Sunday, September 03, 2006

Behind the times

I was in high school when Ellen Degeneres' sitcom was on television. Shockingly, it was one of my favorite things to watch. (In retrospect, this is yet one more glaring signs my parents missed. I always think about that scene in But I'm a Cheerleader when Megan's family confronts her about her kd Lang posters and vegetarianism. If my family had just been a tiny bit more savvy, I'm sure there would have been an intervention where they confronted me with my love of Ellen and softball.) Anyway, I remember thinking the show was hilarious and making an effort to watch it every week. And for the first few seasons, my whole family watched and enjoyed it.

And then...we all know what happened. Rumors started circling that not only was Ellen gay in real life, but that she was going to out herself on the show. There was outrage and a whole lot of name-calling in my house (the oh-so witty "Ellen Degenerate was -- and remains -- a family favorite). And, of course, I was forbidden to watch the show from then on out.

So I never saw the infamous "puppy episode".

Thankfully, the Oxygen network has been rerunning the series in its entirety. And Thursday and Friday, they aired the two-part episode. So, only a decade after the rest of the world, I finally saw Ellen Morgan come out to her friends.

I was just a few months shy of my seventeenth birthday when this aired the originally. And by that time, let me tell you, I had already been struggling with my sexuality for years. I knew what I was feeling "wasn't normal" and seeing how my family reacted to a perfect stranger's coming out, reaffirmed to me that it was not something I should discuss or contemplate personally. So I stuffed those feelings down deep inside and didn't deal with them until years later when I was in college and out from under the thumb of my family and our oppressive community.

So I watched this episode on two levels: On one, it was pure fun. The dialogue and situational irony was snappy and amusing as always. I laughed, I cringed, I rolled my eyes. It was a very enjoyable hour, and I'm glad I finally got a chance to watch it. On the other hand, I watched it imagining what it would have been like to see this as a teenager. And on that level, it was bittersweet. Because I can only imagine how much it would have helped. I can only imagine how wonderful it would have felt to know I wasn't alone and that I wasn't evil or sick for feeling the way I did. If only I hadn't been "sheltered" from this, my journey might have been that much easier. I hope there were others out there in my position who didn't have to wait a decade to see this. So, to Ellen, I say: "Thank you. And I'm sorry it took me ten years to say it."


Jarron Ennis said...

You know, I never did see very many of her shows; I wish I had. Guess I need to just get the set on DVD. She is absolutely brilliant in her comedy, though! She's a genious.

pacatrue said...

One thing that has always fascinated me is how people change when an issue becomes personal. My family has always suffered from bias and prejudice with strangers, but they usually conquer it, with time, when it is personal. So I heard a lot of prejudiced comments growing up about various ethnic groups (mostly random but common beliefs about what such a group was like), but when there was a real human being there, they usually seemed to forget those beliefs, but often only for that person.

The same turned out to be true for my grandmother. She was not pleased to say the least when my uncle came out. But she was right there at my uncle and his partner's dedication ceremony, hugging everyone, though obviously somewhat uncomfortable. For me, neither of my parents were happy when they learned my girlfriend and I were moving in together, but when they figured out they could choose between a relationship with me and her, or no relationship, they got over it.

It's just interesting that my family's prejudices seem to decrease when the issue is personal, but I know not all people are like this. For many, when they must confront their prejudices on a personal level, they become even more defensive and act even worse to the person they know. It's just interesting how people can shift in both ways.

I wonder which type of person I am.

Jarron Ennis said...

Well, perhaps when the issue is merely a headline in the news, it's very easy to revert to the old 'black & white' , 'right or wrong' addage.

On the other hand, when it becomes personal, such as the issue of your moving in with your g/f and you parents having to make a hard choice, suddenly there's varying shades of gray in the world, rather than just black and white.

Somehow it's just easier to be a hardass when the person's not right in front of you...

Annie said...

I think it can go both ways.

For some people, the issue becomes gray when it's about someone they know. It suddenly becomes personal and they don't want to condemn someone they love. Or, it opens their minds enough that they reevaluate their beliefs.

But others go to the opposite extreme. My family certainly has not cut me any slack. I think, for them, my coming out was a slap in the face -- an affront to everything they raised me to believe. My coming out made the battle personal for them.

To be fair, I should mention that my coming out was only one (related) factor that made them so angry. First I stopped going to church, then I declared that I was agnostic, then I started voting democrat, then I worked on a democratic campaign, then I came out to them. By the time I hit that last step, they were already melting down. It was just the final straw.

We don't talk often, and when we do, there is an unwritten rule that I am not to mention anything about my sexuality, my personal/romantic life, politics, religion, etc. If I do, they either abruptly end the conversation, or they go on the offensive. You would not believe the conversations we've had in which they equate homosexuality to pedophelia, allege that I have been possessed by a demon and accuse me of "doing the work of the devil". Sometimes I can't help poking them because they love to preach at me. But generally I just avoid talking to them.

Jarron Ennis said...

Uh, Annie, your fam probably had a complete meltdown long before you came out to them--I'd venture to say way early in the game when you announced you were agnostic.

On the one hand I consider myself quite conservative in that I believe in freedom of speech, right to bear arms, everyone entitled to their own opinions, blah-d-blah. Yet my other hand just gets all bent out of shape with people family. They can most certainly believe you're wrong, believe you're a sinner, believe you're going to burn in hell for all eternity... but they don't need to torment you with all these things.

They need to remember that Jesus won people over with love, not anger and condemnation.

Annie said...

Yes, I have no problem with Christians, as long as they practice what they preach. It's sad to me when ANY religion is used as a weapon of intolerance.

And actually, although those things are listed in the order they happened, I'm pretty sure I came out to my family long before I told them I was agnostic. I actually had no intention of telling them that, it came out during a fight regarding my sexuality when I had heard "But God says..." one too many time. I snapped back with, "Whatever, I don't even believe in God, so that argument means nothing to me." Needless to say, that didn't go over well.