A Tale Of Two Ellens

Ellen Philpotts-Page was born in 1987 in Halifax, a harbor town on the eastern shore of Nova Scotia, Canada. Halifax, the province’s capital, is scenically beautiful and it’s also a cultural center, which means lots of theaters, bookstores, music festivals and, of course, gay people. LGBT activism has been present in Halifax since the early 1970s and in 1978, the LGBT community held what some consider to be their first local Pride March. Nova Scotia has offered domestic partnerships to same-sex couples since 2000, and same-sex marriage since 2004. Growing up in Halifax, Ellen Page attended a Buddhist school and enjoyed “playing with action figures and climbing trees.” She told NPR that growing up in Canada kept her down-to-earth and non-judgmental.

In 1997, a local casting director visited Page’s school and although she hadn’t considered acting, really, Page auditioned. Thus, at the age of ten, Ellen Page was cast in her first role ever, as Maggie MacLean in the 1997 CBC TV Movie Pit Pony. It was the beginning of what would become a swift rise to Hollywood and critical acclaim.

Ellen Page in "Pit Pony"

Ellen Page in “Pit Pony”

Meanwhile that same year in America, a 39-year-old lesbian comedian named Ellen DeGeneres came out in an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show and, in April of 1997, on the cover of Time magazine. The infamous Time cover corresponded with the coming out of Ellen’s character on her sitcom, also named Ellen, a show regarded as “the female Seinfeld” then at its peak of popularity. Ellen Morgan became the first leading gay prime-time character ever. Despite record numbers of viewers turning in for the Coming Out Episode, ratings quickly declined and by April of 1998, ABC pulled the plug on Ellen. ABC Entertainment chairman Stuart Bloomberg told the press, “. . . as the show became more politicized and issue oriented, it became less funny and the audience noticed.” Ellen alleged more bluntly: “I was fired basically because I’m gay.” Following “The Puppy Episode,” ABC had quickly distanced itself from the program, offering minimal promotions and slapping it with an adult content advisory warning.

It’s easy for young people to forget, considering Ellen DeGeneres’s current popularity, that there was a time when it seemed like her career was over for good. In a 2007 interview with DeGeneres, W Magazine described this time period as Ellen’s “fierce public fall from grace” which left Ellen “stunned, angry, unable to find work for three years and mired in depression.” Although her sexual orientation was an “open secret” in Hollywood, the rest of the world was not Hollywood, and it definitely didn’t help when gay icons like Elton John told New York Magazine that Ellen should “shut up” about being a lesbian and “just be funny!” Chaz (then Chastity) Bono, a GLAAD spokesperson, insisted he was misquoted when he was reported to have told The Daily Variety that Ellen’s show was “too gay,” but the reaction from within the gay community was harsh enough to inspire Bono to resign.

Ellen Morgan comes out to her therapist, played by Oprah Winfrey

Ellen Morgan comes out to her therapist, played by Oprah Winfrey

For me, a 15-year-old television fanatic and diehard Ellen fan (I’d been hooked since its first season, when it was called These Friends of Mine) who had been actively keeping my gay Mom’s sexual orientation a secret from my friends since she’d come out that same year, what happened to Ellen was pretty scary. It sent a clear message: coming out is a bad idea, coming out is being “too gay.” I was a teenager who felt acutely that reality was too much and therefore had devoted myself to a meticulously organized prime-time television watching schedule which I supplemented with as much background reading material as I could gather through newspapers, magazines and entertainment news shows. I read Entertainment Weekly and Time every week. Ellen was getting a lot of press.

too-gayDeGeneres wasn’t the first famous out lesbian, nor was she even on the front lines of political and economic gains being earned at the time or the struggles being fought by out politicians, athletes, musicians, activists, radicals, philanthropists and behind-the-scenes players in Hollywood. There were brilliant lesbian writers and artists producing some of the best literature and media the world has ever seen, and they had been doing so for decades. But DeGeneres’s story was really big and really mainstream and it’s all anybody was talking about, and pre-internet, it was also the only lesbian story loud enough that teenagers like me could hear it. Nobody had anything nice to say about her except my Mom. I remember Anne Heche, her bisexual girlfriend, suffering by association: the press speculated on whether or not Heche could convincingly play Harrison Ford’s love interest in Six Days and Seven Nights now that she’d been linked to DeGeneres. I remember Ellen DeGeneres’s recent turn as a straight woman in the romantic comedy flop Mr.Wrong being played for laughs, over and over.

Huge strides had been made in gay and lesbian rights and radical activists were shaking shit up. But mainstream media lagged behind. In 1992, Cosmopolitan Magazine allegedly blocked Rosie O’Donnell from coming out in their magazine for her own “protection.” In 1994, Newsweek’s cover story “Lesbians: Coming Out Strong — What Are The Limits of Tolerance?” called lesbians “the invisible homosexuals” but posited that their visibility could be on the rise for reasons that included Sandra Bernhard playing a lesbian character on Roseanne and Canadian crooner k.d. lang having come out in 1993. Newsweek also talked about Lea DeLaria’s recent turn on Arsenio Hall, lamenting that “the appearance of an openly gay comic on national television was a rare event” and quoting author Julia Phillips saying lesbians were very afraid to come out, even in Hollywood, especially because “lesbians are right at the bottom of the list in terms of power structure.” Indeed. A 1996 New York magazine story stated plainly as fact, without examination, that “lesbian culture has, until just recently, had neither the visibility nor the impact on the larger mainstream culture of its male counterpart.”

Regardless, despite this disparity in visibility, human beings have always been more uncomfortable about men breaking traditional gender roles and male/male relationships than the same for women. Then again, maybe it’s a lot easier to tolerate something you never actually have to look at.

Sean Hayes, Ellen DeGeneres, Sharon Stone, Debra Messing, Eric McCormack, Megan Mullaly and Anne Heche at a 2000 HRC Gala

Sean Hayes, Ellen DeGeneres, Sharon Stone, Debra Messing, Eric McCormack, Megan Mullaly and Anne Heche at a 2000 HRC Gala

Ellen Page’s first gig in Pit Pony extended when the movie became a TV series in 1999 and Page followed that up in 2000 with a five-episode run on Trailer Park Boys. Page worked in independent films, mostly within Canada, but her big break in America was her turn as 14-year-old vigilante Hayley Stark in the dark indie film Hard Candy. After the film’s premiere at Sundance, The New York Times Magazine declared that “a star was born.” As Page became more and more successful in America, she never left Canada behind — she continued school there, and she talks about Halifax so much it became a meme. Even now Page eschews the typical Hollywood scene in her off-hours in favor of backpacking in Europe and living on a farm with goats. (Experiences she always acknowledges she’s incredibly financially privileged to be able to have.) Ellen Page cites Nova Scotia’s “humility” and “calm” as primary influences on her own attitude. Page’s favorite show growing up was Degrassi, known for tackling tough teen issues like homosexuality and abortion with a frankness once foreign to American television shows.

America has always lagged behind Canada in terms of gay acceptance, due to many reasons including the overwhelming influence of religious conservatives in the States. Ellen DeGeneres grew up in Louisiana, where an amendment banning same-sex marriage passed the same year that same-sex marriage was legalized in Ellen Page’s Nova Scotia. I hear about this disparity in gay stigma a lot from my Canadian girlfriend, but the numbers back it up, too: in 2000, 32% of Canadians felt that same-sex relations were “always wrong,” compared to 59% of Americans. In 2007, 70 percent of Canadians and 49 percent of Americans felt homosexuality “should be accepted.” In 2013, 80 percent of Canadians and 60 precent of Americans felt that way. Of the 39 countries worldwide surveyed by Pew in 2007 and 2013, Canada was the third most accepting of gay people, behind Spain and Germany and tied with the Czech Republic.

June 2013 photoshoot

June 2013 photoshoot

So ultimately what we have here with Ellen Page is a very young girl around the same age I was when I had literally no fucking idea I was gay, suddenly America-famous, suddenly grown-up and very good-looking, suddenly followed everywhere by cameras eager to document any sign of budding romance: Ben Foster, for example, as well as Clea Duvall and, more recently, Alexander Skarsgard. We have a young girl who is already scrutinized because she does not look like what Hollywood wants its leading ladies to look like, and she is quickly becoming a leading lady — Oscar nominated for Juno, and top spots in blockbusters like X-Men: The Last Stand and Inception. She cares in earnest about Important Issues like ending the military dictatorship in Burma, pro-choice feminism, the vanishing honeybees and animal rights. She also knows how to wear a suit, kisses and holds hands with Drew Barrymore throughout the Whip-It press tour and dodges questions about her romantic life, often seeking counsel from her manager and publicist, Los Angeles power lesbian Kelly Bush. But one thing she will tell interviewers over and over again is that she values honesty and authenticity above all else.

Anyone who grew up a tomboy can identify with what Ellen Page discussed in her HRC speech about being policed for her attire (I definitely could), like the E! article that asked “why does the petite beauty insist upon dressing like a massive man?” Girls who “dress like boys” are on High Alert for Homosexuality or Transgenderism from day one, really (see also: Shiloh Panic). It’s funny because research has shown that tomboyism isn’t a strong predictor for homosexuality — although many lesbians grew up tomboys, most tomboys don’t grow up to be lesbians. And even if a tomboy turns out to be a lesbian, she won’t necessarily be butch or masculine-of-center — I’m not, and I was the kind of tomboy who threw huge temper-tantrums about having to wear a dress and enjoyed being mistaken for male most of the time. Regardless, for most of human history, wearing men’s clothing was believed to be inexorably linked to sexual orientation, and this faulty position was endorsed by popular medicine and science until a few decades ago. (Also interesting: Ellen Page’s heterosexual roles have consistently pushed the boundary of what we expect a female heterosexual love interest to be — in Juno, especially, but also in Inception, as Laura argues in “What’s So Unsexy About Asexual Chic?”)

So, a lot of tomboys learn early on that the way you dress alarms people because it means you might be this other thing, and this context might be the first context in which you learn that this “thing” (this gay thing) exists. I don’t know if Ellen Page got that growing up, like I did and many of you did, but she got it later from the American press, and it bothered her a lot.  “There are moments when you are encouraged to dress a certain way,” Page told The Guardian last year. “But I can’t. It just erodes my soul. That’s no criticism to girls who can wear a tiny dress and kill it — that’s awesome. People always attribute being a feminist to hating girls being sexual, and that’s not it at all. I’m just not into it.” This pressure surrounding the correlation of her style to her sexuality betrayed the fact that the gays don’t consider gender presentation or style to be all that relevant when it comes to who “pings” or not — gaydar is a thing we genuinely feel, and it’s a vibe, not a fashion show. We got that vibe from Ellen Page and would’ve gotten it even if she hadn’t worn men’s underwear.

Yeah, we knew. Yeah, there were rumors so intense that practically nobody, straight or gay, missed them. A fan of the Canadian gossip rag Frank who once published a four-page spread about Ellen Page and her rumored girlfriend, Paula Robbins, reminded us “Strong and beautiful @EllenPage feeling the Canuck love, but didn’t @Frank_Mag report this four years ago?” Michael Musto devoted his April 2008 Village Voice column to speculating about Ellen Page’s sexuality, and Gawker picked it up from there. And, of course, there was the 2008 Saturday Night Live skit many considered to be her “coming out.”

Ellen Page wants to hug you with her legs in friendship

Ellen Page wants to hug you with her legs in friendship

But her standing up and saying “I’m gay” is still a big fucking deal and the fact that Ellen Page was able to do it is a really promising situation when it comes to lesbian visibility in Hollywood. There’s a specific type of vulnerability involved in saying “I’m gay.” Most gay celebrities don’t actually say those words. They say they’re open to dating girls, they say they have a girlfriend, they say whatever Jodie Foster said at the Golden Globes. Labels like “gay” aren’t superior to or more important than other labels or no labels at all, but the words “I’m gay” do have a really specific historical weight that ends up crushing a lot of people before they get a chance to speak, and that’s partially because of what happened when Ellen DeGeneres boldly proclaimed “Yep, I’m gay,” all those years ago. After Ellen Page said it on Friday, she sighed with her whole entire body.

Ellen Page on February 14, 2014

Ellen Page on February 14, 2014 via ellen-page.net

In 1998, in the wake of Ellen‘s cancelation, Advocate editor Michelangelo Signorile lamented that “as Ellen DeGeneres became more like Joan of Arc meets Stonewall, the laugh quotient went down,” arguing that the show just stopped being relatable to straight viewers when it even attempted to tackle issues relevant to LGBs. Conversely, Ellen Page’s next project will be Freehelda narrative film based on a true story about gay activism. Page will play Stacie Andree, the domestic partner of a lesbian detective battling cancer and fighting the Board of Freeholders to bequeath her pension to Andree when she dies.

When Ellen DeGeneres returned to the spotlight with The Ellen DeGeneres Show in 2003, it’s rumored that she was prohibited by contract to mention gay stuff. If it was true then, it’s definitely not true now. By 2006, Ellen was back on top and, along with numerous other actresses and comedians in Hollywood, began speaking openly about her wife and LGB issues. Smart, popular actresses and comedians like Wanda Sykes and Cynthia Nixon opened up about their relationships during the fight for marriage equality and over the past five years, Hollywood players have been coming out as gay, bisexual, lesbian, queer and pansexual in droves. Things are changing very quickly.

degeneres10f-1-web

Between Ellen DeGeneres and Ellen Page have been so many other Ellens who weren’t famous, but who were encouraged to come out to their own friends and family because of somebody they saw on television. As (former Autostraddle Intern) Ashley writes in Medium on “Why (Ellen Page) Matters”:

Visibility is incredibly important. Not just to sway politics. Not just for one’s own sense of pride and self. But especially to the kids and young adults that are struggling with this knowledge about themselves, to the ones currently embattled in the loneliest phase of their lives. We gotta give them hope. It is important that we live openly so that they can see us as an example of the happy, proud future that lies ahead of them. So that they can see that it’s worth it to fight through the murky waters of self-discovery. That it’s imperative to reach the other side, so that you can stand up proudly and state: This is who I am.

Ellen Page represents a lot of things young gay women can relate to. She grew up in a relatively tolerant environment — her part of Canada, in her case, but other countries and certain pockets of America in the 21st century for many of her fans. America is increasingly influenced by its more tolerant neighbors, and Ellen Page is here to lead the charge on that count. But despite being in an industry allegedly run by gays, it was hard for her to ignore, as it has been for many gay people living in tolerant areas, “ideas planted in your head, thoughts you never had before, that tell you how you have to act, how you have to dress and who you have to be.” Page is arguably the most famous twentysomething actress to stand on a stage and say “I’m gay.” Dorothy Pomerantz writes in Forbes Magazine that Ellen Page is unique because most Hollywood coming out stories involve smaller-earning actors or television personalities and, even today, “like it or not, most studio executives are going to take a long pause before hiring a gay actor.” If Amber Heard‘s post-coming-out career is any indication, Ellen Page should do just fine.

Ellen Page in "X-Men: Days of Future Past"

Ellen Page in “X-Men: Days of Future Past”

Despite the gravity of this revelation and the long road we’ve traversed from the Ellen I grew up with to the Ellens who inspire young people today, many straight people have responded rudely to her speech with “Yeah, duh” and “Why is this news”? I am wary of these people. I fear they don’t realize that the fight is far from over — that gay kids are still getting kicked out of their homes, gay teenagers are still getting cut out of their families, that job and housing discrimination remains legal in most states, that hate crimes still happen, that gay kids are getting bullied and killing themselves, that 92% of American LGBT youth say they hear negative messages about being LGBT and 42% say they live in an area that isn’t accepting of LGBT people. Remember that it was a flood of press coverage around the suicides of young gay people that jump-started the flood of prominent personalities coming out to begin with. Remember that devastation.

Ellen Page said she’d been scared to reveal her truth, and way too many people responded with, “In other news, the sky is blue.” The fact that so many felt comfortable being that rude to someone who’d just publicly shared a private struggle speaks volumes about how important they consider the issues of gay women to be. We should be wary of these people. People like them are why so many believe this country is post-racial or post-feminist when this country is racist as fuck and hates women.

This country loves to pass a few laws and then declare everything officially fixed forever. This country has a short memory. It belittles the struggles of the disempowered and we see it happen every day when people who experience racism or sexism are usually told by alleged allies that their own account of their own oppression is irrelevant and overdramatic. That dismissal from alleged allies hasn’t happened on a large scale to the LGBT community quite yet, but it could get there sooner than you think, and that could happen before “the LGBT community as a whole” has really even begun to give the issues of queers of color, trans* people, and all overlaps therein, their proper attention.

When people argue that Ellen Page is making a big deal out of nothing it reminds me too much of all the naysayers who told Ellen DeGeneres she was being “too gay” simply for being gay at all. And while it may be the best of times for many gay women with certain class, race and  privileges, it’s still the worst of times for so many more, both in North America and abroad.

In 1997, Ellen DeGeneres told Entertainment Weekly that “If I do it right, I’m gonna have a career that will grow, and I’ll look back on this as my infancy stage. I don’t believe you have one moment. You have many moments.” She was right, but it’s on us not to forget those first moments, either — and to remember everything that came between that Ellen and this Ellen, and everything that’s yet to come.

Avatar of Riese

Riese is the 32-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City, and now lives in The Bay Area. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are!

Riese has written 1721 articles for us.

85 Comments

  1. Thumb up 12

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    This is so, so great, and educational. Especially:
    1) I sort of remember Ellen coming out, but I remember Rosie coming out more. My mom was pissssseeedddddd.
    2) Like you, I was a super tomboy growing up. To the point that I think if I had been born ten years later I’d probably be labeled as a trans kid. I’m much more “femmey” now, but I still prefer (girl) jeans and a t-shirt.
    3) Fuck Elton John and Chaz Bono. Wtf. Wtffff. How dare they.
    4) I’ve almost forgiven Ellen for dating Anne Heche. Almost.
    5) I am so thankful for both Ellens, but especially the first. All hail.

  2. Thumb up 35

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    “We should be wary of these people.”

    YES!! AMEN! THANK YOU FOR SAYING THIS! It makes me so uneasy when I hear that narrative of “of course she is” “why is this a big deal?”

    Could these individuals kindly take their heads out of their asses and listen to the community that are telling you it is STILL A BIG FUCKING DEAL. And we’re not going to be done with it being a big deal until we are no longer a community that loses so many of our youth in isolation, to suicide and violence. It is a big deal for that small town kid, that has their parents praying and their peers punching, to see this.

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      This, especially when calling out anyone & everyone who treated her coming out as “whatever, no duh.” I posted the video of her speech to my FB with a long-ass writeup that i didn’t expect anyone to read, much less the people i wanted to see it (& i was right)– because, thanks to the creeper sidebar, i have seen certain people liking & commenting on things that are queerphobic. I post about queer things & i notice the silence of these people. When i came out to my parents– thanks, A-camp registration– & made a status update about it, i couldn’t help but note who was missing. Of course, FB is weird in how it makes things hard to see, in what it shows you. But i mentally make notes. And i’m very wary of these people.

      Because when i came out, i couldn’t even say anything. I put the “about” page in front of my parents’ faces, one at a time, where was embedded the word “queer.” I shook badly. The fact that coming out makes people so afraid that they shake to the point of feeling like they’re going to fall apart, or can’t speak, or their voices shake, shows why this is still important. Straight cis people don’t get this, & it makes me so angry when they brush this off. And then if you call them on it, they get ~offended~. But it’s okay for them to treat us as if we don’t matter. As if this doesn’t matter. As if hiding part of yourself, depending on its importance to you (& for a long time it wasn’t important to me, so i don’t judge people who just are like “w/e w/e” about themselves), doesn’t impact you. How many times have i awkwardly & vaguely had to dodge questions at work where women coworkers have been going on about “cute guys”? And the one time where there was the joke that “with his luck, he’d wake up the lesbian from the cryogenic sleep lol!” that had some uncomfortable implications?

      And then there’s been all the straight cis-guys who have been bemoaning that Page is gay. I actually saw two on the AS FB link to the “I-Was-So-Excited-She-Came-Out-I-Forgot-To-Pick-A-Section-To-Post-It-In” article. They sit there & go “oh there go my fantasies” & shit. I don’t care how ~jokingly~ they bemoan her being gay, it makes me so fucking angry (& you can tell because here comes the swearing). It’s another way of erasing the fact that this shit is hard & scary & unsafe, along with the usual old objectification. Heaven forbid you not have a girl to fantasize to! Heaven forbid she be an ACTUAL PERSON. Heaven FORBID you ACTUALLY LOOK AT THIS BRAVE THING SHE DID & HONOR IT. NOOOO. IT HAS TO BE ABOUT “AW WAAAH, I CAN NO LONGER FANTASIZE ABOUT HER; I HOPE SO-&-SO ISN’T NEXT.”

      I’ve shared this on Tumblr, & also on FB. Tumblr, i don’t expect anything from, but for FB– especially since i quoted your two paragraphs on being wary of the people who think this is no big deal– i’m waiting for it to either be ignored, or for a straight cis person to get all uppity over it. Which would just prove your point even more. I’m wary & frustrated.

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    Thanks Riese. For the background, the context, the shout out, and the Autostraddle-verse. Did you catch the Autostraddle shout out in the margins where I talk about the Advocate and Curve? Much love and thanks for all you do.

  4. Thumb up 14

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    I hated when so many people responded to her coming out with “yeah, duh”, but I don’t think it was only straight people. There were plenty of those kind of comments on this site’s article on her speech as well, presumable from queer women. It’s disappointing. Coming out is a big deal, even if it’s an open secret.

  5. Thumb up 29

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    Reading this, I’m still like “holy shit people, holy shit!”

    ELLEN PAGE GAY LADY!

    However this paragraph really spoke to me:

    “That dismissal from alleged allies hasn’t happened on a large scale to the LGBT community quite yet, but it could get there sooner than you think, and that could happen before “the LGBT community as a whole” has really even begun to give the issues of queers of color, trans* people, and all overlaps therein, their proper attention.”

    I see that happening already and I think it is due to how we go about achieving equality in a white supremacist patriarchal capitalist society. Equality at least that is defined here in US is to function freely is a cis white heterosexual male. How we go about *equality* is making whatever marginalized group function as closely as a cis white heterosexual male. Having “equality” this way will always ensure that some group will always fall behind, get stepped on because in this system we all are complicit due to the access our relative privileges in different spaces and contexts.

    So yeah Ellen Page is a big fucking deal but the paragraph I mentioned about is sobering as fuck.

    We are not done folks and never become complicit and complacent with the *current* state of affairs.

    But omg Ellen Page Gay.

  6. Thumb up 9

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    I feel like I’m already seeing the positive impact from her speech. Just take tumblr for instance. In the few days since her speech and the video of it started going around and then the gif sets, young women and girls who I follow who have been dealing with coming out troubles and bigotted parents, across the board, seem to feel happier and more confident in themselves and their identities. It’s been beautiful to watch.

  7. Thumb up 16

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    i was hoping you would write a longer piece on this:)
    so good and on point as always

    “The fact that so many felt comfortable being that rude to someone who’d just publicly shared a private struggle speaks volumes about how important they consider the issues of gay women to be.”

  8. Thumb up 14

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    Riese, thank you so much for writing this. As usual, your pieces are beautiful, heartbreaking, and incredibly important. I can always count on Autostraddle to raise the points that so many other outlets seem to miss — how dismissing Ellen Page’s struggle fits into the larger picture of dismissing the struggles of subordinated communities the world over. If they can dismiss a beloved and popular actress, surely they will dismiss the rest of us twice as easily.

    Pop culture is a lens through which we see larger social dynamics, and watching these things unfold is incredibly illuminating. The struggle is never over; it merely changes form.

  9. Thumb up 20

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    THANK YOU for the last part of this article. I too saw many comments on my Facebook feed in the vein of “duh” and “why is this news?” One (straight white male) friend shared an article about Page’s coming out, and added a lengthy comment about how making a big deal out of “coming out” does a disservice to the LGBT community because it fails to help “normalize” being queer.

    I didn’t reply because I just didn’t have the energy (or the proper words) at the time, but now I feel like I should find his post again and make a comment linking him to this article.

    Because “normalizing” something doesn’t mean you pretend it doesn’t fucking exist.

    • Thumb up 19

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      Yeah! It’s like they’re all basically saying, “stop talking about yourself!” or “stop being proud of yourself!” and it’s like… wow, that is a really special way to talk to other people let alone (often on facebook) your friends and acquaintances! it’s actually kinda like concern-trolling in a way. because if something doesn’t seem like news to you, then ignore it! i ignore 95% of the links i’m offered in any given day, but i don’t spend the afternoon on huffington post evaluating the newsworthiness of that day’s pile of nonsense in the comments or posting about it on my facebook just to point out why it’s not worth posting about. i mean seriously.

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    Really good article. It was so good I started shaking my fist at some of the finer points in agreement and my mom stopped for 10 seconds to see what the hell I’d been reading. Good article Riese, really well written. Like you and some of the other commentators here, I was tomboy growing up. I don’t think I’d consider myself masculine of center but not feminine either. Maybe 75% masculine and 25% feminine.

    Isn’t kind of sad though..I mean wayyyyy back then when Ellen DeGeneres was coming out people said ‘she’s too gay’ and shit like that and UP TO TODAY people do the same thing with Ellen Page. I mean I know we should educate people who don’t really ‘get’ the LGBT community but reactions like that are just shit. You know? I mean it’s a big fucking deal for A LOT OF PEOPLE. It’s not just saying ‘we have this person who plays for our team now’ it’s also, like you mentioned, giving others hope and strength. Whenever I meet someone who’s all ‘yeah okay, you came out, so what?’ I tell them that there are horror stories about other people coming out. Youth become homeless and try to kill themselves over things like that. I hope one day society can grasp that. One day I hope we won’t have to come out. All we have to say is we have some really great feelings for a person and that’ll be all that matters.

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      ‘yeah ok, you came out, so what?’

      All of this! It’s as though no one cares that people struggle/go through hell when they come out, or just to come out, if people react like this and it happens so often to so many. The sad thing is I was so touched when my friend said she couldn’t imagine how hard it must have been and what I must have gone through. This was last year, I came out privately 15 years ago when I was 15 and was then outed at my high school (insert long story of badness here) … no one I had talked to about it had acknowledged that struggle in 15 years. I know other people with similar stories who get the same no big deal reaction…and this reaction comes from “friends” who say they are allies. Definitely indicative of problems in the wider part of society.

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        I hate it when people just tend to ‘toss it aside.’ I feel like..yeah, DOMA and prop8 were struck down then a lot of other states are now allowing same sex marriage but it still sometimes doesn’t mean shit. People come out and still others fail to acknowledge their struggles, like you mentioned. I just wanna be like ‘dude, it’s not just about being gay. I have a story too.’ It’s great that we have friends that accept us but it’s so hard to keep that kind of company that kinda belittles you…you know?

  11. Thumb up 10

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    Riese, Riese, Riese. Thank you for always reminding us of history and the broader context of pop culture issues. It’s bizarre to think of 1997 as “history.” A time before Ellen was a Cover Girl with a gorgeous wife and an enviable connection to Justin Bieber. I think it’s so cool that Ellen was able to look past all the rejection and see her career lasting and growing far into the future.

    I was one of those people jumping up and down with glee, then sobering myself saying, “Duh, very nice, but don’t we have more important things to care about today?” Lest we become complacent, it’s good to remember how things stood fewer than 20 years ago. Goddamn Elton and Chaz.

    (Also, been watching the SNL skit all day crying just a little bc it distills four years of my relationship with my ex into 3 very sweet minutes.)

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    “So, a lot of tomboys learn early on that the way you dress alarms people because it means you might be this other thing, and this context might be the first context in which you learn that this “thing” (this gay thing) exists.”
    This. Thank you for putting this into words

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    I believe that I’m roughly the same age as you are Riese and I remember what happened to Ellen too. I’m back in college now and really involved in the gsm and allies group on campus, in fact I serve as the Outreach Director for the group. Part of my responsibility in this position is to speak to classes across campus and tell my story and educate the straights about what it’s like to be a gay. One of the things that I make sure that I point out every time that I speak is that this is new, this culture were people can see gay couples on TV, where people think that legal discrimination against gay people is wrong, where people think that it’s no big deal to serve in the military if you’re gay, that’s brand fucking new.

    There was no Ellen DeGeneres dancing across our tv screens and into our hearts in the ’90s. There was no Jane Lynch or Chris Colfer or Glee. There was no Modern Family and Will and Grace was not even a thing. There were nearly no representations of adult queerness in popular culture. And so while it’s oh so passe to them there are still very real and very scary implications to being gay in this country, especially living in Kansas (like I do). People don’t realize that DoMA and DADT happened in the ’90s. People don’t realize that when Ellen came out originally she was basically banished from the public eye. People don’t realize at the same time Howard Stern and Andrew Dice Clay made killings off rampant homophobia. And that’s why it’s huge that Ellen Page came out. And that’s why it’s huge every time anyone comes out, no matter how much glass their closets are made of. It’s huge because 17 years ago I dove head first back into the closet because I didn’t think there was any way that I could deal with being gay after high school where I had the support of my friends. Out in the real world, gay wasn’t a possibility. And now it is and that’s amazing.

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    So many spot on things said in the article and in the comments.

    I too grew up in a pretty tolerant place and yet still ended up not wanting to be gay and being afraid to tell people. From watching the video it was clearly a big deal to her and its frustrating that people don’t realize that.

    Anyway this news kinda made my weekend :)

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    This is all so brilliantly written and tied together.

    I’ve tried to write a comment on how much this whole situation resonates with me, and how the last couple of paragraphs regarding representation are so on point, but I’ve had to nix all the drafts. I kept rambling about my own coming out to myself and how frustrating ignorant family members can be, and I couldn’t tie it all together. So, I will just compliment your lovely and eloquent prose once more and thank you for expressing my feelings regarding this whole thing much better than I am able to.

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    “Ellen Page said she’d been scared to reveal her truth, and in response way too many people responded with, ‘In other news, the sky is blue.’ The fact that so many felt comfortable being that rude to someone who’d just publicly shared a private struggle speaks volumes about how important they consider the issues of gay women to be. We should be wary of these people. People like them are why so many believe this country is post-racial or post-feminist when this country is racist as fuck and hates women.”

    Oh, this paragraph just hit my heart so hard. Because it’s about our ability to put ourselves in another’s shoes, our ability to empathize, our ability to give someone else a second thought before we go on with our own selfish wishes. And I think so many people are able to do that so muh better in this era than ever before… And still, every time that a queer issue momentarily hits the mainstream, it becomes clear how many straight people prove how little they do that.

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      I mean, we’re all PEOPLE, how hard is it to act with respect for one another? We’re all so caught up in saying the next fucking clever thing on our status updates.

      I mean, Ellen Page’s speech was ABOUT this. You people commenting so rudely on her coming out are the people she was literally asking to take five more minutes so we can try and understand one another.

      Ironic, in a disappointing way.

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    I remember the ‘Ellen’ situation a little differently. The writing was lacking and the vibe of the show changed.. That’s not to say it should have been cancelled, but (if I remember correctly) ‘Ellen’ ran for five seasons… not a bad run. At some stage Ellen left Hollywood to lick her wounds, but got another sitcom.

    There was a definite downturn / sinking feeling that happened at a certain point in both sitcoms. The opening skits and ‘I Love Lucy’ type recreations became annoying. The writing was off. Every show has its peak and on ‘Ellen’ they couldn’t top the excitement of The Puppy Episode + hot 90′s celesbians at their peak ;-)

    Who knows what was going on politically behind the scenes, but I’m surprised by a certain amount of re-writing of tv/gay history that has gone on since… Ellen came out and said “I was fired basically because I’m gay”… Not true, imo, but that belief has been repeated a lot!

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      Yeah she got another sitcom but it tanked. She wasn’t working much, really. But yes, undoubtedly the humor declined somewhat, but that happens on a lot of shows that don’t get cancelled, too. most sitcoms reach a peak and then slow down for a few seasons. all of them do. i think the adult warning was a big thing too. but i heard so many people saying they didn’t want to watch it anymore because it was too political, but none of them had actually been watching it, they’d just “heard” and that was enough. i think it was hard for people to admit they could be entertained by it. But yeah Ellen did say that. Could be true or not.

      But I am leaning hard on my own memory — I’m so often so shocked to think back to the kinds of things i heard regularly about gay people from my peers and in the press (i read a ton of magazines and newspapers even back then, too, i’d beg my mom to subscribe to things) even though i lived in one of the most liberal towns ever of all time.

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        So I know this is not at all the point of the article, but you offered Amber Heard’s career as hope for Ellen Page’s post-coming out career…

        is this the same Amber Heard who has (according to my students) been dating Johnny Depp?

        (we use celebrity names for various games in my ESL classes, in case you were wondering WTF I was teaching my students)

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          Amber Heard announced her relationship with a woman (another model, I think) and gave an award to some guy at GLAAD and everything.
          About two years later, she shared the lead with Johnny Depp in a movie about rum and got together with Depp (maybe they bonded over rum, who knows) who then broke up with his wife, which I believe is his downfall into Creepy Old Man.

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          Amber Heard is bisexual. At the time of her coming out, she was in a relationship with the photographer Tasya van Ree. She appears to be in a relationship with Johnny Depp now (or not, the internet is confusing, maybe they broke up, maybe they’re engaged, it’s either one or the other).

          I don’t know much about Amber Heard’s career but yes, it looks like her coming out hasn’t stopped her doing well, so that’s a great thing :)

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      I never watched Ellen until the coming out show because I didn’t think it was funny. The coming out show was awesome though! So many fun parties – think I hit two that night and then out to the bar… many happy lesbians! I tried to show my support by watching the show afterwards, but YAWN… same goes for the Ellen talk show.

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    I’m happy to hear Ellen Page cares about the vanishing honeybees as I feel this is an important issue.

    I needed this. Thank you. Well done.

    p.s. I’m not kidding about the honeybees. Shit is serious.

  19. Thumb up 7

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    This is brilliant. There are no words to say how awesome it is. It brings up so many great points.

    First of all I loved the info of 90s pop culture in regards to lesbians. I have been curious about this. Listening to the LGBT Comedy Radio on Pandora and thumbs downing 99% of the men I am left with lesbian comics (98% white) from the 90s. It’s the closest I have come to an accurate portrait of lesbians from the 90s.

    I remember being 12 when Ellen came out. What I remember is that being a lesbian was made to be a bad thing. I don’t remember much of anything romantic of physical happening. In my mind the idea of just being a lesbian and doing normal (non threatening to straight people) stuff was still wrong. It certainly gave me a discriminatory view of lesbians.

    As a Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman fan it should be noted that at the same time the infamous Walt Whitman episode aired. (5.19: The Body Electric)You can completely see the modern homophobia of 1997 in this episode. It’s on youtube for those interested. Like Ellen at the time, being gay was considered wrong and disgusting. I remember seeing this episode in syndication in the early 2000s and feeling the same way that the Ellen episodes made me feel: Being gay was wrong.

    I think that these events, along with the general anti-lesbian feelings of pop culture in the United States have caused me to take so long to come out. I felt that it made me less of a woman and that I have lost somehow. I am slowly understanding that I have not. It’s thanks to autostraddle that I feel that way. There really isn’t any other place that I can feel this way.

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      Same! I was about 12 when Ellen came out and being in Oklahoma the talk of the school was the “big” Southern Baptist Boycott. My classmates were lamenting the ABC shows they could no longer watch because Mom and Dad wanted to take a stand against the gay agenda. SIGH.

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    A Comcast guy had to come out yesterday (the 17th) to give us (my family) the newer cable boxes and good lord was he homophobic. I found this out when he went to check that the internet was working and a story about Obama showing support to the gay college football player was on yahoo. This guy goes on to say that in his homeland of Africa you better keep quiet about being gay or you’ll get killed. He said it with so little feeling.or care at all. He continues talking about how they’re a “Christian nation” and they don’t tolerate those things. Now I’m not out to my family so when anything about bring not straight/cis pops up I get real quiet or I change the subject as quickly as possible. My mom was all chill about the “Yay Bible” part. I’ve been in a shitty mood since. My mom keeps asking what’s wrong and I’m just over here sucking it up and trying not to either yell at someone and/or start crying hysterically. I want to do both right now.

    So when people have the whole “we all knew what’s the big deal?” attitude I immediately want to curb stomp their ass. Don’t tell me about how my loafers and dislike of wearing dresses gave me away and its not big deal. Don’t tell me about how obvious I am and how you don’t care when people can sit there and talk about how I need to keep my gay mouth shut or I’ll die with so little remorse. Stop making anyone’s coming out about you. They’re not just coming out so you’ll know, they’re doing it so that they can live an out life and they have decided that they’ll accept the backlash of society that comes with it. Until homophobes are a thing of the past, coming out will always and forever be brave. I’m not at that stage where I feel comfortable to be 100% out but when I do get there I’m cashing out on all jackasses that try to dismiss me like I didn’t make the life-altering decision to fully be myself.

    The same goes for everyone on this site. The number of “ugh finally” or ” and the sky is blue” and my least favorite “now [x] needs to come out already” comments made me side eye sooo many folks on here.

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        “the number of “ugh finally” or ” and the sky is blue” and my least favorite “now [x] needs to come out already” comments made me side eye sooo many folks on here.”

        i actually thought those comments were few and far between here, i only remember one on that thread besides the straight girl who we deleted for being a total deb. sorry, i know that’s not the focus of your comment and i’m about to go to sleep, but i thought our thread was the happiest thread on the internet! cuz a lot of the other threads on the internet SUCKED. mostly facebook was where people suck. as you explain, many things in many places really fucking sucked. but i treasure our little thread of 99% joy.

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          No I agree with you, the thread here was happy and loving and I’m not trying to crap on everyone here. I just would have hoped to not see anything like that but there were enough to make me roll my eyes. It wasn’t the majority by s long shot but I came here specifically b/c I didn’t want to see that so I was more upset to see it here than I would be if it were yahoo or something.

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      That is most definitely a thing. My good friend just came out and the amount of “Are you sure??”s she has gotten has been baffling to me. It is really depressing. Meanwhile, I am less feminine but came out as bi/queer, and most people I’ve told have reacted with “Oh yeah, we always knew you were gay.”

      I will be very happy when people finally realize that sexuality and gender presentation are two entirely separate things.

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    Thank you for writing this! Thanks for reminding me that the 90s was long ago but sadly not quite another country.
    Thanks for all the visibility stuff which I will quote in my MA research.

    Channel 4 (UK) held coming out season in the run up to Ellen DeGeneres’s coming out episode. Amongst other LGBT films, they showed All over me. Pretty sure the whole situation saved me. Pretty sure Ellen Page has saved a few folks too.

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    This is so important and really highlighted what makes Ellen Page’s coming out so remarkable and paramount. Between this and the Michelle Rodriguez coming out article, you gays are really hitting the nail on the head with these.

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    Straight people who say “so what?” are soooo f#*king irritating.
    Smugly claiming “oh, I knew she was gay”, as if they figured it out before she did. Newsflash Sherlocks: Ellen Page probably knew since she was a young kid… LONG before you first clapped eyes on her. That’s not the point!

    Sure, on the face of it, coming out is about realizing that you want to have sex with other woman and then telling the world about it. But more importantly, it’s about claiming a place for your true self in the world EVEN though you know there are real consequences to doing so. You do it because you can’t live fully if you don’t, but it doesn’t mean it’s not courageous. Many, many straight people NEVER pluck up the courage to show their authentic self EVEN though the consequences of them doing so are much less substantive than for out LGBTQ folks.

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    Yes yes yes. Every time someone (normally straight, but not necesarilly) doubts the strength it takes to stand up and come out, they devalue the incredible courage of every single person who has come out, or who has struggled to come out, or who has been scared to come out.

    And yes, coming out by saying ‘I am gay’, not ‘I have a girlfriend’/’I could be into girls’ is incredible and radical and political. I used to hate labels, and I hated coming out as gay, but I think, for me at least, that came from a place of shame/self-directed homophobia, and the more people like Ellen Page stand up and own it, the less people might feel that.

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    I love the way you write and make things so simple and concise whilst still imparting the importance of what you wrote. I wish I could be this eloquent when I see things that infuriate me on facebook or online. At least I’ll always have autostraddle to link to! Thanks :D

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    OMG I agree with everything here. In fact, just a couple of days ago, I wrote this in reply to the “So what” crowd on HuffPo:

    “It’s really annoying when straight people, upon reading about a celebrity coming out, come here and comment “What’s the big deal”.

    Like it or not, we are a celebrity culture, and when celebrities with positive images come out, it validates the feelings of scores of young men and women and all those inbetween who are trying to come to terms with their own sexuality and/or gender, as well as help normalize the “issue” of being LGBTQ.

    You’ve never walked up to your parents, siblings, friends and loved ones, and felt an all consuming fear that the moment the words are out of your mouth, you might lose them. There are many mothers in this country, who look at Anderson Cooper or Ellen Degeneres and say, “Huh. I liked these people before they came out, so being gay maybe isn’t such a big deal,” and maybe a little bit more understanding towards their child when he or she comes out. As Ellen Page herself pointed it out, there are many young LGBTQ kids who are homeless, main reason being familial rejection. Go to any LGBTQ website and read the comments every time a celebrity comes out, and you’ll notice how joyous those occasions are to the LGBTQ community.

    A young, successful, scandal-free and thoroughly likable actress coming out is a HUGE FRIGGIN DEAL.”

    (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/social/sechille/celebrities-react-ellen-page_n_4794186_307284348.html?)

    The well meaning privileged majority think that by clicking “Like” on a pro-LGBTQ post or not being hostile towards a gay person, they are ending homophobia (same can be said of racism, feminism and a score of other -isms). Fact of the matter is, LGBTQ youth is still at most risk at being addicted to drugs, bullying, familial rejection and academic exclusion, homeless LGBTQ number in the hundreds of thousands and there are many states and countries who are still actively working to make hell for gay people.

    The fight is FAR from over.

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    This is so good!

    Also, I know I’m not the person you mean by this, but I just want to clarify something: I am one of those people who said “finally!” when Ellen Page came out, but I meant it in a celebratory, congratulatory way. It’s also how I describe my own coming out to my family, and it’s more like “hooray, things have finally reached a point for me and my family where I feel personally ok coming out to them”.

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      Totally agree. I shrieked with joy and screamed “FINALLY!” when I read the news, more because I’m so happy that Ellen finally felt comfortable enough to be her authentic self in the public sphere. It’s a huge fucking deal when each of us reaches that level of confidence.

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    This site has the most insightful articles anywhere. As many others have already said, I have been looking forward to this / coming back several times a day to see if anything had been posted.

    For everyone who says ‘no big deal’, ‘and the pope is catholic’ etc., Ellen Page might not be your hero but that doesn’t mean that she wasn’t brave. Surely anyone watching that video would see a fellow human being extremely nervous, doing something that for her is clearly a challenge we can see her gritting her teeth to overcome. Even though this is all happening on the internet, can’t we be human beings about it?

    I also never understand why people ask on these occasions ‘why do gay people have to make this big announcement?’ Straight people, once you can start asking ‘do you have a boy or girlfriend?’, once you assume that a new acquaintance might like any gender until you know, and once the answer to the first question makes no difference at all in how people are treated, then we won’t have to make any announcements at all. Maybe get back to us once you’re ready for that?

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    I was in 7th grade when Ellen Degeneres came out, and I endured endless teasing about the name association – she’s Ellen, I’m Ellen, so I must be a lesbian too. The 13 year old me vehemently denied this, which hurt in ways I couldn’t even understand. Not only was I being teased, but I was denying something about myself that was (at age 13) a deepest, darkest secret. I was ashamed of my name throughout middle school, high school and beyond.

    Today I am SO PROUD of who I am, of my name’s association, and to welcome Ellen Page to the roster of gay Ellen’s.

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    Yes, loved this article, especially the part about this country’s short memory. It’s so irritating how everyone thinks we’re post-racism, post-sexism, post-homo/transphobia. Like, um hello, clearly not?!

    I also found the part of the article about the 90s and Ellen and Rosie coming out to be very thought-provoking. I grew up in a small town in Texas, so not super liberal/open, but I still didn’t hear a ton of outright hate speech towards the LGBT community (although I might just have been too young/too brainwashed to notice it at the time). Yet I can definitely look back now and see how smaller things affected my view of lesbians and my internalized homophobia. I don’t think I even really knew what being a lesbian meant, but I knew that my dad hated Rosie and Ellen because they were gay and I knew that it made them somehow unattractive/undesirable. He would also always talk about the feminist/women’s studies classes my mom took in college and how they were going to make her a lesbian. I remember watching V for Vendetta with him (although this was def 2000s and not 1990s) and him saying, “I would have liked it if not for the gay part.” I was so mad at that and I had no idea why (fast forward to 5 years later and it will dawn on me).

    Anyway, basically I’m saying that out celebrities and the way we talk about them definitely matter and stick in kids’ memories and I am really proud of/empathic with celebrities who come out so publicly. Even though I was the president of the queer group at my university, I still get nervous coming out/choose not to come out all the time. It still takes bravery and it still means something for you and the people around you.

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    Excellent article, Riese. Though i do think there are two shades to the “of course she is” response: the people who are dismissing it as ‘not news’ are definitely undervaluing the importance of gay visibility as you say, but I think many ‘I knew that already’ comments are a result of the readers attempting to confirm that they aren’t going to think any less of Ellen now she’s out of the closet–the same way your mother might reassure you, “Oh, we’ve known since you were three years old” (and implicitly mean: and we’ll love you just the same.)

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    So last week when the football player came out one of my online acquaintances said “why is this news? who cares?”

    A few of my friends and myself then explained to her why it matters.

    I am happy to report that she only had positive things to say in regards to Ellen Page this week.

    win.

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    I’d just like to say that my name is also Ellen and I am also gay.

    When Ellen DeGeneres came out, I was in 3rd grade and didn’t know what a lesbian was. People started calling me a lesbian and I cried and ran away screaming, “I’m not a lesbian! I’m not a lesbian!” I had no idea what they were talking about, but it seemed like a really bad thing to be.

    Now Ellen Page has come out, and I’m so happy to be associated with gay Ellens. If anyone makes a comment in the next few days, I will be so excited.

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    I enjoyed many of the points made in this article. I am a fan both of Ellen DeGeneres and Ellen Page.

    That being said, for me, the flow of the article was interrupted by this part:
    “…Chaz (then Chastity) Bono…”

    I don’t understand why the fact that Chaz has changed his name has any bearing on the comment that he may or may not have made. Chaz used to go by a different name, so have a lot of other people, but often it is trans* people who are referenced in articles by names that they no longer go by and may no longer identify with. If the purpose is to explain who Chaz is, there are plenty of other qualifiers that would work there. As is, this left me with an unfortunate taste for an otherwise thought-provoking article.

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      This bothered me as well. I preferentially read queer news sites to avoid this kind of invalidation and past-dredging. I may not be a big fan of trans guys or the trans asterisk, but this is painful to see here on Autostraddle. To put it another way, those two words act as yet another message that things we’ve worked to change will always be haunted by what cis people won’t let us leave behind.

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    Absolutely wonderful article, Riese, as always.

    So sick of straight people saying that it’s not a big deal. If queer people think it’s a big deal, then it is. If 250 people comment on her Autostraddle coming out article within 24 hours, it’s clearly a big deal to us.

    I hope that seeing a young, successful, awesome actress like Ellen Page come out helps some of those scared lonely closeted kids to feel less alone, and I’m certain that it will. That is a BIG DEAL.

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    Really interesting piece and completely agree with most of it. Both Ellens are amazing chicas and an inspiration.

    Really unpopular opinion though, please don’t shoot – I kind of agree with Elton a little bit. I have sooooo much respect for Ellen and loved the puppy episode, what she does now, and the rest of the Ellen show, having binge watched it. Buut the series did become less funny. What EJ said is blunt but kind of true IMO. Focussing on LBGT+ issues is very important, but at the end of the day it was a comedy, and began only focussing on the issues, became too heavy and single issue. Because she’s now a lesbian that means it’s the single most important thing about her? No, sorry.

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    This is such a wonderful piece; I don’t know where to begin with how much I love it. Thank you for all of the thought, observation, and research you put in! Both of these Ellen’s and all of those in between deserve mad props for being bold, being brave, and being fabulous.

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