However, DeGeneres, 57, shared that she decided to come out following a meditation retreat.
“Someone gave me a gift, a course at a place called Esalen,” she told Winfrey. It’s kind of a hippie place, and you go in, and [there’s] no TV and no music and no anything, and it’s just meditation and different things and different courses — and there was a course called Changing the Inner Dialogue of Your Subconscious Mind, and I thought, ‘That would be an interesting course to take because I wanted to know what the inner dialogue of my subconscious mind was."
This is when her true self became clearer, DeGeneres recalled.
“It was scary and crazy and what came out of listening to what I had been saying to myself was, ‘Would I still be famous, would they still love me if they knew I was gay?’” she explained. “And my fear was that no, no they wouldn’t, and then it made me feel ashamed that I was hiding something. It made me feel ashamed that I couldn’t feel 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.”
When DeGeneres did eventually come out in 1997, it was immediately met by a public conversation about her sexuality -- both positive and negative.
"It became bigger than I ever thought it would be. Bigger than I wanted it to be," DeGeneres explained. "It overshadowed my talent, it overshadowed who I am as a person."
"It was only meant to be, you know, just being honest," she continued. "And it became this snowball, this avalanche, that just got bigger and bigger and bigger. There was no stopping it. It turned into people not liking me, because they thought that I was somehow political all of a sudden."
This isn't the first time DeGeneres has opened up to Winfrey about her sexuality, having done so on the latter's talk show shortly after coming out. So, it only seemed appropriate, when DeGeneres' character on her sitcom Ellen eventually came out to her therapist, she was played by none other than Winfrey herself.
Despite the initial controversy, DeGeneres' bravery to come out inspired many to be true to themselves, including Freeheld star Ellen Page, who announced she was gay at a Human Rights Campaign event. To see the actress thank the host for coming out “when it was much harder," watch the video below.