Sisters Just Wanna Have Fun. (My Perspective: Cyndi Lauper)

Article excerpt

I grew up in an Italian-American family in Queens where everyone lived at the top of their emotions. Life was dramatic and sometimes hilarious. After my father moved out, when I was 5, it was my mother and the three kids: me, my older sister, Ellen (we're a year-and-a-half apart), and my younger brother, Butch. In our blue-collar neighborhood, everybody fantasized about a movie star. My aunt worked a Polly Bergen look, and my mother was into a Rita Hayworth thing. But Ellen liked dressing like either Peter Pan or Annie Oakley.

When I was 15 my best friend decided she was lesbian and in love with me. While I tried to be her lover, I just didn't feel it. But that experience kind of prepared me for when Ellen told me she was lesbian.

Ellen was 18. She was having an affair with a girl but then tried to have a relationship with a guy. When that was a disaster, she gradually came out and said, "You know what? I'm a lesbian, I'm a big old dyke." My mother said, "You're my daughter, I love you." I simply said, "OK," because I always said OK, even if I was freaked out. She was still my sister, and I wasn't about to let go of her.

It was hard for Ellen. I remember my cousin got married, and all the relatives and friends said to me, "Oh, your sister's the--" and I looked at them and said, "Photographer." And they said, "Oh, yes, the photographer." I always had my heart in my mouth because of the people out there saying and doing insensitive or hateful things.

Ellen's always cared about people, about the world, and that influenced me and my brother. She's somebody I can always call, no matter what By the 1980s I wasn't just Ellen's sister anymore. Reporters asked me about my sister and brother. I was careful about what I said until Ellen told me, "Cyn, I'm out, don't worry."

Ellen used to be a plumber and a carpenter; now she works as an acupuncturist and herbalist in L.A., where she lives with her partner, Diana. All I ever wanted was for Ellen to be happy, and she is.

I thought of Ellen when I cowrote "Brimstone and Fire," and I wrote "Boy Blue" and "Say a Prayer" for gay friends who had AIDS. I sang "True Colors" when a close friend passed away from AIDS. …