The talk show host's public coming out in 1997 was completely groundbreaking, but even more so was the coming out of her character on her sitcom, Ellen. But in a teaser for Sunday's episode of Oprah's Master Class, DeGeneres reveals that those events, two defining moments of her career, almost never happened.
"I didn't think I was going to come out, period. I didn't think I'd be coming out on a show, ever," DeGeneres explains in the clip leading up to Sunday's episode.
It was a retreat at California's Esalen Institute, DeGeneres continues, that convinced her to take the big step. During the getaway, which she describes as "no TV and no music and no anything, just meditation and different courses," she says she took a class on changing the subconscious mind's inner dialogue, and that helped her make up her mind about the right path.
"It was scary and crazy and what came out of listening to what I had been saying to myself is, 'Would I still be famous? Would they still love me if they knew I was gay,'" she shares. "My fear was no, they wouldn't. And then that made me feel shame that I was hiding something. It made me feel shame that I couldn't be 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."
DeGeneres came out publicly in a cover story for Time magazine in April of 1997.
"I always thought I could keep my personal life separate from my professional life," she said at the time. "I mean, I really tried to figure out every way to avoid answering that question for as long as I could. Now, I feel completely comfortable with myself, and I don't have to be fearful about something damaging my career if it gets out, because now I'm in control of it — sort of."
Oprah's Master Class airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on OWN.
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