It might be an assumption to state that many extreme-right conservatives in the U.S. silently disapprove of homosexuality, or not so silently, if they are more apt to be vociferous. However, it would probably be less of an assumption to say that many of these same people, women especially, love this year’s Academy Award host, Ellen DeGeneres, without bounds, while they know full well that she is gay. How could they not know? She is openly so, and has been married to her wife, Portia de Rossi for 10 years now. No subject is out-of-bounds. Ellen makes no secret about herself or her life.
Ellen has been up front about her sexuality, using her former sitcom as part of the arena in which she publicly came out. She was forthcoming with the fact that she was sexually molested by her stepfather. She has always dressed like a teenage boy, and on formal occasions like a man, yet the daytime talk show host carries this off with panache. What is it that makes Ellen so different as to be completely accepted into mainstream culture despite her difference? Times have changed, but if honesty is upheld, they have perhaps not changed so much as that.
There are still many families where one would not bring a friend home who was almost exactly like Ellen in philosophy and appearance. Yet Ellen herself does not threaten in this way. Some would ascribe this to the fact that she has her own afternoon talk show with tremendous ratings. What might not be said is that for her to get to the point she is at, she had to be able to keep and grow that show, and draw in the love of an audience as gigantic as she has.
Ellen is host to the 86th Academy Award ceremonies tonight for the second time. If public opinion is anything to go by, everyone knows she is bound to be more than funny. She told Robin Roberts in an interview that she will move around the audience a lot, and “play” with them. The comic hosted the 79th Academy Award ceremonies in 2007. When asked why she wanted to do it again, she said she almost had not wanted to, but she realized she is at a very comfortable place in her life and feels it is important to challenge oneself every once in a while. This statement might be at the crux of who she is and why people love her.
Ellen challenges herself, but she makes other people comfortable. Her sensitivity is apparent enough to be seen by anyone capable of zoning in on these things, someone with any empathy themselves. It is not so apparent, however, as to overwhelm others or make them uncomfortable. She does not wear her clothes with bravado or attitude, she just wears them. She does not make being gay the most defining part of who she is, it is a part of who she is. When she teases people, she does it with love, without being negative and while managing to make them so comfortable they accept the teasing and even perhaps enjoy the attention, as one might from a favorite older sister.
Ryan Seacrest wrote in a recent Vanity Fair article that he believes a large part of this petite comedian’s success is that she is not pretending to be someone else. She is, undeniably, herself. Not a lot of people are comfortable always being themselves. At times it has been clear that Ellen has been uncomfortable at various points or moments in her life, but unlike many, she seems to accept this and not fight it.
It is this lack of fight, on the one hand, and the inability to give up, on the other, that makes Ms. DeGeneres so admirable. She has accepted herself with all her foibles and she accepts everyone else with theirs. It does not seem this year’s Academy Award host would let anyone run roughshod over her, however. This is evidenced by Ellen’s story of bounding out a window when she knew her stepfather was trying to get into her bedroom. She spent that night at a hospital. Ellen has allowed herself to be taken care of. She also takes care of others with a generosity of spirit and sometimes pocketbook that is extremely moving, all with a smile on her face and a softness in her eyes that people respond to. Whatever their personal beliefs, most respond to Ellen as she responds to them: with a kindness that knows no bounds.
Opinion by Julie Mahfood