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The happy couple.

Spring this year was a gay social whirl--and not just for me, not even just for "my kind," but also for about 36 million other Americans who spent a week watching Ellen come out. And watching people watching Ellen come out. Camera crews prowled viewing parties intensely; probably more than one closeted accountant had some 'splainin' to do round the water-cooler the next day.

Immediately following the coming-out, Ellen DeGeneres's parents put a pained Diane Sawyer at ease with their humanity and levelheadedness. Excerpts from the Sawyer interview peppered the tabloid and entertainment news shows, with the star fielding every query with such humor and grace that even Saturday Night Live couldn't wring any laughs out of the situation. National Ellen Day was preceded by my favorite act of bread and circuses this year, the Ellen and Anne appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show.

You've got to hand it to Oprah, the premier tastemaker of the '90s. She had already placed her imprimatur on Ellen's actions when she agreed to play the therapist in the coming-out episode, yet she felt it necessary to at least pretend to be impartial and stock the first row of her audience with the usual dull sampling of fog-headed half-wits the Right ships out to represent itself in these matters.

They went to great lengths to repeat that they weren't attacking Ellen personally. It would be hard for anyone to attack Ellen personally. Even if you've always harbored a pathological fear of lesbians, her cheerful resolve mixed with genuine concern would win you over in moments. She is her own best advertisement and--up until she added Anne Heche to the mix--ours too. But then love walked in.

Just when Ellen was about to become an all-American, all-star team player, she hook herself up with Lola: Anne Heche, a feisty, determined, sexy, talented actress whose closeted father died of AIDS complications when she was 13. Who knows what havoc that loss wrought on a teenager.

Anne Heche, who, in the space of one little interview, declared that 1) she has never been with a woman before, 2) she still doesn't know if she's a lesbian, 3) she locked eyes with Ellen across a crowded room and knew this was it for the rest of her life, and 4) they've been together exactly one month. That earthquake was Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein twirling in their graves

Even the well-meaning straight members of Oprah's peanut gallery bad to rise and ask a few confused questions. I felt bad for Ellen. Clearly, she loves this tempestuous woman, and just as clearly, she would rather have kept this part of her life private. Who wouldn't? But the press was doing its exhaustive anteater impression, and within a few days they would have dug up everything anyway. So to put out the fires of speculation and innuendo, the two decided to come forward and present themselves as what they are: a couple--a crazy couple, an unpredictable couple, perhaps even a volatile couple, but a couple.

They went to industry functions together, posed for photos together, even held hands and smooched within camera range of the president at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner. And they were chastised for it, by gays as much as anyone. It all seemed to fly in the face of Ellen's carefully orchestrated campaign to get straight America to more or less shrug when she finally came out, to slowly move the mainstream into saying "What's the big deal?" when she finally uttered the big words. It had been going so smoothly until she fell in love. But that's what happens in real life as opposed to on a television show.

And in real life if Ellen wants to fall in love with a flamboyant individuaL she has nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to hide. If she wants to show her off and be proud of her and introduce her to the president of the United States, she has no reason not to. I'll bet those beltway newlyweds Andrea Mitchell and Alan Greenspan were photographed holding hands that night at the same White House dinner. Would they be slimed for it? We mustn't set a series of double standards for ourselves.

We are gay, and we are proud, and we have the right to stand in the world with our loved ones like anyone else. That's what coming out is an about. It's more than just a good episode of a sitcom.
COPYRIGHT 1997 Liberation Publications, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:lesbian pair Ellen DeGeneres and Anne Heche
Author:Vilanch, Bruce
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Column
Date:Jun 24, 1997
Previous Article:Penalty phase.
Next Article:Staying in focus.

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