There's good news and even better news after watching Thursday's Oprah—When I Knew I Was Gay, the collection of stories by celebrities and everyday folk based around Robert Trachetenberg's book, When I Knew. Here's the good news: most of the stories were amusing, inspirational and touching, and almost everyone confessed that they "knew" at an early age. The even better news: most of those interviewed—and Oprah herself—took pains to explain the difference between self-realization and self-awareness, ie, it's entirely possible to know at eight or eleven years old that something is different about your personality ... but, it may be many years until you are aware that you are gay and are wiling to come to terms with that aspect of your life. There's a great 11-minute clip of the show at The Malcontent.
For some, the moment when they realized there was something different was early in life. For a very few, that moment was much very early ...
Such as singer/actor/performer Billy Porter, who truly has a wonderful story. He says that it all started to make sense when he was eight years old and fell in love not with another boy ... but fabulous hardwood flooring.
In 1978, my mother remarried we moved into my stepfather's new house. We didn't have much but we had wonderful hardwood floors and these wooden door frames with the detailing that I loved so much. I went to school one day and came home. My stepfather had carpeted all of my beautiful hardwood floors with semi-shag carpeting. Oh no, I'm not finished. Then, he covered all of the beautiful door frames with brown glossy paint. I covered the doorways and cried, I just couldn't talk. That was officially the day that my family went into denial about what was going on with me.
While Billy's moment of self-realization was amusing, like many others, his family later found it difficult to accept his sexuality. Porter says that his background was quite religious; he had to come out not once, not twice, but three times to mom.
The first time, I said that I thought I was attracted to men and women, to try to ease her into it. That didn't work. The second time I said, "I'm gay, I'm a queen." She couldn't take it, she was like "Oh me, oh my, what did I do wrong?" The third time I actually had to take a person that I was in love with home to meet the family. She was the same way, What did I do wrong? I said, "Sweety, it's not about you. This is me. This is my life."
The full clip of Billy Porter's coming out story is here. We just recently discovered his many talents, after catching his fab one-man show. Billy is a wonderful artist, being able to effortlessly fuse gospel, r&b and Broadway standards. Being black and openly-gay, he's had some problems with major labels knowing how to market his talent. But he's taken the matter into his own hands and launched his own record label and a brand new cd, At The Corner of Broadway+Soul. On November 28, Billy Porter will perform selections from the new album at Joe’s Pub in New York City. More info at BillyPorter.com.
This was a much stronger show than many other recent gay-related Oprah topics. For instance, it featured an informative yet entertaining exchange on "gaydar." Billy, Carson Kressley and author Robert Trachtenberg were able to poke fun at themselves, which is something that we as gay men should be willing to do.
Oprah: There's a term that gay men use that's called "gaydar." Do all gays have gaydar?
Trachtenberg: It's that x-factor, something extra. The chemistry that goes on between two people and .. something clicks.
Oprah (to Carson): Well, if I saw you walking down the street ... no offense, but ...
Carson: Blind people say that.
By the way, Miss O was looking quite fabulous. The curly hair frames her face and beige/brown really are her colors. Work it out, girl!
There's been substantial recent talk here and on other pages about gay men and effeminate behavior. The subject was briefly touched upon and thankfully edited—because this would not have been the right forum to debate the topic or even opine.
Oprah: "Why do you think some gay men are more effeminate?"
Billy Porter: I can be very queeny when I want to be and I can be masculine.
Carson: So can I. I can be very masculine. (Audience laughter)
Carson's quip was a welcome ice-breaker. Oprah was actually very supportive on-topic and showed some insight. "I've talked to a lot of my gay friends about this. Do you think it's a spectrum? I think it's a spectrum." Carson and Billy agree. Billy: "I think the more flamboyant men get more attention, but it's a wide spectrum. We run the gamut." This was great—personal, yet informative. Normally we cringe when Oprah wears the "my gay friends" button, but this exchange was quite level.
The show was mostly light, but it had its share of emotional moments, such as the topic of self-acceptance. Oprah asked the panel, "Did you ever wish that you weren't gay?", which is something that we've all grappled with. Everyone agreed and said that before they came out and were younger, they hoped that "it" would be a phase. Ultimately they realized it wasn't.
Trachtenberg: Of course. It would have been so much easier.
Carson: When you're 4 or 5 years old, you don't understand the whole gay thing. But when it's 7th or 8th grade and you're beat up all the time and crying in the bathroom, you pray to be different. I wished and prayed so much, on my hand and knees. But it never changed.
Oprah: When did you stop wishing?
Billy: You just get tired of wishing, it's not going away.
This was a strong show; possibly because it focused on childhood and self-realization, possibly because the divisive elements of coming out, "the down low" or self-awareness were minimized. Eleven-minute clip of the show here."When I Knew I Was Gay" (Rod 2.0) Want the World To Know (Malcontent) When I Knew (Amazon) When I Knew (Towleroad) Coming to a Megaplex Near You (Rod 2.0) On the Next Oprah ... (Rod 2.0) A Very Special Oprah (Rod 2.0)