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.

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  • alejandro

    wow. that was realy cool :D

  • Shofixti

    It seems strange that if ‘gays’ want recognition that it could be considered offensive to perceive and recognise ‘gayness’. Perhaps it is only offensive if Oprah uses the word as if it were a scale of midly gay, quite gay, extremely gay – but gay political efforts rely on a closed all-or-nothing notion of gay when appealing for rights.

    How is gay even being used here – To define the departure from gendered norms in regards to mannerisms? If so her comments just seem silly, she should have used ‘camp-er’, ‘happier’, ‘freer’.

  • dannyal

    it looks like a good show. I certainly enjoyed that clip. The discussion was pretty good too. I went from being “No, it’s not offensive!” to “Ok, that COULD be offensive.” When the guy mentioned “You look more black today”, it made a lot more sense.
    Just wondering if it would be offensive if Oprah had said “You look more feminine now.”

  • Earl

    This is, without a doubt, the best written post I’ve ever read on Queerty. I’m glad it didn’t have the usual snarkiness, implicit racism, and inane commentary I’ve come to expect from this site.

    Well done!

  • mikebuc

    Almost 100 percent of the time when a straight person says to someone they are acting gay they don’t mean it as a compliment. It’s not an appropriate thing to say.

  • Kieran

    It’s analogous to somebody saying to Oprah, “You seem blacker than you used to be”. You think Oprah would take offense at that remark?

  • Andy

    It’s false to claim that gay is not effeminate. There is a strong correlation.

  • jj

    [email protected]Kieran: Kieran did you watch the video, there’s a whole discussion of that question. In the end Oprah decided to cut it out and admitted she was wrong. I love her even more.

  • Brian

    I think its clear that by YOU SEEM MORE GAY she meant to say YOU SEEM MORE COMFORTABLE BEING AN OPENLY GAY MAN.

    I know I’ve said YOU SEEM MORE GAY to friends after time has passed from them coming out and living the lifestyle.

    We all for a fact Oprah said that comment with no ill will so I don’t think anyone gay or straight would have found it offensive and if anything might see it as a zinger.

    How many times does Andy Cohen on BRAVO “Jew it up” with a guest and no one seems up in arms.

  • Robbie K

    I rolled with it and didn’t find it offensive in the “context” but if the majority do find it good on her for removing it.

  • Jeffree

    I’ve never said “You seem more gay” to anyone. It doesn’t mean anything. Are you implying they’re acting gayer? Looking gayer? Smelling gayer?
    Or… you mean: Acting less hetero?

    When your straight buddy settles down with a woman do you say “Dude, you’re acting so much more hetero these days”?

  • Greg

    This is weeks old. Thanks.

  • GetBalance

    I think gay people don’t want to be pegged for how gay their mannerisms are, unlike blacks don’t seem to have the same button on how black their mannerisms are. Blacks are proud if their social language of their own, where gay language and mannerisms are not fully accepted by gays themselves. So if the gay culture is going to do the miss thang thing as part of it’s culture, then own it and be proud of it. In this sense Oprah was dead on with her comment and gays need to be more self accepting of their own language and mannerisms they exude. Her comment was descriptive of reality as she saw it, and so I find the comment non offensive.

  • Lamar

    I don’t think it was ‘offensive’ but I knew what she unconsciously mixed actions with sexuality because gay men are stereotyped as effeminate but I do agree it was probably best to cut it out.

  • scott ny'er

    @Kieran: Actually, Oprah DID NOT take offense at that remark. She said, sometimes, you do act blacker than other times. And she did that with a head swag back and forth.

    @GetBalance: You bring up an interesting point. Except, not all gays go around saying Miss Thang. Just like not all blacks swag their heads back and forth.

    @Brian: Interesting. I think what is really needed here is for Oprah to explain WHAT she meant by he seemed more gayer. Then, maybe, we can construe did she think he seemed more effeminate in mannerisms, was it that he was more comfortable, as you say, in his skin and how so? How did she perceive him to be more comfortable in his skin? Was it his mannerisms?

    I think that it probably was. So we then get to the whole, does acting effeminate make one more gayer? And that’s not necessarily true and can be taken as offensive.

  • Cam

    @Andy: said…

    It’s false to claim that gay is not effeminate. There is a strong correlation.”
    any other stereotypes you’d like to lay on us?

    And Asians are good in math and cheap, White’s can’t Dance and are racists, All hispanics are illegal, blacks are all single mothers etc….,

    Did it ever occur to you, that perhaps the effeminate folks are the most likely to come out because they have the most difficult time hiding? I thought the clip was good and loved that she put it out there publiclly.

  • Franco

    I find that whenever Oprah is tackling gay issues on her show, she is always offensive. She tries to take the viewpoint of her mostly ignorant audience rather than enlightening and opening their minds. I’ve seen her shows on transgendered people and I’m always left shaking my head at her rampant stupidity. One of my colleagues was on Oprah’s show discussing teen sexuality, and she had some interesting experiences to say the least. For starters, she said that Oprah kept pressing her to give sound bite answers and when she didn’t comply — because she is a professional and believes in speaking from her years of research — Oprah cut her off and tried to ‘interpret’ what she was saying. During commercial break Oprah refused to speak to her. I often question Oprah’s motives and I don’t know why she is as revered as she is.

  • Corve

    It is an offensive statement to make. I am happy Oprah sought advice on this issue.

  • hf2hvit

    Well..all these posters seem pretty gay to me.

  • GetBalance


    Can you back up your statements with some data? I have not seen what you are talking about and so I can’t agree with your conclusion without some talking points.

    @Scott ny’er

    Hey! I did assume all people thought some people are gayer than others so I will clarify: some gays are more gay acting swish nelly queeny effeminate miss thang etc than others. No wonder some are offended, look at those neg labels. Until we make those behaviors positive I think there is going to be friction about who’s gayer than who, but till then it’s what it is.

    I also think asking Oprah’s two very gay black staff members, who most likely have been taunted about their obvious gayness/black was unrealistic. If a gay person who was not gay acting and had not experienced neg stereotyping were to be asked, it is very possible he would have commented just like Oprah, not with malice but with simply observing the obvious. I think we have some over reactive gays who have not owned their mannerisms as positive. Seems they may have some inner acceptance work to do.

    If the shoe fits wear it.

  • greenluv1322

    I love Oprah she is so fucking sexy! This whole interchange makes me want to eat her box!!!!I can only dream that she is that “gay friendly” lol.

    But seriously there something wrong with you guys at Queerty. You guys are a sad bunch. What’s wrong with being GAY-ER??? As a black lesbian I reject the idea of “straight” boring person is somehow great because no one can tell that you are gay. Bull shit we are all different and she was talking to Jonathon not anyone else. JP represents himself and sidenote: even in the movie Taye Diggs even acts gay. So maybe if Terry had some friends who knew what gay men generally act like she would have saved herself some heartache. Most stereotypes are based in truth for example white people can not dance!! And black people love fried chicken!!! I am vegetarian but mostly every black person I know eats fried chicken #justsayin!

  • GetBalance

    I think it’s also important to ask, what if a gay person had made the comment and not a straight one, would it have made a difference?


    Won’t read pass your first two sentences, your sexual interests / personal mental pictures is totally not part of the conversation. Please take it to another venue and be more considerate of the people you are around.

  • Gigi

    Oprah has said many, many things that over the years that made me wonder how she could possibly have so many gays friends yet be so obtuse on gay issues. That being said, I think it’s good that we live in a time that things like this are even considered. They had a real and thoughtful discussion about it chose not to include the clip for fear that it might offend some gay people. I applaud the decision.

    One another note: I thought it was interesting that O thought it important to remind us, yet again, that she is NOT GAY!

  • Gigi

    @Franco: This is difficult for those in the Cult of Oprah to hear but she is a businesswoman. Sure she’s done a lot of good but I’ve noticed as well that she seems to be quite naive to the gay world and the gay experience, in spite of the fact that she apparently has a lot of gay friends.

  • Cam

    @greenluv1322: said..

    You guys are a sad bunch. What’s wrong with being GAY-ER???””

    Because what does being “GAY-ER” mean? Guys suck MORE dick? Girls eat MORE pussy?

    No, she was using to say “You are acting queeny, you are more gay”

    Don’t tell me that you would not respond if some straight person said “Hey, whats up with you, you’re acting really dykey today?”

  • kayla

    @Gigi: What are you guys talking about? As someone who grew up in a very religious home, and as a very young child was obsessed with Oprah (thankfully I grew out of it), she has done incredible shows that were very pro-gay….In fact, I would say that Oprah has seriously influenced many, many housewives to a pro-gay position…I just don’t get the hate! She’s done shows in support of gay marriage, gay adoption and surrogacy…She did shows, even before I was born shining a light on AIDS at a time when people thought they could catch it from touching people…She supported Ellen at a time when Ellen had become a pariah in Hollywood, and many, even gay folks had turned their backs on her…. She highlighted Nick Burkiss'(sp) loss of his partner and gave a voice to his grief when no other network would, in the aftermath of that horrible Tsunami. Oprah has influenced, the public, particularly women in Middle America, in very positive ways….Why the hate?

  • Tom

    @Jeffree: Smelling more gay? I have walked into a room and said “It smells like a Gay Club in here and every single Mo in the room knew what I was talking about.

  • Jeffree

    Oprah doesn’t always “get it” right when it comes to LGB (or T) issues, but she’s been addressing the topics on daytime TV for many years. I can say that many people of my parents generation and older learned most of what they know about “us” from Oprah, even long before Ellen had her talk show.

    Shows like those may be many people’s only non-religious source of info on our lives and our families.

  • ewe

    Does anyone really think Oprah Winfrey is some enlightened human being anyway? Not surprised by what she said at all.

  • ewe

    @greenluv1322: And you should also refrain from “just sayin” too.

  • RomanHans

    It’s nice Oprah talked about this, and finally cut the line from the show, but the fact that it happened is troubling. Somebody who allegedly helps people for a living should know the difference between “gay” and “effeminate.”

  • Marcus M.

    Sigh…Oprah’s not gay guys. Everything I’ve seen from her she’s been incredibly supportive and accepting….but again, she’s not gay herself so she’s not going to immediately grasp the nuance of every phrase the way actual gay people might. She didn’t intend malice with the statement and she quickly realized why her words might carry a negative angle. I’m impressed with how she handled the situation.

  • ewe

    @Marcus M.: You don’t have to be gay to grasp that nuance.

  • Chitown Kev


    “unlike blacks don’t seem to have the same button on how black their mannerisms are.”

    Gee, I guess that I don’t have my “white English” and my “black English” then.

    Many blacks do have the same exact button.

  • redball

    A lot of people–including many gays–use “gay” when they technically mean “queeny/femme/exuberant/fffffabulous.” We need to start using our words more precisely and put an end to this conflation.

  • reason

    It just depends on the context, if Biden told Obama that he seemed a little blacker today after he gave a crowd raising inspirational speech in Georgia I am sure it would be meet with chuckles by the president and most people African Americans included. If someone said that after he lost New Hampshire in the primary that would be a different story.

    I am sure that most people wouldn’t bat an eye if certain people told them they looked a little gayer today and be offended if someone else told them the same thing (like the guy from family research council). I think the people who are familiar with Oprah would put her in the former camp and see it as her meaning it in a positive light, more comfortable in their skin, well at least people that are not holding a grudge against her that is not even relevant to this.

    @Franco: @Gigi: I think that you will find a lot of commentators at times try to connect with where their audience is at and frame a question that they think many in the audience would be wondering about, having the actual guest, who is likely more in depth about the situation, answer provides significant power. Then Oprah feigns understanding and makes a comment and the people in the audience are like oh I can see it that way. The people that she is trying to reach are not the experts like us on gay matters but the people that really have no clue or are thinking about something in a manner that we might find crazy.

    Of course when it comes to identity, one can slip into a trap like Bill O’Reilly did when commenting about Silvia’s, a popular African American restaurant in Harlem (I believe). Bill stressed how professional and well run the establishment was, people weren’t acting crazy or doing anything out of the ordinary, just living as people would at any other 5 star restaurant in New York. It is not like Bill O’Reilly, a Harvard graduate, is dumb and didn’t know what the experience would be like, but aware that he has some (maybe a lot) of close minded sheltered people in his audience he was trying to enlighten them from their prospective. He wasn’t doing it for the cosmopolitans who obviously already knew that, and ended up berating him, watching his show. Same reason why a politician will try to adapt a little southern lingo when they are in the south, they want to connect with the audience and explain things in a way that will resonate with the audience without preaching or belittling them. When Obama failed to make that connection in the rural “working class” areas he payed a price for it, hence the whole elitist attack was born. Explaining in the manner that he did why rural people cling to guns in religion was the quickest route of explanation in the eyes of an audience in San Francisco, but if he knew the message was going to get out to the general public he would have framed it differently (it is a balancing act). Of course this is not always the cause, and sometimes the commentator is just ill informed.

  • kae

    storm in a tea cup.

  • justiceontherocks

    @reason: Is there a point in there somewhere? If so could you get to it?

  • tim

    jesus… sometimes my people are so sensitive. I agreed with O’s (gay) Chief of Staff. I thought the comment was pretty funny. And this is coming from a gay man.

  • J.

    Gay IS an action though. Gay, as an identity, is relatively new. Before the 1880’s, heterosexual and homosexual weren’t really in existence, it was just the action your performed.

    Identity politics is extremely scary and really marginalizes a lot of people despite it’s intentions to protect people. I think gay men need to educate themselves on identity politics and how that limits them in the world today.

    And finally, what is really happening here, the root, in my opinion, is misogyny. In a simple math equation, ‘You seem gayer’ seems to me to sound like, ‘You seem more like a woman.’ And the question then becomes, ‘Why is it okay for women to act like men, but men cannot act like women (without shaming them)?’ Because it’s okay to hate women and not okay to hate men.

    I will say this, I really like how Oprah discussed the comment. There wasn’t screaming, there wasn’t anger or hurt feelings. It was a real conversation and she even described that she way okay with a ‘gut check’. I wish more conversations happened like this.

  • greenluv1322

    @GetBalance: Fuck you! And unlike what I said about Oprah…I don’t mean that literally! This is America ass wad and I will say what the fuck I feel.

  • greenluv1322

    @ewe: I’ll say what I want to say #justsaying!!!

  • GetBalance


    Listen up ya high maintenance gutter mouth, either you can knock off the bs and get lost or we can have Queerty’s web master boot your ass via violation of terms of service.

    Wake up and respect your neighbors, You’re not the only one here you ignorant twit.

  • Cam

    @greenluv1322: said..””You guys are a sad bunch. What’s wrong with being GAY-ER???””

    Because what does being “GAY-ER” mean? The guy is MORE attracted to men than before?
    Girls are MORE attracted to women.

    No, she was using it to say “You are acting queeny, you are more gay”

    Don’t tell me that you would not respond if some straight person said “Hey, whats up with you, you’re acting really dykey today?”

  • ewe

    @greenluv1322: Go right ahead and say what you want. I do it all the time. The issue is Oprah Winfrey calling a gay man gayer than he was last time she saw him. It is not about you as a lesbian woman or you as a black lesbian woman. It is not about you at all so stop making it appear to be something about your orientation or race because this is about a gay man being persecuted by a talk show host who is unaware. Fortunatley she has a staff that took notice.

  • Sexy Rexy

    @Earl: Earl, and you can be sure, it will die from lonliness.

  • mikey

    she was right on the guy acting more queeny than the last time, he seemed more masculine

  • ewe

    @mikey: If “she was right on the guy acting more queeny than the last time, he seemed more masculine” then using your logic you can cite at least one show she did where she noted to a straight guy that he was straighter than the last time she saw him. Then MAYBE people could say it is evenhanded. Otherwise the question posed above is whether or not it was offensive? It is. Oprah Winfrey herself agrees because she chose not to air it.

Comments are closed.