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Festival of Books: Maria Bello talks about 'Love Is Love'

Actress Maria Bello speaks with L.A. Times columnist Sandy Banks about what a 'modern family' looks like

"Perhaps we’re getting to a place where saying who we are attracted to or had sex with will be like saying what you had for breakfast?"

This is Maria Bello, longtime TV and film actor ("ER," "Coyote Ugly"), reflecting on a new world of acceptance and blurred categories she is perhaps helping to create. She appeared Saturday at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

Author of a new memoir and speaking with Los Angeles Times columnist Sandy Banks, Bello explained how she decided that coming out was a story when she fell ill with a parasite two summers ago.

In "Coming Out as a Modern Family," a New York Times Modern Love column, Bello acknowledged she had been dating a longtime girlfriend, who was also her son’s godmother. The deeply personal story was reportedly the second-most clicked article on the paper’s website, generating 270,000 comments in its first hour.

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"As it was eating my insides," she said. "I realized something was trying to come out." By her hospital bedside wasn’t just a spouse; there stood a variety of "partners":  an ex-husband, the father of her young son, her mother, father, and … her new girlfriend, Clare Munn. She considered them all equally her loves.

"So many of us have these unconventional relationships and don’t know what to call them," Bello told Banks. "We all walk around with this feeling there is something wrong with us.... The secret is that we’re perfect just the way we are."

When she first considered making her story public, Bello said she worried about being a mother to her son. But the boy had, in fact, given her the title of the book, when his response to Munn was, "Whatever, Mom…. love is love.” The title of her book is "Whatever...Love is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves."

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Even her traditional-minded father, reading an early book draft, judged it excellent — "except for all the sex."

Bello’s career? It has only gotten better since the article and book were published, she said. "I got more roles last year than I’ve had in my entire life."

"This generation and my son’s generation, they don’t care," she says. "Did you know that Facebook this year added 50 new labels for gender identification?" Bello recalled, looking through the new labels, seeing 17 that felt right. 

Nearing the end of the conversation, the crowd sang "Happy Birthday" to the actress and author, who turned 48 years old on Saturday. There was a shout out to Munn, sitting with their son on some nearby grass, and the whole audience turned to see what a modern family looks like.

Check out the Festival of Books schedule for this weekend.

MORE FROM THE FESTIVAL OF BOOKS:

What's the secret to making a crime novel work?

Can social media solve the social justice problem?

'Books spawn change,' Times' Austin Beutner says to open Festival of Books

Follow the books section on Twitter @latimesbooks and Facebook

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