Kerry Washington says her feelings of “not quite belonging” in her family that she’s had since childhood were a result of a long hidden secret that she was conceived using a sperm donor.
The actress opened up about the revelation in new interviews with The New York Times and People, tied to the release of her upcoming memoir, Thicker Than Water. Out on Sept. 26, the memoir was initially the suggestion of friend and Scandal boss Shonda Rhimes years ago, with Washington admitting that at the time, she had this “nagging feeling” she “didn’t quite know myself well enough” to pull it off.
Now, Thicker Than Water dives deep on her educational and performance journeys, but also more difficult topics, like her various mental health conditions — depression, an eating disorder and insomnia — as well as the shocking revelation that her father is not her biological parent.
That was something she discovered after wrapping her seven seasons as the lead of ABC hit Scandal and deciding to dig into her past with the help of the Henry Louis Gates Jr.-hosted PBS series Finding Your Roots. Washington told the New York Times that when she went to collect DNA spit samples for the show in 2018, her mother and father had noticeable hesitation. “I said: ‘I just don’t think they’re going to agree to it. My dad’s really uncomfortable,’” she recalled.
But Gates went to speak to her parents — Valerie, a professor, and Earl, a real estate agent — privately, which is when they asked about whether the possibility that Washington not being their biological child would “come up in the testing,” the actress said. In response, Gates suggested that they have any conversations about the nature of Washington’s lineage with them while they were all still alive.
“I’ve always had this weird disconnect with my dad, but I thought that was my fault. I thought I wasn’t a kind enough person. But the idea that I was not his never occurred to me. It was just, why can’t I be better to him? Why can’t we be closer? What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with us?” she said.
The Emmy-winning actress shared that she had mixed feelings once learning the truth, including liberation and excitement. But there were also feelings of guilt “because I could see how much pain my parents were in, my dad in particular” and resentment.
“I think that dissonance of like, ‘Somebody is not telling me something about my body’ made me feel like there was something in my body I had to fix,” she told People, noting that her feelings of not belonging led her eating disorder, anxiety and self-esteem issues.
Washington, who said her mother planned to tell her by leaving a note in a safe deposit box, likened the discovery, while speaking to the Times, to wandering through a library looking for a book about herself before her parents, the librarians, told her “there’s a room we haven’t shown you.’”
“I was birthed into a lie. I was playing a supporting character in my parents’ story,” she added. “I know that their intention was to protect me, to love me, to take care of me, to keep my world simple. I get many years of not telling me, but I’ve been an adult for over two decades.”
Washington has attempted to locate her biological father, but according to the Times, despite her “best efforts, there remains no way to determine his identity.” She also shared that, at one point, she “tried to give the publisher [Little, Brown Spark] their money back” as the book she pitched was no longer the book she could write.
The actress told People her decision to include the revelation in her memoir has been a difficult one for her parents, though they generally support her. She also says she “will be forever grateful to Skip Gates” and what she learned through her experience with his show. “I’m still missing this piece of not knowing where half of my biology comes from,” she told the New York Times. “At least I don’t have any of the wrong pieces in the puzzle anymore.”
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