safe speak

Oprah Told Jonathan Plummer He ‘Seemed Gayer’ Now. Offensive?

In September Oprah welcomed back novelist Terry McMillan and Jonathan Plummer, the gay ex-husband whom she based How Stella Got Her Groove Back on, to revisit things now that they’d been divorced for a few years — and Plummer had settled into his sexuality. That was the episode where Terry said she and Jonathan were now bath buddies. In watching Jonathan speak and seeing his mannerisms, Oprah mentioned to him that he “seem[s] gayer than you were the last time,” to which he laughed. But viewers never saw that segment, because Harpo’s PR chief threw up a red flag and warned the talk show host her remark could come across as offensive. Oprah eventually agreed, and producers cut the quip. Did she cross the line?

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As you’ll see in the clip below from Season 25: Oprah Behind The Scenes, privately Oprah discussed the issue with her staffers, including some of the gay producers of the very show recording her at that moment to see if a comment like “you seem gayer” is offensive. She didn’t see it right away, but her very capable producer explained it: she was tying actions to sexuality, much the same way that awful Newsweek person Ramin Setoodeh did. What would she have said to a white guest who recently found out he had an African-American grandmother and started to “act black”?

The trouble with her statement is that she’s equating behaving in a stereotypically effeminate manner to one’s sexuality, an immutable characteristic. And while plenty of gay people will agree with Oprah that Jonathan was acting “gayer” since his last appearance, Oprah risked adding to the stereotype of gay people simply based on her enormous reach.

Do gay guys sometimes queen out? YEP! But are there gay guys — who are very proud to be members of the tribe — who behave in a more masculine, less animated way? Of course. Because the way we act has little to do with our sexuality, the same way it has little to do with our race. And, as you might know, our gender. I do have a problem, however, with the idea that connecting feminine outward appearances is somehow a negative stereotype of gay men, because it isn’t. It’s not something to be ashamed of. It’s simply how many of us act, and there’s nothing “good” nor “bad” about it.

As AfterElton notes, it’s amazing to see this entire conversation play out on television, especially when it was a private, behind-the-scenes moment between Oprah and her team. But I guess that’s why they’re calling it Season 25: Oprah Behind The Scenes, isn’t it? More impressive than Oprah realizing her comment could do much harm is her willingness to acknowledge, hey, I was wrong about this, and it was an opportunity to learn.