Wanda Sykes on Pride, Parenting, and Finding Her Person
As a comic, Wanda Sykes is known for being completely candid. But it wasn’t until she was honest with herself that she found true happiness. In this essay, she explores that journey.
The word "pride" means so many different things to me. I'm proud of my family. I'm proud of my faith, which has held things together for me when people said I wasn't in line with God. I'm proud of my friendships. Most of my friends I've known since junior high school, and they keep me grounded and call me out on my crap. I'm proud of my work and the fact that I was in a movie called Pootie Tang and I'm still around to talk about it.
But to be honest with you, whenever someone says "pride," the first thing I think of is the giant rainbow flag that's always up at Fire Island [N.Y.] in June. That's where my wife, Alex, and I met [in 2006], and now we go there every summer because there's such a sense of community. It's all about being exactly who you are and embracing it.
After I met Alex, I remember asking my publicist if I needed to publicly come out, and she said, "Well, everyone who you work with knows, and anyone who comes in contact with you knows. So if you want to do a big interview like, 'Hey, I'm gay,' you can, but it's probably going to happen more organically." And sure enough, it did. I was at a [marriage equality] rally in 2008, and I was put on the spot and called up onstage to say a few words. I had nothing prepared, but I'm known to wing it, so I just came out right then. And the next thing you know, it was on CNN.
I'm glad that's how it happened because it was all about acceptance. I said, "This is who I am. Why am I trying to be something else? It's making me miserable, and I deserve to be happy." We all deserve to be happy, and we're all unique, so we should celebrate that. Once I made that decision, it was so liberating. I have always been honest with my opinions in my stand-up, but finally I was able to turn it around on myself. I think it shows in my work and in all other aspects of my life too.
One of my proudest moments was being the first Black woman to host the White House Correspondents' Dinner [in 2009]. Alex had just given birth to our twins [Lucas and Olivia], so it was a crazy time and we weren't getting any sleep. But to go into that room in front of Barack Obama, the first African American president, and do my thing and then get to go back to my hotel room and hold my two babies next to my wife was pretty crazy and incredible.
Motherhood wasn't something I always knew I wanted though. When I was younger, for some reason I sort of always thought I would be a single mother, and then I didn't know if I would have kids at all. But after I met Alex, it was like, "Of course. Why not?" She is French, and we are very different, but I think we complement each other in all the best ways. For example, she likes to travel, and I have money. I'm probably going to get into trouble for that one. But really, we both have good hearts and always just try to do the right thing. And after 12 years of marriage, we still have so much fun, especially doing the little things like dancing around the kitchen together.
As parents, we're a team. Whenever there is an area where I might be lacking, she covers me, and vice versa. We always have each other's backs, and I think that's been really huge in our relationship. Our kids are 12 now, and I am so proud when they're being kind, polite, and respectful. But mostly they speak TikTok, so I have no idea what they're saying. They're still not old enough to watch my stand-up specials, but their friends come back and tell them things they heard from their parents. So they've kindly asked me to go easy on them [in my act]. I can already see that my son is the other comedian in the family, and my daughter loves to sing and dance. I'm not encouraging any of it yet.
I think that things are definitely changing for younger generations, but for people my age, most of us have had to create our own families because our real families weren't that accepting of our relationships. But Alex and I always take care of each other and our kids, and most of all, I'm incredibly proud of that.
Sykes is the co-creator, executive producer, and star of The Upshaws, streaming now on Netflix.
For more stories like this, pick up the June 2021 of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download May 21st.