Soap Opera Star Joanna Johnson: I’m Gay

 Mark Sullivan/

The Bold and the Beautiful's Joanna Johnson–who has played Caroline Spencer and her identical twin Karen for over 25 years–says she relates to Caroline's sister more than people might realize.

As Karen Spencer, the actress, 50, is now wrapped up in a storyline in which her character struggles to come to terms with her homosexuality. Johnson says she's been able to pull from her own experience; though she first came out to her parents at the age of 23, professionally, she's chosen to stay in the closet–until now.

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Speaking to TV Guide, Johnson explains why she kept her sexuality under wraps for all these years. "Daytime is a whole different world than primetime or theater or film," the soap star explains. "There's a greater intimacy between the viewers and the characters. They think you are your character. And that creates a lot of fear. Fear of rejection. I was so worried I wouldn't be employable as an actress if people knew I was a lesbian."

Adds Johnson, "I had to deal with a lot of self-loathing."

The actress, who also writes and produces, says it got to the point where playing straight on-screen felt like torture. "I remember doing a fantasy scene that showed what life would have been like if Caroline had not died of cancer," Johnson shares. "She was married to Ridge [Ronn Moss] and had two kids and a wonderful life. When we finished shooting, I ran to my dressing room and just cried and cried because I was never going to have that kind of life."

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Still, Johnson did eventually find the kind of companionship she always dreamed about, with love of nine years–and wife of three–L.A. club promoter Michelle Agnew, with whom she has two children, Julian, 5, and Harlow, 2.

Back in the day, Johnson says she ran in the same circles as Ellen Degeneres, k.d. lang, and Melissa Etheridge. "I thought it was so beautiful they were out, even though I didn't have the nerve," Johnson tells TV Guide.

But now? "I'm not anywhere near as famous as those ladies, but I guess it's my turn to do my little part. It's time to live a fully authentic life."

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Learning to love herself hasn't been easy, Johnson admits–and it's still very much a work in progress. "I'm here. I'm queer. And I'm just getting used to it!" she says, laughing.

If she could do it all over again, the star reveals she would be more open about who she was from an earlier age.

"Have the courage to embrace who you are," she says of what she would tell her younger self–and young people in a similar situation. "Don't project your own fears and low self-esteem onto others. Let your light shine!"

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