Braunwyn Windham-Burke broke up with her first lesbian love — ex-girlfriend Victoria Brito — the day before she stripped down (way down) for her Out Traveler cover shoot. Getting glam was just what she needed.
“(Photographer) Jen Rosentein called me,” Windham-Burke says. “She’s like, ‘Hey, I just saw the news. Are you Okay?’ I’m like, ‘I will be’…I felt my own energy that day. I felt my own power. I felt this strong, beautiful 44-year-old gay woman, who was just saying, ‘I’m here. This is who I am.’”
Windham-Burke is embracing a new life now, moving on from her tumultuous tenure on The Real Housewives of Orange County, where she chronicled her life with seven children, as well as her struggles with alcoholism and a nascent sobriety journey. Most memorably, she came out as a lesbian and separated from husband Sean Burke during her time on the original Housewives series.
After announcing she’s gay, Windham-Burke was roasted by some of her castmates and on social media, with some accusing her of faking her alcoholism and even her sexuality, something she vehemently denies. Instead of conniving and artificial — as her haters like to portray her — Windham-Burke is relaxed and funny during our interview (looking gorgeous in a hoodie and mussed hair). She’s excited for her next chapter, which includes no shortage of travel, with trips booked to Scotland, Puerto Rico, Kauai, Hawaii, as well as a solo journey to Europe.
Wanderlust has always been a part of Windham-Burke’s identity; years ago, she launched a travel blog, BarefootinHeels.com, that chronicled her adventures with her large and loving family.
“That’s actually how I got found for Housewives, was my traveling blog,” she says. “My thing was globetrotting mom to seven amazing kids. We traveled six months of the year…we started taking our babies, at around six weeks old, on international travel. I remember having a double stroller with the twins in London.”
Windham-Burke and Burke have worked hard to instill in their kids a love of exploration and a curiosity about people and places far from them.
“[Love of travel] is one thing that I’ve probably shared with my children the most,” she says. “People will assume that I’m very materialistic, I like clothes and shoes and jewelry, but none of that has ever really appealed to me. I grew up surfing in California. My biological father, who passed away, he was a big wave surfer in Hawaii. So for me, it’s never been about the stuff. All I need is a pair of flip flops and a bathing suit. I always said this to whoever I’ve been with: give me the gift of experience.”
Windham-Burke’s chill, open-minded parenting style extends to issues of gender and sexuality; she says her older kids have long known of her attraction to women and are nonplussed. It could be that openness from their mom that allowed Windham-Burke’s daughter, Rowan, to come out as pansexual and her son, Jacob, to experiment with drag.
“We went to the Equality March in D.C. (in 2009),” Windham-Burke says, proudly. “They’ve been raised knowing that you are perfect just the way you are. That is the home that we created.”
That home — in tony Newport Beach, California — has changed a lot recently, with Burke living separately and Windham-Burke bouncing between California and New York City. She considers herself bicoastal, an arrangement both challenging and exhilarating.
“I’m really trying to figure out a way to sort of meld my worlds right now,” she says. “I go from being this single, independent gay woman, living her best dream life in New York, going out all the time, saying yes to everything, staying out late, doing whatever I want, whenever I want. Five hours later, I land. I got to get the kids to karate and there’s no downtime.”
Windham-Burke acknowledges that coming out in her 40s meant experiencing that delayed adolescence felt by many queer people, though it’s a bit complicated by her brood.
“For someone that lived their life in the closet for so long, that secretly had a double life, now I’m out. But in many ways, I still have this double life,” she says. “I would love to be able to have them as one. I’d love for my kids to see the woman that I am in New York. All my friends in New York are so much younger than me. I’m okay with that. I am embracing every beautiful part of this coming out experience later in life…. Maybe that is the good part about living bicoastal, because I get to come here and I’m back to being a 44-year-old mother of seven. I go back to New York and I feel like I’m 22 again.”
Reconciling her new reality also includes managing her newfound sobriety. Windham-Burke describes herself as an active traveler, rather than a chill-by-the-pool tourist, something that requires energy and no hangovers.
“Even before I got sober, I never drank that much when I traveled with the kids, because I couldn’t pull it off,” she says. “For me, travel’s always been the best (time) of my life, because it’s pretty much always been the sober parts of my life.”
Windham-Burke is planning a return to TV, with a new hush-hush project. Life feels full of potential she says.
“I want to go to Bora Bora. I want to stay in one of those huts where I don’t want to leave the room, because the person I’m with is just so magical,” she says. “Even though I’m 44 and I’ve done a lot and I’ve traveled a lot, I’ve never traveled in love.”
Her excitement is infectious. “I’m feeling feelings I’ve never felt before. I am feeling first love, first heartbreak. It’s like Oz, and I just walked out of Kansas and everything’s technicolor.”
photography Jen Rosenstein Insta @jenrosenstein
subject Braunwyn Windham-Burke @braunwynwindhamburke
photographer’s assistant Mike Nelson @mknlsn
digital tech Aly Whitman @alywhitman
hair Chris Dylan @chrisdylan
make-up Jenna Nicole @jennaniceofficial
stylists Vanessa Craig @vanessacraiglist, Nolan Meader @styledbynolan