Tina Alexis Allen’s professional path — from fashion executive to GLAAD Award-nominated actress to socially conscious jewelry designer to memoirist — is unconventional, sure; but it pales in comparison to the life she led beforehand.
One of 13 children in a strict Catholic family living outside of Washington, D.C., Allen grew up knowing she was gay and terrified her father would find out (his Catholicism being nothing short of devout: he had, after all, been knighted by the Pope). Yet her coming-out moment, at 18, was met with a twist: her father countered that he had “buried my lover, Omar, in the war.”
The story — a spiral into lies, drugs, sex and reckoning — is chronicled in Allen’s new memoir “Hiding Out: A Memoir of Drugs, Deception and Double Lives,” released last week.
Allen started telling her story years ago, through a one-woman show in which she played her father.
“I didn’t know how he quite consolidated what I would say is ‘one of the most holiest man alive’ kind of thing versus this secret lifestyle — his sexuality — that he was living,” she says. “Doing the solo show organically led to me thinking I wanted to tell it from my point of view, now that I had a better understanding of what he was going through.”
She’s spent the past two years developing the story into a book: “I knew in the back of my mind — my life story was so big and complicated — that it was worthy of telling, and maybe could help people,” she says.
Before making the move to acting, Allen was a fashion executive. After earning an MBA, with a thesis in fashion marketing, she moved to New York and began working as the national sales director for Willi Wear.
“It was a great introduction — I was very young, but so was pretty much everyone in the company,” she says. “Mindy Grossman was there…it was just a plethora of really creative young people. My eyes were wide open.”
Her relationships within the industry have followed her through her various career moves along the way. The solo show drew the support of Mark Lee and Daniella Vitale of Barneys New York, industry friends of hers who later carried her jewelry line, Gina Raphaela, at the department store for the launch. The line transforms bullets into jewelry with partial proceeds going to “nonprofits that support peace.”
The writing of the book was cathartic, but Allen notes she’s been more overcome by the impact her story has had on young people.
“I wrote the book from the first person, as a young adult, and so if you’re going through the book, it’s really like, get on the roller coaster and take this wild ride,” she says. “And I wanted people to really have the experience and purity of that voice — my voice and my behavior, frankly. [A reader] said she felt throughout the book; she was at times mad at me, at that young adult, and was rooting for me and also had strong feelings of pain for me. And I loved that she was mad at me because she said it really felt that it reflected how people my age can act at times.”
It’s the narrative of secret-keeping Allen thinks is resonating the loudest.
“I think everyone understands the universality of keeping secrets, and also of shame — and I think we’ve all done things or had things done to us that might evoke feelings of shame,” she says. “Part of the reason I’ve made my book so specific, with a lot of detail, is that I feel like by saying the truth in that specificity, I hope will help people realize that their stuff isn’t anything to be ashamed of. We’ve all done things and gone through tough times in our lives and we don’t have to end up where we began. I think transparency is the answer, and I think it’s the pathway to healing.”
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