the projects. So, it was, I always wished that I could be, you know, normal. What they were telling me was normal. So it was hard, between being catholic and being, you know—
Paul: Can you think of some instances where it just felt like complete failure trying to be somebody else?
Stephen: Well there, there was seeing the look on my father’s face when, like, his whole demeanor changed when, he figured out before I did, and you know, I was the youngest kid, and I was like the apple of his eye until he kind of figured out that I was gay. And I went from being that to him barely speaking to me and being like the biggest disappointment. You know, yeah, just looking at my brother, my brother was a very, like good looking Italian, played in a band, you know, that kind of thing. And I always was like, I idolized him. And he didn’t want anything to do with me—
Paul: You idolized your father or your brother?
Stephen: My brother—
Paul: Yeah, your brother didn’t want anything to do with you either?
Stephen: Yeah, not at that time. We got close after I got out of highschool and he figured out that, he mellowed out some, and he’s, I remember the day he looked at me and said, ‘I can’t believe like my brother’s cool’. So he, it ended up to be okay, but at that time, we, I used to get beat up a lot by my brother.
Paul: And was it because you were different?
Stephen: Yeah, absolutely.
Paul: Would he say anything to you?
Stephen: I mean, yeah sometimes he would use the f-word. And you know, yeah.
Paul: Is it a word you don’t feel comfortable saying?
Stephen: I don’t, I just think, in this, I’m not really ultra political, but I just feel like we’re the last people to get any kind of respect, really. So I’m thinking that if you can’t use the c-word, you can’t use the n-word, you can’t use this word, you can’t use that word, people are still saying shit like, ‘that’s so gay’. And, you know, I’ve heard Jo Koy on more than one occasion—
Paul: And is he gay?
Stephen: No. No, he’s a comedian. Chelsea Lately, you know asian guy. And I know he doesn’t mean anything, but I just if you’re not going to use any word to offend anybody, then you shouldn’t be able to use that word, still. So, I try not to, and I was just talking to friends about that the other day, because they were like, ‘well we can call each other faggots’. And I’m like, ‘well, if that’s how you want to be, then, but I’m not going to do it, I’m just not going to do it’. So it’s offensive to me.
Paul: Well I’m guilty of using it because, well I don’t know why, because I grew up using it. Guys, heterosexual guys use it to bust each other’s balls, and that doesn’t mean, and I sometimes wonder ‘am I’, you know how you would look at, a sixty year old person when you were a kid, and you would think, ‘the fuck?’, have you been that ignorant your entire life? Well I’m 50 now, and sometimes I’ll hear things come out of my mouth, and I’ll think, ‘I’m sure teenagers and 20 year old kids that are more attuned to how times have changed probably look at me and think’, not that I’m as bad as that guy, but, I’m sure there is still racism and sexism and homophobia. As much as I like to think there isn’t any in me, I venture to think there’s a lot more than I would care to, and I think that’s, I think that’s okay to accept that part of yourself, as long as you’re going to try to work on it.
Paul: I like to think that I’m trying to become a more, not politically correct, because I think political correctness can sometimes be really, really fucked up and really kind of constricting, but I think it’s really important for us to look at people in our society who have been marginalized and say, ‘what can I do to make life just a little bit easier for them?’.
Stephen: Well I think, and that’s a good point, because I think it’s up to all of us, and I think like from adult to adult, it doesn’t matter. You could say whatever the fuck you want to say to me, and if I know you, you could really say whatever you want to say to me. But I think that like, I just think that as an adult, you know, I’m over 50 too, so, as an adult, I don’t, I just don’t want kids around me to hear those words from me. Or to think that, because it is—
Paul: But you’re not going to grab a picket sign and boycott somebody if they do use it.
Stephen: No. Well, you know, it’s, like I said, I don’t really think of myself as being that political, but here I am, I used to watch Chelsea Lately all the time, and I, I’ve tried to watch her again, and I just can’t. Because I can’t support that. I really can’t, I can’t support that. I won't support that. And I loved her. And you know, I loved, you know I love all of that twisted shit and all that irreverent shit. I love that show, but I’ll be damned, after being kicked in your ass your whole life, you do get to a point where you’re just like, ‘fuck you, don’t say’— whens somebody drives by you in a car, that doesn’t know you, and yells ‘faggot’ out the window, when you’re just standing there, I don’t care who it is, it hurts.
Paul: I did that when I was college-aged. I’d be out drinking with friends, and I remember one of my friend’s brother had an apartment in, what was called Boy’s Town which was in Chicago, and I think, the, I didn’t know it at the time, but I think my friend’s brother was gay, he just hadn’t come out yet. And you know, we were all drunk and, you know when you’re that age, you’re always trying to push the envelope of something, and show that you’re macho and brave. And I remember hanging my head out of a window, I had a bunch of beers in me, and I remember calling this guy a faggot that was walking down the sidewalk. And at the time, like, ‘oh yeah, look how cool I am’, but a little voice in me saying, ‘you just hurt that guy’.
Stephen: But because that’s the kind of person that you are. And that’s why I love you, because you are that person. And even back then you were that person. There are the people that will say that, and not think, ‘oh, I’ve hurt that person’. You know, and that’s why, you know, kids are killing themselves, and all that shit is happening, because you know, there’s got to be that thing in society where you have to be cool and you have to be macho and you have, so it’s cool to call girls bitches and cunts and guys faggots and all that, and use all those words that really are hurtful and offensive and painful to all of us who have ever been called any of those things. And, you know, some of those people grow up to be Republicans.
Paul: Haha, I said that we weren’t going to get political on this podcast. I didn’t mean it. So let’s not go down that, that road, because this podcast is about overcoming, or talking, or finding a safe place to talk about emotional battles and challenges, and I don’t want anybody to feel alienated on this show, because they, one way or another. But I understand where you’re coming from. So I won’t use the f-word, and you don’t—
Stephen: Use the r-word—
Paul: Don’t use the r-word, on our podcast. As soon as we switch it off we can say, we can talk about whatever we want. When, what are some times that you can remember where it was just so tiring being gay? Or so painful being gay. Is there any, is there any snapshots from your— I always love when somebody can paint a little vignette from their life that, that I feel like I’m a fly on the wall. Are there any moments, or just from your life, it doesn’t have to be because you’re gay, it could just be whatever.
Stephen: Like how painful do you want me to go?
Paul: I want as painful as you got. I mean, I’ve talked on this podcast about some of the darkest stuff that’s ever happened to me.
Stephen: Probably one of the first, going back to my father, one of the very first things, my favorite aunt and my two favorite cousins who were girls, my mother’s sister came into town. And we were all in the living room playing around and stuff and my aunt said to my two nieces, ‘go take him in the bathroom and fluff him up’. That was, those were the words she used, fluff him up.
Paul: How old were you?
Stephen: Probably ten.
Paul: And how old were they?
Stephen: Like probably 12 and 13. And so they dressed me up, and....
Paul: Like how dressed you up?
Stephen: Like dressed me up like a girl. Because you know, I was little. When I was little, I was little. I was four-eleven as a freshman in highschool, so I was little, and they dressed me up. I didn’t you know, like I didn’t realize, I didn’t get it. And I came out of the bathroom with them, and I said, ‘hey dad, look at me’. And he came over to me, and said ‘take that fucking shit off your face right now’, and then slapped me. And I didn’t understand, like, it was just, I was just, they did. Like they did it to me. And I guess I, it was the look on, it wasn’t even the slap, it was the look in his eyes. I looked right in my father’s eyes and I saw disgust and like, disappointment and at the time, I thought hatred. And that, I remember going into the bathroom, and taking it off, and just not wanting to come out.
Stephen: Yeah. And then that’s when I started reading the Bible and stuff, and thinking ‘I can, I’m never going to be this, I’m never going to be good. I’m never going to be a good person’.
Paul: You felt like you were a bad person?
Stephen: I felt like the lowest low. Because that was the worst thing you could be. Because you know, I grew up at that—
Paul: And did that point did you know that you were gay?
Stephen: I knew, like, I, like it was fun. When they dressed me up it was fun. It’s not like I thought, ‘ooh yeah, I want to be a girl’. It wasn’t that kind of thing, like I didn’t have any gender issues or like, it wasn’t anything like that. It was like, ‘this is fun’. And I remember looking in the mirror and thinking I was pretty, and you know, it was fun, I was dressing up. It they would have dressed me up as a cowboy, I would have been equally happy.
Paul: And do you think they did it because they knew it would piss your dad off?
Stephen: I don’t, you know, and that’s another thing that I never thought about until years later, and I thought, ‘why the fuck would be aunt say that, why would she, first of all, why would she say that? And why would my mother allow that to happen knowing my father?’.
Stephen: It was fucked up. It was pretty fucked up.
Paul: So you got the—
Stephen: Shit beat out of me a lot.
Paul: By who?
Stephen: My father. Yeah, he didn’t like anything that I did. You know, because I used to be a dancer.
Paul: He wasn’t supportive of that? I can imagine.
Stephen: He was really not supportive of that.
Paul: When you say he would beat the shit out of you, meaning he would slap you?
Stephen: Oh he would beat the shit out of me.
Paul: Can you describe—
Stephen: Yeah, like one day, Paul, I can’t believe this, that I’m even saying this, but one day, I was practicing, I had just started tap, I was practicing pick-ups, and we lived above our landlords. And I guess when my father came home, the landlord went at him, like complaining and stuff, and my father had a really bad temper, like, could change like that. And it changed like that, and he came upstairs, and half the time, I wouldn’t know why I was getting beat, until I was getting beat, he had me on my bed, and he was punching my legs, he was punching me in the thigh. He kept punching me in the legs and saying, ‘you’re never going to fucking dance again. You’re never going to fucking dance again. You like dancing? You’re never going to’, you know. And I was screaming, like—
Paul: And how old were you at that point?
Stephen: Thirteen and by that time I knew I was gay. I knew I was gay. Because I had been, taking dance from my first dance teacher who was a male and ten years older than me, and to get free dance lessons I had to sleep with him.
Paul: Wow. And you weren’t into him?
Stephen: No. Not at all. He used to come, he would come and pick me up from highschool and I would just cringe, because I would be, this is the kind of life that I led. I would be outside with my highschool friends smoking cigarettes, and this big, I mean, big fucking queen this guy, a big old fucking queen. He would pull up, and roll down the window, he had like a yellow, a piss yellow pinto, or, it was one of those little, and you would hear, ‘Stephen!’ yelled out the window, and I wanted to fucking die. But I had to get in the car, and he would do things, like we would go to dance competitions to New York, and we would go to competitions to all over, you know, all over, and we would have to have like, we would sell pizzas, we would sell balloons, we would do all this kind of stuff to raise money, and he would, we would get in the car, me his cousin Darlene, a bunch of girls would get in the car, and he would drop everybody off at their places, and I would be the last one in that car. And if I, and sometimes he would let me out, and if I, but I knew, if I was the last one in the car, that we were going back to the studio, to the attic of the studio and I was going to get it.
Paul: How old were you and how old was he?
Stephen: I was about thirteen, fourteen—
Paul: And how old was he?
Stephen: Twenty-three, twenty-four.
Paul: So you went from—
Stephen: Wouldn’t happen nowadays.
Paul: To escape a father that didn’t love you, and was violent towards you, your choice was to go get fucked, to go get raped.
Stephen: Yeah, it was—
Paul: I mean that’s what it was.
Stephen: Oh, oh totally. Like I said, it wouldn’t, it wouldn’t be happening now. The fucked up thing is that we, I would have dance class on Friday, Friday Sa— ooh, I almost said the name, my dance teacher and his boyfriend would take me home, they would come up to my house, they would eat food at my house, then they would leave, and one would, one would go home, and my dance teacher would go home, and he also lived with his parents at twenty-three, and he would send a cab for me. And my parents would put me in a fucking cab at fourteen years old, thirteen fourteen years old, they would put me in a cab to go to my gay dance teacher’s house for a sleepover, where his parents were. That’s how, that’s how fucked up that was.
Paul: Why, why did you not say anything do you think?
Stephen: I don’t, because it took me a really really, you know, you know me as this person now, it took me a really long time to find a voice for anything—
Paul: Because it’s hard to me, knowing the guys who’s sitting in front of me, picture you taking shit from somebody—
Stephen: Well that’s why I say now, it’s, I don’t put up with that shit. I don’t put up with any shit, because back then, I was, I, when you have your ass kicked from the time, my first recollection of my oldest sister is her, I was sitting on the curb, playing with some water, you know, like you know how after it rains or something, she grabbed me by the arm, yanked me, slapped me and said, ‘get out of the street’. I wasn’t sitting in the street, but that’s like my first recollection of my sister—
Paul: So you come from a very physical family, not just your father but it was—
Stephen: No, crazy Italian, yeah, like, well certain, like, I had my oldest sister was kind of like that. My father was like that. My mother was not like that, she you know, I was her favorite, I was her baby, I was her boy—
Paul: Thank god for your mom.
Stephen: Thank god for my mom. Thank god for all Italian moms, I’m telling ya. My brother was angry. You know, my sister and my brother were, my family is fucked up. And you know, you’re either angry or you’re shut down. And my sister Carol and I were the shutdown ones. And my brother Al and my sister Marty were the loud, in your face—
Paul: Isn’t it funny how it goes one way or the other.
Stephen: Yeah, yeah. Because it’s, you’re not healthy, you’re not—
Paul: Did you see a future in dance as may be your ticket out, as maybe a way to save you? What was the attraction to going to take these dance classes when it was this negative experience with this guy? Something must have been driving you.
Stephen: Because I was really good. And because I was accepted there as a dancer, and nothing, and nothing to this day makes me feel that way.
Paul: The way you move is, Stephen does this thing in between takes, I beg him to do it, and every once in awhile, he will do it, he does his impression of a jaded stripper, with just the deadest soul that you can imagine. And Stephen can move, at 52, he can move like a twenty year old stripped, so he will, and this is around the crew and everybody, he will like a lap dance for me, and miming this stripper with just the deadest eyes you’ve ever seen and he’s just reaching for his cigarette and smoking, and then after smoking a little cigarette reaches over and begins nursing her baby while he’s doing a lap dance for me, and he does it with such specificity and detail. You did it for me today, because it’s our last day of Dinner and a Movie, and I forced you, because I needed a laugh. And I knew that this might be the last time I get to see it. I hate to say that, but, it does not surprise me that you made your way to Broadway and were a very successful, a very successful dancer, so let’s jump forward then to moving to Manhattan. What, did you just go there—
Stephen: Well I used to go to, my, I finally got away from that dance teacher. Then I went to another abusive dance teacher, in a different way. But it was a female, and she was big, she had a lot of ex-dancers on Broadway—
Paul: How was she abusive?
Stephen: She used to make fun of me. She would make fun of me. It was funny because there was always like three guys, the other two guys, one of them was dating her daughter who was the biggest, meanest girl you had ever wanted to meet. And he was actually having an affair with the other guy, who was actually married. But I was the fag—
Paul: Right. Because you did it openly.
Stephen: Right. So she would say things like, we had a boys number and she would say, ‘the boys and Stephen’. Or if I fucked up a step she would say, ‘Stephen, get your head out of the men’s room’. In front of the company and in front of, because she thought that was funny.
Paul: How’d that make you feel?
Stephen: Um, again, it made me feel like I wanted to punch her in the face. Like, you know, and again, I didn’t have, I didn’t have my voice back then. I didn’t, you know, I didn’t want to go well, ‘you know, Sammy and Tommy are over there fucking when you’re not looking’. You know, and, but, when she died I said, ‘good’.
Paul: Thank you for that honesty.
Stephen: Yeah, they called me and said, ‘Mrs. Bett died’, and I said, ‘good. I hope she suffered’. And then I hung up the phone. Fuck you, fuck her, goodbye. Yeah, and I also slept with those two boys, and there was another one that she—and I think that she was hot for all of us was the problem. I do. And I don’t mean to, and she was very into, the way she touched us, it was weird—
Paul: I remember a woman like that in Chicago. I was dating a girl, she was a casting director, and I was dating a girl who I think was friends with this casting, I can’t remember why I hung out one night with this casting director, but she had all these pretty boys around her who were dancers and actors, and gay, and she just had these such obvious crushes on them. And it just seemed like such a, do you really think they’re going to fuck you? They do—
Paul: Maybe one of them fucked her once and she was holding out a hope or something, I don’t know. But it, maybe she just enjoyed their company and I was reading sexuality into it, but usually if you see sexuality in something, you’re not making it up, and your sixth sense kind of goes, woah—
Stephen: Because shit like that can creep you out too. You don’t have to, whether you’re straight of gay, that can be, she was creepy. She was creepy. And—
Paul: And then, so this, you learned stuff from her as a dancer, did she help you progress?
Stephen: Oh my god, she was an amazing teacher. She really was. I know that, it’s, that’s how my life has always been. Really great and really shitty always happening at the same time. It wasn’t until I got older that it changed, but yeah. She was an amazing teacher—
Paul: And she was in Buffalo or Manhattan?
Stephen: She was in Buffalo, but she used to take us to Manhattan, like during the summer we would go and we would stay, there would be like eight of us in a car. We would drive to New York, there would be eight of us in an apartment. She had an ex-student that lived over a Chinese restaurant at like 44th street and we’d stay in that apartment. We just had class, like all summer long.
Paul: Did you like that?
Stephen: Oh my god—
Paul: Was that like heaven?
Stephen: Yeah, the first time I went to New York I was thirteen years old, and like, I just wanted to be turned loose. This is my city. This is where I belong. I kind of knew, that’s where I belonged. Like there was every walk of life. It never scared me. New York never scared me. I thought it was the most amazing city I had ever seen.
Paul: Because I would imagine it was the first time in your life that you had the power. All of a sudden your talent had an expression and somebody wasn’t raping you or beating you. I mean, that had to feel just like—
Stephen: Like it was freedom. It was total freedom. And I got to use my body, and in a good way. Like it was total freedom. And I got to be, you know, it sounds funny, saying dancing, but I got to be as butch as I want to be as a dancer. And I could lift girls, and I could, you know, pretend, I could dance with them and pretend to be in love with them. I mean, it was pretty great. It was amazing.
Paul: So this was from what years to what years? Well this was from when you were thirteen, when did you make the move to New York permanently?
Stephen: I was, old. I was thirty—
Paul: So what happened in between then?
Stephen: A lot of shit.
Paul: Because I do want to get, your Broadway years do kind of fascinate me, but I don’t want to miss anything important in between thirteen and thirty.
Stephen: It was just, between thirteen and thirty was, just more shit. A lot of stuff. Dancing, feeling great about it, you know, every it seemed like experience I had dancing, was like I said, the bad with the good, you know. I had every male dance teacher I had, I had to sleep with. Every female, well not every female, I only had one female. She was mean and verbally abusive to me, you know. More family life. My first running away experience was in 1978. I ran, my best friend and I just got in the car and drove to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, where I lived for six months and, let me tell you, it was 1978, it was off the chain. We were crazy.
Paul: How old were you?
Stephen: Hmm, ‘78 I was what?
Paul: You were probably 18, right?
Stephen: Yeah, I mean it was, you know, lots of drugs. Lots of sex, lots of sun, lots of, it was just like my first, feeling of I was really out above the law. I was away from the cold. It was beautiful, it was the first time I saw palm trees. It was tropical. There were a ton of gay men. Everybody was tan and beautiful. And I had a ball, it was amazing—
Paul: Had you ever felt like you had to, be more, butch than you were, to fit in? Or were you always just yourself and say, if somebody thinks I’m gay, I don’t give a shit?
Stephen: Yeah, there were times that I felt like I really had to butch it up, because I would, you know, like I was leading a double life. Hanging around with street thugs, and you know, cool kids, cool straight kids. The Italian kids, all that, and then, you know, going to dance school and sleeping with my 23 year old dance teacher.
Paul: Why do you think there’s such a predatory atmosphere, is that typical of all kind of, that you were, that you had to sleep with all these dance teachers?
Stephen: I don’t think, no, I don’t think it happens to everybody, but I think it’s pretty much, it’s—
Paul: I know it happens a lot in the performing arts. Like a lot of acting teachers will sleep with their students—
Stephen: Yeah, yeah—
Paul: And I suppose in college a lot of teachers sleep with their students, so I guess why should the dance world be any different? And you know, there’s also that theory that they can pick up the vibe of somebody who has previously been violated, and who is, whose boundaries are easy to violate. And is it possible that they also sense that in you, that I can get away with it with this person? I can dominate this person.
Stephen: Yeah. I think so, and I also think that I learned at that point in my life, I learned that, my sexuality, or my sensuality was my tool. I don’t remember feeling like I’d been given anything, like love, attention, any clothing, anything, but I could, you know, I could use, I was good looking, so I could use that—
Paul: You still are good looking.
Stephen: Well thanks. Want to have sex? I could use it. I really could use it. And like, not only did I sleep with my dance teacher, I slept with his partner. And he, my dance teacher would, I used to get, he was kind of, not kind of, he was abusive. And sort of like, I either fuck you with this Pond’s cold cream, or you don’t dance. Or you don’t do, or you don’t go to New York to us. Or you don’t, you know, like that kind of shit. And then his boyfriend was the tenderer one, he would, I would sleep with him, and I would get a new coat that I liked. Or I would get treated, he treated me kindly. He was still raping me, but he was sweet to me, and kind to me, and made me feel wanted and he validated me. So, somewhere in there, I learned, being that fucked up kid that was like, felt useless and worthless, figured out, I can, I know how to make you like me—
Paul: And so you moved to New York when you were—
Stephen: Thirty. Took me that long. Because I quit, I quit dancing for a while, I was like ‘fuck it, I can’t take it’, for a while. And I quit dancing for a while, and that’s when I went into hair.
Paul: The musical?
Paul: The Salon?
Stephen: Oh yeah, that’s when I did hair for. Yeah, that’s when I started doing hair for a living, and you know—
Paul: And was this a revival of it, or this was, this was too late for this to be the original run of it, this would have been in the 80’s—
Stephen: No I went into salon doing hair—
Paul: Oh, seriously!
Stephen: I quit dancing, because I had had enough of the abuse, and—
Paul: Oh! I thought you meant you had gone to Broadway and had got into the musical Hair—
Stephen: No, Paul!
Paul: I’m such a doofus.
Stephen: No, this is so confusing. I did not, I never did the musical Hair, never—
Paul: If you start telling me that you had cats, this is going to get really confusing. I had memories. So you started doing hair before you went to New York. Okay. But let’s get to New York, give me some slices of, Broadway in the 80’s. The thing that fascinates me about Broadway in the 80’s is you got to experience New York, before it was ravaged by AIDS—
Stephen: No actually, no because I didn’t, I didn’t get to New York until 1985 or 1986—
Paul: Oh, so it was just starting to be—
Stephen: The most unbelievable, I mean, the most unbelievable thing where you would walk down the street in the village, and you would watch somebody, I saw somebody collapse on the street. I saw, I was at a restaurant, I saw somebody get carried out of the restaurant. I was on stage, and one of the Cage aux Folles’ passed in the middle, just dropped on stage. Like, it was like, it was horrible. It was horrible, and that’s when, oh I can’t say it, but people—
Paul: I can bleep names out—
Stephen: Well, that’s, Act Up started back then, and that’s when they were going to like, the White House, and dumping people’s ashes on the lawn of the White House. And stuff, because they just wouldn’t even speak.
Paul: Well it wasn’t mentioned by the president in the 80’s for, I think seven years. And it took president Reagan knowing Rock Hudson, for him to do anything about AIDS publicly.
Stephen: But, well he was the president in the White House when they were—
Paul: Dumping ashes, yeah, 80-88. And I don’t think this, because this is a piece of history, I don’t think this is us becoming political—
Stephen: No, yeah yeah.
Paul: I think it’s okay to talk about this because it did have an impact on your life. This isn’t just a, this isn’t an ideology, this is—
Stephen: Well again, as far as my, as far as my life, you know, because it took me so long, again having that voice, not having any kind of support from family or anything, it took me that long to say to myself, ‘you know, if you don’t go and try, you’re gonna die, you just’— I just like, had to go. So I waited all of that time, I could have been dancing all of those years, I mean I was pretty old, 30, you know. I waited to go and have my dream, and when I got to New York, it was just like, there was just death all around you. I mean, it was really kind of surreal, because it was, you know, at the time when AIDS was in full bloom. I mean, people looked horrible, people were, it was like a death camp. So again, I was there six months ago, my first Broadway show, all these great things happening, all this crap happening. Like, it was just—
Paul: Wow, extreme good and extreme bad again.
Stephen: Yeah, it wasn’t like, ‘oh my god, I’m in New York, this is great’, it was like, ‘oh my god, I’m in New York and everybody are dying’. I don’t, you know, and you didn’t know who to touch, where to touch, could you kiss, could you shake hands, I mean it was bad. People were telling, I knew people that were going in for diagnoses and their doctors were telling them, ‘you’re going to be dead in a year. Get your shit together, get your affairs in order because you’re not going to last’.
Paul: I remember, in my theater department in 1985 at Indiana University I remember there was a couple of guys, there was an actor and a costumer, who, ‘oh did you hear, he’s got AIDS’, and a month later he was dead.
Stephen: Yeah, oh yeah. And I, you know, it is true, it was true at that time. You were like, you did, you got a diagnosis and you were gone. There were, we used to go into the actor’s equity building because they would have sign up sheets for course sign up sheets that you would go in and sign up for and right next to them they would have the obits. Oh yeah, and every week, and I’m not kidding, every week, there would be ten names added to the obits, of guys who died. It was incredibly sad, incredibly sad. That you would be signing up, you would just be signing up for the course of a Broadway show, and look over to the left, and there’s four people that you danced with or that you knew or that you did a show with, and they had passed. You know, it was hard.
Paul: So what were some highlights of—
Stephen: Oh my god. The best thing about being on Broadway is that you could pay to just party. It was basically just a party. I mean, I would wake up everyday like, eleven o’clock, have something to eat, have something to eat, go to the gym, maybe have a nap, go to the theater, get ready, do the show. When you would get to the theater, there would be all kinds of posters of like people, like rich people would throw us parties because they wanted to like, because they wanted to have like the cast of the chorus line at the party. So basically you know, you were like, you had all of, all of Broadway. You had all of New York—
Paul: It was your playground—
Stephen: It was your playground. It really was, and it was, they were amazing years. They were great years.
Paul: I can relate because when I was enjoying doing stand-up before the road became a chore and I got tired of club owners lying and putting you up in shit hotels when they said it was going to be a nice hotel, that feeling of sleeping until noon, one o’clock, you’re just laughing, you’re laughing all day long. You do a show, which you would have paid to perform, and you’re getting paid to perform. And then you get to drink for free for the rest of the night. And you don’t have to be up until noon.
Stephen: It’s amazing.
Paul: It is.
Stephen: It’s an amazing life. When you have that life, people just don’t understand—
Paul: It’s a freedom like you’ve never experienced, but then can you talk about when that begins to turn south. How did it turn south for you?
Stephen: Well, it was you know—
Paul: And what were some of the musicals that you did and danced and sang in?
Stephen: I was in Chorus Line, on Broadway I was in Chorus Line, I was in La Cage aux Folles, I was in Guys and Dolls, I toured with, I did many Westside Stories. Just stuff like that.
Paul: And were you mostly supporting cast?
Stephen: I yeah, I mean, I danced in all of them, I was like, I was always like first dancer, second dancer, you know. Always like that. Yeah I had stupid lines. You know, chorus boy lines, so—
Paul: ‘Yeah Tony it’s a soda pop!’—
Stephen: Yeah, I got to say, ‘womp’ during the scene, ‘womp’ I call someone, and you came with your pants open, something like that. But not, but my first actually, my first Broadway show I had like Chorus Line, I had like a song, I had not only did I have a song, I had the first song of the show.
Stephen: Yeah. After the opening number he starts with Mike, and that’s who I played and I had to sing I Can do That, I had a monologue and all that shit.
Paul: How did that feel, the first night that you soaked it in, ‘I’m on fucking Broadway singing my own song’—
Stephen: I owned, well, at first, at first it was terrifying, but it’s great because my character, again, he’s the first to speak, and his first line to Zack is like, Zack says to him, ‘Mike, okay Mike, we’ll start with you’. And he says, ‘me? Don’t you want to start with somebody else?’. So, he’s nervous right from the beginning, but it’s great. And I remember my friend Allison and I, it was our dream show, and we got put in together, and in the finale we do this, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it, but there’s this big circle, that we lock arms, and we’re doing this like, step around the circle. And when we, when we go around the circle, and the girls drop down in the back, and there’s these head to toe mirrors, huge mirrors, and Allison and I, she was like, one person away from me, and we passed the mirrors, and when we passed the mirrors, we just looked at each other, and just got, like tears in our eyes, like, because, we’re on Broadway in fucking Chorus Line! In the big finale number, and our two characters get the show, it was just like, that was just like, probably the best moment of my life, to be in that show, with my friend and pass those mirrors, and to look at each other and to be like, ‘we fucking made it. We did it, this is us’—
Paul: Isn’t it funny how sometimes you need, to to appreciate your life, you need some kind of perspective to look at yourself from outside yourself, looking in a mirror, or seeing yourself on taping, or somebody telling you about yourself—
Stephen: Right, because you always have that dialogue going on in your own head. There’s always that, there’s always those voices. I still hear those voices that, you know, until you get strong enough to say fuck, you know, turn them down, or turn them off—
Paul: What are some of the voices that—
Stephen: You’re a fag, you know, you’re a faggot, you’re worthless, you’re nothing, you know. I’m not talking to you. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that, I’m not talking to you. Don’t talk—
Paul: Somebody said that to you, or that’s a voice in your head?
Stephen: Yeah, well that’s somebody said that to me, but those are the voices that I hear. You know—
Paul: And how about voices, I mean—
Stephen: Like, my voices?
Paul: Yes, like to yourself.
Stephen: Well, yeah, mostly like, ‘people aren’t gonna like you, you’re not good’, mostly, ‘you’re not good enough’. Is what I, second guess myself, like, there are a lot of times like, when I’m doing a shoot, that, like I’ve done a couple of really big shoots I just shot for GQ, and I didn’t sleep for three days, because I just worry, I just worry that my makeup isn’t going to be good, I worry that the people are going to be mean. I worry of somebody saying something to humiliate me. I’m the first person to believe the worst in myself, it’s just always been that way. It’s getting better, it is getting better.
Paul: So you started to, what brought an end to the Broadway run?
Stephen: I got old. You know, and it’s not the fact that, I can still dance. Like you said, like I can still dance. But I don’t look like, when you’re standing, because you don’t ever dance by yourself, you dance in groups. And when you’re standing there, or when you’re dancing there, and there’s four of you, and you’re forty, and you’re dancing with two, you know three twenty year olds, who can dance as good, and are really young and pretty, you’re not going to get picked.
Paul: But you were that guy.
Stephen: I was that guy.
Paul: The point you’re at now, in your life, can you talk about the anxiety that you go through and the feelings of doubt that you have, that we talk about. Because I know there’s people listening that feel like they’re the only ones who feel like ‘maybe I’ve made the wrong decision, or I’ve been in the wrong city, or I’ve’— talk about that.
Stephen: Well I do feel like that. I do feel, there, I love Atlanta, there are people that I met in Atlanta that I love, one of thems sitting right here.
Paul: Our friend Brandy who is also a makeup artist, and was nice enough to give Stephen a ride over here. And she is so cool, she’s sitting here waiting patiently as traffic gets worse and worse, but I feel like, I just, I’m not quite ready to end the podcast yet, so fuck you Brandy, and enjoy your traffic jam. Because my needs come first.
Stephen: I’ve gotcha boo. I’ll take care of you. But, where were we?
Paul: The place that you’re at in your life, talk about the—
Stephen: I mean, I feel, I love, I love a lot of things about Atlanta. I’ve done really well here. And I think, what I would, I would like to, I think that I should be in some place like LA. Or I—
Paul: Well how many fucking times did Lisa and I need to tell you—
Stephen: I know, I know, I know—
Paul: But you would probably have to learn how to drive—
Stephen: Umph, well there’s that. I feel like I don’t really belong in the south. I feel like I’m not, I’m not a southern person. I’ve been here eleven years, and all of my friends are southern. I don’t, there’s a lot of stuff I don’t understand about the south, and that I don’t, like that old money shit, and the yahoo crackers down here, that once you step outside of Atlanta, scares the shit out of me. I’m telling you, I don’t fit, I feel like I stick out like a sore thumb, I don’t, I’m not southern. I’m not gentile. I’m not gonna be nice just to be nice because that’s the polite thing to do. I’m not polite. So I don’t belong here. And I think that I could take, I think that I could take my career a step higher if I got the hell out of here. The thing is, that every time I think about that, I want to throw up because I think, I’m not good enough to go to LA. I’m too old to go to LA. I’ve got to start all over again, it scares me to start to think about starting over again. I think that people are just going to be like, ‘fuck you, she’s too old’.
Paul: Yeah, she’s—
Stephen: Yeah, she’s too old.
Paul: You should tell them the story about when we were in San Francisco, we taped, we were taping in San Francisco Dinner and a Movie a few years ago, and Janet and Stephen and I had gotten to be really good friends, Janet was, had lived in San Francisco and knew the area very well, so she was like, ‘we are taking Stephen to the Castro district’. Which is the gay mecca area of San Francisco. And so we were walking around there, and it was so cool to see you experience the Castro district for the first time, and to be there hanging out with you. And this was back when I was smoking cigars and I asked these three guys if they had a light, and they just, started mocking me, ‘oh look at her. She wants a light, look at her’, and so I was just kind of smiling, because I was like this, this is really cool that these guys, you know, the guys that when I was twenty I used to call faggot, here the tables are reversed and they’re the ones in power. And it felt good to just sit there and, let them, and so I’m smoking my cigar, and they’re just going, ‘oh look at her suck it. She’s sucked it before’, and you and Janet were just howling and I was just, like—
Stephen: To see Paul just standing there sucking on that cigar, he was just sucking away and they were, ‘suck it girl, suck it!’—
Paul: Because I knew it wasn’t, they weren’t making fun of me, they were enjoying the, the power that they had never experienced in their live, and I can’t imagine how exhilarating that must be for a young gay person to arrive in New York and San Francisco and think, ‘I can finally be myself, I can finally be myself, and I can laugh’. I mean, how many people go through life—
Paul: Not homosexuals who feel like they have to be something, to feel that they have to live within a social strata, or obey some certain type of rules, when you realize that you don’t have to do those things, how freeing it can be. So how did you find your voice? I’m only going to ask you a couple more questions, and then we’re gonna, I’m gonna let Brandy spirit you away. What, how did you find your voice?
Stephen: I started therapy when I was forty. My mother passed and I started therapy, and it opened my mind, and it opened doors, and it continued, even though I don’t go to therapy anymore, I continued having my own kind of therapy. And I found my worthiness. I found my own, I don’t know. I was comfortable in my skin, and—
Paul: How many years ago was this? Because I remember I came back from one shoot, we come like every two and a half months, I come from LA where I lived to Atlanta, and we would shoot for four days, and then take another two months off, and I’d come back. And I came back one time and you seemed different.
Stephen: That was around, yeah—
Paul: There was a sadness that had kind of left you, and a confidence had kind of come.
Stephen: Well it was just, yeah. I mean, like I said, I didn’t, I just sat quietly a lot, and the things that I would always survive and push away, I let them, I let them hurt me. I let them, I got in touch with, I really just got in touch with my feelings. I let the things that I had no control of, that just affect me one more time, but I was aware of what was going on. I wasn’t surviving it, I wasn’t pushing it down, I wasn’t making excuses for it. I just let it happen. And I let myself get completely terrified and I let myself get incredibly sad, and then I realized a lot of things that I blamed myself for, and that I hated myself for were not my fault. And so, I was just able to let stuff go. And that, I think that if you can really learn how to let stuff go earlier rather than later, your life just gets that much better and that much easier. Because once you let that go, you’re really free. You’re really free. And I think, you know what I think really helped was me quitting smoking.
Stephen: Yeah, because that was really one of the hardest things I ever had to do. And—
Paul: You think that maybe gave you a sense of accomplishment and power—
Stephen: Yeah, and because I did it on my own, and I did it, I did it without any tricks. And I did it, I just did it. Yeah, it lit a fire under me. And to think that something that I really thought I was going to do forever, as much as I hated it, I was able to go through it, and get beyond it and be okay—
Paul: And did you talk with anybody about these feelings that you faced down, or did you just kind of face them down—
Stephen: Myself. Myself.
Paul: That’s pretty rare that somebody, because you know, one of the things that, one of the things on the podcast that I always kind of stress, is the ability, not the ability, the importance of connecting to people, and getting out of being trapped in your head, so it surprises me that you were able to accomplish that yourself, and I wonder if maybe, what the key to the success of that was, was maybe the fact that you felt that feeling and didn’t, and didn’t run from it. You felt it—
Stephen: Exactly. And realized that I was stronger than it. That that was stuff that already had happened to me and you know, that you make up your own truth, you know what I mean? So, that was no longer my truth, that I was not worth it. Because once you get past that fear, you do sit there, and you get past that fear, then you can mentally start tearing it apart and getting to the core of it, and chipping away at it, and really understanding where that fear comes from. Really understanding where those negative feelings come from, and most of the time, it’s you. It’s me. Like it was me. There was nobody, anybody can tell you you’re ugly, if you don’t believe you’re ugly, it doesn’t bother you. If somewhere deep down inside, you feel that you’re ugly, then it’s going to affect you. And getting, you have, and I knew that I had to get to, not just realize that I do feel that, I do feel that. Like I had to go through that scary fire to find out where that comes from.
Paul: It’s amazing to me that you were able to do that on your own, because that seems to me to be the pit that most people get trapped in, and then they just sit and think more and more about themselves, but never have any kind of epiphany, and you were able to do that on your own, so that’s great.
Stephen: Well because I would do that for somebody else. You know what I mean. I could sit there and listen to somebody, and I would want to help them—
Paul: But the perspective that we have over our own lives is often times really warped because we’re too close to our lives to get an accurate perspective, and you were able to get that accurate perspective, so I, I think that’s great that you were able to do that. The thing about fear that somebody said to me one time, that has really stuck with me, is that it’s a mile high, it’s a mile wide, but it’s paper thin. And I had this image when you were talking about sitting and sitting with your fear and your negative thoughts, and that it didn’t kill you, it’s like it got bigger and bigger and came at you, and you just burst through it like that team coming through at the beginning of a football game, you just burst through that paper, and you come out the other side, and you go, ‘yeah, that wasn’t cement, it was just paper’.
Stephen: Yeah, exactly. It is like that, that first step is the hardest. But it is amazing once you get through it.
Paul: Well I’m glad you got through it, and I’m glad that I’ve been lucky enough to have been your friend for these years, and I hope you come, I love you too, and I hope you come to LA. If anybody out there is looking for a great makeup artist and a great hair person—
Stephen: Call me.
Paul: Shoot me an email, and I’ll—can I give your email out in case anybody? What is it?
Stephen: It’s firstname.lastname@example.org.
Paul: Smancuso, s-m-a-n-c-u-s-o-a-t-l @aol.com. So if you, if you have, or you just want to say hi to Stephen, because I know there are going to be people that hear this, that identify, or got something out of your story.
Stephen: That would be amazing, I would love to help someone like that. I always wish that I had it, so that’s, I love to help people.
Paul: Well I love you. And thank you so much for being a part of my life, and opening up and talking about some of this stuff that I know was really not pleasant to dredge up again—
Stephen: Yeah, I’ve said stuff that I’ve not said to anybody, so...
Paul: Well, if you’re out there and you’re stuck, just remember, you’re not alone.
Stephen: Yeah, absolutely.
Paul: And thanks for listening.
Before you guys go, I want to remind you if you would like to support the show there is two ways to do it. You can do neither of them, one of them, or both of them. You can support it financially by making a donation through PayPal. There’s a link on the website at mentalpod.com. You can support us non-financially by going to iTunes and giving us a good rating, and a good review. That boosts our ranking and that helps bring more people to the show. So that would be greatly appreciated if you could do that. Plus I like reading them, when I’m having a shitty day. It always kind of makes me feel good to see that somebody's enjoying what I try to do here.
And speaking of that, when I walked in after the wrap party, that I talked about, on Wednesday night, I was, feeling just, still kind of fucked up, and I checked my email, and I saw this email, Tracy had sent to me. A listener named Tracy had sent to me through the website. It said, “thank you for your podcast. It helped me more than most of the shitty therapists I’ve seen”. I can’t imagine how shitty they must be if a podcast is kicking their ass. She says, “Here are my fears in case you need them for a fear-off”. Well, I’m not doing a fear off, but I’d like to read your fears, Tracy. “I’m a horrible mother and my kids will realize that when they grow up. I will end up homeless. No one has ever loved me. I will never know what it’s like to know someone loves me. Even though the meds I take now are working, they will stop working and nothing will be able to help me. My daughter is going to be depressed when she grows up because of me. This is all there is in my life, and it can’t get any better. Everyone is laughing at me behind my back. Failing at everything I ever try. I will forever fake orgasms when I am with men. No one will be there to take care of me if I need it. Growing old. I will always be looking for approval from others. Hard work does not mean success. Getting back to that place where suicide seems to be the only option. My therapist leaving the state while I still need her. My race is holding me back. The people who hate me solely because of my race. Another 9/11. People think I’m stupid or ignorant”. And then she says, “Thank you Paul. I appreciate you and all of your guests being honest and talking about some difficult things in order to let us know that we are not alone”. And I, sent her back an email, and I’m going to read it to you. It says, “Tracy, thank you for your email. I just walked into my hotel room after my last day on a job I’ve had for 16 years. I’m feeling sad and fucked up in a way that’s hard to describe. I read your email and it made me feel less alone. Even though we’ve never met, I’m really glad the planet has someone like you on it. Just the fact that you would take the time to write your email, tells me that you are a person with a good heart. None of us are perfect. Allow yourself to be imperfect and love yourself because you do have value. If you were here, I’d give you a big fat hug”.