Ellen DeGeneres on Coming Out as Gay: “I Didn’t Think I Was Going to Come Out, Period”

Portia de Rossi and Ellen DeGeneres
Ellen DeGeneres admitted that she almost didn't come out back in the '90s out of fear of how her fans would react. Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

Times sure have changed. When Ellen DeGeneres came out as a gay woman back in 1997, she was one of the first to break the Hollywood mold. But, as she reveals in an episode of Oprah’s Master Class, set to air on Sunday, Oct. 25, she almost didn’t do it.

“I didn’t think I was going to come out, period,” she says in a preview clip of the show. “I didn’t think I’d be coming out on a show, ever.”

DeGeneres, 57, came out on the Oprah Winfrey Show back in February 1997, and her character on her popular sitcom, Ellen, came out to her therapist (played by Winfrey) the following April.

The talk show host explained that it took a meditation retreat to gain full mental clarity that she needed to come out to her fans.

“Someone gave me a gift, a course at a place called Esalen,” she said, describing a retreat center located in Big Sur, Calif. “It’s kind of a hippie place, and you go in, and [there’s] no TV and no music and no anything, and it’s just meditation and different things and different courses — and there was a course called Changing the Inner Dialogue of Your Subconscious Mind, and I thought, ‘That would be an interesting course to take because I wanted to know what the inner dialogue of my subconscious mind was.’”

DeGeneres added that her biggest fears surfaced when she calmed her mind.

“It was scary and crazy and what came out of listening to what I had been saying to myself was, ‘Would I still be famous, would they still love me if they knew I was gay?’” she said. “And my fear was that no, no they wouldn’t, and then it made me feel ashamed that I was hiding something. It made me feel ashamed that I couldn’t feel honest and really be who I am, and I just didn’t want to pretend to be somebody else anymore so that people would like me.”

In August 2008, DeGeneres tied the knot with girlfriend Portia de Rossi. The pair have been happily wed since, despite oft-recurring reports that their marriage is on the rocks.

"We're kind of flattered [by the breakup rumors], because for a while no one cared about us, and we thought 'Oh, lesbians aren't worthy of tabloid stories!'" she joked while visiting Howard Stern's SiriusXM radio show in September. "We're kind of flattered that they even care about us."

Sign up now for the Us Weekly newsletter to get breaking celebrity news, hot pics and more delivered straight to your inbox!

Want stories like these delivered straight to your phone? Download the Us Weekly iPhone app now!