Twitter has been all aflutter with all things Oprah, including her longtime beau Stedman Graham’s unexpected salute to her in the second to last episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show. Graham taking the stage to salute Winfrey even appeared to surprise her. On camera, at least. Since it’s her show, it’s hard to believe she didn’t know that Graham would speak. Still, whether Oprah was in on it or not, Graham speaking was so unusual that he even trended on Twitter.
Although they began dating in 1985 and Winfrey has acknowledged no other man in her life during that time frame, the couple’s relationship status has served as fodder for much tabloid speculation, mainly that Winfrey and gal pal Gayle King are lovers. Over the years, Winfrey has consistently denied that she is in a lesbian relationship with King but, still, the rumors persist. Inner circle friend Rosie O’Donnell, who has a show, The Rosie O’Donnell Show, on OWN, shared her thoughts on the subject in 2009 during Sirius XM’s The Howard Stern Show.
When questioned about her take on whether their relationship was a lesbian one or not, O’Donnell said ‘I don’t know’ but shared that she believed that it was. “When they did that road trip, that’s as gay as it gets,” O’Donnell stated. “And I don’t mean it to be an insult either. I’m just saying, listen, if you ask me, that’s the couple.”
WATCH MSNBC’s COVERAGE OF OPRAH’S FINAL EPISODE HERE:
In African-American culture, black women have shared extraordinarily strong bonds so sisterfriends aren’t at all uncommon. Actually, that strong relationship has been broached many times in fictional and nonfictional books regarding African-American life and culture. During Winfrey’s December 2010 interview with Barbara Walters, she began tearing up when summing up her friendship with King, whom she has known since her days in Baltimore.
“She is … the mother I never had. She is … the sister everybody would want. She is the friend that everybody deserves. I don’t know a better person. I don’t know a better person,” she told Walters.
Walters also inquired about Winfrey’s relationship with Graham, whom she, like many people, assumed was no longer in the picture. Until recently, Winfrey and Graham had made sporadic public appearances over the years. According to Winfrey, that was intentional on her part.
“Every time we showed up in public, there’d be another exploitative story so I made a conscious effort around 2003, 2004 to pull back on my public appearances with Stedman,” she told Walters. Winfrey reassured her that he was still “the love, the lover, the man, the partner, the mate” in her life. Over a decade ago, in 1997, when Winfrey delivered Wellesley’s commencement address during the graduation of Graham’s daughter Wendy, she was atypically candid about their relationship, revealing herself as a third parent in Wendy’s life even. She praised the job Wendy’s mother, Glenda, and her dad had done raising her and shared details about accompanying them both on Parent’s Day. She spoke of intimate phone calls from Wendy to her dad, conversations that only a close partner would know of.
“She came here a naive girl from Dallas and Stedman and Glenda, I, and all of those who loved Wendy, are grateful to you Wellesley for the woman in process that you gave us back. We are grateful for that,” she shared in the address.
With the candor and warmth Winfrey expressed during that address, one must wonder why Winfrey, who has made expressing one’s emotions a cornerstone of her iconic show, has shared so little of her core life with Graham with her many fans. Actually, it would appear to be a normal act. The fact that it comes as such a surprise should raise an eyebrow.
As earthy and personable as Winfrey comes across, it’s easy to forget that she is a shrewd businesswoman. At a time when most people would have given away the kitchen sink to have a nationally syndicated show, Winfrey insisted on ownership. Perhaps she has hidden her personal life from the spotlight not just to discourage tabloid speculation. Because her many fans have viewed her as being at their beck and call, attending to their emotional needs, it’s conceivable that she felt that any discovery that she had a common law husband and served as a stepmother would present her as not being fully available to them.
American popular culture, especially Southern-based lore, is filled with black women such as Winfrey who appear to have a moral compass on white America’s psyche. Winfrey, of course, has turned the “mammy” stereotype on its head and ridden it all the way to billionaire status. She has shaken up the conceptions of black womanhood and played her hand expertly. During this final season, many were indeed shocked to find out exactly how African-American centered Winfrey actually is.
Through her Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes, it’s been evidently clear that no one is pulling her strings but her. In this last season, she has revealed herself to be beyond shrewd. She has recently become very active on Twitter, even sharing a video. of herself with Graham at their Montecito home in March.
There should be no doubt that Graham is a very active part of Winfrey’s life, as is her best friend King. If Winfrey was indeed a lesbian, by now, she would have certainly let the cat out of the bag. After all, that would have really been a ratings bonanza. So, although Graham appeared uncomfortable peppering his salute to Winfrey with “honey” and “sweetheart”, in real life, they’ve been together for almost three decades and, today, a break-up doesn’t appear imminent.