Death, Sex & Money

Death, Sex & Money

United States

A podcast hosted by Anna Sale about the big questions and hard choices that are often left out of polite conversation. Email the show at deathsexmoney@wnyc.org.

Episodes

Other Americans  

Since the election, Americans on both sides of the political divide have been feeling deeply alienated and profoundly misunderstood. So we've been asking our listeners one central question: What's the thing that you wish other Americans understood about you, that they don't? 

In this live call-in special, Anna speaks with listeners about their answers to this question. Among the Americans we hear from are Kelly, a black woman in Portland, Oregon, who feels frustrated by the "smugness" of the white liberals she's surrounded by and sometimes feels like she's not being seen in her community; David, a first-generation Jewish American who was inspired by a recent white nationalist speech to wear a kippah for the first time in his adult life; Katherine, a Republican who's tired of being labeled a racist and a bigot; and Jorge, who identifies as a progressive but wants other Americans to know that plenty of Latinos lean right politically. 

We also hear from Nora*, a Republican staffer on Capitol Hill who voted for Hillary Clinton and was shocked when Donald Trump won. "When I voted for Hillary...I did it completely against my own career interests," Nora says. "There are so many people [on Capitol Hill] like me....We are simultaneously terrified of the uncharted unknown but also really excited to...do what we envision for the country." 

This call-in special is part of The United States of Anxiety, WNYC's election series. Find out more about the series here

*Name changed for privacy reasons

What Money Can't Solve  

On November 2, 1983, Darrell Cannon was woken up by the Chicago police banging on his door. He knew the drill. As a longtime gang member, run-ins with the cops were common. He'd already served more than a decade behind bars for a murder conviction.

But that day, something unexpected happened: Darrell says the cops tortured him while they were questioning him. During the torture, Darrell confessed to a crime that landed him back behind bars for 24 years. 

This didn't just happen to Darrell. Between the 1970s and the 1990s, more than 100 people—most of them black men—say they were tortured too. The city of Chicago has officially acknowledged that this happened. Earlier this year, the city approved a $5.5 million reparations package to 57 of the people who suffered at the hands of the police. 

Planet Money reporter Noel King interviewed Darrell shortly after he picked up his reparations check earlier this year. She shared his story as part of a larger Planet Money episode called "Paying for the Crime." And today, in collaboration with Planet Money, we're sharing more of Darrell's story with you. It's a story about money—and the things that money can't solve.

"I hate 'em," Darrell says. "That ain’t never gonna change."

If You're Not ____, Then Never Mind  

Actor Amy Landecker got divorced in 2011. "It was the worst time of my whole life," Amy says. "People told me it was going to get better and I didn't believe them." Amy and her ex-husband share custody of their daughter, and Amy struggled with being away from her for days at a time. "I would watch Louie, there was this one episode in particular where, when his kids would leave he would eat doughnuts, get high and want to kill himself," Amy remembers. "I was just so comforted. Because I was like, 'That's how I feel.'" 

Amy's 47 now, and says the pain of her divorce has eased as time has passed. In the past few years, she's found breakout success in her role as Sarah, the oldest sister on the series Transparent. That's also how she met her boyfriend, actor Bradley Whitford. "My daughter was worried that I was gonna be alone and...she was like, let's just make a list of the qualities that we're looking for," Amy laughs. "So she takes out this piece of paper and she titles it, 'If You're Not This, Then Never Mind.'" Soon after that, Amy met Bradley—who met a lot of their requirements. "I wanted him to like cats and dogs," Amy says. "Bradley has both, which is very rare." 

For the past two decades, Amy has also been sober—a decision she made at 24, after years of hard partying and some sexual close calls. Plus, drinking was getting in the way of her career. "The final drink of my life was before an audition," Amy remembers. "I was absolutely terrible and I was like, 'I'm not going to be able to do what I want to do for a living if I continue down this path.'" 

 

Before being cast on Transparent, Amy worked as a voiceover actor—and voice double. Don't know what that is? Watch this video from New York magazine. Get ready to be amazed. 

I Was More Angry At God  

Two years ago, Jane Chung was living in New York, working at a startup and having the time of her life. The business she co-founded, called Klooff—a sort of "Instagram for pets"—was growing by leaps and bounds. "Everything seemed to align," Jane says. "And I would call my dad every day and I will tell him all the news." Jane, who was 30 at the time, hoped that after her startup got big, she could sell it and help her dad leave behind the dollar store business he owned in California. 

And then, on October 31, 2014, Jane got a phone call from her mother. "Her voice was really weird," Jane remembers. "There was like the feeling that you just kind of know that something awful happened." Jane's father had been shot and killed in a robbery.

That phone call rerouted the course of Jane's life—leading her to pack up her things in New York, sell her business and completely start over in California. Jane moved in with her mom, and struggled to accept that the God she had trusted to take care of her family had let something so terrible happen. "Most people were angry at the murderer," Jane says. "I think I was more angry at God."

In the past two years, Jane's been adjusting to her new life on the West Coast, and figuring out where to draw boundaries between herself and her mother. And she's trying to see God in a new way—and accept that she won't always be able to predict what's coming next. "You collect things in life, you gather pieces, you don't know what you're gonna do with those pieces but somehow it maps to something in your future," Jane says. "It can become a bigger piece of work. I think that's what God does."

Jane made a video that was played in court at her father's killer's sentencing. Watch it below.

  

Ellen Burstyn & Gloria Steinem  

Before the women's movement came around in the 1960s, Gloria Steinem thought her options for the future were limited. "I was being a freelance writer and not having any money to save, and assuming that I would be a bag lady," she tells guest host Ellen Burstyn. "I was supposed to get married and have a man to support me. But that seemed to be a kind of hard bargain."

Gloria was raised by a father who traveled across the country selling jewelry and antiques, and a writer mother who suffered from severe depression. They separated when Gloria was 10 years old, and Gloria soon became her mother's primary caregiver. The journalist and feminist icon says the circumstances she grew up in gave her the confidence to step into the world on her own—like when she traveled to India as a young woman, leaving her then-fiancé behind in the States. "I realized in later life that...I felt not so safe at home because I was a small person looking after a big one," Gloria says. "So I felt the world outside the home was safer."

Gloria broke off that early engagement—but married entrepreneur David Bale when she was 66. "By that time the women's movement had worked for 30 years to equalize the marriage laws," Gloria says. "So no longer would I lose my name and my credit rating and my legal domicile and all my civil rights, as I would have had I got married when I was supposed to. So I thought, 'Well, you know, why not? I mean I'm not going to lose.'" David died three years after they got married, after being diagnosed with brain lymphoma. Gloria says taking care of him at the end of his life forced her to live fully in the present. "He let me do over what I couldn't really do for my mother," she added. "It gave me a chance to do that over."

Gloria is 82 now. And she says she isn't yet very comfortable with the idea of death. "I'm torn because I love it here...I'm very attached," she admits. "I'm still trying to hang in there 'til I'm 100. Because just to meet my deadlines I have to do that."

Feb. 1975 cover of Ms. Magazine featuring Ellen Burstyn, Eleanor Perry and Shirley MacLaine. (Courtesy of Ellen Burstyn.)
Diane Gill Morris & Officer Robert Zink  

Diane Gill Morris first joined us last year to talk about raising her two boys, Kenny and Theo. Both of her children are autistic, and Diane told us about the challenges that have come with their diagnoses and the overwhelming responsibility she feels to protect and nurture them, particularly as they become adults. 

Diane said she was particularly worried about her older son, Kenny, who was then 16. "I am still trying to figure out how I make sure that he is safe in the world," Diane said, "when I can’t explain to him all the intricacies involved in what it means to be young and black in America."

There have been several recent stories about police interactions with autistic people of color—and their caregivers—that have ended violently, in places like Miami, New York, and St. Paul, Minnesota. Today, as a guest host on Death, Sex & Money, Diane talks with police officer Robert Zink, who founded the St. Paul CARE (Cops Autism Response Education) Project and has two autistic boys of his own. "Officers may not read the cues of what the person is presenting," Officer Zink says. "Officers may view them as cues of, is it drug interaction? Is it a mental health issue? And read those cues wrong....And we go down one path and it gets worse and worse." He adds, "I never want to see something like that happen to my sons just because something they did was misinterpreted." 

Diane also talks with Officer Zink about her worry that officers might make incorrect assumptions about her sons because they're black. "In the media most of the people that we see with autism are white. I don't think a lot of people are aware that there's a really large population of minority children and adults with autism," Diane says. "My fear is always that an officer sees a black man and they will immediately go to the idea of this being a person on drugs versus this being a person with disability." 

Diane also talks with Maria Caldwell, whose son, Marcus Abrams, was injured during an confrontation with Metro Transit officers in St. Paul last year. Marcus is black and autistic, and was 17 at the time of the incident. Maria talks with Diane about how Officer Zink reached out to her family after Marcus landed in the hospital—and Officer Zink and Maria talk together about working to rebuild trust after it's been lost. "There's no expectation that trust is going to be gained in six weeks, six months, six years, or sixty years," Officer Zink says. "Even though you may not have it back right away, you still have to work to get that trust back." 

Chris Gethard & Tim Dillon  

Comedian Tim Dillon has lived a lot of life in his 31 years. "I was a child actor," he tells guest host Chris Gethard. "I started doing coke at 12. My mother's a schizophrenic. I was a closeted homosexual. I'm politically all over the map, though I lean conservative. I was in the mortgage industry. I idolize hucksters, thieves, cons and cheats. My dream is to be a traveling salesman through America. And if comedy works, that's nice too."

Around the time that Tim says he began experimenting with drugs, he also began to notice that his mother was starting to talk about being followed. She was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia, and had a mental breakdown when Tim was twenty years old. She's been in and out of psychiatric hospitals since then. As an adult, Tim says he feels a growing responsibility to care for his mother, but he's also come to terms with the fact that no amount of money will "fix" her. "That's the amazing thing about mental illness," he says. "If I had a million dollars, and I had a home, and I could move her in and pay all her bills, she wouldn't be better."

Tim did in fact once own a home, in his early 20s. He started his career selling mortgagesincluding those of the subprime variety. "I didn't know how bad it was going to get," he says. "I took one myself." He bought a $570,000 house that, as it turned out, he couldn't afford after the subprime mortgage crisis hit and he lost his job. The bank foreclosed on his home, and Tim says his credit is still suffering today.

But the economic downturn did push him to make a dramatic career change. Tim started doing stand-up comedy about six years ago. And that same year, he decided to come out to his family. "There was no like, 'We love you,'" Tim says. "There was none of that. They're funny, acerbic people." Tim isn't dating much, though. Right now, he says he's focused on building his career as a comic, doing two to three shows a night. But, he says, he might slow down "if I fell deeply in love with somebody...I'm not saying that that even would slow me down, I'm just saying that could." 

Sonia Manzano & Justice Sonia Sotomayor  

"Through and through I'm a lawyer and a judge," says U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. "But my life experiences do permit me to see things that others may not."

Before the Justice became a lawyer and a judge, she was a young woman growing up in the Nuyorican community in the South Bronx—just a few years behind Death, Sex & Money guest host Sonia Manzano, who also grew up there. The two didn't meet until a few years ago, but their childhoods had some similarities: Money was tight, their parents' relationships were troubled, and both of their fathers struggled with alcoholism. But unlike Sonia Manzano's father, who lived well into his 80s, the Justice's father died when she was nine years old. "I’ve often wondered if the outcome of my life would have been the same if my father had remained alive," the Justice says. "I think the absence of that constant battle made a big difference in my self-perceptions."

Sonia asks the Justice about facing and overcoming insecurities throughout her life—including on her first day as a Supreme Court Justice. "Anyone presented with a new challenge has to always have that moment of insecurity, of not knowing whether they can do it," the Justice says. "I live with that. I've lived with it my entire life....The first day that I was on the bench was for the now quite famed case, Citizens United. And my knees were knocking even then. But what got me over that moment...was to become totally engaged in what was happening before me, and the knocking finally stopped without my realizing it." 

Sonia and the Justice also talk about some of the opinions that the Justice has written for the Supreme Court, including those about race and prejudice. "I know that for people to hear me, I have to be able to explain it in terms that people can sit in the shoes of the other person," the Justice says. "I suspect that there are many people...who never thought about what the impact is of snickering at a person of a different race when they walked by or of asking someone, 'Where are you really from?' when that kid has been born and raised here." They also talk about the Justice's recent words about police searches and parents of color giving their children "the talk" about interacting with the police. "It is inescapable for any child in this society who is of color of any kind, or who comes from a different background where language becomes noticeable, that they will experience that difference," the Justice says. "And they will have to cope with it. We have not become colorblind yet."

The Great Guest Takeover  

A few months ago, we mentioned that we were working on a couple of special episodes during Anna's maternity leave. 

What we didn’t mention was that we were working on these special episodes with some familiar voices. We invited four of our favorite former guests to switch seats...and become the interviewer.

Over the next several weeks, you'll hear from longtime Sesame Street actor Sonia Manzano, comedian Chris Gethard, and actor (and "shouldless day" enthusiast) Ellen Burstyn. You'll also hear from Diane Gill Morris, who we met when she shared what raising two sons with autism has been like for her.

Each of them talked with someone they were curious about, and wanted to get to know better. You'll hear Sonia Manzano interviewing U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor—who also hails from the South Bronx. 

Chris Gethard sits down with up-and-coming comedian Tim Dillon, someone who Chris describes as "either the smartest maniac or craziest genius I know in the comedy world." 

Diane Gill Morris told us last year that she worried about her older son, Kenny, being safe in the world "when I can’t explain to him all the intricacies involved in what it means to be young and black in America." She talks with a woman named Maria Caldwell—she's the mother of an autistic teenager of color who had a violent interaction with police in St. Paul, Minn., last year—as well as Robert Zink, a St. Paul police officer who has two autistic sons and trains officers how to interact with autistic people. 

And, to wrap things up, Ellen Burstyn talks with the one and only Gloria Steinem. The activist and author talks with Ellen about growing old with her chosen family, the source of her confidence, and how she's learned to deal with her regrets over the years. 

Look out for all of these episodes in the coming weeks! Subscribe to Death, Sex & Money on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts to make sure you stay up to date. 

Life Is a Mystery  

There are some interviews that just stay with you. My conversation with Elizabeth Caplice is one of those.

I spoke with Elizabeth back in March for our episode about near death experiences called "When I Almost Died." A listener had suggested that we reach out to Elizabeth, who lived in Australia and had chronicled her almost two years of colorectal cancer treatment on her blog, Sky Between Branches.

But hours before we talked, Elizabeth had been told by her doctors that her time was running out. They thought she had between three and 12 months left. She was still processing the news. 

"I mean, there’s intellectual acceptance," she said. "And then there’s the really solid, 'No, now I know my life is ending.’ This has sort of shifted it into a new gear."

Elizabeth wrote her last blog post in June. She let her readers know that she was ceasing her cancer treatment and moving into a hospice facility. On July 12, Elizabeth died, surrounded by loved ones. Her partner, Alex, wrote on her blog that Elizabeth's death was "not a life coming to its end...it was cut short."

Your Death, Sex & Money Short Stories – Live!  

Last year, we asked listeners to share their favorite short stories about death, sex and money. After receiving more than 140 suggestions (you can find them all here), we picked five of our favoritesand partnered with the public radio show Selected Shorts to present them during a live show here in New York. Actors Becky Ann Baker (Girls), Sam Underwood (The Following), Kathleen Chalfant (Wit, The Affair) David Costabile (Breaking Bad) and Amir Arison (The Blacklist) joined us on stage to bring these stories to life. 

Today, we're sharing two of those readings with you. You'll hear actor Sam Underwood performing "Road Trips" by David Sedaris, a story about a youthful hitchhiking experience gone awry. And you'll hear Kathleen Chalfant read "Until the Girl Died," a story by the Irish writer Anne Enright about a wife who is equal parts furious and patient with her philandering husband.

Want to hear more episodes of Selected Shorts? Subscribe here

Anna Chlumsky Catches the Worm  

At 10 years old, Anna Chlumsky delivered an iconic performance alongside Macaulay Culkin in the classic '90s movie My Girl. She became a child star, but the attention and job offers were fleeting. By the time she was a teenager, she'd stopped getting acting roles. "It just makes you feel like shit as an adolescent," she says. "Most rejections as an adolescent for anybody in any walk of life...make you feel like shit over and over."

Even so, Anna couldn’t escape the public memory of her famous role—even in college. At least, until she met Shaun So. "He didn’t care," she says. "By then I could tell who cared and who didn’t. You kind of feel safe with the people who don’t care." The two started dating and stayed together even after Anna graduated and moved to New York City. Then, Shaun told her that he was enlisting in the Army Reserve.

As Shaun began training for a deployment to Afghanistan, Anna started a career in publishing. But deep down, she knew that acting still appealed to her. During one particularly rough day at work, a fortune teller stationed in front of her office recognized her on her lunch break. "She says, 'You’re not done...you still want to do this,'" Anna recalled. "So that touched a nerve." She quit her job later that week.

Anna and Shaun got married in 2008, and Anna landed her role on Veep in 2012. She gave birth to her first child, a daughter named Penelope, in 2013. For awhile, her job required her to commute back and forth between California and New York, where she and her family live. "I kept calling it 'The Momma Bird Commute' because I was like, 'Alright, I gotta go catch the worm, and then I will come back,'" she told me. "But I gotta catch the worm." She'll soon be juggling her work with two kids—when we talked, Anna was pregnant with her second child, after having a miscarriage. "People don’t talk about that enough," she told me. "It’s not even that we’re hiding it. It’s just that it’s so f-ing uncomfortable to talk about, 'cause you just aren't happy about it. But you do learn that this is kind of not up to you....There’s other stuff at work."

Read Anna’s ode to Ovaltine for Gourmet Fare magazine from 2003

Dating Was So Hard, Until It Wasn't  

"When I want it badly enough, I can...really steel myself and just be like, 'Don't freak out, just stay still, kiss them. Just do it!'" 

This is how Katie Heaney talked about her dating life when we first spoke back in 2014. She'd just published her confessional first book, Never Have I Ever: My Life (So Far) Without a Date—a chronicling of her lifelong singledom until age 25. And she'd recently moved to New York City from Minnesota to take a job at BuzzFeed as an editor. When we talked, the 27-year-old was also a virgin—something that made her really uncomfortable. "I really don't like it," she told me. "And I also hate that I don’t like it. Because that feels like conceding that it bothers me and that I am susceptible to the opinions of others." 

Listening back to herself two years later, Katie winced. "I hear myself talk about all the fear and the dread and 'making myself,' and I'm just like, 'Ugh, you don't have to feel that way,'" she told me. Now 29, Katie says she's adjusted to life in New York—and along with that adjustment, has also come to terms with the fact that she's gay. "I remember being on the subway and looking around at all the guys. And being like, 'I don't want to date any of you. Like, I just don't - I don't want this,'" she said. "And...the attraction like fell out of my body." Soon after, Katie started dating a woman, and says that while she was nervous on their first date, she wasn't "uncomfortable to [her] core" in a way that she had been in the past on dates with men.

Despite her newfound comfort in her sexuality, Katie says she's still learning how to be in a relationship. "I have to learn how to not catastrophize every disagreement or every feeling that comes to me that isn't a 100 percent joyous one," she told me. "I thought that I had struggled so long to find [a relationship] that once I did, it would just be perfect or easy. And, you know, I was naive about what it really means to spend that much time with someone." 

We're Not Going To Have Karl Again  

Karl Ives Scorah Towndrow was born last April to parents Amber Scorah and Lee Towndrow. Neither of them were prepared for how deeply they would fall in love with their first child. "I remember having this feeling where I wanted to almost...absorb him into my body," Lee remembered. "As Karl got a little bit older," Amber told me, "There were these moments where sometimes he would catch my eye and stare at me...so long and with so much love in his eyes, that I’d almost start to blush."

Amber and Lee's time with Karl was intense, but brief. Karl died when he was just four months old, while he was at his first day of daycare. He stopped breathing after being put down for a nap. Weeks after Karl's passing, the medical examiner's office said the cause of Karl's death was undetermined. Because it was unlicensed, the daycare was shut down the day after Karl died.

When we talked in February, Amber said she couldn't stop thinking about why her son died, and whether it was somehow her fault. "You feel like there's this direct correlation between you leaving them and them dying," she told me. "As a human being, you need an answer for death. Even if you can't understand death, you need to understand why a death occurred." And as Amber struggled through the first few days and weeks after Karl's death, Lee says he felt like he had to postpone his own grieving process. "I felt a lot of pressure to reassure everybody that it’s going to be okay," he told me. "It was really hard."

Lee says he was eventually able to grieve, almost six months after Karl died. And while Amber says that she and Lee have mourned Karl's loss differently, they did agree that they both wanted to have another child. At the time of our interview, Amber was six months pregnant—this time, with a girl. "What I have heard from women who have been through this and then went on to have other children, they all said that it never ever fills the hole that you have from losing the one that you did lose," she told me. "But a little bit of the sadness is taken away." 

Since Karl's death, Amber and Lee have become advocates for paid parental leave. You can find out more at their website, forkarl.com

Tituss Burgess Airs His Laundry  

Tituss Burgess says there isn't much that he won't talk about. "I'm comfortable airing my laundry," he says. "I don't think one thing's dirty or clean. It's just what I wear."

It's taken him years to get to that place. Raised by his mom in Georgia, the actor and singer says he knew that he was gay from a very young age. But it wasn't until his freshman year in college that he mustered the courage to come out to her. "She handled it very well," he said. But as his career has taken off, first on Broadway and more recently as Titus Andromedon on "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,"  Tituss has become an increasingly vocal LGBT activist—something he says his mom struggles with. "She feels uncomfortable with it," he said. "It means that there's a chance that she might have to come out and be vocal about a position."

Despite not always seeing eye to eye, Tituss says he and his mom are still very close. But he acknowledges that he's had to be strategic about their relationship. "Because of what is growing increasingly important to me, almost becoming a part of my DNA, I've had to assist us both in redefining what our relationship is," he said. "Taking greater, more strategic steps towards protecting us. For fear that the very different thinking will dismantle what's left." 

Tituss moved to New York more than a decade ago. Now, at 37, says the city feels like where he belongs. But he's not sure that the close-knit feeling of family that he felt as a kid, surrounded by his mother and grandparents, is one that he'll find again. "I feel most at home when I'm alone," he told me. "That's not sad. It's just I feel closest to source and connection when I'm by myself." 

Watch Tituss performing his song "Comfortable" here:   

 

Inside Planned Parenthood  

The first thing that greets you when you step off the elevator at the Planned Parenthood in Brooklyn is a metal detector. "I didn’t necessarily expect it," a first-time patient told me. "But as soon as I saw it I was like, 'Oh yeah, that’s right, that makes sense.'" 

Many Planned Parenthood clinics across the country rely on security measures like these. The services provided by these clinicsspecifically, abortionshave long been at the center of a raging political debate in the U.S. But it's not very often that we hear from the people who rely on these clinics for health care. 

Over a number of days this past winter and spring, we collected interviews at the Planned Parenthood clinic in downtown Brooklyn. Patients volunteered to talk with us while they were waiting for their appointments. They were there for STD tests, pap smears, birth control prescriptionsno one seeking an abortion talked with me on the days we were there. But for many of the people I met, abortion was an important part of their history with Planned Parenthood. 

"Here it was just very reassuring," a patient named Sarah, who was at the clinic for her annual exam, told me about her abortion three years ago at Planned Parenthood. "No one wants to do it, but life, you know, happens."

We also talked with some of the abortion protesters who stand outside the clinic every Saturday, rain or shine. And I interviewed several staff members and volunteers at Planned Parenthoodlike Rhea, who greets patients as they walk in the door downstairs. "If you’re wondering if this is the right choice and you’re there and you’ve made the appointment and you’ve been thinking and you’re like, crossing the line...somebody being a jerk to you could totally just melt you down," she told me. "Or, somebody with a smile and somebody who holds your hand, could just make you feel calm and make you feel good. At a time where maybe you don’t feel good." 

Danielle Brooks Is Ready to Talk About Sex  

Danielle Brooks started out her life in a very religious household. Her mother and father are a minister and a deacon, respectively, and she grew up singing in her church choir and participating in oratorical contests run by her congregation. And the church also shaped her early thoughts about sex. "I had this Bible study teacher, who scared the bejesus out of us about having sex," Danielle tells me. "She was like, 'Anyone that enters you, they become a part of you!' And I was like, 'I’m just not ready for this.'"

Now 26, Danielle is known for portraying women on-screen who have no problem talking openly about their sexualitylike her Orange Is the New Black character, Taystee, or her character Sofia in The Color Purple on Broadway. And these roles have made an impact on Danielle, who says she just recently started talking publicly about sexincluding losing her virginity during college. "I just remember like being there and the light’s dim or whatever, and saying to him, 'Just be gentle,'" she laughs. "And then, once we got into it, you would have thought I’d had sex for years the way I was talking!" 

Danielle's quick rise to fame has affected her relationships. "My last relationship felt so like me being used in a lot of ways," she says. "They just wanted to be a part of that fame." But, she says, her current partner is teaching her new things about love and intimacy. "I’m realizing it’s okay to allow yourself love, even when you're scared of it," she says. "And that sex can be more than just physical, or love can definitely be more than physical." 

Below: Watch video from Danielle's days singing in the church choir. 

  

An Update from Susanne  

We met Susanne* and Mike* earlier this year, when they shared how they overcame heroin addiction together.

They started dating when they were teenagers, and began doing heroin together only a few weeks into their relationship. What followed were years of overdoses, jail time and three unplanned pregnancies. But after several false starts, Mike and Susanne were able to wean themselves off of heroin with methadone. They got clean, they moved away from their home state of Texas, and Mike found well-paying work. But true stability still eluded the couple. 

After our interview, we learned that Mike had been charged with sexual abuse of a minor. When I asked about the allegations, Mike denied them. But last month, Mike entered a guilty plea. He now faces jail time. 

I called Susanne to talk about what's happened in her life since we last talked. "I feel like I wasn't abused, but I should have known that I was married to someone who had the ability to abuse somebody," Susanne tells me. "I should have left a long time ago."

*Names changed

--

If you or someone you know is struggling with heroin addiction, you can call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP for confidential, free information about substance abuse.

If you need support, assistance or information about sexual abuse, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.

How Jeff Daniels Got Sober, Again  

Jeff Daniels dropped out of college and moved to New York City to become an actor. He left his family behind in Chelsea, Michigan, where his dad ran the local lumber yard. But a few years after moving to the city, Jeff says he got a letter from a young woman from his hometown. She moved to New York, they married, and had their first child. And then, they decided together to raise him back home in Michigan.

"'I will sustain the career from the Midwest for as long as I can,'" Jeff told me. "That became the business plan for us. And it worked for quite a while." But the plan started to falter after a few years, which sometimes meant watching others succeed from the sidelines. "There was a time when I couldn't even watch the Oscars. I had to leave the room," he told me. With a family and a house "in the middle of nowhere," Jeff resorted to less than ideal jobs just to pay the bills. He says movies like Dumb and Dumber—commercially successful but critically lowbrow—took him out of the running for serious roles for a long time.

By then, Jeff and his wife were raising three kids, which led him to another big decision: getting a vasectomy. "I had watched her go through childbirth three times," he remembers, "I said, 'There is no way I am going to force you or ask you to do anything...I’m the one. I've gotta be the one who gets fixed.'" As his kids got older, Jeff started to reemerge on stage and in the spotlight. When his acting career regained traction in the 2000s, the rush of success pushed him off the edge and broke 14 years of sobriety. "Just to take some of the stress away," he says of the moment when he talked himself into a beer, "Just to relax." It didn't take long for him to banish that inner voice that gave him permission. After getting professional help, he quit drinking again after a few months.

Jeff is 61 now, and he's received some of the recognition he desired when he was younger. He won an Emmy for his leading role in The Newsroom and received a Tony nomination this year for his portrayal of a sexual abuser in Blackbird on Broadway. Still, he resists the urge to retire and look back on his career. "I always have to have something in the air," he says, "to feel alive."

From Conversion Therapy to a Rainbow Yarmulke  

When Chaim Levin first met Benjy Unger almost 10 years ago, Chaim immediately wanted to be friends. "He was like one of those bros from high school that was just so regular and nobody would guess that he’s gay," Chaim tells me.

Chaim and Benjy grew up in Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn, but they didn't meet until they signed up for a therapy program then called JONAH, or Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality. Chaim was 18, and Benjy was 20. Both were attracted to men, and they sought out the program hoping to become straight.

"It was like I struck gold," Benjy remembers. "I finally found my messiah. For that moment I was very happy and inspired." The program offered Benjy and Chaim a way to follow the path laid out for them by their religious community—including marrying women and starting their own families. Initially, it felt like a huge relief. "For people like me who were rejected for so long," Chaim says, "I just needed that connection with people."

But both soon grew frustrated and quit the program. Chaim came out first, with gusto. "When Chaim does something, boy, does he do it!" Benjy says. "Rainbows here and rainbow glitter there and rainbow yarmulke and rainbow bracelets and rainbow necklace. But he at least seemed happy."  

Watching Chaim become an activist gave Benjy courage, he remembers. "If it weren’t for people like Chaim, I might be still in the closet." 

Benjy and Chaim realized that being free of JONAH wasn't enough. They filed a lawsuit in 2012, along with two other clients. Together they claimed that the program defrauded them and their parents. They won, and JONAH was forced to shut down in 2015. "I would not have survived this lawsuit without this schmuck right here," Chaim says of Benjy, who has become a very close friend. "I tell people that the only good thing I ever got out of JONAH was this guy." 

Read more about Chaim, Benjy and their lawsuit against JONAH at Newsweek by reporter Zoë Schlanger.

Watch Newsweek's video about Benjy and Chaim's story.

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