Cynthia Nixon
Photo: George Holz
I learned never to voice my opinion when I thought someone cared more about an issue than I did or if I thought I could lose my argument. My parents fought a lot until they separated; after that it was my mother and me. She was finished with arguments, which is how our dynamic of just pressuring and conceding developed. The person who felt strongest about something would get her way. As a result, I spoke up only when I was sure that my desires could carry the day.

I dealt with issues this way all through my relationship with the father of my children: I would give in on the things I thought he wanted more than I did, and then I wouldn't give him an option when there was something I really wanted to do. The problem was that I still had strong opinions all those times I acquiesced—I was just afraid to express them. I ended up becoming resentful that he didn't intuit them or recognize how much I was giving to him. It never occurred to me that I could speak my mind even though I might not get my way or he might not want to hear it. I was being unfair to both of us.

When we broke up a few years ago, this all changed. Suddenly, I had to learn to negotiate and compromise with him. There was no choice—the stakes were too high for both of us. What was I going to say: "Sure, you can have full custody of the kids. Don't worry about it"? For the first time, I really had to tell people what I wanted, even when I knew they felt passionately about something or when I might have to change my mind or even lose the battle. I had to remind myself that giving my opinion didn't mean I had to drive it home to win, nor did it mean getting into a fight. It was simply letting people know what I thought. And it felt good.

Now I go ahead and say what I think. I'll let a producer know if I don't like the way a scene is written, or I'll tell my dear Pat [Patricia Field, costume designer for Sex and the City], who is right 99.9 percent of the time, if there's something I don't like about a dress she's picked out for me; she'll then alter it until we're both happy. In the past, I thought I'd end up with a big sign that said "loser" on top of my head if I lost an argument. Now I won't keep quiet just because I'm afraid I might hurt somebody's feelings.

Putting my opinions, and myself, on the line has given me the courage to do things that up until now were really scary to me, like singing in public for the first time or trying out for roles I think I might not get. Going to bat for something and potentially striking out isn't fun, but what's worse is staying silent. Who knows how I might be able to change an outcome if I just speak my truth?

— As told to Naomi Barr