Dear Oprah: An Open Letter on Boys, Men, & Masculinity

Dear Oprah: An Open Letter

Dear Oprah, 

O — we need to talk. I was in the audience at your event in Los Angeles this weekend. Remember me? The spiky haired dude with his husband and mom in the floor section. It’s ok — there were 13,600 other people there too. 

But O — I’ve been thinking about something you said in your opening. It made the whole first part of the day weird for me — and likely a bunch of other guys in the crowd, too. It was a strange reminder that maybe I didn’t belong in that space with you. 

Your opening message surprised me, and yet felt painfully familiar. It was unintentional. It was likely unnoticed by most. But it created a pernicious and thick fog for me, nonetheless. A fog that I think permeates much of our society — and I write to you today as a plea to be part of changing the dialogue like you have nearly my entire life. 

At the top of the 7-hour event, you walked onstage, Oprah, otherworldly and yet familiar. The same person I saw everyday of my childhood but also a prophet of self-growth and personal development.

As you addressed the crowd, you celebrated the women in the room. Then had them sit down. Next you asked the men to stand up. I stood next to my husband and recognized what a minority we were in the room. Of the 13,600 people in the Forum — maybe 1000 of us were men. Many stood next to their wives or girlfriends. Others stood alone next to their moms, sisters, best friends, and aunties. And several — like me — stood next to their same-sex husband, partner, or boyfriend. 

What happened next surprised me and haunted me throughout the day. 

You acknowledged the men. Celebrated us. We smiled and looked around at each other awkwardly. 

You added “You get eight weeks for showing up here. You don’t even know why you are here. You don’t even know what’s happening besides an Oprah thing.” It was your way of saying that the only reason they were there is because the woman in their life had tricked them into being there. 

And my gut sank. I stood there feeling very much an “other.”

An “other” because not only was I not going to be getting any kind of favors or free pass for eight weeks from my woman — but that I was there for the human experience we were to share. I was there for the personal growth, there for the shared community of people doing exactly what I believe your intention is for people to do, and I was there as a gay man. 

I realize it’s a seemingly innocuous thing, and something that most people would probably not even notice. I know most people would think this letter is much-ado-about-nothing. 

But I think there is a deeper message that we should be challenging. As an uncle to four boys and a soon-to-be-father, I want to push back on the message that says boys and men aren’t to be interested in this kind of work. I want to challenge the idea that all of the men in the room would only be there because their wife forced them to come along. Your audience has plenty of gay men, of trans men, of non-binary folx.  Your audience includes plenty of heterosexual men that are woke and working to challenge the idea that they’d only be interested in an event like yours because their wife promised them eight weeks of favors. 

Now — I’m not coming for you. This isn’t a “cancel” request. You’ve single handedly done more for people like me than anyone else. Visibility matters — and you’ve created a container of visibility that has allowed the world to grow and evolve. Your platform has changed the world. So I am calling on you to do it again. As the great Princess Leia once said “You are our only hope.”

I remember feeling like I’d be okay coming out to my mom in 1999 simply because she was an Oprah fan

Over the years, I’d watch you tackle the issue and stand in solidarity with LGBTQ people. It was your show where I first even heard of someone “coming out” in the 1988 National Coming Out Day episode

I watched as you took on an audience member who was “fed up with gay people” in a 1996 episode. I rewatched my VCR-recorded episode of your 1997 episode with Ellen DeGeneres for which you won the first of seven well-deserved GLAAD awards. I remember pondering if I’d ever be so brave with my dirty little secret. 

I was even in the studio audience with my now husband for 2010’s episode with Ricky Martin talking about his journey finally saying those words out loud. 

And so I am thankful to you for having been such a supportive and comforting container for my own journey over the years. 

We are at a critical juncture to change the dialogue around the toxic masculinity that eats away at so much of society. This is part of that conversation. 

I want my nephews to grow up in a world where they are allowed to love people like you, Oprah, without worrying about their masculinity being challenged. I want my children to see a world where self-growth, personal development, and getting clear on our intentions is something that is for everybody. I want them to see a world where the gender norms are challenged, broken apart, and reshaped in a way that creates harmony, balance, and wholeness.

I’d like to think that someone like you, Oprah Winfrey, would be up for that challenge as well. I’ve seen you change the world before — and I hope I see us do it again around this topic.

Your fan, 

Mike Ganino

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