In the early 1990s, we queers speculated about who was in our tribe. Melissa Etheridge? Lily Tomlin? Greg Louganis? We drew stark lines between who was "in" and who was "out" underscored by political urgency. We celebrated when celebrities acknowledged their homosexuality. Yes, we still do that to some degree today, but now it is more mundane. In the early 1990s, it felt like the earth shook when a celebrity said, "Yup, I'm Gay." It seemed like that bit of fame might take us closer to respect in our communities, to being valued ourselves for being gay.
Two women surrounded by persistent speculation and the whiff of lesbian rumors were Dolly Parton and Oprah Winfrey. Two decades ago, I wanted them to be lesbians. I wanted them to come out and embrace the queer community. Surely, I thought, these entertainment mavens would vault the LGBT community forward in our appeals for rights.
Dolly and Oprah never came out. To this day, they maintain that they are not lesbians, but allies. For many years, these statements, their denials of queerness made me roll my eyes. Today, however, I am happy about Dolly and Oprah. I do not want them to be lesbians; I do not want them to jump on our bandwagon of gay marriage, or as we prefer to call it just, marriage. Their enduring friendships with women, Oprah's with Gayle King and Dolly's with Judy Ogle, are more revolutionary today than if they were gay.
When is the last time someone publicly celebrated a long-term, enduring friendship? When was the last time someone invited you to the golden anniversary of a friendship? When was the last time someone congratulated you and your best friend on staying together all these years? When was the last time someone recognized that friendships, old and new, are life-giving forces in our lives?
People regularly congratulate me on my eighteen-year relationship, now a marriage. The recognition is nice, and I love my beloved more than the first day that I met her. I do not want to diminish our relationship, but everything in our society supports a long-term intimate couples. Family, taxes, social norms. The world conspires to keep up together.
Not so with friendships. Friendships are recognized but not prioritized. We are expected to make friends wherever we are. We are expected to give up friends for intimate relationships. We are expected to feel little loss when jobs require us to move someplace new leaving friends behind. We are not to organize our lives around keeping the friends we have; we are not to build our lives around sustained, non-sexual, interpersonal intimacies. But what if we did?
Dolly and Oprah with their friendship bonds with Judy and Gayle are to me the revolutionary relationships of the moment. Female friendships that endure for years and years. Intimacy between women. Emotional, supportive bonds between friends. Lives linked without marriage. Lives linked by choice with little legal or societal sanction. These relationships are the subversive intimacies of the 21st century. I am no longer waiting for Oprah and Dolly to come out; I'm waiting for us all to recognize the centrality of friendship. I'm waiting for us to find new ways to talk about friendships as equally important as loveships. Oprah and Dolly are leading the way.