"That was shocking -- that was very shocking," pop icon Cyndi Lauper said, candidly discussing a sexual assault she experienced by a male member of her band in the '80s -- and by two women who restrained her during the assault -- an incident which she recounts for the first time in her frank new book, "Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir."
The singer and performer also talked about her tough childhood and several other sexual abuses she experienced, including as a teen by her stepfather; leaving home at the age of 17, hitchhiking and often finding herself in dangerous situations; becoming pregnant early on and getting an abortion, though she wanted to have the child; contemplating suicide after the pressures of fame and the recording industry escalated; and beating back the negativity and becoming inspired by the cause of LGBT rights, for which she's become a leader with her True Colors Tour and True Colors Fund.
"I tried to write an honest story about how I felt as an honest woman who went on to live her life on her terms," Lauper said in an interview on my SiriusXM OutQ radio program on Monday. "I wanted to have my sound. I wanted to have my look. I wanted it to be about me and what I wanted to contribute."
Lauper left home at 17 after her "creepy" stepfather, who threatened to rape her and her sister, had been spying on her while she was taking a bath. She took various jobs, including as an IHOP waitress, and pursued her musical career. She often didn't have enough money to eat, she writes in the book, and traveled by hitching rides, which sometimes put her in threatening situations, such as when a man forced her to perform a sexual act.
"Sh*t happens and then, you know, what are you going to do?" she said, reflecting on the incident. "I just wanted to be able to live through it, get to the other side of it."
In the book Lauper also tells the story of a male member of a cover band she worked with in the 80s, while performing in the clubs on Long Island, who sexually assaulted her with a dildo.
"He grabbed it, and then two other people grabbed me," she writes. "I ran away from them. They caught me and pulled my pants off. And that guy took the dildo and used it on me...I was being held down by his girlfriend and her sister -- and she was a big girl. I was stunned, in shock."
"That was shocking -- that was very shocking," Lauper said, recalling the harrowing scene. "It wasn't just a guy. It was women too. When that happened, I realized [that], okay, you have to look at this thing as it's not a male thing against women -- I mean, it is -- but it could also be women against women."
She stayed in the band.
"I did," Lauper explained, "because after I talked to everybody, I realized, in a way, it was just a power struggle. And the band had shifted and I became the lead singer. I wasn't marrying these people. I was just going to remain singing in the band because I wasn't going to let that stop me. After that I found another band. These were just cover bands. I had my eyes set on something much larger."
She became pregnant with one of her first boyfriends in those early years, after previously being told by doctors she could not conceive children. She wanted to have the baby, she said, but her boyfriend wanted her to have an abortion, a decision she made but which she still thinks about.
"Nobody wants to run in and do that," explained Lauper, who is today married to actor David Thornton (since 1991), with whom she has a 15-year-old son. "It's just that I didn't want to have a kid that I love come into the world and not be able to share the kid with a dad. He didn't want to have a baby. Why have a human being feel not wanted? I felt strongly about not bringing a person into the world who was not wanted."
About becoming famous, Lauper said, "You think it's redemption but it's not permanent." She was particularly demoralized by the pressures of the recording industry when she didn't meet its expectations, and at a low point she thought of taking her own life.
"It was very disappointing to me," she said, "and then when everything fell apart and fell to shit, I was sitting with complete idiots [in the recording industry], who were telling me, 'Why do you have to dress like that?' I didn't want to hang. I didn't want to stay. It was a big mess. And then it took a minute for me to realize that, first of all, I wasn't going to let go of everything. There were too many people who were going to take what I did and make it mean nothing. I wasn't going to let everyone say, 'Girl just wanted to have fun -- but just didn't.'"
"Harvey Fierstein was very inspirational, because I heard him speak before we started the True Colors Tour," she explained, "and that really made me understand that maybe, possibly, there was something I could do."
Lauper is passionate about the cause, which for her is very personal.
"Because I'm a friend and family member, okay?" she responds when asked what inspired her. "Because I'm not gonna stand by one of my best friends and watch them be discriminated against and have all their civil liberties stripped down -- or my sister or my cousin or whoever -- and just stand there and shut up. Up to 40% of the kids on the street are gay or transgender and they're only on the street because they're gay or transgender. We figured that is fixable. We could fix that. We could get that better."
Listen to the full interview below:
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