Actor Heather Matarazzo gets giddy every time she talks about the new television series she'll be appearing in, Exes & Ohs. She goes as far as calling it “the most spiritually transforming experiences in my life.” Based on a short film by Lee Friedlander and Michelle Paradise, the show will air on Logo next fall.
Now 23, Matarazzo has made it through a lot since her "Dollhouse phase.” When she was just 12, she starred in Welcome to the Dollhouse as the painfully awkward Dawn Wiener, struggling to make it through the brutality of junior high where she sports braces and suffers serial humiliation, including her schoolmates taunting her with chants of “Lesbo! Lesbo!"
That kind of ridicule can't be easy for any preteen actor to endure, let alone one who was right then starting to question her sexual orientation — even though she did have blissful ignorance on her side.
“I didn't even know what lesbo meant!” Matarazzo says. But she made a point of finding out, and then it was: “Oh my God! That's what I am, a lesbian!” After this revelation, she was more excited than distressed: “Then I'd go around set to the people I really liked and say, ‘I'm a lesbian. I'm a lesbian.'”
But once the film wrapped, Matarazzo was expected to go back to being a regular (by then) 13-year-old, and regular 13-year-olds don't talk about what it means to be gay. She felt isolated, and says she didn't have the language to talk about her feelings. Referring to gay youth in general she says: ”It's like everybody else has been given this handbook on how to relate to other people and we haven't.”
Apparently Matarazzo's confidantes on the Dollhouse set kept quiet about the girl's epiphany, because it wasn't until 2004 that she came out publicly. In an interview with the New York Daily News she casually used “she” when talking about the unnamed person she was in love with then.
It wasn't planned and Matarazzo didn't think it was a big deal at the time, but since then she's been warmed by all of the fans who have thanked her for coming out.
And right away she felt relieved not to have to bring a male date to movie premieres anymore, something she had been doing up until just a few years ago. She says she is no longer “apologetic, ashamed, secretive,” and feels more comfortable than she ever has.
Matarazzo continues to nonchalantly mention being gay in dealings with the press, even when no one is asking about it. In the December 2005 issue of Budget Living magazine you can find a full page spread devoted to the spoils she selected on a limited-budget Toys ‘R' Us spending spree sponsored by the magazine. In a caption describing one of her purchases, the game Life, she suggests that players make their own rules: “Who says you have to marry a boy? You can marry whoever you want.”
In the photo she wears a rainbow bracelet and candidly mentions other details of her personal life, including that the reason she chose a Cabbage Patch Kid is that she feels a special bond with the dolls because she is adopted.
Raised a strict Roman Catholic in Oyster Bay, Long Island, Matarazzo says she was always a tomboy, even though her mother discouraged it. “I had a little pink bike with a banana seat,” she recalls, “but I wanted the boy bike and I wanted to be the one that did the ramps and the jumps.”
In her junior and senior years of high school Matarazzo went to the BOCES Cultural Arts Center for half days and studied musical theater. “I love musicals more than anything else,” she says.