The American sitcom The Ellen Show was not really staple viewing among our regular roster of Home and Away and Neighbours. But it was on occasionally in the background as we sat down together around the glow of the small screen in the living room to eat dinner. I recall the honey colour of Ellen DeGeneres’ hair, and that her nose kind of looked like mine, with its pronounced bump at the bridge. When we did watch, though, we all hoped that her fictionalised character would finally meet the man of her dreams, settle down and be happy.
But later on, as it turned out, Ellen was gay – both the character and the comedian portraying her. I watched, mouth agape, at the news reports when she came out as a lesbian, and the storm of controversy that swept across America. It seemed to be quite shocking for her fans and the television critics, to say the least.
It’s almost impossible to believe now that just two decades ago such a simple act could cause such chaos. With two small but significant words – ‘I’m gay’ – Ellen’s world came crashing down.
How could an act of honesty and personal authenticity have such an enormous personal and professional cost? The show had been a hit and had a loyal following. Ellen was roundly beloved, and yet she was virtually hounded out of show business for simply telling the world who she really was, for living her truth – finally – rather than a carefully constructed and exhausting lie.
There were angry protests by Christian groups outside the network offices after the famous episode where Ellen’s character comes out. It was discussed on panel news shows and in newspaper columns. Was she forcing her lifestyle on the country? Was she corrupting poor, innocent children? Why was she harping on about it so much?
The network that aired the show decided to put a parental guidance warning before each episode, not because there were gratuitous sex scenes, but just because a lesbian was coming to terms with her new life, with the loving support of her friends. How offensive is that?
How absurd that mums and dads at home across the world should be advised to remove their kids from the room or shield their eyes, lest they witness the horror of a woman simply living. That’s the part of the saga that sticks in my mind: Ellen’s sexuality was so offensive that children needed to be supervised in its very presence. They should be protected from it.
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