Catching Up With Elizabeth Berkley

5.4.2011

By Noah Michelson

There is a lot in the book that I could see gay teenage boys relating to. Have you heard from many?
Yes, I have and I've worked with such beautiful gay teenage boys who are so special and have participated in the workshop. I was just thinking of a performing arts school I recently went to and it was a privilege to be able to come in and provide a space that was all about acceptance. It was actually really interesting: There was a workshop I did where a girl bravely came out, and what it led to was one of most profound conversations I've ever heard. She was fearless and she stood in her power. People loved her. And I said to them, 'Do you guys feel this right now? That palpable thing we're feeling in the room right now -- acceptance, love. We can choose to that feeling at any time. So know this isn't about me. I'm just standing here. I'm holding the space for you guys, but what you're feeling in your hearts, you can choose to feel that every day no matter what someone is going though.' And so it was so beautiful -- the safety, the beauty and that love. It was basically like you can choose fear or you choose love at any given moment; it's always a choice. But it is a choice, and for some of us it's easier to choose love.

But how brave for this girl to offer that up, and what it did is I think it changed that group forever. I think no one will forget that moment because of her willingness, and I think she opened a lot of hearts that day. And I wish people could see that in terms of acceptance, tolerance of one another and just celebrating each other for our uniqueness and our choices and what we love, who we love.

Do you think it's harder to be a teen now than it was before?
It is so much harder to be a teen now. Look, I know I didn't have a conventional teen upbringing. First of all, I did grow in Michigan, which was about as beautiful and normal of a childhood as you can get, but I had big dreams to get out and be a performer. My vision for myself was always Broadway, film and television, and thank God I've had that blessing to be able to do all of those mediums. But working at the same time I was going to regular high school was its own balancing act because I had this dual life -- student by day, actress by night -- which it was exciting, and that's exactly what I wanted. So while I had this unconventional kind of teen life, I also a lot of normalcy, and my parents made sure I did. But I would say, in terms of what I'm observing of girls, technology plays a role nowadays that is something that the girls can't escape from. I think that's part of why they asked for a book. Maybe it's not something that's conscious but the need to unplug because they've only grown up plugged in, and it's invasive. We here all the stories of bullying and 'mean girls,' and online is yet another place where any behaviors that are not'. There are beautiful things online like my website that can help build them up and other amazing resources, but it's being abused by the bullies. And that part is just awful. And I know when I was made fun of growing up I could come home, cry, tell my mom and shut it off until the next day. [Because of technology] it's in their bedroom, it's in their face. And what's really hard is the exposure to everything. I think there was a lot more innocence when I was growing up as a teen, and now it's just like it's all for the viewing. It'll be interesting to see what real effect that has, but it's almost too much. They don't know yet because they don't have the tools yet to navigate that. It's a lot of responsibility.

On page 136, you say, 'It took a long time and lots of tears, love and support from the people closest to me to begin to heal from that time I felt like I was being attacked from every direction.' You're talking about Showgirls, right?
I am, I am. I don't shy away in the book, or even frankly with the girls, from speaking about the time when Showgirls came out because I think it's important for them to know about. When I speak to them I say I know what it feels like to be made fun of, to be humiliated, to be rejected. I mean there are other times in my life I have felt those feelings, but there was no bigger time in my life at 21 years old where I had to walk through basically having my head handed to me on a national level.

I think when it first came out it had this charge. I don't know if it would have the same charge now if had just come out. I don't know exactly what it was that made people attack it so much, but it was very personal, too, at the time. It wasn't just, 'Oh, she was directed that way,' or 'the movie didn't live up.' It was personal attacks. So I think that was really the hardest thing, and when you're just finding your way at 21 it's like Wow. It was an initiation period for me. When I speak to the girls, I can't help but to bring that up because, first of all, that was an initiation as I was becoming a woman and I could have given up on myself very easily because a lot of the world was telling me to, and it's the greatest proof that I could share with them of how to walk through something and come out gracefully and find your sense of self and strength again that maybe you didn't know you had. We can only know that walking through something difficult. Unfortunately, we're all going to go through highs and lows -- it's just life.

I'm very real with them, like life is not just in a pretty, little bow. I like feminine, girly things, trust me, but life is not always that neat. And so that was a very messy time, and I had to pick up the pieces. I did -- I had to pick them up. Mostly, I had to look deep within myself and find a fierce determination to not let this derail me from my dreams. And, of course, there were moment I thought, Oh my God, are they right, all those things? -- which is what happens. This story plays out in a section about how to deal with bullies or mean girls. I don't care how old you are. A lot of the themes in here continue, and that's why I specifically did not choose something from high school or middle school. I could have -- I have stories, trust me. But I wanted to pick something that was relevant to who've I become as a woman. I'm saying, 'This happened to me then, but it's important because this story ties into an action step of how to triumph over the torment.' You have to dust yourself off, and I think there are a lot of people that don't know how to do that.

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