"I feel super gay!" says Rosie O'Donnell, bursting with pride and attributing it to the fact that she is newly in love, engaged to Michelle Rounds, and also that she is turning 50 -- the "f**k you 50s" -- and is "not going to lay back and take it anymore" when it comes to speaking out against what she perceives as homophobia in American culture.
And that's exactly what she did this week when she took on both David Letterman for jokes in which he compared her to a tow-truck driver and a sports team coach and her long-time nemesis, Donald Trump, who'd released a video calling her a "loser" and whom she accuses of homophobic comments as well.
In a discussion with HuffPost Gay Voices, O'Donnell talked in depth about the overwhelmingly positive response she received from the public to her engagement. And she discussed the details of how it became public during a taping of her OWN show with drag icon RuPaul that focused on a young boy, the son of an audience member, who'd been harassed and bullied in school. She also expounded on a number of topics in the media, including:
- Letterman: "It's not okay for you to say unfunny jokes where the bottom line is, 'Isn't Rosie a dyke?'"
David Letterman made this joke that really set you off. Why was that joke offensive to you?
Rosie O'Donnell: The whole story [is about] getting engaged and being almost 50. We did a show that will be airing in January. There was a mother in the audience. During the break she raised her hand and said, "You know, I have a son," and she started to cry. "He's ten years old and he loves costume design and his favorite show is '[RuPaul's] Drag Race' and he is really good at it and he makes stuff and he has a sewing machine and he's constantly teased at school and I'm afraid. What can I do for him?" I said, "You tell him you love him, you tell him he's a great guy." I gave her my email, so she wrote me and I said, "Ask him if he wants to come to the show and we'll bring RuPaul here and we'll surprise him. And we'll just talk to him about how it was for us when we were little."
So Ru came and the kid was delightful and he was totally happy. And at the break, Ru and I were talking and he said to me, "Did you imagine that when we were our age, in our 50s, that we would be able to marry the person we love, to walk down the street holding hands?" And I said, "Without fear or shame." And he said, "I hear you have a new relationship." I said "Yes, by the time this airs we'll be married." I explained it feels pretty amazing to be engaged. When I shared it with the audience in a break, somebody tweeted it, and then it was over in 15 minutes. But what I didn't expect was the response from strangers. Every person came up to me -- 85 year olds to 8 year olds -- said, "Congratulations on being engaged. I'm so happy for you." I was stunned. I was kind of overwhelmed by it. I had never had that kind of courage before.
And even when we were first engaged [months ago] Michelle said, "Why aren't you talking about it on the show?" And I said, "I don't know how." I didn't know how to bring it up. My whole career, I did my personal life as not part of my act. I did it as a mommy, but never as a grown woman with a sexual identity as prominent and presented. I didn't know how to bring it up. So in a way it was a gift to me to say it in a commercial break, with this boy and RuPaul. It was a gift that kind of pushed me into the pool. Now I know how to talk about it. Now [when people look at me] I know that people think of me as a sexual woman in love with another woman. And that's okay. It took me 49 years to get here.
So here I was getting nothing but support and love from the general public and then I go into work and the writers said, "Did you see the Letterman thing?" They played the clip for me and I was kind of shocked.
Now, do I think David Letterman is a homophobic guy? No. Do I think those jokes had homophobic undertones? Yes, I do. Because that is just a way to mask the word 'dyke.'
"Rosie pulled up with a tow truck" and "She's also now the defensive coach of the Brooklyn Sabers," a hockey team I guess. What are those jokes about? Rosie's a dyke. Rosie's a dyke. Now, did I think Dave would ever say, "Rosie's a dyke?" No. But that is that what that joke is about, yes, it is.
When I got the crazy haircut [back in 2002] and was in the news with all the "Rosie's insanity," "She's having a breakdown," "She's crazy," -- he did a lot of stuff about me. He had Bruce Willis come out with a short wig like my hair. He did a lot of jokes about me. But I was always like, "OK, whatever." But in the wake of feeling so unbelievably supported and loved and freed by my own personal change, it felt like a slap. Every week the Letterman people call and say, "We want you on the show." So [on my show] we rolled the clip [of Letterman joking about me] and I came back and said, "Why? I'll tell you why [I won't come on the show], Dave." And then I listed the top five reasons. They were funny jokes that I did, but what I was really saying was, "It's not OK for you to do that. It's not OK for you to say unfunny jokes where the bottom line is, 'Isn't Rosie a dyke?'"
When Dave had all of his issues of his heterosexual acting out, of his heterosexual union with his wife, when he had sex with interns on his show, I did not do jokes about that. I know where the line is. I'd never say to Dave, "You know you're not really a manly man. You're a skinny, gap-toothed, unappealing man. There are men much more manly than you." I don't do that. I wouldn't do that. But he feels it's okay to basically say, "Isn't she so dykey?"
I just feel at 50 -- there's a wonderful speech on the TED women conference by this woman Susan Levine where she talks about the benefit of being in the fabulous "f**k you 50s," where you get to a point where you're in your 50s and you're through menopause and you've just had enough, and you're like, "You know what, f**k you, right?" and that’s where I've sort of arrived at.
Do I think Dave innately hates gay people? No, I do not. Do I think it was a thoughtless and offensive, not just to me, but to every gay person in the country and to every kid struggling with their sexuality, who hears presidential candidates saying we are not worthy, not equal to, that we are less than? Do I think that it's damaging to them? I do. And I'm going to stand up for myself and for them when I feel that it's necessary.
See some of Rosie's greatest moments from "The Rosie Show" (interview continues after slideshow):
Even with Donald Trump, you seem to be saying you're not going to stand by anymore as well.
He threatened to sue me [for comments on "The View"] but he never did, because you can't sue somebody who says the truth. And then he went on like a hundred programs and basically said, "She's a degenerate." Code word, what? What does that mean, when a straight white male says that a gay woman is a "degenerate?" He denigrates all women but what he was able to do [to me], including on Letterman's show and on Larry King's show and on all of these shows, with pretty much immunity, was, "Isn't Rosie O'Donnell a fat, gay, low-class loser?" I've not said anything for five years, and he's been doing it a lot.
So recently I called [Joy Behar's] show. I didn't even say his name. I just flipped my hair over. Well, the man has gone crazy. He released a video of himself in his boardroom talking about me and Lawrence O'Donnell from MSNBC, saying we were both losers. I look on my Twitter, he's blowing up the Twitter on what a loser I am and how my show is a failure -- low ratings. You know, it's a brand new start-up cable company. We knew this going in. We had a deal with NBC, his network, turned it down to go with the woman who I admire most on the planet in terms of media, her reach, her affect on human beings. But he just kept hammering and hammering. So I was sitting in hair and make up tweeting back, not necessarily to him, about how he does not own any of the buildings that he has his name on, about his money and his bankruptcies, corporate bankruptcies. I just kept putting up links of places people can go to read about him.
At what point do you stand up to the abuser? At what point do you not roll over? I remember during his tirade about me [a few years ago], I was expecting the National Organization for Women to say, "It's not okay for you to do this." But they didn't. So then I figured, this go-round, I will be my own National Organization for Women. It's not okay -- it's not okay. As a woman, a 50 year old who has been through menopause -- sorry, no, it's over grandpa. It's over.
What are you thinking about the presidential race? This ad, the Rick Perry "Strong" ad. It really bothered you.
It's because, as I said, being in love and being in such an amazingly free place -- like I was telling Michelle just other day, I feel super gay! I don’t know what's happened, but I feel super gay now and I love it. I actually love it. I love my friends in the entertainment industry who are gay as well. When I look at you, when I look at Ru, when I look at Ellen [DeGeneres], when I look at Melissa [Etheridge], when I look at Armistead Maupin, when I look at all of these people, at 50 and above, when we figured out we were gay in the '70s, it was a different time. When I look at these kids who are 10 or 12, understanding who they are, going to the prom with their partners, I'm so inspired, so unbelievably proud -- I feel super gay. And so, watching someone who is going to run for president, saying that gays are not equal, blows my mind in 2011. That this man who considers himself a man of God, that he feels he has the right to say this, and that it will help him get elected -- it's shocking to me, shocking.
I had this weekend of Michelle and I going to dinner or shopping for Christmas and people -- straight, Chicago, Midwestern people -- coming up and saying, "Congratulations. Can I see the ring?" It stunned me. I'm in the midst of that euphoria and then I see the [Strong] ad. And I think, dear God. And then the greatest thing, not 20 minutes later, I see 15 hysterical parodies by funny gay men all across the country on YouTube. It seems as though the tribe is getting quite restless and vocal. At some point Rosa Parks said, "No, I'm not sitting in the back of the bus."
On your show, you said Michele Bachmann needs to get a "gaydar gun."
This is an actual toy you can purchase. It's a cute little novelty toy. So I saw it and said let's do it on the show. I was not scripted, just thinking out loud, and said, "Maybe I should send one to Michele Bachmann and have her point it at her husband, figure out what's up." It was just a throwaway. But it made a little bit of news.
What is it with her, saying gay people can get married -- to straight people?
Sometimes people who are in such severe denial, sometimes what they end up saying is their subconscious speaking. Sometimes people are so far in their own denial that they don't realize that what they're saying actually exposes the truth of who they are. And that's what I think happened with Michele Bachmann and her "pray the gay away" [ideology] and this husband who is Liberace effeminate. You know, he is super gay, this guy! Now listen, there are many, many men and women who can't bring themselves to actually admit that this is the truth but they also can't hide it from the rest of the world. And someone who spends the vast majority of their life trying to convert other people from being gay I believe has a serious issue with their own sexual impulses.
What do you think of this group GoProud, a rightwing gay group? Ann Coulter is on the board --
Well, I know nothing about them but if Ann Coulter is on the board I probably disagree with everything they stand for.
She says gays should be pro-life because the next thing liberals will want to do is abort gay babies.
I think that's as asinine as the rest of her comments. I find her inconsequential in my life. I don't listen to what she says. I don't think of her. When I see her I change the channel. I don't understand when I see her on the Joy Behar show, I think, Why would you want to speak to her? She's quite irrelevant in my world. I don't know GoProud, but I do know Log Cabin Republicans. I don't get a gay Republican. I don't get it. I know there's a group of gay Catholics, Dignity. And I'm like, I know, but the man who is running the entire organization is against who are as an individual! When my children were born my siblings were [asking] “Are you going to get them baptized?” I'm like, "No -- the Catholic Church is against who I am as a human being." So I don't know why you'd want to be a member of a group that doesn't want you in it.
You told me on my show [on Sirius XM] how you still can't quite believe it when you're having lunch with Oprah. You still have to pinch yourself, since she is such an icon. But with Madonna, it's like, oh, we're old pals, no pinching there. Explain that.
First of all, Madonna and I are the same age. Oprah is ten years older than me. I was 25 years old when she started the show. She was 35 years old. She was an overweight black woman from the South and she was taking on the legacy of Phil Donohue and no one gave her a chance -- and look at what she did and became. She was formative in my life and brain. Madonna is my age. I don't have that big sister reverence of looking up to her. We're very good friends. I just saw her new movie, "W.E." and it's amazing. It's a brilliant piece of work. She is probably the most talented person I have ever met in my life. You don't get to be Madonna in this lifetime without an immense amount of talent and I think when people see this movie, that not only did she write and direct but she produced it as well, they're going to be shocked. She's a meteoric, once-a-generation type talent and she's a pretty phenomenal human being as well.
You were tweeting while watching Lady Gaga's Thanksgiving special and you were quite blown away by it.
I never really followed her too much. Again, I'm 49. I have children. I'm going to games. I'm listening to your show when I pick my kids up from school. I was never on the Lady Gaga train. Not that I didn't like her but I just didn't pay a lot of attention. But then my children were like, "Mom" -- especially [16-year-old] Parker -- "you should listen to the lyrics." And then, actually, Madonna said to me she saw her with [her daughter] Lola, and she said, "You should see her in concert Ro. She's pretty amazing." And I was like, "Really?" And then I heard her on Howard Stern and I was totally impressed by her in every way. I watched the special, and I know she produced it as well, and it was, I thought, glorious. I think she's a force to be reckoned with and really impressive. Never met her -- would love to meet her.
Rosie O'Donnell can be seen nightly on "The Rosie Show" at 7pm ET on OWN. For more information, visit the show's official website.
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