Long after Ellen DeGeneres came out as gay in 1997, Hollywood still wasn’t sure about how audiences would respond to her sexuality.
DeGeneres is celebrating Season 15 of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” which premiered back in September 2003. On Tuesday, she talked to Ryan Seacrest about how things have changed over that time.
“This was a show that nobody wanted to buy,” she said. “They really didn’t think anyone would watch a lesbian during the day and, at the time, no one wanted to see a lesbian at night either. So I was really out of options.”
DeGeneres ― who dated actress Anne Heche and photographer Alexandra Hedison before her romance with now-wife Portia de Rossi ― was told not to discuss her personal life.
“I remember there was something that happened to my finger, and I was in a relationship and I was going to say ‘we,’ and they wouldn’t let me say ‘we’ because somebody would all of a sudden picture a woman in my life.”
The star came out publicly ahead of the airing of her then-show “Ellen”’s “The Puppy Episode” in April 1997, in which her character came out, too. “Ellen” was canceled a year later by ABC; and her second sitcom, “The Ellen Show,” was canceled by CBS after just 13 episodes in early 2002.
Having to hide her true self after all that felt awful.
“It felt horrible because I had worked so hard to be truthful and to come to terms with my shame of hiding something that I knew was not wrong, but society was telling me was wrong,” she said. “So I thought, ‘First of all, I lost a lot of the audience because I came out, and then I’m going to now lose the audience that supports me ― that is gay or supportive ― because I’m going to hide it.’”
“It’s a hard balance,” she added. “I know this is a business, and I know that I have to appeal to everyone, but I think what’s more appealing than anything is honesty.”
Head over to iHeartRadio to listen to DeGeneres’ full interview.