“I’m Gay,” How Two Simple Words Changed Television & Lives

Ellen DeGeneres on the cover of the April 14, 1997 issue of TIME magazine.

This weekend marks the “milestone” of Donald Trump’s first 100 days in office as P.O.T.U.S. There is also a another milestone happening this weekend, a more helpful more tangible milestone. The milestone I’m talking about continues to influence peoples lives and it changed the face of American television forever. A milestone that continues to empower the LGBT community of this country. A milestone that set the stage for not only TV characters but real life celebrities and everyday people to ‘come out of the closet.’ 20 years ago today, April 30, 1997, Ellen Degeneres came out not only in real life but in her sitcom “Ellen.” Ellen’s TV personality on her show, the character Ellen Morgan was the first main character of a TV show to come out. A show that was about her and named for her, during a time when there was no “Will & Grace” or “Modern Families” Cameron and Mitchell. This was a first for American television.

To commemorate the occasion I watched the episode in it’s entirety on You Tube. In quirky Ellen fashion it was entitled “The Puppy Episode” “The Puppy Episode” part one“The Puppy Episode” part 2 and it brought back bittersweet memories and emotions. Emotions and memories that I thought buried long ago. As with a lot of people my own coming out was not easy, but whose ever is?

Some of what made coming out so difficult was my own doing. I’m famously known for my procrastination or just simply not dealing with things that I don’t want too. I didn’t want to ‘deal’ with being gay and as Ellen put it when her character came out on the show, she thought these feelings “would just go away.” My “gayness” for lack of a better word didn’t just go away and neither did Ellen’s. In the show her character  couldn’t even say the word “gay,” but as the show progressed she said it and the world was listening. This was one of first times that I realized that art can imitate life. I couldn’t say the word either, until I did. At some point I came out to a close friend. I said, “I think I’m gay.” My friend looked me dead in the eyes and said to me “That’s okay, YOU ARE OKAY.” Amazingly lighting didn’t come from the heavens to strike me down and at that point that’s when I really knew that I would be okay.

The cast of “Ellen.”

 

“I’m gay.” Those two simple words uttered on a sitcom, simple words that changed the world of television forever. Simple words that have changed and will continue to change the world of the person saying them no matter who they are. After I said those words my world changed. I’m not going to lie and say it’s always been easy but it hasn’t always been hard. I’ve had my ups and my downs, but doesn’t everybody go through ups and downs in life, gay or straight? I will say this, the victories in life are a lot sweeter when you are living out of the closet, living your authentic life. At the same time life’s journey can be a lot harder to navigate if your are continuously watching over your shoulder worried that someone might figure out your secret. Carrying a secret burden can keep you just two little words away from the chance of happiness.

I don’t know if in 20 years anyone will remember what Donald Trump did in his first 100 day milestone, but I do know that on this same day 20 years from now we will be once again be looking back at how Ellen came into our living rooms via our televisions and told us all what most of us already knew about her and ourselves. She gave us the “OK” to say “I’m gay.”

And that my friends is my view from the other side of the lake on this 30th day of April 2017.

John M. Livelsberger will be talking about his own coming out on the podcast “The Coming OUT Lounge” airing on May 10th, 2017.