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Ellen DeGeneres: Ten Years after Coming Out

The Backlash and The Rebound


Ellen DeGeneres: Ten Years after Coming Out

Ellen DeGeneres will host the 79th Academy Awards

© Courtesy AMPAS
TV didn’t really know how to have a gay character as lead. What does a 40 year old who has just come out do? She gets out there and tries to meet someone and date. Gays and lesbians were on the edge of their seats waiting for Ellen to have her first on screen kiss and relationship, but middle America wasn’t quite ready to see that. So the writers and producers tried to create a show about a lesbian struggling with her sexuality without showing sex or sexuality. It wasn’t that funny anymore. Gays and lesbians were still tuning in, but most of America was tuning out. Eventually the show was taken off the air due to low ratings.

People seemed to forget that there was a live human with feelings behind all the hoopla.

Ellen was quoted in The Advocate in 2000 as saying, “I experienced both sides of it because when I came out, everything was great. I was ‘entertainer of the year,’ and I was one of the ‘ten most fascinating people.’ And it was a whole year of celebrating Ellen. And then it went to the complete opposite end. Suddenly I had become this person that everybody was saying, "Oh, I hate her. Oh, I love her." And I heard about all of it. It just got to be where I couldn't watch TV without somebody saying something mean. I was the punch line of every joke, like Monica Lewinsky.”

Everyone had an opinion about Ellen

Looking back Ellen said in an interview with the Advocate in 2005, “There was a time when people were saying I was not gay enough, that I wasn't doing enough and I wasn't an activist, and then straight people were saying, ‘She's too gay.’ Any time you start pointing the finger and judging somebody else, then you have no right to get mad at them for judging you, because they feel just as strongly as you feel. It may not feel good to you, but they have that right.”

Ellen and Anne Heche

Suddenly the once popular actress couldn’t find work. Her break up with flighty girlfriend Anne Heche was talk show fodder. And it broke Ellen’s heart. “When Anne left, I’d wake up in the morning, and my eyes would just immediately fill up with tears, and I would start convulsively crying. I’d watch the sun come up and then go down, and I’d literally be in the same place on the floor,” she said in an Allure magazine interview in 2005.

About her inability to get work Ellen continued, “That’s why it killed me so much when I came out. All I wanted to do was make people laugh. That, in turn, gave me so much joy. Then when I decided to be honest with people, it was somehow taken away for a while.” Ellen starred in another sitcom The Ellen Show that aired in September 2001. She played a lesbian internet executive who returned to her hometown. It was cancelled after 13 episodes.

Then came Ellen’s rebirth.

She hosted the Emmy’s after the attacks of September 2001. “What would upset the Taliban more than a gay woman wearing a suit in front of a room full of Jews?” she joked. She was funny at a time when her country needed a laugh.

In 2003 she was the voice of Dory in animated movie Finding Nemo. But Ellen’s biggest success and what she will probably be remember for is her daily talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show which so far has won 15 daytime Emmy awards and is in its 4th season in 2007.

Finally in 2007 Ellen was the first openly gay person to host the Academy Awards. In her opening monologue she says, “If there weren’t any Blacks, Jews or gays there wouldn’t be any Oscars.”

Ellen in 2007

Ellen is out on her show, but in a way she’s comfortable with. She always said she didn’t want to be an activist or spokesperson for the gay community. But just living her life as an out lesbian, she does more with her actions than she could ever say with her words. When she won an Emmy, she kissed her girlfriend Portia and then said, “Portia, I love ya,” as she walked off. She talks about being gay when it’s relevant, but she does what she’s best at: making us laugh.

More Ellen:
Top Five Lesbian Moments at the Academy Awards.
A history of lesbians on TV

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