James Duke Mason is an actor and LGBT advocate currently living in California. He is the son of singer Belinda Carlisle and Morgan Mason. The 19-year-old spoke to Windy City Times about the relationship and coming-out process to his Go-Go mother.
Windy City Times: Hey, James.
James Duke Mason: Hi. I remember you interviewed my mother a while back.
WCT: Yes; I spoke to her before the book, Lips Unsealed, came out.
James Duke Mason: I am glad after two years we could reconnect.
WCT: How do you feel the book turned out?
James Duke Mason: I loved it. I read the preliminary copy before the book came out. My mother asked if there were things to take out and I thought it was perfect as it was. I knew about most of the stuff beforehand, anyways. There are a lot of amazing anecdotes in there and of course the more serious stuff. I think it all came together and was very well written.
WCT: I saw The Go-Go's perform at Ravinia last summer.
James Duke Mason: Oh, in Highland ParkI couldn't make it. I was, unfortunately, back in LA. I went to Chicago about 10 years ago but weirdly enough haven't been back since. I will have to make up for lost time.
WCT: Well, come back!
James Duke Mason: Chicago Pride, we will see.
WCT: How old are you?
James Duke Mason: I am 19 and turn 20 in April.
WCT: You can't even go to the bars yet.
James Duke Mason: I know but there are a couple that I have managed to get into. I lived my childhood in Europe so it is funny; over there, kids start drinking when they around 14. Here, you have to maneuver your way into a bar.
WCT: How many languages do you speak?
James Duke Mason: I speak okay French. I would normally only say English but I speak French pretty well. I can't write it to save my life.
WCT: I read in Michael Musto's blog that Judy Garland's co-star was named James Mason, also.
James Duke Mason: What Michael Musto misunderstood was my grandfather was James Mason, the actor who played opposite of Judy Garland in A Star is Born. For someone who is a pop-culture expert and not do the research, I thought was bizarre.
WCT: So you are named after him.
James Duke Mason: Yes, he is my father's father.
WCT: What made you want to come out to your family in the first place?
James Duke Mason: It was an interesting experience because I had grown around gay people for most of my childhood. Ninety percent of my mom's friends are gay and lesbian. So I never grew up with the feeling that I would be shunned or thrown out of the house for being gay. In the end, I knew my mother would be accepting. My father wasn't vehemently homophobic either but, at the same time, even if you grow up in a gay-friendly environment you are never quite sure how people will react. It was something that I did not want to do. I worried that if I came out I would not be able to pursue my dreams of politics. I planned to stay in the closet for the rest of my life because it would be the easier thing and I could pursue what I wanted to pursue.
I happen to be at my parent's house and was watching a gay independent movie called The Trip and within two hours my life had changed. I became proud and empowered. I was excited about the possibilities of coming out and being involved in the community. It was about AIDS and a relationship. It gave me the strength to make that jump to come out to my parents.
WCT: Your mother was quoted as saying that she was "shocked but not shocked." What do you think that means?
James Duke Mason: The first three days after I came out to her she began crying. I don't think it was so much a negative reaction as it was out of shock. I think her main concern was, although she has always been pro-gay and gay friendly, what does this mean for my son as a person and his life? What kind of impact will this have on his chances of his success in politics or whatever else he wants to do? I think that was more her concern but after three days she had come around completely.
One thing my mom said on television on The View a couple of years ago when she was promoting her book Lips Unsealed sounds correct. She said, "Straight men have a harder time accepting their sons because it is a reflection on their masculinity."
So it took my dad a year or two to grapple with it. Now they are as supportive as they can possibly be.
WCT: Speaking of lips being unsealed, did it take her a while to come out and talk about you being gay publicly?
James Duke Mason: She never had an issue with that. She has always been willing to speak out about it and be upfront. I wanted her to use her voice to make a difference. I got her to do a public service announcement for the Equality campaign when the referendum on gay marriage was happening back in 2009. She has always been willing to but the fact is that I became an activist myself and encouraged her to become a public advocate. I think we were both willing to get out there and use our voices to make a difference.
WCT: It sounds like you have changed her life.
James Duke Mason: Now she will say, "I can't imagine it any other way. I can't imagine having a straight son. It is perfect the way it is." She's happy and I am happy, so is my dad.
WCT: So your relationship is really good, then.
James Duke Mason: Oh yeah, even better than it used to benot just in terms of the gay thing, but generally. Now I live in L.A.; she lives in Europe and India. When we do see each other and talk on the phone we try to make the most out of that time. We definitely have a close and very good relationship.
WCT: Speaking of relationships, you are currently in one right now, correct?
James Duke Mason: I am. I have been with him for about eight months now.
WCT: Has Belinda met him yet?
James Duke Mason: Yes, and they are very close. They get along very well. We all have a good rapport, even my dad who came around after a year or two to me being gay. He has met Shawn and they have become very close. Everything is as good as it could possibly be.
WCT: Do you have advice for people coming out to their families?
James Duke Mason: This applies to not only coming out to your parents but friends and in general. What I think is important is that coming out happens again and again throughout your life to many people. You should never have to apologize for who you are. There is nothing wrong with being proud. Some people have an idea that you have to choose between being a member of society or the gay community. The fact is they are not mutually exclusive. You can be a proud gay person and still have straight friends. You don't have to choose.
WCT: What are your plans for the future?
James Duke Mason: I am living in L.A. and pursuing a career in acting. I am trying to do some producing on the side, also. Politics are also something I am passionate about but I could do both. Who knows? Maybe one day I will be the gay Democrat version of Reagan or Schwarzenegger. [ Laughs ]
WCT: Well, celebrities sometimes have a platform for politics.
James Duke Mason: Exactly. My main example is Sidney Poitier. He really shattered barriers for Black people in America through his films. If I can come anywhere as close in the gay community to what he did for the African-American community, then that is my dream.
WCT: More power to you, buddy!
James Duke Mason: I appreciate that. [ Both laugh. ] I think the best gift a kid can get is having their parents behind them. I definitely have that and it has helped me come a long way.