Raven-Symoné spoke for the latest season of It Got Better about struggling with her sexuality as a child star. Growing up as Olivia on The Cosby Show and then in her own show, That’s So Raven, she says was told from the age of four exactly what she was supposed to say and who she was supposed to be.
"My likeness... however you see it at that time, had 15 people dictating what I should and should not look like," she said. "If I did whatever I want, it's not gonna sell. It doesn't go with the brand. I was branded at such a young age."
Though Raven-Symoné said she knew about her sexuality from the age of 12, she saw that Ellen DeGeneres come out the same year and perceived the conversations surrounding the issue to be largely negative. From then on she intended to take her secret to the grave, thinking she’d marry a friend and support him in exchange for having a husband.
Once she turned 27, however, she felt a need to change that plan. She went on an acting hiatus, enrolled at Academy of Art University in San Francisco, and met her now former partner, model AzMarie Livingston.
“I didn’t care anymore because I fell in love, and I was kind of over the industry,” she said. “I wanted to retire.”
Gradually, Raven-Symoné would allude to her sexuality on Twitter, eventually confirming in a 2014 interview with Oprah Winfrey that she’d liked both boys and girls since she was young. She would also take her relationship with Livingston public, and come out to her family. Though Raven-Symoné’s mother was initially worried—and told her daughter she was going through a phase—Raven-Symoné said it didn’t bother her because she’d kept it a secret for so long. Her father said he knew all along, and she joked that she had too many pairs of Air Jordans for him not to.
In the end, Symoné said she felt much better when she didn’t have to hide anything anymore.
"I didn't have to have a 'beard.' I didn't have to have a man standing by me," she says. "I felt lighter, I felt like I could go out and not have to put on 17 different hats to be myself."
Watch Raven-Symoné’s full It Got Better interview below, and you can watch the entire series (created by Dan Savage, Lisa Kudrow and Dan Bucatinsky) on L/Studio.