Exclusive! DesignSponge Founder Grace Bonney On Coming Out As Gay

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This month, Grace Bonney became one of the internet's most unlikely LGBT celebrities.

Nearly ten years ago, Grace launched the uber popular DIY and decor blog DesignSponge. It began as a hobby to indulge Grace's passion for interior design. By 2006, the site had become such a success that she was able to quit her day job and turn DesignSponge into a full-time career. Today, the site has nearly 100,000 loyal, unique daily readers a month and has earned the title "Martha Stewart Living for the Millennials," by the New York Times.

For years, Grace ran DesignSponge with the help of her husband, Aaron Coles. The couple quietly divorced in 2011, and even though they had lived their lives in the spotlight, they made no public mention of the split until more than a year later. On June 10, Bonney announced, in an eloquently passionate post, that she is a lesbian.

During the excitement of coming out publicly and settling into her new apartment (and her new life!), I had the opportunity to talk with Grace about the suffocation of staying closeted, the liberation of coming out and the unexpected reaction to her surprising public announcement.

YourTango: This has been a big couples of weeks for you! How are you feeling?

Grace Bonney: Good! It's funny. [Coming out] was something I had been thinking about and looking forward to. Now, it just feels really calm and almost like a non-issue, which is really nice. 

YT: There's so much positive feedback on DesignSponge and on your social media accounts. I'm sure you moderate those comments. Is there any negativity we're not seeing?

Grace: No, which is insane. I'm used to people being really mean to me online. There were only maybe two [negative comments], and they weren't really negative. Because I used to be married, they were like "I feel really bad for your ex. Yay for you, but this is kind of mean to him. I can't believe he's finding out this way!" I’m like "Do you really think this is how he's finding out?" Other than that, I was really surprised because people in the craft blog community can be a little conservative. We'll see. There's a part of me that believes that they're only okay with it in theory. I'm curious to see how it goes when I'm public about who I'm dating.

YT: Are you currently seeing someone?

Grace: No. I just broke up with someone that I had been seeing for a little over a year. There are pictures of the two of us on Instagram and Facebook, on my personal accounts. She wasn't on there a ton, so mostly just my close friends saw her. 

YT: Did staying publicly closeted make it difficult to date?

Grace: [Having been] publicly married made it difficult! I feel really bad about that. The girl I was dating was an artist and so were her friends. They knew who I was and knew I [had been] married.

YT: Why did you decide to come out now?

Grace: With most things on the blog, I have to wait until I'm two-hundred percent okay to handle anything that comes at me. If you live online, you know what it's like. People feel free to editorialize on anything that you do. I had to wait until I had worked through everything myself. I had to ask myself, "Do you feel okay to handle the common things people are going to say back to you?" I didn't for a while because I was still working though my internalized stuff. I had to work through that [first]. I finally hit a point where I knew I was ready to handle anything someone would call or say about me. Also, it was my birthday. It seemed like a nice way to start the year as myself.

YT: How long have you known that you were gay?

Grace: Since middle school. I told myself for a good twenty years that it was just this girl or that girl, and I know a lot of people who did the same thing. I thought maybe I was bi. I look back, and [the crushes were] one girl every, like, six months, and that's probably more than most people.

YT: Then how did you end up getting married?

Grace: There were a lot of factors. I'm an only child and really close to my parents. I didn't want to let them down. It just felt like logical trajectory after you date someone for so long. When someone proposed to you, it feels like you're supposed to say yes. It's the next step, and I never thought I'd be allowed to be with a girl. I love my family, and I love my friends, more than myself essentially. I thought I could put up with [being married to a man] if it meant I could keep my friends and family. It wasn't until I was thirty that I thought I could possibly be gay and keep them. I thought I'd totally lose everybody. That was terrifying.

YT: What took you so long to come out?

Grace: I'm from the south, and, although my family isn't religious, they're definitely conservative. I really truly thought I'd completely lose my parents because that discussion had happened, and I just didn't feel okay with it, but I turned thirty, and I realized I'd wasted that much of my life, and it seemed crazy to go even longer.

YT: So how did your family react?

Grace: Surprisingly well. [Back] in college, I [had] told my mom I knew a lesbian, and she said that no child of hers would be able to bring home a lesbian. So I waited. I told my dad first, and he said, "I don’t really care who you love. I just want you to be happy, and you seem really miserable." He was great, and my mom, shockingly, has bas been the biggest advocate ever. They’ve been really amazing. They met my girlfriend. They didn’t even call her my "friend!" Originally, when I wrote my coming out post on DesignSponge, I had written all this stuff in it, and then I showed it to some of my friends. They said it was way too sad, and I shouldn't run it. They said I should be proud and happy, so I cut everything out and decided to focus on the good stuff. 

YT: Has there been anything surprising about coming out?

Grace: Yeah! I thought that since most of my friends are in their thirties, they couldn't change. I figured they were set in their ways. I have friends who are religious, and I thought it wouldn't go over well. But I got to watch people who I thought would back away from me open their minds a bit. It's been an incredible two years watching people making a huge effort [to accept this], but I feel like I earned it by spending the last twenty years hating myself. I've had two decades of being miserable. I get two years of being really happy!

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YT: Were you open to your ex-husband during your divorce?

Grace: Yeah, that was why we split. I told him. He said that maybe I was bisexual and suggested couples therapy. He said he'd be totally okay if I was bi and that we could work through it. He said maybe there was a situation we could work out. Honestly, I couldn't expect that he'd be that supportive. We spent some time apart. I moved to Portland and dated around but didn't tell anyone what was happening. I realized it wasn't a phase. I came home, and we filed. That was kind of it.

YT: Did he ever suspect?

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Grace: No. The funny thing is I always worried he was gay. I was totally projecting onto him for years. It was always my biggest fear that I would marry someone who turned out to be gay. I never knew why I was so obsessed with that, but it's because I'm that person.

YT: What was your breaking point? When did you realize you had to come out?

Grace: I told myself my whole life I just wanted to make out with girls and that was totally normal, but then I fell for someone. I actually wanted to sleep with her. I didn't want to just kiss her. It brought out a whole side of my personality that I thought had died. I always tried to be into that part of dating guys, but it never worked for me. I thought that was normal. I thought everyone who was married didn't really enjoy their sex lives.

YT: Aaron was managing the business aspects of DesignSponge for a long time. Does he still do that?

Grace: He’s still consulting with us. He has another job and travels for that, so he doesn't really live in New York. We still feel fine to talk to each other. We obviously don't hang out like we used to. I know other people who went through the same thing, and I feel really lucky that we can still kind of be friends and work together and support each other and not hate each other.

YT: Has he experienced criticism with the public announcement?

Grace: If he has, he hasn't told me about it. We don't really talk about that stuff too much. We try to be supportive of each other, but there's a line we don't cross. We don't talk about those things because we're not that close anymore.

YT: Do you ever think it would be easier if you could just go back to being married?

Grace: No because it was so hard for me for the last twenty years. I tried every waking moment of my life to not be myself. I'd exhausted every supply I had to internally manage that. There was nothing left anymore. I'm just really happy to be out.

YT: Has coming out changed you, other than just whom you can publicly date?

Grace: Going through what I went though made me a more empathetic human being. The nature of what I do plays on my natural tendency to judge things and decide if I like them. I applied that to people too quickly. I had so much inner hate for myself and had to learn to give myself a break. It's like a giant wall falling down. I decided to be this way with everyone. You never know what someone else is dealing with. I've been reaching out to people I know are going through hard times. It's made me more understanding. I was too quick to judge before.

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