Later this month, “The Bold and the Beautiful” will launch a storyline in which Karen, one of the show’s most popular leading ladies during the 1990s, returns and shocks her family with the news that she’s a lesbian who has married a woman, Dani (Crystal Chappell).
Now, Joanna Johnson, the actress who portrays the show’s original romantic ingenue Karen, has revealed that the plot mirrors her own life. She, too, is a lesbian who is raising a family with her wife.
Johnson told TVGuide that the storyline has inspired her to come out to her fans.
“It feels weird and wrong to play this revelation about Karen’s life and not talk about my own. I used to hang out with Ellen DeGeneres, k.d. lang and Melissa Etheridge back in the day and thought it was so beautiful they were out, even though I didn’t have the nerve.”
The 50-year-old actress believed that it would be career suicide to come out when she began acting in the 1980s.
“I was so worried I wouldn’t be employable as an actress if people knew I was a lesbian,” Johnson says. “Or that I wouldn’t be believable in romance stories. I had to deal with a lot of self-loathing.”
She kept her life a secret from everyone on “B&B” with the exception of Susan Flannery, who plays the show’s matriarch, but gradually became more open as she realized that “B&B’s” producers would be supportive.
Eventually, she met the love of her life, Michelle Agnew, and the couple adopted two children. They even had a wedding worthy of a soap opera, when they rushed to the Beverly Hills Courthouse in their sweatpants to get married during the brief period when gay marriage was legal in California.
Johnson, who’s also an accomplished television writer with credits including creating “Hope & Faith” and executive producing “Make It or Break It“, hopes that “B&B’s” first lesbian characters will be as morally ambiguous as its heterosexual characters. “We shouldn’t feel pressure to make Karen and [her wife] Dani some paragon of virtue. I think the gay community would love to see us portrayed just like any straight couple, flaws and faults and all… It’s a soap! There’s no drama in playing the perfect gay couple.”
Johnson also hopes that “B&B’s” fans will embrace this storyline and accept that Karen came to terms with her sexual orientation after the character left the show. “There is already a backlash from some unhappy people on Facebook about Karen being gay. They don’t understand how she could have dated guys but then ended up with a woman. I certainly don’t think it’s unrealistic. I tried dating guys. I lived this story!”