I was troubled viewing best-selling author Terry McMillan's appearance w/ her ex-husband on 'OPRAH', Wednesday, November 9. A number of interesting, but complex & intersecting dynamics took place. Yet, even w/ the assistance of Oprah's now, resident Black female psychologist, Dr. Robin Smith, certain issues were not addressed, which is not unusual when her guests are Black, male and/or homosexual.
McMillan admitted (on the show) she met Jonathan Plummer, a Jamaican native 20 years her junior, while vacationing in Jamaica. She caught him gazing at her while having breakfast one morning. At some point, a conversation developed, she fell in lust & asked him to have sex w/ her. Does this sound like a novel?
The critically acclaimed author of love & relationship books like "Disapperaring Acts", "Mama", & "Waiting To Exhale", McMillan's 1996 novel, "How Stella Got Her Groove Back", captured the fancy of Black women everywhere. The book later hit the silver screen - to mixed reviews - w/ Academy Award nominated actress Angela Bassett in the starring role.
Most folks assumed the book & the film articulated McMillan's real life, because she eventually married Plummer (three years later). McMillan said the book was written before they were married, in order to "give herself permission to have an affair w/ a younger man." The two were married for six and a half years. They both agreed the first four years were full of good times. McMillan found Plummer a capable & satisfying lover, surprised any (!) man had his particular skills. But during the last two years of their union, Plummer 'awakened' to his same sex desire, which, apparently, led to a bitter & nasty divorce.
Before Plummer joined the two women on camera, Oprah asked McMillan, who seemed anxiety-riddled throughout the whole show, did she "see any signs of him being gay." McMillan said, "he's not the most masculine man in the world...he spends more time in the mirror than I do...he's narcissistic." Still, his desire to love another man was NEVER affirmed. Why? From the start, Plummer's character was framed by having or hiding a gay identity. And we all know how Oprah loves gay men...
McMillan suspected Plummer had been having sex w/ other man while they were married, so she took an HIV test, which produced a negative result. The primarily female studio audience clapped thunderously when she admitted this fact. Oprah neither challenged nor questioned her motives. McMillan's fears, whiich are prevalent in today's families, churches & social arenas, feed the media hype which suggests homosexuality is a leading co-factor to HIV.
Plummer, a tall, handsome brother casually dressed in white shirt & jeans, was, at times, playful w/ his ex-wife. He struggled, though, when talking about his oppressive upbringing. Plummer shared the anti-homosexual bias prominent in most Carribean nations, stating, "people look down on you, they think its wrong & nobody wants to be gay." Neither Oprah, nor Dr. Smith affirmed Plummer as he shared his pain. Seemingly frustrated, Oprah - who is not a behavioral scientist, counselor, social worker or therapist - asked, "how can you be 20 years old & not know you are gay?" Did she ask Ellen the same?
Western society assigns, expects & imposes gay identities & politics on homosexual men, regardless of their unique cultural, familial or spiritual background. Plummer shared how (known or perceived) homosexuals in Jamaica are regularly tortured & sometimes killed. Admittedly "confused about my sexuality", his trauma was, again, not affirmed. Initially Oprah conceded to Plummer the challenges inherent in "coming out." Later, she said she knew men who "knew they were gay when they were four", but couldn't understand why Plummer couldn't "just tell the truth."
Oprah's ignorance, insensitivity & internalized racism pissed me off.
Over the years, Oprah has interviewed a number of high-profile gay-identified white men, including singers Boy George, Elton John & George Michael, as well as Olympic Gold Medal diving champion Greg Louganis. Never did she equate their same sex desire w/ negative character traits like dishonesty, greed, infideltiy & mistrust. Though he tried to redeem himself, Plummer's media-induced perception will undoubtedly haunt him, as will the lingering affect on homosexual Black men across the globe.
McMillan, who offered she has "no problems w/ gay men", shared her angry feelings of betrayal & deception. She asserted his unwillingness to identify as gay is "similar to alcoholics who deny they can't handle a few drinks." The couple separated soon after Plummer admitted he was gay. Along the way, she left a number of profanely rageful telephone messages, some of which were heard on the show, fueling a climate of 'gay-o-phobia' in the audience. I suspect they could both benefit from therapy.
Plummer later sued McMillian for an undisclosed amount of money. Both parties shared their stories w/ the press - who profit from Black pain. After Plummer's appearance on 'Good Morning America', his ex-wife went on Tavis Smiley's PBS show the same night, stating, "he's a liar & a sociopath & he's trying to get my money, but he will not get it." Tavis looked dumbfounded, but the audience, watching a clip of her on Oprah, roared w/ approval. Perhaps they empathized w/ her sense of "being victimized by a man who cheats." Even if he's gay.
McMillan publicly accused Plummer of marrying her (primarily) to receive his U.S. citizenship, which he has categorically denied. The immigration laws are inherently racist, yet the issue was never challenged by Oprah, or Dr. Smith. Historically, European immigrants are able to navigate the complex legal & social barriers w/ less drama than their Carribean counterparts. Black & brown immigrants have class issues that ignore race: another social construct Oprah is uncomfortable addressing.
Dr. Smith asked McMillan if she still loved Plummer, who replied, "I love the man I married." Dr. Smith suggested McMillan was somehow "swept away by the fantsay of what a man is." Again, the implication here: a homosexual is not a man - but, a gay man. McMillan reluctantly said though she's "not big on forgiveness, I accept him as he is. I forgive him for being gay, but don't like the way this happenned."
Towards the very end of the show, Oprah, w/ the help of McMillan & the audience, got Plummer to admit he was on the 'DL.' Before she asked him about it, it was clear Plummer - aware of society's assumptions around homosexual activity - didn't want that particuar label attached to him by default. Oprah joked 'it' would be better left for another show, as she looked to the audience to define what 'DL' means. After talking to J.L. King, Oprah has become the world's formeost authority on the 'DL' phenomenon, thereby rendering Dr. Smith's contribution neutral.
Finally, Oprah revealed the titile of McMillan's new book, "The Interruption of Everything." She quickly added, "I loved it so much I bought the movie rights to it & we are now in pre-production." Doesn't that sound like a conflict of interest? Her motives for interviewing the unlikely duo were already suspect. Did this remind anyone of the Clarence Thomas/ Anita Hill spectacle? Clearly, we need honest, open dialogue in the Black community around issues of sexuality. Oprah, despite your best intentions: you got punk'd.
- mark j. tuggle
- harlem, usa
- same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. firstname.lastname@example.org.