Sara Ramirez, who played bisexual orthopedic surgeon doctor Callie Torres on Shonda Rimes' long-running hit show 'Grey's Anatomy', and is now on 'Madam Secretary,' said that she wasn't ready to come out of the closet, even after her character did in an interview with PEOPLE for their 'Coming Out Stories' series. She first publicly came out as bisexual at the age of 40 at the None Summit in 2016, years after her character came out on TV.
The interview opened with her talking about the impact coming out had on her life. "Coming out publicly has given me a sense of relief," she said. "It's been a form of liberation for me to own all of my identities, so that I no longer feel the need to hold back or hide any parts of my self when I walk through any threshold in life."
Ramirez said, "I identify as queer and bisexual. I've been coming out to my friends and family since I was eighteen years old. Although my caretakers were ill-equipped to support me in the ways that I needed, and although I internalized a lot of bi-antagonism and biphobia and discrimination growing up, either in straight spaces or in LG[BTQ] spaces, I knew my truth, and my truth never went away."
She said that it was easier for her to be openly bisexual on screen than in real life. "When my career shifted from theater to television, I felt ready to portray a bisexual person's journey that I had never seen on television before," she shared. "But I really grappled with the potential bi-antagonism and discrimination that I knew I would face within the LGBTQ community as well as outside of it."
Ramirez expressed her fear of what revealing her identity would bring, saying, "Coming out publicly was something that I was afraid of because I was concerned that it would affect my career in a negative way. I was afraid of the discrimination that I might face, not just outside of Hollywood, but within."
However, she slowly began to change her mind, "As the years went by and as the political climate intensified, and as I continued to hear and read about the countless forms of violence perpetrated against us, including the Orlando shooting at Pulse nightclub, an organic incremental urgency to use my platform to empower those who are a part of these communities that I'm a part of, came over me in a way that I'd never felt before."
Ramirez shared, "Oftentimes, our LGBTQ youth are pressured to deny their own complex narratives, to simplify them in order to fit in, to survive, to make other people feel comfortable, to have access to services. And so, by sharing all of the intersections that my life has touched on, including being a bi plus immigrant in this country, I hoped that it might help empower our youth to own those complex narratives for themselves."
However, her public coming out was preceded by a private one. She said, "There were a few folks in my personal life that I wanted to tell before this news came out online or anywhere else, and so I thought long and hard about how I wanted to orchestrate that. And so, during movie night at my house one night, I pressed pause, and then I shared my truth with the room, and I waited 'cause I wasn't sure what to expect."
Ramirez revealed that the response she got was unexpected, saying, "Everyone was very supportive, very happy for me, and the reaction went something like, 'Huh, cool, can we get back to the movie now?' And I was like, 'Really? Okay, 'cause I bogged down four hours to talk about this. You really don't want to... okay, Kleenex? Nobody [wants] Kleenex. Everybody's fine. Okay, great."
She talked about how grateful she was that her coming out experience had been positive. She added, "There are so many people out there who face rejection, exclusion, various forms of violence, and, in some cases, death. So, I feel really lucky and privileged to have a roof over my head, a job, healthcare, family, and chosen family, who will never leave my side."
When Ramirez was asked about what she would say to her younger self, given the chance, she said, "To myself, I would say, 'You're good enough just the way you are, your voice matters, your feelings matter, and you belong here. And I love you.'"
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