Patricia Cornwell: The Famed Crime Novelist Has Kept Us Spellbound with Her Fiction. Now She's Telling Her Truth-As a Happily Married Lesbian Who's Speaking out for Equal Rights

By Kort, Michele | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), June 17, 2008 | Go to article overview

Patricia Cornwell: The Famed Crime Novelist Has Kept Us Spellbound with Her Fiction. Now She's Telling Her Truth-As a Happily Married Lesbian Who's Speaking out for Equal Rights


Kort, Michele, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"I'LL TELL YOU SOMETHING VERY INTERESTING," says Patricia Cornwell, fixing me with her Carolina-blue eyes. We're sitting in the living room of a bird's-eye suite on the 53rd floor of the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Manhattan, not far from the author's own Hudson River--view apartment. "Many years ago I was at a dinner sitting next to Billie Jean King, and we were talking about this very issue, about being gay. And I said, 'Well, to me, it's a very private matter; I never deny it if I'm asked, but I don't go around talking about it.' She said, 'Wait until you turn 50. You'll feel different.'

"Well, I'll be 52 in June, and she's absolutely right," Cornwell continues. "I don't know what it is about turning 50, but a lot of things don't matter as much anymore."

Then again, some things start to matter very much. Speaking out for equality, for instance.

"If I went around hiding, maybe life would be easier, or my book sales would be better. But I think for every straight person I've lost, I've probably gotten a gay [reader]. In the early days when this all started coming out, it was, 'Ooh, this could really turn off your male readers.' And you know what I want to say: Do you not know what straight men's favorite form of pornography is? It's women with women, honey! I should have more of it in my books, and if I didn't embarrass myself, I would!

"Ha ha ha ha ha," Cornwell lets out an infectious, lighthearted chuckle--nothing like the laugh that I'd expect from a motorcycle-riding, helicopter-piloting alpha female who delves into the minds of serial killers. In fact, her laugh is downright ladylike. You can almost believe Cornwell would be embarrassed to write sweaty sex scenes for Lucy, the lesbian niece of her famed fictional heroine, Kay Scarpetta. But no matter. Cornwell's like a new convert to the cause of openness; she's not going to be the slightest bit embarrassed to talk about gay pride.

The author of 25 books, including her 15-and-counting juggernaut series of crime novels about forensic pathologist Scarpetta, Patricia Cornwell is the kind of literary star who's more or less permanently parked on the New York Times bestseller list. She's known for her exhaustive research as well as her tomboy glamour. (Today she's wearing a designer blazer, jeans with a distinctive silver belt buckle, and a fabulous heart-shaped pendant pierced with a silver dagger.) Although she never pretended to be dating men after her 1989 divorce, Cornwell has been unwilling until recently to open up about being gay--despite, or perhaps because of, being spectacularly outed a decade ago. (More about that later.)

Now, she says, in her light Southern accent, "It's just wrong and hypocritical of someone like me to say, 'I can do anything I want, I can avoid the scene, I don't have to be part of that at all because I live a privileged life.' I'm not someone who's going to be marching down the street; I'm basically an introverted, quiet person. But if asked--and especially now that I'm in a same-sex marriage--I will [speak out]."

And that's the most pressing reason for Cornwell's all-the-way-outness. She's finally found a sturdy relationship with a woman. Two years ago, she legally married Staci Gruber, whom she met four years ago while boning up on the latest brain research at Harvard. Gruber, now 40, is a psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School and associate director of the Cognitive Neuroimaging Laboratory at McLean Hospital in suburban Boston.

"When she walked into the room, the lights got brighter," says the still-smitten Cornwell of her wife. At their first meeting, she briefly talked to Gruber, then made excuses to return later for the proverbial "extra questions." That turned into dinner and three consecutive nights of sitting in a car talking until 4 A.M. "Just talking!" Cornwell insists.

"I wasn't looking for it [a relationship]. …

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