Diane Flacks, a Jewish actress and writer, appears in the “It Gets Better Canada,” the country’s LGBT community’s artistic contribution to the anti-bullying campaign. Flacks can be seen in the popular, 12-minute video saying, “In my son’s class, a lot of the kids say, ‘I have two moms!’ and they don’t. But they wish they did.”
Flacks, 45, fit in well with the other high-profile participants from the worlds of journalism, entertainment, fashion and design. A lesbian who grew up in Jewish day schools and came out at the age of 27, she is known for her columns in the Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star, as well as on CBC radio.She helped create five Canadian TV series and wrote for several others, including “The Kids in the Hall.” She wrote and starred in four one-women plays, including “Bear With Me,” about childbirth and the early stages of motherhood.
Flacks has been together with her wife, Janis Purdy, for 15 years. They were married six years ago and have two sons, ages 4 and 8. They live in downtown Toronto, where their older son attends an artistic, progressive Jewish day school. She spoke recently with The Sisterhood.
How did you get involved with the “It Gets Better” project?
The guy who directed it, he told me he was very affected by having seen the American versions of these and he — he’s not gay, he’s straight — really felt we should do it. He felt he could pull together a really great group who would donate their time. The minute he started reaching out, everybody jumped on.
What is it like to be a Jewish lesbian in Toronto’s artistic community?
What I realized is that in my industry, there are not really that many artists who are out Jewish — who write about being Jewish. I can certainly be critical, but at my core I have no problem about the fact that I am Jewish. I do embrace it, and I don’t think that there are that many of us out there.
There are a lot more queer artists than there are Jewish artists that I know of. I do tend to like to write about what I know, so it is helpful for me to dig into both of those areas. I always say that it is really helpful to me to be Jewish and a lesbian because whenever homophobia comes up, I can very easily explain it to people in the same way that I can explain anti-Semitism. In both cases you’re talking about being hated because of something that’s a part of you, and there’s nothing you can do about it…I “pass” as a Jew and as lesbian. I don’t look Jewish and I don’t look as stereotypically as a lesbian, so I sometimes I use that opportunity to be as out as I can.
What is it like being a lesbian mom in the Jewish community where you live?
We have a critical mass in my son’s class. There are two other sets of parents like us. We are becoming more visible. We are a minority, within a minority…[The school’s] mandate is to have working artists, diversity, interfaith — we kind of fit the bill perfectly in everything. The school has been amazing and so far I have not encountered any issues.
I just did a play last spring called “Yichud,” and it was about an ultra-Orthodox wedding and I played the mother of the bride. … In doing research for the role, we met with a lot of people from the ultra-Orthodox community and we had a consultant from the Haredi community. [A] lot of my stereotypes were blown out of the water. I don’t know how they wrapped their heads around it, but they were very accepting. If anyone had an issue, they weren’t going to say anything to me.
Was it hard for you as a Jew to come out in the Jewish community?
I had a couple of closeted relationships before I came out and one of them was with a Christian, and for her being gay was just the worst thing you could possibly imagine; it was such a sin and she was so tormented about what her God would say. I never felt that. I think that Judaism has a lot more room in it than other religions. Since having kids, I’ve become reacquainted with my Judaism. Being Jewish, I really appreciate now as an artist that it’s really important and those stories are as important as any other stories. So, I’ve come around, come back to it. It was Janis [who is not Jewish] who really pushed for us to consider a Jewish education for our kids.
What has the reaction to the video been?
I was amazed at the response. People were really moved by it, and I think one of the reasons is because it’s just such a diverse group of people. If I had seen a video like that in high school, it would have saved me a lot of years, I think — of being in the closet. I felt like I was the only one, and there really weren’t that many of us in my Jewish high school — maybe one or two others.
People have asked me whether I thought that coming out hurt my career, and I don’t really know. And I’ll never know. But it hurts a lot more to be lying in all of your work.
Watch the Canadian ‘It Gets Better’ video: