Portia DeGeneres lets us in with “Unbearable Lightness”

The paparazzo eventually got what she wanted when she caught Portia with her next girlfriend, Francesca Gregorini, in a passionate public quarrel. Portia writes fondly of Francesca, saying she met her through a mutual friend and they had a "serious and happy relationship that lasted three years." It was right around 9/11, and Portia said the tragedy "jolted her" into living her life "more honestly and fully." She moved in with Francesca and, around the same time, landed the role of Lindsey Bluth on Arrested Development. She told her producers and co-stars she was gay and no one cared at all.

So when the paparazzo published the photos of Portia and Francesca, Portia was "forced to come out" to her family in Australia. But instead of blaming or being upset with the woman, Portia is "eternally grateful," writing:

She freed me from a prison in which I had held myself captive my whole life.

The relationship with Francesca, Portia writes, was good for her. "Living with Francesca forced me to deal with issues surrounding acceptance and of my sexuality, and it also forced me to deal with my relationship to food. I shared a kitchen — and a bathroom. I couldn’t binge and purge without a lengthy and embarrassing discussion." She doesn’t say much about the break-up, but acknowledges Francesca was important in her life and getting over her disease.

She writes of how she and her future wife, Ellen DeGeneres, met at the Rock the Vote concert in 2001. Portia takes care to note that she had been at her heaviest at the time, but that later she found Ellen had been attracted to her instantly. In fact, Ellen had invited her over after the show, but Portia declined. ("I thought she was just inviting me to be polite, and I was too shy, too fat, and too insecure to go to her house with her friends.")

If it seems like the tone of the book is self-deprecating, it is. The way Portia writes of her experiences is a heartbreakingly honest portrait of someone with serious body dysmorphia and issues with physical and mental health. Her secret sexuality factors in heavily with the issues, as she ties them together as having been caused by the disapproval she felt early on in life as not being pretty or good enough. And while the book’s major focus is on Portia’s severely scary history with food and excessive attempts to burn calories (she would often feel the need to go on a run, even while wearing jeans and platforms and sitting in traffic, or immediately after eating Christmas dinner), the more enjoyable parts of Unbearable Lightness unfold when Portia writes about being a lesbian.

I soon discovered that I had to figure out what kind of lesbian I was going to be. It was obvious to me almost immediately that I was very different from most other girls. I didn’t really fit into either role of "butch" or "femme." I liked wearing makeup and dresses and heels, but I also liked to wear engineer’s boots and black tank tops.

She isn’t shy about disclosing her daydreams about her straight best friend, hoping they would fall in love on a vacation together. (They didn’t.) And while Portia kept her sexuality a secret, it was the fact that she had to hide it that made her miserable, not the fact that she had an interest in women. She asked a male friend pretend to be her boyfriend for a short while at public events, but she never tried to engage in relationships with men after divorcing her husband. Portia’s sexuality was something she hid from others, but not herself.