I was a senior in high school in 1997. I was finally in a physically safe place and could spend my brain power thinking more introspectively other than mere survival. I would hang out at home or at a friend’s house and watch television which was a bit of a luxury for me. My favorite show was Ellen. I couldn’t stand Seinfeld – all of the characters seemed to be whiney for no apparent reason and were selfish and lazy on top of it. Friends was all about sex and there was no way those people could afford those awesome apartments. So, I found my enjoyment in Ellen, it was fun, little sexual tension, and realistic enough for this hurt and jaded kid, but distant enough from reality that I could zone out. Then one episode, she came out. It was the “puppy episode” as I recall.
It was all over the news, checkout magazines, and what little bit of internet there was back in the day. I remember being fascinated by it. I couldn’t tell if I was rubbernecking a bad car wreck or if I had a case of hero-worship. I had a research paper assigned just about a week later and I decided to do it on “Outing in Entertainment”. I remember being scared about even choosing the topic – what would it mean for me to write on it; what would people think? I was very concerned with what people thought, yet I wanted to do it anyway, I think that deep down I was testing the waters of coming out (which may be why I waited until I was in my 30’s). I had never been so invested in a research paper before. I still think that I did my best work then. It may not have been as polished as some of my pieces are now, but the content, the sweat and tears that went into that paper were beyond high school for sure.
I got some flack from my teacher, from my peer editor, and I remember from my father when he found out what my topic was. I didn’t really care, I felt it was important and wanted to tell the story. I told it, but it fell on deaf ears. Looking back, writing the paper was important for me. I finally was getting out of the mindset that gay people are all promiscuous and swingers and disease carriers. I learned through all of the research that gay people are people. Gay people are people. Sure, some gay people take a different person home each night. Some straight people do the same. People are people. I also learned that coming out in 1997 has far more consequences than coming out in 2012.
Thanks to the trailblazers like Ellen, Martina Navratilova, Elton John, and those who came after Neil Patrick Harris, Zachary Quinto, Michael Sams, Jason Collins, and Ellen Page who came out on Valentine’s Day at a HRC event.
From Ellen to Ellen, people are coming out – not because it matters what people do in their bedroom, but because people have a desire to live authentic lives, and to show that it doesn’t matter what people do in the bedroom – that they are still the same people, the same creators, actors, athletes, friends, family members, church congregants, pastors, students, teachers, construction workers, auto parts sales people, baristas, hair dressers, ice skaters, musicians, etc.
I came out so as to not have to hide what I was doing – like it was wrong. I came out so I could live out who I was inside. I came out not because Ellen made me gay, but because she showed that it was okay to be who I already was.
I guess my point in all of this is that people are people, and because of that, there will always be jerks saying terrible things either because of sexual orientation, race, gender, class, ethnicity, disability, or religion. I just wish we could get to a point as the human race where we’ll own up to why we disparage people – because we’re jerks, not because of what the social confines we’ve put a person inside of.