Earlier this week, Ellen DeGeneres was quoted in the Los Angeles Times saying that she and her girlfriend, actress Anne Heche, had fired their agents and publicists and were leaving Hollywood--they were sick of the homophobia they'd experienced since coming out as lesbians last year. "Everything that I ever feared happened to me," DeGeneres said. "I lost my show. I've been attacked like hell. I went from making a lot of money on a sitcom to making no money."
What's the problem here? Heche got better reviews than the heterosexual Harrison Ford in last spring's hapless comedy Six Days, Seven Nights, and today she reprises Janet Leigh's role in Psycho as the most notorious murder victim in film history. DeGeneres has two movies coming out (one a Ron Howard comedy) and is set to do a standup tour later this winter.
I do feel sympathy for Ellen. To come out of the closet and begin a new relationship under such intense public scrutiny is unimaginable. I'm happy that my own period of playing the gay megaphone, which took place on campus at age 19, wasn't staged for Diane Sawyer, Oprah, and President Clinton. And you have to admit that the professional pressure on DeGeneres was fierce, even if her dilemma was notable mostly for its irony: Could an sitcom get decent ratings if an out lesbian was played by out lesbian?
But if DeGeneres feels that her subtleties as a performer are being overshadowed by her status as a lesbian, she's the one who set it up that way. She used her sexuality as a crutch throughout the long feud with ABC that dominated the troubled last season of her show. She should have copped to the fact that after a single luminous, thought-provoking, and joyful coming-out episode in the spring of 1997, Ellen got lost in awkwardly orchestrated, unfunny plot developments about parents and first girlfriends. Instead, she called her network a bunch of homophobes.
I used to think DeGeneres was funny, and I loved Anne Heche in the little indie film Walking and Talking back when she was just an alumna of the soap opera AnotherWorld. Now I think of them as entitlement queens who whine while their careers steam ahead. Watching them make out in front of President Clinton was hard to take, but I'm sure he didn't mind. Watching Ellen screech, "They're killing us!" upon the death of gay student Matthew Shepard turned my stomach. Faced with an actual tragedy, the least she could have done is realize how fortunate she was.
The day after DeGeneres made her announcement, Variety ran an interview with the couple's publicist, who claimed that their comments were taken out of context. (What context would that be?) He added they should have been taken as "wistful," rather than literal. As for whether the two actresses are really dropping out, Variety writes, "They don't have the agent, still have the publicist and the house, and Heche was last seen driving through Burbank." Whatever they wind up doing, I'm adopting a "don't ask/don't tell" policy about it.