Why Can't Oprah and Gayle Just Be Friends?

Despite Oprah Winfrey's assertion that she's not gay, speculation still swirls.

BySheila Marikar
December 09, 2010, 8:09 AM

Dec. 9, 2010 — -- "Why can't we be friends? Why can't we be friends?"

It's tempting to think that Oprah Winfrey is playing War's 1975 hit on loop after making like one of her guests, breaking down in tears, and insisting to Barbara Walters that her relationship with Gayle King is strictly platonic.

So goes her now-famous quote: "I have said we are not gay enough times. I am not gay. I am not lesbian. I'm not even kind of a lesbian. And the reason why it irritates me is because somebody must think I'm lying. That's No. 1. No. 2, why would you want to hide it?"

Let us suggest No. 3: Why are we so eager to read into some female friendships more than others?

Winfrey and King, Courteney Cox and Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna -- at one point or another, all have been regarded as maybe just a little bit too close. Why are Winfrey and King always out and about, not Winfrey and her man, Stedman Graham? Did Aniston incite Cox's recent divorce? Are Madonna and Paltrow plotting some kind of macrobiotic, Tracy Anderson-engineered world take over?

Some of the gossip is facetious, to be sure. But it may stem from the thinking that these relationships would be more saucy, more scintillating, more sexy if they involved more than mere shopping sprees and mani-peddis.

Case in point: When Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson were clubbing buddies, they blended into the pack. But when Lohan revealed they were more than just friends (with a kiss onboard a yacht in the south of France, no less), they turned into media darlings, the hot new Hollywood couple no one could stop talking about.

"As lesbian relationships and bisexual relationships among women have become more accepted, people have tried to put two and two together," said psychologist Wendy Lee Walsh. "We see two women who are close friends it's like, 'Oh, well! Maybe there's more to it!'"

It should come as no shock that for many, the PG-13 female friendship also paints a pleasing picture.

"I think with Courtney Cox and Jennifer Aniston it's, 'Hey, wouldn't it be hot if they got together?'" said Jessica Wakeman, a blogger for the female-focused pop culture blog TheFrisky.com.

But Winfrey's is a special case. She shunned the road most traveled. She didn't get married, she didn't have children. Instead, she built an empire. As Wakeman said, she "arouses suspicion."

"People love to speculate about Oprah and Gayle because Oprah's never married, because Stedman's rarely around, because she's a survivor of child sexual abuse, because she's got this very close female friend, and because on top of it, most of her other peers are gay -- Rosie O'Donnell, Ellen DeGeneres," said Walsh.

Will Winfrey's teary testimonial silence the speculation about her sexuality? Because of the way "we associate power with masculinity," according to Walsh, unless the talk show queen dons a big, white, frilly gown and marches down the aisle to meet her king, probably not. Expect that people will be picking away at Winfrey's personal life for years to come.

"The phenomenon of perhaps not giving the truth and then saying something and crying over it is not at all unfamiliar," said E! Online columnist Ted Casablanca. "The public knows that Hollywood lies all the time as a matter of course and a matter of business. There is a new level of sophistication -- and I credit the web with that -- where people know when something's up."

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