April 30, 1997.
Happy Anniversary, Ellen DeGeneres.
Ten years ago today she officially came out on her sitcom. And, like the 19 women crammed into my one-bedroom apartment to watch along with millions of others that night, I was profoundly affected by her monumental decision to do so.
It pains me to think what life in the television industry would be like today if Ellen had not pried open that door; one that had only been slightly ajar with the weight and hesitation of many actors who cowered behind it, fearful for their careers.
There is a very strong chance that many of my favorite television shows from the last ten years would not have been created, aired, or even possible had Ellen not taken the brave steps that she did in 1997.
I cannot imagine the very first Amazing Race without Team Guido. Arrested Development without the ambiguous and never-nude Tobias Funke. The Office without Oscar the accountant. Project Runway without Tim Gunn. Six Feet Under without David & Keith. Survivor without the naked tax evader, Richard Hatch. [That there have been so very few gay women on reality shows and lesbian characters on television since Ellen is a topic for another blog altogether].
Shows like Will & Grace, the American adaptation of Queer as Folk and The L Word were given the green light only after and because of Ellen’s landmark “Puppy Episode.”
I love that gay and lesbian characters are almost ubiquitous on mainstream and cable television nowadays, to the point where they are almost passé. Even the soap opera All My Children recently featured a transgender character!
As I watched Ellen host the Oscars earlier this year, I was struck by the magnitude of what she was doing, what it represented and how it indicated the current social climate. Granted, it is the entertainment industry. But I was thrilled by how much of a non-issue her sexuality has become. The success of her daily talk show speaks volumes. And I applaud her every step of the way. Ellen is a pioneer and a true role model.
My friend Matt always says that he’s proud of my pride. After April of 1997, when Ellen preceded the coming out episode by declaring “Yep, I’m Gay” on the cover of Time magazine, I was just that much more comfortable. In the community, at work, with family, in my own skin.
Which is why I was finally able to write this article.
It was time to stop hiding behind my blog. From the beginning, I’ve made a concerted effort to keep my identity separate from my online persona and taken great lengths to avoid revealing any details about my personal life on this site. But as I tackle and contemplate writing about controversial topics like the Isaiah Washington debacle on Grey’s Anatomy or the very disconcerting pattern of celebrities who are forced to come out in the media, I realized that my perspective as an out lesbian is important to the entries that I write and publish.
Whew. Publishing this kind of personal information, even if only on my small hobby of a blog with very few readers, is far scarier than coming out to my own family. It is now out there for the eyes of the world.
As Ellen did ten years ago tonight, I suppose this is me, coming out on my blog.
Were you one of the 34 million who watched that episode? Have any significant pop culture moments touched your lives? Believe me, I’d love some feedback on this one.