A week before graduating from Boston College, Cameron Esposito sat on the cold, hard steps outside City Hall. It was May 2004, and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court was on the cusp of delivering the landmark ruling that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state. Nestled by her then-girlfriend, Esposito anxiously awaited the decision.
“The worst, most painful, closeted time of my life happened in Boston,” said Esposito, now 38 and an accomplished comedian. “But then watching this historic moment — the first state to pass gay marriage — that also happened there.”
Years after the ruling, Esposito is the published author behind her new memoir, “Save Yourself.”
The book’s punchy title is an ode to Esposito’s conservative, Catholic upbringing and the way comedy helped her endure a lot, to say the least. Released this week, the memoir touches on the six tough years Esposito spent in Boston during and after college.
“Boston . . . plays a big role, almost as a character,” she said in a phone interview.
Sure, she’s an LA resident with a strong West Coast vibe today, complete with her cropped jackets, witty attitude, and suave head of hair. Audiences know her from the TV show “Take My Wife,” the “Queery” podcast, and her stand-up album, “Same Sex Symbol.” Some might remember her minutes-long comedic investigation into how disgusting menstruation really is, dubbed “The Greatest Period Joke of All Time.” But our metropolis dominates the pre-fame portion of Esposito’s narrative.
Originally from the Chicago suburbs, Esposito came East to attend Boston College, a step that was almost “inevitable” given her religious upbringing, she said. She discovered her queerness and dated a woman for the first time here (though the relationship was a secret on the Jesuit campus). In the city, the theology major abandoned her pipe dream to be the first female priest. And she launched her now-thriving comedy career in a local improvisation troupe.
Esposito’s book is a long time coming. Hachette publishing house approved the pitch in 2015. Tied down by other obligations, Esposito put off writing for a while and then pieced the story together slowly.
“I am a human being affected by the laws of space and time, which I routinely forget,” Esposito said of the writing process. “But it was good because I also had a little bit more distance from some of the events that happened in this book, and that was helpful.”
The events she speaks of are, frankly, traumatic. When Esposito was a student at BC, the school did not have a nondiscrimination policy to protect queer people. Students and faculty were allowed to be removed on the basis of their sexuality, measures that confused Esposito, who didn’t even know then that she “was a queer person.” She was also sexually assaulted in a campus dormitory, an experience Esposito revisited in her 2018 comedy special “Rape Jokes,” which she released for free on her website.
On top of that, Esposito’s time in college put her at odds with the constant in her life: her Catholic identity. She recalls reading the Boston Globe Spotlight team’s investigation of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. The reports infected her view of Catholicism and of the men who were “technically the boss” of her school, she said.
Returning to Boston as a performer at a time in her life when she is better in tune with her values and identity is empowering for her. (Due to the coronavirus outbreak, she’s had to cancel a current tour that would have included a show at the Wilbur Theatre.)
"I really pride myself on my strength and how much work I’ve done on myself,“ she said.
Yet the tedious and excruciating process of writing, editing, and re-editing taught Esposito her most valuable lesson to date — emotional labor never ends.
“As a culture, we don’t really want to give space for other people’s trauma. We love a comeback story. We love a movie where the bad times are in the flashback, and now the person is fine. But I don’t think that’s really how the trauma works,” she said. “Speaking about things always helps, but there’s a part of me that will always be hurt by the way my true self was received.”
Diti Kohli can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @ditikohli_.