Ellen DeGeneres came out in 1997, on the cover of Time, in conjunction with her character on a famous episode of her sitcom Ellen, titled “The Puppy Episode.” (I came out to my mom in 2010 amid a fit of profuse sweat—can you imagine coming out publicly in 1997?) That was seventeen years ago! DeGeneres struggled to find work a few years following her public announcement, her sitcom was canceled, and the media harshly criticized her. But her coming out undoubtedly paved the way for her current success. She now experiences her greatest level of personal and public success after allowing herself to be open and genuine.
The effects of her coming out came full circle for subsequent generations. DeGeneres interviewed actress Ellen Page on her wildly successful talk show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, where Page says to DeGeneres, “. . . [I’m] grateful to you because you did it in a time when it was much harder and much scarier.” Nowadays, when celebrities come out, they are more likely to be celebrated by the media and the majority of their fans because it’s just not that big of a deal.
Coming out is a different experience in 2014—it’s relatively easier—and that’s in part because DeGeneres took the burden upon herself for many of us. Because she owned her gayness on the cover of a magazine years ago, DeGenerges was able to open her stand up shows with gay jokes. Talking about her audience, she said, “We’re all here and with all of our differences we all have one thing in common, we’re all gay. . .now there are people out there going, ‘do they think we’re gay because we’re here? Do we look gay?! I told you this would happen we’re not gonna understand a word of this!’”
A joke which of course was met with uproarious applause.
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