It’s Wednesday, which means we’re in the middle of yet another celebrity scandal. This week’s scandal isn’t exactly racy. We’re not talking about sex tapes or wild cocaine parties.
This week, people are pissed off because Ellen went to a football game, was seated next to George W. Bush… and she was kind.
It appears to be Ellen’s response to the initial uproar that has generated even louder criticism. You can see what she said here:
Now, to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure what people think that Ellen should have done. Should she have refused to sit with the former President? Pitched a fit on Twitter?
Is Ellen privileged?
“Here are the values that I stand for: honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated and helping those in need. To me, those are traditional values.” -Ellen
Sure, Ellen is privileged. And although she is human and imperfect (like, um, the rest of us), I also think she’s aware of much of that privilege. Increasingly aware of her whiteness and the luxury to make so much money.
Over the years, Ellen has used her fame and fortune to help those who are less fortunate. But I think a lot of folks forget that Ellen has repeatedly stuck her neck out for gay rights.
And kindness. Always kindness.
I am old enough to remember when Ellen’s sitcom got canceled after she famously came out in character and in real life. Almost 23 years ago.
In 2017, Ellen invited Oprah Winfrey and Laura Dern onto her talk show for the 20th anniversary of her coming out, and the three discussed their roles on the show.
Laura Dern didn’t work for at least a year just because people thought she was gay.
I don’t think anyone could have guessed back then that Ellen DeGeneres would catapult to superstardom after the loss of that first show, but she persisted and at 61 years old, she now enjoys a legal marriage and a wealth of success.
But let’s not forget that her success was hard-won.
Why are we asking Ellen to be anyone other than who she is?
“I learned compassion from being discriminated against. Everything bad that’s ever happened to me has taught me compassion.” -Ellen
Ellen has made a name for herself through her kindness. She has repeatedly come out on the side of empathy and goodwill, and sometimes, I wonder if that’s because it’s kindness that has carried her through every dark moment.
This is no stranger to loss or pain.
But she also has a right to decide how to get through her pain. She has chosen to use her trauma for good, and I commend her for that.
It is not surprising to me that Ellen chose to go with her definition of kindness at the football game. It’s completely “on brand.”
Had she responded to George W. with anger, gloating, or glaring, I would have been completely surprised.
Queerness is not homogeneous.
Just because a person is LGBTQIA, that doesn’t mean they can only hold a group opinion. The same thing goes for liberals. We are allowed to disagree.
Even when we talk about kindness, there are countless definitions, limitations, and boundaries. Personally, I often speak up when others are persuaded to keep silent. And often, I grapple with the question of what is kind, brave, and true.
At the end of the day, I recognize that there are many different ways to see things. I can understand why so many folks are upset with Ellen even though I disagree with their assessment that she “played too nice” or otherwise missed the mark.
Right now, I know that I have some gay friends who are siding with Ellen, other gay friends who are disappointed in her choices, and still others who don’t know or don’t care.
There aren’t these cut and dry rules about fighting for social justice and human rights. We’ve all got to handle uncomfortable scenarios as best as we can, but celebrities like Ellen must do so under great scrutiny.
Kindness is not meek and mild.
“I was raised around heterosexuals, as all heterosexuals are, that’s where us gay people come from... you heterosexuals.” -Ellen
I keep wondering what Ellen DeGeneres should have done this weekend at the football game. Perhaps she should have taken what was intended to be a good day into a bad one for everyone around her.
But she didn’t.
Instead, she accepted an elite invite and took her fucking seat at the party… next to her own wife.
I really wish more people could see the power in that position. Twenty years ago, Ellen never would have been invited out with her wife, partly because it wouldn’t have been a legal marriage, and Hollywood was still wary of touching the issue.
She certainly wouldn’t have been seated with a former conservative president.
It’s damn easy to complain that Ellen isn’t “in the trenches” because she’s reached a place of fame and fortune. But what’s more badass than holding her head high alongside her wife, smiling and laughing with a former president and showing the whole world that she’s got every right to be there?
The world needs every sort of kindness.
We need people who are brave, strong, and kind. People who will speak up with their words and actions. People who aren’t afraid to live their lives with pride.
I’m not mad at Ellen for smiling with George Bush. And I’m not angry that she stood up for her notion of kindness either. Ellen knows what’s at stake, and she’s using her influence to spread a message of love without backing down or pretending to be somebody else.
And I never would have expected otherwise.