Often seen, rarely heard and openly gay in a hive of intense conservatives--Mary Cheney was a cipher to outsiders while working on her father Dick's two national campaigns. Her new memoir, Now It's My Turn, tells how she and partner Heather Poe adapted to a spotlight they had long shied away from. Now a chief of staff at AOL, Cheney, 37, spoke with TIME's Mike Allen about coming out, campaigning for her dad and another generation of Cheneys in politics.
For years you've resisted when reporters asked you to tell your story. Why open up now? Part of why I wanted to write the book was to talk about what it's really like inside our family. The media are really good at creating caricatures, and one person who's been caricatured is my dad. He is supposedly this malevolent force, and he's not. My dad's job is to give the President the best advice that he can possibly give. I think he's been pretty darned effective at that.
You were 16 when you told your parents you were gay. Why then? I had just broken up with my first girlfriend. I was distraught and decided to drown my sorrows in chocolate and sugar. I skipped school to go to a doughnut shop and was on my way back when I didn't see the red light until it was too late and got rear-ended in my '82 Toyota Starlet hatchback. I went home and told my mom first. I don't remember my exact words. It took her a couple minutes to realize this was not just the most amazing excuse ever for a car accident. I told my dad that same day. He said, "You're my daughter and I love you and I just want you to be happy." It may be a Wyoming thing or a Western thing--what matters to him is the individual: Are you a good person or a bad person?
What have you learned from your parents? I'm probably a little more like my dad. But because of my mom, I never saw being a woman as being an impediment to being able to do something. She had her Ph.D. before I was born.
You nearly quit the 2004 campaign when the President signaled support for a constitutional amendment barring gay marriage. Why did you stay? I had serious reservations about whether or not I could continue working for a candidate who wanted to write discrimination into the Constitution. A big reason I stayed is my dad: I love my father, and I believe in him so strongly. When push came to shove, this election was about huge issues facing our country. Given that we live in this world where terrorists would love to attack us, I didn't have the luxury of being a single-issue voter on same-sex marriage.
The campaign's high command went into a tizzy when you scheduled a joint appearance for your mother with John Kerry's wife. Why did you pull the plug? My mom would have wiped the floor with Teresa Heinz Kerry. I'm very sad that event never took place. The [campaign's] reaction was so energetic and loud that I honestly couldn't hear all of the arguments, but the one that came through most clearly was that having my mom do a town hall with Teresa Heinz Kerry would somehow have forced the President to start debating John Kerry much earlier in the campaign cycle.
When Kerry brought up your sexuality in the third debate, you turned to the TV and said, "You son of a bitch." It was such a cheap and blatant political ploy. It was very invasive for John Kerry to try to make political points out of my personal life.