Portia DeGeneres lets us in with “Unbearable Lightness”

She might be married to the most public lesbian of all time, but Portia Degeneres is still a mystery. She doesn’t give many interviews, and although you can see from paparazzi and red carpet photos just how happy she is with her wife, it’s hard to get a sense of who she is. In her memoir Unbearable Lightness, readers are able to delve into how Amanda Lee Rogers came to be Portia Degeneres.

Unbearable Lightness focuses on Portia’s early career, when she joined the cast of Ally McBeal in 1998, but with a lot of background information provided on her childhood in Australia, where she began modeling at age 12. Portia writes that she has always been a binge eater, sometimes purging after large meals but mostly going from eating everything in front of her to then restricting her diet to 700 calories a day. And though this has been going on since she was a pre-teen, 1998 was the beginning of when it took a serious turn. Playing the hot new cast member on a hit TV show with other beautiful, thin women as co-stars (Calista Flockhart and Courtney Thorne-Smith) caused Portia discomfort, but not only because she wanted to be thinner. She also felt a lot of added pressure because she knew she was gay.

Portia came out to her mother early on, but was asked to keep it from her grandmother, and everyone else. ("It’s nobody’s business," is what her mom would tell her.) Keeping the secret from the world would prove more difficult for Portia after playing Nelle Porter, an ice queen lawyer who eventually bedded her boss at the firm. (And the sex scene proved difficult for Portia because she was made to wear nothing but a bra and panty set on screen. For weeks, she ate next to nothing in preparation for the scene and the anxiety she experienced over the situation further dulled her appetite.)

Though Portia was married to male actor Mel Metcalfe, she writes that she would frequently make out with her girl friends on the dance floors of clubs, and that her husband didn’t approve. He eventually left her for her brother’s wife, which Portia didn’t seem to find very distressing. Portia makes no mention of marrying him to obtain American citizenship, but the rumor has followed her throughout her career, especially since she came out as a lesbian.