Jennifer Grey on the Moment Her Father Joel Grey Was Outed as Gay to Her: 'It Was a Sniper Attack'

The DIrty Dancing star, whose memoir Out of the Corner is out May 3, recalls the moment in the late-80s when Matthew Broderick's mother told her that her own father's sexuality was not what Grey thought it was.

Jennifer Grey is showing off her father's photography (still-lifes of flowers mounted in backward frames) when she remembers there's pasta on the stove. Scampering into the kitchen of her L.A. home, she quickly swirls the boiling spaghetti. "You have to watch your pasta!"

After almost 40 years in the public spotlight, Grey knows how easy it is to lose sight of what's important. These days, she sees it all clearly: Her homemade pomodoro, her dad's photography (images of flowers mounted in secondhand frames) or her home. (Hers has serene and expansive hillside vistas, by the way.) But one thing that's surprised her lately is her changing perception of the past — what she sees in her own Hollywood rearview mirror.

The daughter of Oscar-winning actor Joel Grey (Cabaret), she rocketed to stardom with Dirty Dancing in 1987, starring as Baby alongside the late Patrick Swayze. In a new memoir, Out of the Corner out May 3, she revises her own mythology.

Sitting down over steaming bowls of pasta at her kitchen table, she's ready to talk. She says she's been sorting out fact from fiction in her own history, thanks to a cache of journals. And one moment in her past is how she found out about her father's sexuality. (Joel came out as gay to PEOPLE in 2015, at the age of 82.) Her relationships with her mother, Jo Wilder, and her father, Joel, remain as steadfast as ever. (Her parents divorced in 1982.) "I speak to them every day," she says. "But I believe in writing the book, I had to ask myself, is it possible I didn't know?"

Michael Loccisano/Getty

Her world was shaken in the late 80s when she was dating Matthew Broderick. One day, when visiting the actor's home when he wasn't there, she recalls Broderick's mother telling her, "You know your dad's a fag."

Jennifer was stunned. "Perhaps she was offended by my lack of knowing. I don't know what she was thinking. She was, um, she was a tricky personality. I don't know how else to put it. Like, she was a truth teller, truth bombs. A Cassandra. She was, like, come what may."

"She just said whatever she believed was the truth — and perhaps she was doing me a solid. Maybe she thought: Is anybody gonna say what's happening in the world?"

Today Jennifer believes her father's sexuality is his and only his. "It's really only for him. I'm so exhausted by the reductiveness with which people want to out famous people and decide what people are. Like, who cares! People should feel good. And, besides, I think that sexuality is so much more interesting than gay or straight, bi. And, you know what I think about it all the time: he said my mom was the love of his life and I believe she was."

RELATED VIDEO: Jennifer Grey Opens Up About Her Past Relationship with Matthew Broderick: "It Felt Like Home"

But Jennifer says over 30 years ago, it was a tough moment. "At the time, it was, like, warfare. It was an act of aggression. Perhaps she was offended by the lack of transparency. I don't know what anybody else is thinking. All I know, all I knew at the time was that it felt like it was a sniper attack. The idea was that I was a fool and that everyone knew but me."

Jennifer Grey and Joel Grey
Jennifer and Joel Grey. Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

The moment was pivotal for Jennifer. "The reason I put that in the book, was because it was one of those days that changed me. In the sense that how could I not know everything there was to know about my dad? I was the closest to him of anyone in the world. And he would never not tell me the truth. And that was the only thing that was hard about it was because I was confused because it was one of those moments where my reality was shaken up."

She's comfortable revisiting painful moments in her past, to gain new perspective. "There's a lot of rough stuff that happens in the book that happened in my life, along with amazing privilege, along with beautiful caring, loving parents, with incredible exposure to great artists and steeped in culture. Because it's not one thing, it's this beautiful gray. It's not black and white. I love my name. Grey. I love my name because it is not black or white. I can't believe like unconsciously what my dad chose that word, that name. [He was born Joel Katz.] But because of what it means, there are so many shades between black and white. There's so much complexity in human beings. Right?"

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