Oprah can still bring this gay man to tears

I have trouble relating to her now, but last night's show reminded me of how much she's done for the LGBT community

Topics: Oprah Winfrey, Television,

Oprah can still bring this gay man to tearsOprah Winfrey

I have to say upfront that I haven’t been able to look Oprah in the eye since “The Secret.” As a struggling artist in Los Angeles, I couldn’t turn around after that book was on her show without someone telling me that I needed to visualize my prosperity, read the book, or watch the DVD. I did watch the DVD, and let’s just say it didn’t match the spirituality and belief system of this gay Episcopalian socialist. I began to see Oprah as living in a rarefied air, just one billionaire talking to another in her interview with J.K. Rowling, and a bit too enmeshed in a system I was finding more and more distasteful: namely, capitalism. I haven’t gotten more mellow and conservative with age, I’ve become more liberal and downright revolutionary. I’m sure if it weren’t for my bad knee I’d be marching somewhere, right?

As a Chicago native, I remember when going to the “Oprah” show was something you did for an afternoon’s pleasure. If my sister was coming “downtown,” as all suburbanites call the city in Chicago, we’d call WLS and see if we could get tickets to see Oprah. A nice lunch at the Wishbone down the street afterward, and she’d still be able to get on the Stevenson expressway before rush hour to get home to her husband and kids. I was on camera a few times with Oprah too, asking questions, and back then she would shake everyone’s hand in the audience after a taping. Oprah was a hometown girl and more accessible in the late ’80s and ’90s, before she was OPRAH and tickets were as hard to get for her show as they were alleged to be for the Bozo show when I was a kid. But times change, and I’m in Los Angeles now, and she has an empire, so she just isn’t as much “mine” as she once was. I don’t watch the show much, but this last season has sucked me in, and she’s on the DVR now, which is much easier to do than it was to program my VCR back in the day.

Good lord. “Back in the day”? I suppose it’s 25 years later whether I like it or not, and I’m typing on my computer instead of writing in my Moleskine journal. My dear friends, the comedy duo Frangela, used to use the phrase “There was a time in this country” on their radio show to hilarious effect. They, and I, and I suppose all of us who have found ourselves in middle age, look at the world through bifocals and see how things have changed, for better and for worse. And last night, Oprah had a show that touched me in ways I couldn’t have imagined she still could with “Coming Out on the ‘Oprah’ show: 25 years of Unforgettable Guests.”

You Might Also Like

Oprah began the show by quoting a statistic that in 1987, 70 percent of Americans thought homosexuality was a sin. On one hand, I found that shocking; on the other, I remember 1987 all too well. In 1987, I was 22 years old, drifting in and out of college, and grappling with my own sexual identity as it related to my family in general, and my father specifically. My father had gotten to a point since I came out in high school where he saw my “lifestyle” as my “choice,” one that he hid from others and preferred I not share with anyone outside of our family. What he didn’t realize then was that he had raised a fighter, one who took his staunch liberal values to heart. My father and I were more alike than either of us ever realized, and it breaks my heart that he died too soon, in 1988. But because he was a decent if flawed man, the last thing he said to me, on St. Patrick’s Day 1988 when neither of us knew we would never see each other alive again, was “I love you.” In the last 22 plus years since his sudden death in June of ’88, I’ve often wondered where our journey would have taken us had we been blessed with more years together. What would he have thought when Dick Gephardt, a man he knew and respected, was featured in the documentary “For the Bible Tells Me So” in 2007, talking about his lesbian daughter?  Knowing my father, a man hungry for growth and new knowledge, he would be a member of PFLAG at this point. I’ll never get to find out.

But this is about me and Oprah, and last night, she provided me with a show that spans my adult life, and through her clips from the last 25 years, I could remember what it was like to have those haircuts and wear those clothes, and what it was like to assume that most of America couldn’t stand me. I remember Greg Louganis coming out as gay and HIV positive on her show, and I remember going to the bookstore to buy his book the next day. (Not ordering it on Amazon.com, mind you, but going to an actual independent bookstore to buy it.) I remember her show about a small town in the South where the powers that be drained a pool and closed it down because a man with AIDS had gone swimming there. A dear friend of mine came out when she was married to a man and had children with him, and she watched the tape of an Oprah episode about a woman in a similar situation to help her get through it. On last night’s show, one of the guests was a gay man, now happily married and living with his husband in Hawaii, who at the age of 12 had seen Greg Louganis’ episode in 1995. This man, just a boy in 1995 (!), choked back tears as he tried to express to Oprah what Louganis’ coming out had meant to him. Then, when Louganis took to the stage to surprise the young man, he and I dissolved into tears. In this day and age when we are learning so much about teenage bullying and suicide, just to see a gay man say he survived being an adolescent is worth cheering.

This is what real television can mean to real people, and it’s precisely why Oprah is a gay heroine to me. Although she’s not gay herself, she has never assumed that heterosexual privilege meant she couldn’t put herself in another’s shoes. As an activist and liberal, I don’t think it’s enough to have gay friends, or claim to have gay friends, and not do anything about the iniquities we suffer under (Sarah Palin, anyone?). In her own billionaire way, Oprah has managed over the last 25 years to be quite revolutionary.

As our respective communities are wont to say, “You go, girl!” 

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>