How Oprah Helped Me to Come Out and Change My Life

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It was in 2006 that an episode of Oprah changed my life.

I had just put my kids down for a nap and looked forward to the next hour of my life because I got watch something on TV besides cartoons. For us moms, watching what we want on TV tends to be a distant memory, especially if the topic is considered not suitable for children. My husband was at work that day, and I had planned the naps accordingly so I could watch one of my favorite shows: The Oprah Winfrey Show. Today she was going to talk about something I needed to know more about: Lesbians. 

These were not just any lesbians. These were women who were married to men and were raising a family with them, only to realize years later that they were gay. These lesbians were me. 

As the show started, it felt as though each woman was speaking directly to me. I felt the fear in their hearts when they spoke about coming out to their children and what the other parents would think if they knew who they really were. I heard the sadness in their voices when they talked about breaking up a family that was once the envy of everyone around them. Then I saw the joy on their faces as they talked about the freedom they had once they were able to share their truth. It was as if they were sitting in my living room telling me their stories and telling mine at the exact same time. 

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When the program ended I wept quietly into my hands. I wept because, for the first time, I wasn’t the only one. No, I did not know these women personally, but right then I knew that I wasn’t alone! In that moment any doubts I had about my sexual identity were gone, and I knew without a doubt I was gay.

 I decided the first thing I was going to do was email Oprah Winfrey and thank her for airing the show and to thank the women who were brave enough to share their life with the world. I wanted her to know if one good thing came from that show, it was that I was able to find the courage I was so desperately looking for. It wasn’t going to be easy and it wasn’t going to happen overnight, but I was going to get to the freedom I longed for.

A couple of weeks went by after I sent the thank you email to Oprah, when the phone rang. It was a producer from The Oprah Winfrey Show. Apparently they had gotten such a positive response from viewers, that a follow up show was in the works and they needed more women to share their stories. And they chose me. Now, I am certain they called more people than just me of course, but in those 30 seconds, all I could think of was, this is my chance to be brave. 

“Of course I will be on the show,” I said, without a moment of hesitation. I didn’t hear anything the producer said after that, because all I could think of was, “Holy crap, I am going to be on The Oprah Winfrey Show!” That sentence played over and over in my head. I heard the producer say she would call me next week and to look for an email from her about what they need to get things moving forward. As I hung up the phone in a daze as two feelings came over me: shock and excitement. I was about to meet Oprah. 

In order to prepare for the show, I needed to come out to my family. At that point I had already came out to my husband and he was in denial, “You aren’t gay, you just like to sleep with women once in a while.” When I brought up going on the show, he seemed less than thrilled about his “manhood” being put on display but was a willing participant because he reveled in any attention he could get. However, if I was to go on national TV confessing I was a lesbian, I supposed I should probably tell my parents first.

The next two weeks were a blur. I had come out to my family and a few of my friends (which did not go well but at least I had said the words out loud)  in order to prepare them for my Oprah debut. I had several conversations with the producer of the show about details of my life and my story. I spent several hours on the phone pouring my heart out to a complete stranger. At their request, I had dug up pictures of me as a child, pictures of me in college and recent pictures of my husband and me. Everything was coming together.

And suddenly, it was happening way too fast. 

I started thinking about my family, who were having a hard time processing that not only was I getting a divorce, but that I was gay. I thought about the woman I was secretly having an affair with and how she would never speak to me again if I did this. I thought about my children and how this could possibly put them in danger, knowing our city was far from being accepting of homosexuality. No, there is no way I can do this. 

I had gone from a young Midwesteren housewife to a scared lesbian about to tell the world her story. I was no longer excited—I was terrified. I spent the next two days contemplating the pros and cons for going on the show. This was something I probably should have done the moment the producer called me the first time, but excitement took over in that moment and I just went with it. 

The next day I called the producer and told her I was sorry, but I have changed my mind, I cannot do the show. 

Some of you are probably thinking, ” What the heck is wrong with this chick? She could have been on Oprah!” There are some days I think the same thing, trust me. Yet in those two days of weighing the pros and cons, I realized that without going on the show, I had found enough courage to tell the people I loved the most, that I was gay. I didn’t need to go on the show to be brave—I had done that all on my own. 

Follow @erinfaithwilson on Twitter.

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