WHY ROSIE O’DONNELL HAS SSAby Richard Cohen, MA, Director of International Healing Foundation
I love and admire Rosie O’Donnell. I recently read her autobiography, Finding Me, as well as an interview she and her partner Kelly did for The Advocate (the oldest gay and lesbian magazine in America). In the fall, she will join the popular TV show The View on ABC as a co-host. Rosie is bright, brilliant, talented, sensitive, amusing, vulnerable, caring, articulate, and brave. Her heart of compassion is matched by her down-to-earth demeanor. Ms. O’Donnell is a busy woman juggling family life with Kelly and their four children, sponsoring and working with an adoption agency, championing and speaking out for gay rights, making movies and hosting TV shows.
Ms. O’Donnell’s autobiography details many of the causes of SSA [same-sex attractions] that I discuss in my book Coming Out Straight. By quoting several passages from her book, I will identify why Rosie is a classic case study of someone who experiences SSA. She was the middle of five children growing up in an Irish Catholic home in NY. Her mother died of breast cancer in 1973, when Rosie was just 11 years old. She and her mother have the same name: Roseann. To her friends, she is known as Ro.
In Finding Me, she shares about her involvement with Stacie, who she believed to be a frightened, wounded and pregnant 14 year girl who was raped by her pastor. Against the counsel of family and friends, Rosie spent many nights and days trying to “save” her. In the end, Rosie finds out that Stacie’s pregnancy was a “hoax,” and in fact Stacie is a deeply traumatized woman named Melissa who experiences dissociate identity disorder (multiple personalities) and creates alternate egos to survive a horrific past. Rosie’s account of this relationship with Stacie reveals her own fragile state of being.
I have the deepest respect for Ms. O’Donnell to expose her frailties in black and white. It takes a lot of guts and courage to show such vulnerability. With the aim of understanding her SSA, I would now like to construct a portrait of Roseann O’Donnell by using her own words. I will offer suggestions why she developed SSA (my words are in italics). I do this in humility and in consideration that Rosie, like all of us, is a wounded soul looking for love and understanding. In parenthesis, I list the page numbers from Finding Me, Warner Books, New York City, 2002.
“I know stuff. Stuff I shouldn’t. It scares some people. Not me. It started when I was little, before I knew what they were, these ethereal moments where I am given information from some unknown place inside me.” (13) “I think I have OCD or ADD or some other three-initial ditty. Whatever it is, it is exhausting.” (15) “I can’t stand the pain in their voices, the tenderness in their hearts, their struggling souls. Also, I become over involved. To put it bluntly, I have no boundaries. Zero, nada, zippo—none.” (5)
Here Rosie references working with expecting mothers in her NJ nonprofit adoption agency. Many reorientation/reparative therapists have observed that those who experience SSA are highly sensitive men and women, responding to circumstances with a heightened sense of emotional awareness and attunement to others’ feelings and needs.
Gender identity confusion / Body
“Being a girl was horrible and gross. It was the end of the world as I knew it. First I found a lone strand of hair under my arm, and now this (referring to her menstruation cycle). I prayed it was all some sick joke mothers were forced to tell their daughters.” ( “I hate my body. I always have. I hate to admit this fact, but it is just that: a fact. I do not look in mirrors, I try never to be naked. If I could have sex with my clothes on I would. I am the dieting queen, but, along with all the other four billion diet queens in this country, I never stick with the program.” (71) “Fat is a protector; anyone can tell you that. I didn’t like being ‘thin.’ I felt like people could come too close.” (72)
Rosie experiences gender detachment, at odds with her body and femininity. This establishes a pattern to seek self-acceptance by joining with someone of the same gender…in essence, trying to love herself through another woman. She is typical of most SSA men and women in that she doesn’t like her body. When the child fails to emotionally attach to the same-gender parent, and/or same-gender peers, they generally reject their own sense of femininity or masculinity. This leads to gender confusion. Rosie, characteristic of many women with SSA, does not like her feminine body.
Mother wounds / Insufficient
“I did not go to my mother’s funeral. I went to her wake. It was quite a scene…I saw my stiff sleeping mommy and realized, right then, that she wasn’t going to wake up. Then I cried. I cried very hard…On the day I got my driver’s license, I went to visit my mother’s grave for the first time…I feel I never really got to say a full good-bye. Sometimes I think that may be why I’m still saying good-bye, today. It’s like I’m somehow stuck. Mom, Mom. You could just call out forever.” (29) “After my mother died, the house and just about everything else fell into total disrepair. It was always dark inside. Life itself was smeared a dull gray. It smelled of dust and stale urine. To me, it smelled of death.” (19) “She died. She remains a mystery to me.” (23) “There was an awkward silence. Never speak the truth, that’s the rule. See her die before your eyes, but say nothing.” (26)
Family rule in the O’Donnell house: Don’t share your thoughts, feelings and needs. Rosie was unable to grieve the loss of her Mom with her Dad and other siblings. She still has a hole in her soul, longing to experience and obtain her mother’s love. This may also lead to the development of SSA, seeking for maternal bonding with another woman. After puberty, this emotional need for bonding becomes eroticized or sexualized. The world then mistakenly says, “You’re gay,” or “You’re lesbian.” More accurately, within Rosie is a little girl longing for her mother’s love.
Need to “save” others (codependent behavior) / Inability to take
care of self and resolve childhood issues:
“Show me your wounds, and wait for me to come save you. I will…That’s me, ‘the queen of nice.’…My giving is impulsive, driven by a demon who also happens to have a huge heart. The contradiction exhausts and embarrasses me.” (38, 40) “Stacie had many sides, shifts, and splits in her, as I had in me.” (51) “As a superhero, I am sworn to serve. I have no choice really. This need to save people is so strange, because it comes from such a warped place inside me: On the one hand, I think I’m powerful enough to really make a difference; it’s sheer disgusting narcissism. On the other hand, I feel so powerless, so much like the people I am trying to help, that I blur the line between me and them…And then there was Stacie herself. Stacie, whoever she was, had become a friend and a reflection, a conduit to the pieces of my own past, pieces I was aware of but had not resolved.” (123) “I realized that no amount of therapy, giving away of money, or involvement with other wounded travelers would take away my own damage. I knew I had avoided fully experiencing my own past by living in other people’s.” (129) “The realizations I came to, through this relationship (with Stacie), were at once subtle and profound: Saving the world is a lofty goal and an impossible feat. Swimming in others’ pain only delays the journey through your own.” (208)
Stacie equals her own wounded, unhealed inner child that she is unable to embrace directly. Rosie is emotionally stuck, unable to resolve her childhood trauma, thereby reliving it through others. She works to save others (codependent behavior), at her own expense, disconnected from her wounds and needs. Trapped in a life of same-sex relationships and solving other people’s problems, Ms. O’Donnell is unable to access and resolve her own core issues. If Rosie would get in touch with her own inner child, work a program to heal that child within and experience intimacy with women in healthy, non-sexual relationships, she would heal and fulfill her own sense of womanhood and femininity. Naturally then, SSA would dissipate as she becomes comfortable in her own skin.
Father wounds / Wounds with men:“When I was twenty-nine, I fell in love with a man who was sweet and funny and kinder than any man I had ever known. Tall, blond, and handsome, with a stunning smile, we spoke about getting married, which was both thrilling and repulsive. He didn’t care what size my body was and no matter how hard he tried to convince me of that, I never believed him. As he and I got closer, I got bigger. For every pound I gained, I took one step backward, using flesh for padding. I bubble-wrapped my heart…I am difficult to love, and I know it. I never learned the unconditional part, so trust evades me. Add sex and I fall apart, eventually retreating back into the swamp.” (73) “I knew nothing of boys, and what I knew of men was no enticement to boy-raising.” (157)
In her book, Rosie recalls being estranged from her dad while growing up. He was unable to allow his daughter to express her deeper feelings and support her growth. He was also overwhelmed raising five children alone. Rosie has a negative view of men based upon the relationship with her dad and being sexually abused.
“I was an abused kid. This is something I have chosen not to dwell on in my public life…So, yes, I had been abused, although the details are not important. What is important is that I had, supposedly, dealt with the fallout in therapy. How naïve I was. Abuse is an ongoing saga for everyone who has lived through it (hence my relationship with Stacie). It may start and stop in real time, but in mind-time it goes on forever.” (75) “Why was I drawn to Stacie? Oh, a million reasons, one of which was this: a reliving. A sense of shared pain. Talking to her, I felt this pain, my pain, all over again. And although it’s hard to admit, I like how it felt. Electric current, real. It made me feel alive, raw, and sad. I am a swamp person, and so was Stacie.” (75) “Maybe it’s also an abuse thing. When your boundaries have been violated, you just plain and simple stop seeing the space between people, so people’s pain becomes your pain and you have to stop it. At the same time, though, codependency is also a distancing ploy; you’re so busy trying to save the world out there you forget about the people close to you, and then, last of all, or first of all, you forget about yourself, that you might be the one worth saving.” (7
Many men and women who experience SSA have been sexually abused. This further prevents them from having successful relationships with members of the opposite sex, not wanting to be placed in such a vulnerable position any longer. Turning to someone of the same gender is then more safe and comforting. Rosie is also drawn to “save” other wounded souls and abuse victims in an effort to heal herself. However, this never works.
Ms. O’Donnell experiences same-sex attractions, like many other women, due to a combination of factors—hypersensitive nature, gender identity confusion, body image wounds, lack of mother-daughter bonding, distant from father, and sexual abuse. I propose that if Rosie would work through each one of these issues in her life, and experience healthy, non-sexual intimacy with women, she would ultimately resolve her SSA and experience a sense of inner peace, self-worth, and opposite sex attractions. I believe in Roseann O’Donnell. I love this woman. Let us pray for her healing.