Last week, ABC aired Barbara Walter's annual Most Fascinating Person(s) special (really? The cast of Jersey Shore made the list?), and one of those persons was Oprah. Walters devoted an hour to Winfey to commemorate her 25th season and also conduct a retrospective on her life. Many things were discussed, but media attention has turned to Oprah's self-created family: Stedman and Gayle.
Yes, as the mainstream media overwhelmingly reported, Oprah cried when talking about Gayle. So what? I cry during every single sappy moment that's been manufactured by Hollywood (qualifier: that I choose to watch). And I cry when I really think about the people I'm closest to, and what they mean to me.
Oprah spoke movingly and refreshingly about her interpersonal relationships. Anyone who has ever had the gift of a long-term, intimate, supportive and platonic relationship with a member of the same sex will relate to the way she described her friendship with Gayle.
But of course…Barbara has to bring up the gay rumor. It annoys me to no end that Oprah still has to address this, but I've always appreciated the way she's handled it: directly and authentically. Barbara asks if she wants to address it…AGAIN.
I have said we are not gay enough times. I'm not even kind of lesbian. The reason it irritates me is because someone thinks I'm lying. Why would [you] want to hide it? That's not the way I run my life."
For what it's worth, I believe her. I think most people do and furthermore...I don't think many are wondering about it. And yet I'm almost sure if she refused to answer or blew off the question, headlines would ask, "Is Oprah Hiding Something?" So why does the lesbian storyline persist? It appears to be a rumor kept alive solely to benefit the "news-tainment" industry. Just a cursory review of the special's press coverage demonstrates the dominance headlines like, "Oprah denies being a lesbian" played in the media. Gossip sites and Saturday Night Live got in on the action, too. On December 11th's Weekend Update segment, anchor Seth Meyers begins:
In an interview this week with Barbara Walters, Oprah Winfrey denies being a lesbian. Said Walters, 'I haven't asked you a question yet.
Even if many in the audience realized it was a joke and not true, taken out of context it could be misleading and intentionally keeps the rumor alive...to exploit it for a cheap, lazy joke.
Though it has to irritate them, every once in a while Oprah and Gayle have fun with it. Earlier in the fall they traveled to Yosemite National Park to camp, and aired the program over two parts. I giggled during a segment when they were getting ready to turn in for the night. Gayle, climbing into the camper with Oprah right behind her says, "Let's just add to that lesbian rumor!" Oprah starts laughing and retorts, "Lesbian rumors! Come on in baby!"
Honestly, is it too difficult to believe that a deeply intimate relationship between two women can exist without it being sexual?
Talk during the ABC special turned to the other personally significant relationship in Oprah's life—one that has been equally scrutinized in the press for its break from conventional norms. Barbara told Oprah that, "Everybody thinks it's over with you and Stedman." Oprah looks genuinely shocked and says so. "Is he still the man in your life?" Babs prods. "Yes!" Oprah responds. "The love, the lover, the man, the partner, the mate," and then goes on to say that both she and Stedman are glad they never married, believing that marriage comes with too many expectations, and that the relationship probably wouldn't have survived it. She said they stopped appearing together frequently, because every time they went out, the media created a negative story around it.
Regarding her decision not to have children, there's an interesting moment between her and Walters. First, there are clips from an interview Walters conducted with Winfrey in 1988 that precede the discussion. In it Barbara asks Oprah if she foresees marriage and children with Stedman. Oprah says, sure, that would be nice but doesn't take it much farther. Back to present day, Oprah says that it was Barbara who planted that seed. Barbara looks slightly embarrassed and says, (paraphrasing)…hey, I love my daughter…best thing I ever did, but it ain't easy. My daughter resented my work and my travel, so if you ever feel regret…call me. I'll tell you some stories.
Without missing a beat, Oprah responds, "I could not have lived this life as intensely as I wanted with children, so I have no regrets about that. None." It's refreshing to see a woman with her reach say with such conviction and sincerity: I did not get married. I did not have children. And I still feel whole.