A year after she came out publicly as a lesbian in The Advocate, infamous spiritual adviser Miss Cleo (née Youree Dell Cleomili Harris) tells it likes she sees it on her new CD, a collection of politically charged poetry inspired by spoken word performer–activist Gil Scott-Heron. After her publicist postponed our interview due to an inauspicious date — “Cleo practices Egyptian numerology, and the number 6 does not bode well for clear communication” — the controversial former queen of late-night infomercial psychics shed some light on past love affairs and gave both Bush and Britney a free reading.
By Brandon Voss
Advocate.com: When you came out in The Advocate a year ago, you still had friends and family that didn't know. How did the article go over?
Miss Cleo: There definitely was some fallout but nothing that I couldn't navigate. I was a little concerned about my Jamaican landlord, but he gave me no worries. This will tickle you: My closest cousin's mother is my heart, and she's always defended her niece. When she heard about it she called my cousin and said, “Why are they bothering her again and telling this lie?” My cousin said, “Well, it's not a lie.” So she marinated with it a couple of weeks, called my cousin back, and said, “She's been through so much lately, she's just going through a phase!” That was her comfort zone. I was afraid to call her, but I finally got up enough nerve on her birthday, and there was no difference. Now, I have some family members I haven't heard from at all — and these are people who'd call me once a month. Part of it is I don't think they know what to say. And part of it is they're not sure how much information I'm going to give them!
You tackle many hot topics on your CD, but what got you riled up enough to record your poetry and share it with the world?
After the Virginia Tech tragedy I was just mortified, because I remember Columbine and the chill that ran up my back. And then with the economy I was seeing everybody suffering and people just becoming very complacent. All we wanted to do was talk about it, and I thought, You know what? I'm tired of talking. I was very moved by the Dixie Chicks and the fact that they got lambasted for exercising their right to freedom. We're not supposed to be afraid to speak our mind — that's the whole reason everybody breaks their backside to get here! I've been known to put my foot in my mouth a number of times, but I decided, Well, if I'm going to do it, let's do it on a grand scale. I feel very strongly about voicing out and acting up, which is an old battle cry from the '70s. Old-school is coming back again. It's time.
Your poem “W Times 3” criticizes “TMFI” on the Internet. So should we not expect an official Miss Cleo MySpace page anytime soon?
I've had a few people say “Oh, Auntie, let us set one up!” I said, “Don't you dare!” There are Miss Cleo MySpace pages on there, but I don't know who the heck created them! Everybody wants to be Miss Cleo, but those are not Miss Cleo. Don't get me wrong, the Internet has many positives, but it does have a flip side. I worry about children being taken advantage of.
Do you have a sense of humor about Miss Cleo spoofs in the media?
Absolutely. You have to! Sweetheart, after 2002, if I'm not desensitized to a certain degree, I really just need to pack it in. There were so many things said about me, and I just thought, Are you shittin' me? [Laughs] I'm a very sensitive person, but I had to get tough. I enjoy many of the jokes. I enjoyed Dave Chappelle's take on me. There's a number of things out there where people have their opinion about me, but it doesn't change my life. I am who I am. One of my favorite [poems] that's a poke at all that is “Confessions of a Voodoo Woman,” where I'm saying, “Be careful while you're taking Ms. Cleo's name in vain.”
How do you feel about being a character on PlayStation's MTV Celebrity Deathmatch?
I love it! I gave my permission. I have a copy and tell my kids, “Whenever you get pissed at me, play the game.” And if I get angry at myself, I play myself.
Who'd you like to take into the ring?
Oh, my goodness, that's a dangerous question. I think I'm going to have to take the Fifth Amendment on that one. [Laughs]
Not even George W. Bush?
You know what? I feel bad for G. Dubs sometimes. I'm not a Republican, but I try to stop and look at people for their human side. I've spent a lot of time studying the history of this country, and sweetie, the president doesn't make up his mind about a doggone thing by himself. We can point the finger at anyone, but it's a collective effort. But they put G. Dubs out there and he takes the heat. Let's not forget about the magical Mr. Cheney.
Is it true you'll appear on the seventh season of The Surreal Life?
Every year there's that rumor, and I don't know who keeps it up. It's almost an urban legend. I actually know the guys over there at Mindless Entertainment, and they approached me for the second season, but I said no. I'm very vocal, precious, and I can also be a little high-strung in the temper area. And if they had a camera on me 24-7? Most people have said “Cleo, we would be there to watch!” But on the flip side it's like, “Yeah, but that wouldn't be pretty.” [Laughs]
As a spiritual adviser, what advice would you give Britney Spears?
I was rooting for young Britney on the [MTV] VMAs. I'm not a fan of that type of music, but I wanted her to come out, be happy, and show her stuff. I feel so bad for those young girls. I don't even know if they get an opportunity to hear advice, because everybody has a paycheck from them. If people want to protect their jobs, they're letting these girls do anything they want to do. When you're a celebrity, the media really takes such a toll. You can't fart north without someone talking about it. Yeah, she's a young mom who has made mistakes — so what? Join the line.
She needs to call Miss Cleo now!
[Laughs] She wouldn't want to hear anything I had to say. When people come to me for a reading they really walk away with some additional knowledge. If you just want to know about tomorrow, go pay a dime-store gypsy. I'm not the one. Some of my clients have been with me 10 years, long before I hit television and well after. They were glad for TV to go away because they said it was impossible to get an appointment!
Do you have many gays coming to you for advisement?
Absolutely, but they've always been a part of my village. Even before I came out the gay community always loved me. There were a series of impersonators who would put themselves together to do Miss Cleo, and I love that. But because of my coming-out it's allowed me to really get active in the GLBT community. That was a big push for this CD too: We're fighting the antigay marriage amendment in Florida, and while a lot of people would like to believe it's a gay issue, it just isn't. It's a discrimination issue. The fact that you can add an amendment to any state's constitution that will legalize discrimination is a problem. If people allow that to happen, gay or straight, we've lost the plot.
I love the anecdote in “Who I Can Love” about the white girlfriend you brought home to meet your mother. Is that your type?
Honey, let me tell you something: I think women are just amazing, incredible creatures — tall, short, fat, round. I'm not too big on the skinny, size zero thing. I like a little meat, a little cushion, a little curve — after all, I am black. But the flavor doesn't matter. At my CD release party, after I'd had a few shots of rum, there was a cornucopia of people who came to support me, and I looked around and made an announcement: “I just want you all to know that God is so good because there is not an ugly woman in the room — beautiful women as far as the eye can see!” [Laughs] But I went to a Catholic boarding school, all girls, so I brought a few more home to my mother — not any more white ones, though — and it just kept upsetting her.
This school sounds like a hotbed of lesbian activity!
Man, it was a kick-ass place. We did have a small community of what we referred to as “baby dykes.” We supported each other, everybody still being very afraid. I had this girlfriend, but she always had to maintain a boyfriend in order to keep her parents happy, because they were worried we were spending too much time together. Likewise, my late husband — I won't out him [by name] in his absence from the world on this side — but he had issues, so we decided we would get married so that everybody would leave us alone. We had one rule: As long as we liked the other one's partner, it wasn't an issue. That's how we lived our life. After a couple of years we got divorced, then a few years later we married again, but I lost him to AIDS at 32 in '92. If I had not divorced him when I did — because every once in a while, we'd, you know, whatever — I wouldn't be talking to you today. I wrote a play years ago dedicated to him, educating people about AIDS. He's one of my spirit guides now. I still miss him, but I'm glad he's always around.
Are you currently in a relationship?
No, Cleo is single. With my second wife -- which means I didn't do too well with the first one -- there were some issues of alcoholism, and she became emotionally abusive to me and physically abusive to my youngest daughter. A lot of people fail to recognize that domestic violence is an issue in our community, and that's something I'm really trying to work on getting out there. Unfortunately, once I got away from that relationship four years and some change later, my youngest looked at me and said, “Mommy, no more women, please.” You want to talk about heartbroken? I promised her, “I will not live my life until you are 18.” That was really tough, but I felt so much guilt.
How long before she turns 18?
She was there a couple of years ago. Woo hoo! [Laughs] Actually, even when she was turning 17 she gave me a reprieve. She said, “Mommy, I'm OK now.” The lovely thing is that she has a lot of friends who are gay and lesbian, and I was really concerned that she might've grown up homophobic. But in light of that, I was out of the community for a while, so this dating thing is very confusing for me. I was thinking about launching a Web site: “Let's find Miss Cleo a woman!” [Laughs] No, but as a midwife and a spiritual adviser, I'm on call 24 hours a day. Anybody would be a mad person to want to actually get involved with me. Maybe I'll find someone who's as busy as I am, and we'll go from there.
Indulge me with one prediction: Who will be the next president of the United States?
This one won't make me popular either, but Osama — I mean, Obama? — it's not going to happen. I love the young man, he's brilliant, but I don't think his time has come. I also don't think that the world is ready for a woman to run this country. So it will be a Republican again, and my money is on Giuliani. He's not perfect, and he has some conservative ideas, but he does have some liberal ideas, and he's liked by a significant amount of Independents and Democrats.
I sure hope we prove you wrong.
You know what? Me too. Because I think Hillary would do this country a lot of good. Make sure you put that Miss Cleo wants to be wrong on this one!
Advocate.com, September 2007.