Gay-baiting Oprah

Despite the fact that the Oprah Winfrey-Gayle King question has been answered (see 1997–2010), the google-eyed enquiry persists. As snidely quipped recently: “Can’t two single, middle-aged women hang out in peace? All the time? Without men? Ever?”

The comment, of course, comes quick on the heels of the recent slumber party that Winfrey and King had in Yosemite National Park. The “Big Yosemite Adventure” footage, which aired Nov 3 on The Oprah Winfrey Show, sees King and Winfrey courting a little sapphic swagger.

The dalliance comes at the end of day one, as the two prepare to retire to their shared camping trailer.

“Gayle, want to go in first?” asks Winfrey.

Jests King: “Why don’t you just add to that lesbian rumour?”

Oprah smiles. “Lesbian ruuuuuuumours!”

“Come on in, baby!” says King, as she enters the trailer.

It was a week later that caught up with King, daughter Kirby in tow, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City — expressly to broach the subject. Gay vibe?

“There isn’t one,” said King. “At this point, it is just so ridiculous. Even Kirby laughs at it.”

Back in 2006, Winfrey and King explored the relentless rumours in an essay that ran in the August issue of O: The Oprah Magazine.

“I understand why people think we’re gay,” said Oprah. “There isn’t a definition in our culture for this kind of bond between women. So I get why people have to label it — how can you be this close without it being sexual?”

“The truth is, if we were gay, we would tell you because there’s nothing wrong with being gay,” King furthered.

Winfrey concurred: “I’ve told nearly everything there is to tell. All my stuff is out there. People think I’d be so ashamed of being gay that I wouldn’t admit it? Oh, please.”

Despite these candid engagements, however, the Winfrey-King question refused to retire and, in fact, exploded in 2009, during Rosie O’Donnell’s appearance on the Sirius XM-based Howard Stern Show. Remember when Stern asked O’Donnell (Are you a lesbian? Perfect. You can definitively answer All Things Lesbian) to weigh in on the why behind the Winfrey-King rumours?

Said O’Donnell: “I don’t know. I think [Oprah’s] never been married and she’s exceptionally close to Gayle. I don’t know that she and Gayle are necessarily doing each other, but I think they are the emotional equivalent of…”

“A gay couple,” Stern declared.

“When they did that road trip, that’s as gay as it gets,” O’Donnell said, in reference to the 2008 “See the USA in a Chevrolet” summer road trip that Winfrey and King took. “And I don’t mean it to be an insult, either. I’m just saying, listen, if you ask me, that’s the couple.”


Ultimately, the Winfrey-King question is demonstrative of our sweeping discomfort with ambiguity. Both heterosexuality and homosexuality — as institutions that understand themselves through categorical certainty — need the Winfrey-King question in order to sustain their stories of absolutism.

If the Winfrey-King question died, so too would the machines that structure sexuality. Herein, however, lies the twist: each time culture engages the Winfrey-King Are they? Aren’t they? confusion, these machines are destabilized, displaced into the landscape of sexuality along a spectrum. To that end, the Winfrey-King question — repetitive, redundant and reductive — is, in fact, a glorious queering of culture.

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