LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Cameron Esposito's memoir is very aptly titled for this particular moment. It's called "Save Yourself." The comic, writer and actor had a different message in mind when she wrote it. It's a lesbian coming-of-age story about her journey from her strict Catholic suburban upbringing to now. In the book, she calls it the tale my younger self needed to read. Cameron Esposito joins us now from - where else? - her home in Los Angeles. Welcome.
CAMERON ESPOSITO: Hi, good morning.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Good morning. This is not how these interviews are normally supposed to go. These are unprecedented times. And actually, I want to start by saying that I read on Twitter that your girlfriend was taken to the hospital this week. And she is immunocompromised. What happened?
ESPOSITO: Yeah, I'm going to try to be as coherent as I possibly can. She was advised by her doctor. Yeah, my girlfriend's name is Katy. Maybe I'll start there. She's a person. And she is immunosuppressed and has had a cough and a fever. Her doctor advised that we go to urgent care. And the scene was unfamiliar to me. There was a - you know, a guard at the door, and I wasn't allowed to go into the waiting room with her. And then I was sort of sitting in the hall. And a doctor came out with that, like, very serious doctor face that you never want to see and said that they thought she might have a blood clot in her lungs. And so she was immediately transported to the ER. They also put her in the COVID ward because...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, my goodness.
ESPOSITO: ...You know, it's a lungs issue. So then I had to just leave. You know, the EMTs were wearing, like, plastic suits. And, you know, there's goggles. And the ER was empty. And the doctors said that they think it is coronavirus. And so she's just - they said the safer thing is for her to come home. They did test her, but they also said that there's a large delay right now in getting those results back.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That is so worrying. I can't even imagine what you're feeling like right now. She's home with you.
ESPOSITO: She's home with me. Actually, I have to say in some ways, just seeing her again feels like a massive relief. And I just - I have so much compassion for anybody whose relative or a loved one is fighting coronavirus right now because they can't be there by their person's side. You know, that's a very different feeling.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, my thoughts are with you and Katie.
ESPOSITO: Thanks. I also want to say, you know, it feels so weird to talk about something like personal medical information publicly when you're a public figure. But there are so many people that are in high-risk categories that maybe aren't just the elderly. There are a lot of people that you might not assume just by looking at them.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's hard to listen to. I'm so sorry.
I want to talk about the book because not only is it the reason that we're here. But also, it occurred to me that while we don't know what is on the other side of this we do know that there will be still queer kids who want a story they can hold on to.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me how you grew up. Let's start there.
ESPOSITO: I was the gooniest (ph) kid around. You know, I had crossed eyes, so I wore an eye patch. I wore glasses on top of the eye patch (laughter). I had braces, a bowl cut.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And then you describe how you sort of transformed yourself. And you had an eating disorder. You became proudly abstinent. The girlfriend of the captain of the football team - quintessential teenage experience.
ESPOSITO: Well, that's part of what - you know, I know that I say that the book is for queer kids, but I think it's also for anybody that felt that they couldn't quite measure up to cultural standards. You know, I was dating the captain of the football team. I was pretty well-liked. And that was not my experience of myself. You know, I really thought I was disgusting and wrong and that something was really off with me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And then you talk about this journey to sort of discovering yourself. And the chapter where this happens with your sexuality is titled "Getting Gay" (laughter), which I really liked. Talk about a little bit about that, about what that journey looked like.
ESPOSITO: I was at a conservative Catholic college and interested in specifically the social justice side of what I saw in my faith, you know, in the faith that I was raised in and doing work to try to connect with those who are underserved. And it was in doing this work that I met this woman, another student at my college. And, you know, we eventually kissed, which was this, like, massive, life-transforming kiss because I had dated men. And it had felt confusing to me why people were in relationships. I mean, I liked the guys I dated. They were my friends. But I also felt a real emotional distance from them. And I felt, like, a real physical distance from them. And then having this experience of kissing a woman for the first time was really a reorganization of all of my experiences up until that point in life.
(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY SPECIAL, "RAPE JOKES")
ESPOSITO: This is a thing that happens to so many folks, right? We have no sex ed, and then we go to college. And it's like, drink together. That's how it happened to me. I was hanging out with that dude...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And there was this - sort of a transition period. And in the book, you detail something that inspired your 2018 comedy show called "Rape Jokes." Let's listen to some of that.
(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY SPECIAL, "RAPE JOKES")
ESPOSITO: And one night, we're playing that game. And then we were back in my room. And I don't totally remember what happened that night. I have a lot of flashes of what happened. I know that I didn't say yes. I also know that, like, I couldn't have. Like, I...
I didn't know that I was sexually assaulted in college until years later because I had no sex ed growing up. I did not understand the concept of agency, of bodily autonomy, of consent. I didn't understand any of those concepts. And I really thought that part of my job as a woman and as a Catholic person was to be available to men. And so even as I was dating a woman, I was closeted about that. I couldn't have come out at my college. At the time, it was not covered by their nondiscrimination policy to be queer, so you could be kicked out as a student or removed as a faculty member.
And so that combination of things - being closeted and the shame of that and the isolation of that and not having accurate information about what sex really is put me in a situation where - I mean, I don't want to say this was inevitable. I just was in a category of folks that it's so easy to be a target. And I will also say, you know, I have a lot of - I mean, maybe this is a strange thing to say, but I write about it in the book, too. I have a lot of compassion for the man that perpetrated this because I don't believe that he...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I was about to say you write, (reading) I'm not sure he knew better. Like me, he had gone to Catholic school his whole life and was from a conservative Catholic family. And maybe he didn't know what real love or real sex looks like. Maybe all these years later, he hasn't registered what happened that night.
ESPOSITO: You know, I am somebody who - I have slept with women in my life. I have slept with people who are conditioned to say yes. And I feel a responsibility to make sure the best I can that everything that's happening between us is consensual. And that's because I have, you know, sort of both sides of that experience. And I would just say that is a better experience to feel that you're really connected to the person you're being intimate with. I would want that for men.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I guess considering everything that's going on, we need comedy now more than ever (laughter). But this must be also a hugely difficult time for the community of comics, as so much is done in clubs and on sets.
ESPOSITO: That's definitely true. We work in the gig economy. We literally do gigs. I was supposed to be on a book tour right now. And I've been doing these Zoom book events. So I never get to go home with my audience. I never see them in their beds, watching me on their laptop or being able to ask questions, and then we get to hear from them while I see them. So I don't paint this with a super rosy picture. You know, folks are going to lose their businesses, and folks are going to lose their lives. This is a really tough time. And I also think that we are doing a lot to still try to connect with each other. And that is astounding.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to end this interview with something that you ended your book with. I don't know when you wrote it, but it just seemed so pertinent to this moment. If you could go to the last page of your book. And it starts with, look.
ESPOSITO: Oh, wow. Yeah. (Laughter) Thank you for reminding me that this is how I ended the book. When was this written? Probably a year and a half ago or something like that. So I will read it.
(Reading) Look. Humans are scared out of our minds and want to be saved. We want to know why we are here, what we are supposed to do and how to protect ourselves. Like Dolly Parton, I am a seeker still out here hunting down the answers to those questions. But I can tell you for now, connection - connection to ourselves, connection to others. Maybe that connection is God, and we are our own saviors meant to save ourselves.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That is Cameron Esposito. Her memoir is "Save Yourself." Thank you very much.
ESPOSITO: Thanks for having me.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.