Ellen DeGeneres never thought that announcing she was a lesbian would have been a big deal. She knew then that what she was doing would caused questions and controversy but not in a way where she would be considered the poster child for the Gay Community. The way Ellen came out to the world was a bigger shock to her than it was to her audience. This is when Ellen realized that she changed more than her own life coming out. Her fan base got bigger and her life opened up for the greater good. She felt like coming out should not change what she would be doing for humanity.
On Ellen’s 50th birthday, she decided to raise money and get notice to her hometown, New Orleans, Louisiana, some help for the August 2005 Hurricane Katrina. This storm was one of the most deadly storms in United States history. During the storm the federal flood protection system failed and the levee broke, flooding 80% of the city and surrounding cities for weeks. Since Ellen had connections with many other celebrities, she used those connections to get help for her city. Brad Pitt was one of the celebrities that had a foundation going for rebuilding homes in New Orleans.
With the help of Ellen putting out the foundation through her television show, Brad was able to get 150 homes built. She showed her passion for helping out when she told the world why this fundraiser was important to her. She shows that the place she looked at as home and helped made her who she was Ellen DeGeneres has been an inspiration to people for the past twelve years. Ellen’s life had just begun. Ellen DeGeneres came into the world January 26, 1956 in Jefferson, Louisiana at the Oschner Foundation Hospital. In the book, Love, Ellen: A Mother/Daughters Journey (1999), Betty Degeneres, Ellen’s mother, said that she was a miracle.
Ellen’s father didn’t want anymore chidren after her brother was born, four years earlier. He thought that one child was sufficient enough. But Betty was determined to convince him that they should try again for another child. According to Lisa Iannucci (2009) Ellen was just a normal child, she played with her sibling and played outside like any other child would do at that age. She was a tomboy that wore fancy dresses and played with Barbie dolls. She once had dreams of becoming a naturalist or zoologist. She had a love and passion for animals and wanted to later join the Peace Corps to study the apes in Africa.
Growing up Ellen had a fascination for great comedians such as Jack Benny, George Gorbel, and the comedy team Bob and Ray. Watching these comics entertain crowds was a little informal training of Ellen’s career in the later years. Ellen discovered the benefits of comedy when her mother divorced her dad. Her mother had been so down and depressed that Ellen knew she could cheer her up with a laugh. Ellen used this same comedic value to get through the very tough times in her life. When Ellen was sixteen she started partying, becoming rebellious, and hanging out with the wrong crowds.
In her small town of Metairie, she would drink beer with her friends and stay out all night. This was her reaction to her mother getting remarried in 1974 to a salesman. Her mother wanted to remove her from the city, so the salesman got a new job in Atlanta, Texas. The DeGeneres family packed up and moved to Atlanta. While in Texas, Ellen started to fit into her new life there. Ellen started dating her first boyfriend, Ben Heath. Her brother Vance was in a band in high school and was receiving a lot of attention. Ellen wanted some of this attention that her brother was getting and was starting to have dreams of becoming famous.
Ellen craved for people to like her, she wanted to try to find a way to become famous so people would like her and want to be her friend. Ellen’s family looked like the perfect family from the outside, but something dark and eerie was going on inside. Behind close doors the salesman was crude and bossy and Ellen did not like who he was. During this time Ellen’s mother found out that she had breast cancer. She ended up having a mastectomy and had to do physical therapy and rehabilitation. Betty tried to hide her cancer from Ellen but she needed Ellen’s help to recover.
This is when Ellen and her mother became close. During this time of recovery, the salesman molested Ellen. She didn’t want to get her mother upset so she didn’t mention it to her, while she was recovering. When her stepfather tried to molester again, she ran away to a friend’s house. Ellen left Atlanta, Texas and move back to Louisiana with her father after she graduated high school. Once Ellen moved to Louisiana, she enrolled into the University of New Orleans, to major in Communications. Ellen soon found out that college wasn’t for her and dropped out after one semester.
Ellen started to search for a career since college didn’t go as planned. During this time of finding a career, Ellen was also finding herself. She was holding another secret about her sexuality from family and friends. She was starting to feel confused about her sexuality. This could have been a result of the nuture factor. Her homosexuality could have been triggered from her stepfather molesting her. Nurture refers to the childhood and how an individual grew up (MacKinnon, 1962). She liked boys in the beginning; she had some boyfriends in the past, but she was never really attracted to men.
Once Ellen figured out what sexual orientation that she was, she started dating women but still haven’t broke the news to her family. She decided to tell her mom one day while they were walking along the beach. She started to cry, not because she was afraid, but because she was now free of this secret that she was holding. Her mom embraced her and accepted Ellen’s fate. During this time that Ellen came out about her sexuality, it was forbidden doing those times. In the 1950s consensual gay sex was a felony. The gay communities were trying to fight for rights in the 1960s but were still getting tortured and shunned.
Betty started to be afraid for Ellen. Being homosexual was considered to be a mental health disorder by the psychiatric community. The National Gay Task Force Foundation was founded in 1973, in New York, and worked to change the American Psychiatric Association’s grouping of homosexuality as a mental heath problem. Ellen’s brother accepted the news well, but Ellen’s father did take it very well. He later kicked Ellen out of the house, thinking that she would influence her stepsiblings. He later helped her get an apartment and admitted that he regretted what he did to her.
Ellen acquired many jobs; she sold clothes, was a bartender, washed cars, shucked oysters, and wrapped gifts. Just like she knew that college wasn’t for her, these jobs weren’t satisfying her neither, she was hungry to do something more. She now knew that she wanted to make people laugh for the rest of her life. She began performing at a few small venues in New Orleans. Her routines were different than other comedians of her time such as, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, and Richard Pryor. The difference between them and her was he bits didn’t have vulgarity and sexual references.
Ellen joked about her everyday life and experiences. She did this to relate to her audiences. Ellen started to take off in her career. She started competing in comedy competition where she placed first in the “Funniest Person in America” competition. She later went to open for a few acts in Las Vegas where the producer from “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” was there and asked her to come on the show. Once she performed on the Tonight Show, this put her career in overdrive and she became a superstar. She became the first female comedic to seat on the big couch on the Tonight Show.
She ended up coming back on six more times in two years. She later got a minor role on Open House in 1989. It was a spin-off of the fox show Duet. She then went and filmed her first HBO special Young Comedian Reunion, in 1986. Two years later she appeared in HBO’s Women of the Night. She got a small role in the movie The Coneheads, and got her own sitcom on ABC called These Friends of Mine. Ellen revealed her true sexual preference in Time magazine April 1997 issue. In this issue she talked about her life as a gay woman and hiding who she was in the comedian community.
She made her character on her television show Ellen also comes out of the closet. This caused some controversy for the Christian religion organizations. She made her first appearance publicly with her sexuality at the White House Correspondents Dinner with actress Anne Heche on her arm. In 1998 Ellen honored at the 9th Annual GLAAD Media Awards with the Stephen F. Kolzak Award. Ellen now was fighting for her lesbian life on and off the television. Her mother started to become an advocate to her daughter’s lifestyle. Betty started volunteering at the Human Rights Campaign.
Her mother became the first nongay national spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign. She was helping to encourage and assist gay people in coming out and living honestly. Her mother also became an active member of Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). In 2003 Ellen started her own daytime television talk show called The Ellen Degeneres Show. People were afraid that Ellen would just bring up gay themes through out the show and didn’t want it to go on air. Once people got over the fact that Ellen was gay, her show started to skyrocket on television ratings.
It was the television show that Ellen had always wanted. She could make people laugh and every loved her. In season two the show won five daytime Emmys. In 2005 Ellen won a Grammy for having the best comedy album for the audio portion of her book. She also won some awards at the People’s Choice Awards. While her show was getting good ratings, she met her current wife, Portia de Rossi. She met Portia at a photo shoot in 2004. Ellen and Portia quickly fell in love. They both ended their current relationships and started dating in 2005.
They went on to get married in 2008 after California passed the Same-Sex Marriage Act. With all of Ellen’s life decisions, it had to do with her social and emotional development. She was always able to make transitions from one activity to another. Her ability to start a new when it came to her many careers before she found the right one was an example of her social/emotional development (Roeser, Eccles, & Sameroff, 2000). She showed cooperation with others when she was getting ridiculed for her coming out, but she stayed humbled and didn’t let it get to her (Webb, 1994).
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