1997: Ellen DeGeneres Arrives Out

For 25 a long time, OUT has celebrated queer culture. To mark our silver jubilee, we look again at some of the most significant, brightest moments of the previous 9,131 times. 

The scene I bear in mind most from the coming-out episode of Ellen DeGeneres’ sitcom is not actually the a single in which she first announces she is homosexual, accidentally speaking to her crush Susan (Laura Dern) above an airport loudspeaker. That moment’s wonderful, but what is genuinely burned into my memory is the subsequent episode, when Ellen Morgan is chopping greens in her condominium with her now-out close friend Peter and casually slips an “I’m gay” into the middle of a dialogue about melon ballers. The failed attempt at casualness, the shock it creates, the awkwardness of the character’s revelation—the homosexual gravity of it all—hit minor closeted me so difficult. Sitting on my parents’ sofa, I bear in mind looking all-around to make positive no a single else listened to it, as if Ellen coming out in some way intended me coming out. In a feeling, it did. It was the first time I saw myself represented on tv, even if at 10 a long time outdated I did not genuinely get that consciously. I saw my experience—the pain, the hiding, the disgrace, the absurdity—publicized. And I saw a path in advance.

Observed in 2017, the producing and acting in the 3-episode arc right tackling Ellen’s sexual orientation come to feel deeply genuine and nuanced. A paradox of the media’s enhanced acceptance of gayness above the previous two many years is that LGBT portrayals come to feel more and more detached from lived encounter. It is wonderful that dozens of shows have queer representation now (there are seemingly much more than 50 shows with LGBT characters at this time streaming on Netflix by yourself), but individuals depictions typically seem so concerned with assuring viewers that “Gay is OK” that they typically do not show the fact: that remaining homosexual and specifically coming out is not normally Ok. It can be messy, sad, and disgrace-inducing (and sometimes hilarious).

Similar | OUT100: Ellen DeGeneres, Entertainer of the Year

DeGeneres and the show’s writers also produced positive to stay clear of gayness alone as the punchline. That doesn’t mean the episodes weren’t gay—k.d. lang, Melissa Etheridge, and Joan Jett produced guest appearances. But the humor came from everything surrounding gayness, these types of as the title character’s pain with her sexuality and her friends’ ham-fisted tries at accepting her. In that way, the collection feels much more respectful than lots of contemporary Tv set depictions of sexuality (e.g., in Modern-day Family members, approximately every joke about homosexual pair Cam and Mitch centers on the hilarity of their flamboyance).

For that nuanced nonetheless candid procedure, the show and DeGeneres compensated a price. They dropped sponsors they generated destructive push. The collection was canceled a year later on. But Ellen’s demise was also thanks to an internal difficulty: Its writers could not move previous Ellen’s sexual orientation. Gayness, like in lots of other sitcoms, did become the punchline. And so critics, rightly, started to see the show as trite and unmoored.

It is probably unfair to criticize one thing with 20 a long time of hindsight, but Ellen’s writers and a lot of existing writers who target on LGBT topics can study a lesson from this: Queerness alone is only aspect of a story, and that story receives outdated quickly if it doesn’t progress to remedy how sexual orientation influences us, our politics, our life. As Ellen’s therapist (played by Oprah) explained when Ellen at last came out, “Good for you, you are homosexual. So what are you gonna do now?”

It is a query I had to ask myself above and above following I came out, and a single that I nevertheless grapple with to this day—for me to come to feel total as a queer individual, gayness could not just be a box to check off. It had to become one thing that deeply afflicted my relationship with mates and household, with politics, with my producing, with everything. In the age of Trump, when we’ve received media representation but nevertheless experience discrimination, violence, and unequal entry to well being care, we could possibly do effectively to ask ourselves the query that Ellen was never ready to totally remedy: “We’re here. We’re queer. Now what?”

Leave a Reply