Cynthia Nixon gets candid about cancer and her personal choices


Our favorite SATC woman, Cynthia Nixon, is likely is on her way to another Tony Award.

Nixon stars as Vivian Bering in the Broadway premiere of Margaret Edson‘s Pulitzer Prize winning play, Wit, which opens Thursday at the Manhattan Theater Club. MTC Artistic Director Lynne Meadow directs.

You may be familiar with Wit from the powerful film version starring Emma Thompson. It’s the story of a brilliant poetry professor diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer who undergoes an excruciatingly brutal investigative treatment. As a scholar whose life has been devoted to academia, she now has to deal with the irony of being a research subject.

The New York Times Magazine talked with Nixon about her life and taking on Wit as someone with personal experience with cancer. Nixon was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer in 2006; her mom Anne has survived three rounds of the disease. According to Nixon, the role is less intimidating as a result.

“I feel that between my experience and my mother’s, breast cancer is a little bit like someone who lives next door,” she told the NYT. “I know what that person looks like and what their daily habits are. I mean, I get my ultrasounds and stuff, so I think I’m less scared than if I didn’t do that.”

Nixon had a lumpectomy and radiation, but was able to avoid chemo. She still takes Tamoxifen and tries to maintain a healthy diet. “My girlfriend juices for me, which is really nice. It’s a cancer thing.”

The girlfriend is, of course, Christine Marinoni, who she’s been with since 2004.

The two met when Nixon was campaigning for increased financing to NYC public schools. Nixon frequently speaks out for LGBT rights, but came under fire recently for a speech in which she said, “I’ve been straight and I’ve been gay, and gay is better.” The implication being that being gay is a choice — a notion that goes against the grain for many of us. But Nixon is impatient with those who question her on the point.

I understand that for many people it’s not, but for me it’s a choice, and you don’t get to define my gayness for me. A certain section of our community is very concerned that it not be seen as a choice, because if it’s a choice, then we could opt out. I say it doesn’t matter if we flew here or we swam here, it matters that we are here and we are one group and let us stop trying to make litmus test for who is considered gay and who is not.

Her face red, she added:

As you can tell, I am very annoyed about this issue. It seems we’re just ceding this point to bigots who are demanding it, and I don’t think that they should define the terms of the debate. I also feel like people think I was walking around in a cloud and didn’t realize I was gay, which I find really offensive. I find it offensive to me, but also find it offensive to all the men I’ve been out with.

OK, I know what you’re thinking; please don’t shoot the messenger. I’m uncertain why Nixon doesn’t consider the full spectrum of sexual attraction, since her experience seems to indicate that she’s bisexual. Perhaps she prefers to avoid labels entirely. I do agree that we should focus more on what unifies us than what divides us, but Nixon may find her words backfiring if the anti-gay contingent picks up on them.

I suspect Nixon may clarify her statement a bit in the next few days; meanwhile, let’s try to keep the comments civil. We all have plenty of feelings on choice and bisexuality and queer expression in general — and we have room for all of them. Can we discuss these issues without flaming and personal attacks? I hope so!

While you’re gathering your thoughts, enjoy Cynthia Nixon with freshly shaved locks. I have to agree with what Marinoni said when she saw it: “You look fierce.”

And beautiful.

More you may like