"Yep, I'm (Still) Gay"
Yes, I didn't post a blog on Wednesday. Let's get that outta the way now. Today we're going to combo FriGAYs with On Wednesdays We Talk Women. Let's get this party started. I have an odd memory of being in middle school and arguing with a friend that Ellen DeGeneres was better than Oprah. The argument got so heated that we decided to take a poll of our classmates to see what they thought. Oprah won. I remember taking it very personally that people didn't think Ellen was the best. Did I care so much because I felt connected to her in some weird way that I didn't understand yet? Who's to say? I'm probably projecting, but y'never know.
When I talk about the representation of LGBT people in current pop culture being trash, I do it with the knowledge that this is leagues ahead of where it used to be. Back in 1997, Ellen DeGeneres' character on the show Ellen would be the first hugely famous character on primetime TV to say that they're gay. It was not a pretty time for LGBT people in the States. 68% of Americans didn't support gay marriage. Or, as I like to call it, marriage.
(Can we just have a sidebar about straight people and their attitudes toward marriage? What is it with dudes thinking that getting married is "game over" for them? Like y'all know you can like the person you marry, right? It's not supposed to be a bad thing. I work at a BIG CORPORATE BOOKSTORE and we have so many books about how to be happy with the person you're married to. One of them's called something like How to Still Love Him After Kids. Straight people, are you okay???)
Today, 60% of people support gay marriage. That's quite the dramatic turn of events and a lot of people have attributed the public's changing opinion to Ellen DeGeneres. She's America's Sweetheart. Then and now. The people of "Then" weren't exactly thrilled about the prospect of her coming out. News of her coming out on the show leaked before "The Puppy Episode" aired and both the director and the studio got death threats. Someone even called in a bomb threat to the studio. And the right wing people think liberals are little snowflakes. They lost their minds over a fictional TV show. Talk about delicate.
44 million people watched the episode.
Can you imagine?
The official twenty year mark is on Sunday, April 30. It ended up winning an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series. It wasn't all sunshine and roses though. Advertisers like J.C. Penney and Coca Cola pulled their commercials and ABC started putting a parental advisory before episodes of Ellen. Laura Dern couldn't get work and Ellen's career started tailspinning down. Her relationship with Anne Heche disintegrated from all of the pressure that came with being so aggressively in the public eye. She wouldn't be back on TV till 2003 with Ellen: The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
My man, Obama, gave her the Presidential Medal of Freedom and if y'all haven't watched that yet, please grab some tissues. It's a rollercoaster.
I love Ellen. I grew up with her. I grew up with this dope lady being proud of who she is. Back in about 2010 after a young boy named Tyler from Rutgers University killed himself for being outed as gay on the internet, Ellen took time to talk about bullying. These words have stayed with me since:
"Things will get easier, people's minds will change, and you should be alive to see it."
When people say that "The Puppy Episode" saved lives, I think they're right. Imagine being a gay kid alone in the Middle of America and you're watching Ellen and America's Sweetheart leans over the microphone at an airport and says, "I'm gay." That kid finally feels less alone in the world. It's like being alone and abroad in a foreign country and you haven't spoken to anyone in your native language in weeks and all of a sudden, you bump into someone and they apologize in a language you understand. It's that understanding that is so meaningful. Even if the person you run into is from Louisiana and you're from Maine, when you're both alone in that foreign land, you might as well be neighbors.
If you're straight, white, and cisgender, you've probably never felt this feeling of not knowing someone, but understanding them instantly. There's this small smile that gay people give to each other in public spaces. The "I know you but I don't know you" smile. I remember reading Fun Home, the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, for the first time back in my freshman year of college. She made the exact same comparison about being in a foreign land to seeing another LGBT person. I remember reading that and was like that's how I've always thought of it! Great minds think alike, yeah? (Just kidding. Her mind's greater, but I hope to one day write something half as great.)
I have never cried more than during the Fun Home Broadway show. They took that moment and put those feelings into words and music. The song's called "Ring of Keys" and I don't know if the little girl who plays young Alison is a baby gay or someone perfectly explained what this feeling is like, but this song is extraordinary and watching her perform it is like seeing myself as a young 'un again.
So, here's to you, Ellen. Because I'm not as eloquent as Obama, I'm going to leave you with a quote from his Presidential Medal of Freedom:
"Again and again, Ellen DeGeneres has shown us that a single individual can make the world a more fun, more open, more loving place - so long as we just keep swimming."