“Eat, Pray, Love” Author Elizabeth Gilbert Comes Out On Facebook

This is a sad story and also a happy story. Elizabeth Gilbert has ended her relationship with the man she met in the final chapters of her best selling memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, because she realized she’s actually in love with Rayya Elias, her best friend of 15 years. That’s the happy part. The sad part is that Elias has been diagnosed with pancreatic and liver cancer.

Gilbert wrote a post about it on Facebook this morning, detailing their journey and why they decided to come out now.

But something happened to my heart and mind in the days and weeks following Rayya’s diagnosis. Death — or the prospect of death — has a way of clearing away everything that is not real, and in that space of stark and utter realness, I was faced with this truth: I do not merely love Rayya; I am in love with Rayya. And I have no more time for denying that truth. The thought of someday sitting in a hospital room with her, holding her hand and watching her slide away, without ever having let her (or myself!) know the extent of my true feelings for her…well, that thought was unthinkable.

On Facebook, Gilbert candidly spoke about her breakup from her husband, who appeared in the final chapters of her first memoir and was the subject of her follow-up book, Committed: A Love Story. The relationship ended because she realized she was in love with Elias and after a summer of settling on a strategy to fight her cancer and coming out to their friends and family, Gilbert said she wanted to come out publicly because she wants her partner to be on her arm at every writing event she attends, and she wants people to understand what they mean to each other.

Elias is also a writer (and musician). In fact, Elizabeth Gilbert wrote the foreword to her memoir, Harley Loco: A Memoir of Hard Living, Hair, and Post-Punk, from the Middle East to the Lower East Side, in 2013.

The Los Angeles Times points to a profile the two women shared in the Sydney Morning Herald last year:

[The Herald] described them as”clasping hands, finishing each other’s sentences, Elias absentmindedly fixing Gilbert’s hair” and displaying “a kind of intimacy only found in female friendships and, even then, not always.” Elias told the newspaper that her friends would often refer to Gilbert as her wife. “I know it sounds like a love story and it totally is,”she said.

Below you can watch Gilbert and Elias in an hour-long conversation called Sex, Drugs & Hair: Women in 2015, which was recorded last year as part of the Sydney Opera House Talks & Ideas series and the reason the Sydney Herald profiled them.

Gilbert closed out her Facebook post by asking her friends and fans to withhold advice and judgment and to send love instead.

Whatever extra love you might be carrying around in your hearts right now, could you direct some this way? I would appreciate it so much, and — trust me — it will be felt. And it will help. We will resonate with it, and we will thank you for it. Because truth is the force that guides us to where we need to be in life, but love is the power that heals us once we arrive there.


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Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.

Heather has written 561 articles for us.

50 Comments

  1. From that Sydney Herald article, written a year and a half ago and I guess about a year before she figured it out:

    “Theirs is a kind of intimacy only found in female friendships and, even then, not always. “It’s not your sister, it’s not your lover, it’s not your BFF,” says Gilbert. “There isn’t really an identifier for it.”

    Elias says some of her friends refer to Gilbert as her wife. “Well, I’d rather go to the laundromat with you than go to, like, Prague with almost anybody else,” Gilbert says to Elias. “It’s just better. And that’s the great thing when you’re getting something so lovely out of being with somebody – it’s like, ‘Let’s hang out in the parking lot!’ ”

    I feel like I hear this sometimes about female friendships – “I feel so strongly about her, there’s no word for it!” and really there is a word: you’re in love. If you’re this happy when you’re with someone, you’re probably in love with them. I think my wife was confused this same way before we admitted we were in love. That whole section really resonated.

    So, so sad about the cancer, but happy they found each other.

  2. OH MY GOD. I’m blown away. When I saw the title I just stared at it with incomprehension; came out about what, I thought. She couldn’t be – could she? I guess I still make the mistake of assuming not everyone is gay.

    Her coming out post on Facebook amazes me. And it pisses me off that we live in a society where the heteronormative conditioning runs so deep that it takes a real, palpable crisis for our eyes to open to the truth of who we are and how we feel. But then again, isn’t it amazing how crises will find us to wake us up?

    SO MANY FEELS+THOUGHTS!
    Okay, I gotta go process.

      • She’s talked about this a lot! Although obviously she doesn’t think her book is vacuous, she’s written/talked about how she wrote mostly about masculine-leaning topics and enjoyed modest success and how now she’s now thought of as just a chick lit author and the difficulties of breaking out of that. I think she has a lot of good things to say about why people assume that writing about feelings and love isn’t considered literary, and I have to say that I didn’t find Eat, Pray, Love all that vacuous.

        It for sure had eye-rolling moments—a little too many moments of mystic for my taste—but Gilbert is a sublime writer and ultimately the book is about grief, which I don’t find to be insipid even surrounded by talk of yoga and pasta. A friend lent me her copy to help distract me while my dad was dying of cancer, so maybe it’s why it means so much to me. I’ve reread it several times since (mostly recently after a brutal breakup) and found so many parts of it relatable and useful.

        Okay apparently I had a lot to get off of my chest, turns out I really love that fucking book.

  3. I listened to both of these women interviewed when they were in Oz for this event, and I love listening to Elizabeth Gilbert on podcast but I REALLY loved the interview with Rayya. Reminds me I really must get the book, which sounds amazing, and am bookmarking this video for later!

  4. So Rayya is basically real life Shane, but cooler? I love
    this video, the love that they have for one another is abundant, appreciated, and obvious. Goals. My heart goes out to rapid healing for Rayya.

  5. If I was still a parochial high schooler I’m pretty sure I’d hear, “Well, now we know why the pray portion wasn’t in Rome.”

    <_< The internal Catholic school teacher commentary never leaves with the rest of it.

    But uh yeah fuck cancer, yay finding self and coming to terms with it.

    P.S. Could one call "coming out" "coming to terms"? Because when one comes out there's usually some terms or a term used…

  6. “Elias says some of her friends refer to Gilbert as her wife. “Well, I’d rather go to the laundromat with you than go to, like, Prague with almost anybody else,” Gilbert says to Elias. “It’s just better. And that’s the great thing when you’re getting something so lovely out of being with somebody – it’s like, ‘Let’s hang out in the parking lot!’ ”

    “I know it sounds like a love story and it totally is,” says Elias.”

    Nah, they’re just gal pals, you guys.

  7. Nooooo this is so beautiful and tragic! It sounds bad, but I hope Elias can beat her cancer and they can have the many years together that they deserve. Also, good on Gilbert for having the courage to face the truth and act on it before it was too late.

  8. If she hasn’t labelled her sexuality, she could also be bi? A default gay assumption when a celeb starts dating a same gender partner can feel really isolating sometimes for bi folks 🙁 (this is directed to the comments, not the article)

  9. This is so bittersweet. I am so happy for Elizabeth recognizing and embracing her love for Rayya. It’s so exciting to have a woman I admire so much be part of the community. When I was struggling in my early adulthood, I devoured Eat, Pray, Love. The book was a huge influence in me taking some time off and using my savings to travel. That trip is still one of the best periods of my life and it was the first time I learned how to just *be* gay.

    I hope their time together is happy, beautiful and long despite the grim diagnosis.

  10. That video is great too. I was lucky enough to be at All About Women this year and I got to see Carrie Brownstein, Mallory Ortberg, Masha Gessen and others and it was so great.
    Also nice shoutout to Women of Letters, I live in Melbourne where this began and is going strong.

    • I loved All About Women this year, although waking up early enough the day after the Mardi Gras Parade was a struggle.

      I also love Women of Letters, I went to the session they had at the Opera House and loved it. I wish I lived in Melbourne so I could go to more of their events.

  11. I did part of the data entry for a massive survey of attendees for a huge pride festival in my country, Singapore, 5 years back. You’d be surprised at how many bisexual women reported they were not out to any friends, and rarely attended lgbt gatherings. Huge numbers. A lot of bisexual men said the same. Most of the lesbian women said they were out to friends, and were in the community.

    Thus I’ve never had any doubt that a lot of women and men have hidden, repressed, or rationalized their genuine attraction to people of the same sex.

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