Wednesday, 16 January 2013

The Problem with Jodie Foster's Big Coming Out Ramble

Back in 2008, Out magazine ran a cover with the headline "The Glass Closet" featuring models holding masks of Anderson Cooper and Jodie Foster. It said, without a word, that we know both of these people are gay even though they won't acknowledge it publicly. It was famous. Or at least famous among the gays, like Margaret Cho. In the four years since that cover came out so have both of the subjects (though some would argue Foster was out by then). The funny thing is, Anderson did it definitely while Jodie did it, well, in her own unique way.

The acceptance speech Foster made at Sunday's Golden Globes when she received her Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award was a bit of an odd ramble that hit on many topics: her love of film crews, her hatred of reality television, her appreciation of Marion Cotillard, and her strange friendship with Mel Gibson. But the thing that people are really going to be talking about is her big "coming out" moment in front of millions of people sitting at home watching her unravel. As a fellow member of the gay community, I'm supposed to support Jodie and tell her that coming out is great, that we all do it in our own time, and that there is no wrong way to do it. That's what I'm supposed to say. What I can't help but say, however, is that Jodie Foster came out all wrong.

It's not that she took so long to do it that was off-putting, but the words she chose and the tone in her voice that was the problem. It was as if coming out publicly is something to be mocked, something that is beneath her, something that is akin to being on Honey Boo Boo, a reality television program that most people – Jodie Foster included – find incredibly distasteful. (I would also venture to guess that Foster hasn't seen one second of TLC's popular show because she's too busy reading Proust or something.)

It started with the mocking lead in to her weird acknowledgement of her orientation. "So, a declaration that I’m a little nervous about but maybe not quite as nervous as my publicist right now — Hi Jennifer. But I’m just going to put it out there, right? Loud and proud, right? So I’m going to need your support on this. I'm single," she said. It was a bait and switch that would have been funny for someone like Ellen DeGeneres, who is already out, or someone like Hugh Jackman, who has been dogged by gay rumors for years. It could have been great for Jodie if she just stopped there.

Thanks to the glitch-filled Globes, the audio cut out for a second and Foster returned to say this, "[There will not] be a big coming out speech tonight because I already did my coming out about a thousand years ago back in the Stone Age, in those very quaint days when a fragile young girl would open up to trusted friends and family and co-workers and then gradually, proudly to everyone who knew her, to everyone she actually met. But now I’m told, apparently, that every celebrity is expected to honor the details of their private life with a press conference, a fragrance, and a prime-time reality show. You know, you guys might be surprised, but I am not Honey Boo Boo Child. No, I’m sorry, that’s just not me. It never was and it never will be." It was the first coming out speech I ever heard that refused to admit it was a coming out speech.

This is what turned her initial joke about being single into a cruel jest. Jodie knew what we – especially her gay fans – were waiting for and it is something that she's saying she won't deliver because she finds it all to be tawdry and distasteful. I'm sorry, Jodie, but millions of gay people in this country have gotten up in front of audiences big and small and said that we are gay and, yes, we did it "loud and proud." There is nothing wrong with saying that you are gay and there is nothing wrong with doing it in public. Not everything needs to be a big declaration with glitter and rainbow flags and a banner headline on People magazine over Lance Bass' face that says, "I'm gay." Some of us do it in quiet ways all the time, by marrying our partners or kissing them in public, just like straight people would. Or, you know, by bringing them as dates to an awards show just like several of your colleagues did last night. (PS: Did you see how hot Victor Garber's partner of 13 years is?)

But, no, Jodie Foster doesn't want to hold a lady's hand while discussing who she's wearing on E! and trying not to laugh at Giuliana Rancic's hair. Jodie Foster is too good for coming out. She wants her privacy. But the stage of a nationally televised awards show isn't really the place to be calling for privacy. She said, "If you had been a public figure from the time that you were a toddler, if you’d had to fight for a life that felt real and honest and normal against all odds, then maybe you too might value privacy above all else. Privacy." But that seems a bit disingenuous. If Jodie valued privacy above all else because of her early years in the spotlight, then she wouldn't be on this stage now. She would have gone to Yale, gotten a degree in business or nursing or political science or something else and then forged ahead on a career path that doesn't demand that she stand up in front of millions of people and talk about her personal life. She did not do that. She is a star; and part of the contract she signed when she decided to become a very famous actor involves giving up some privacy. Yes, she might not have had the choice as a child, but she does as an adult. She had a choice whether or not to accept this award at all (Maggie Smith gave up going to these things in the '80s), so don't give me this junk about privacy.

And Jodie Foster, as a closet case, has been given more privacy than most heterosexual stars her age. For decades, the press was complicit in covering up and not divulging the truth about her relationships while it focused on every coming and going of a male star with a female actress. But because Jodie would not go public with her orientation, they played along and let her private life be hidden. She was afforded a luxury that every actress from Jane Fonda to JLo was not. She can't be running around now harping about her privacy when the public and media were complicit in letting her have more than her fair share.

Not only that, but Foster's understanding of what the public wants is totally unfounded. We do not want all the details of her private life. We don't want to hear about what positions she enjoys with her lover(s) or how she like to have sex. We want to know about whom she's married to and whom she's dating. It's what we want to know about every movie star and these are things that movie stars have been talking about before there were even talkies. This is nothing new and there is nothing wrong with it. It is the price one must pay for fame. Instead, Jodie chose not to talk about her partner of many years so it looked like she was ashamed of her relationship, like being gay is something so shameful it needs to be hidden.

That is not the case, and coming out has never been easier or more low key. Just look at the celebrities large and small who have come out recently. Cooper, her partner in Out magazine crime, came out in a letter. Frank Ocean came out in a blog post. Zachary Quinto and Jim Parsons came out in casual references in news articles. None of them have been dogged about details of their sex lives since their big revelations. Also, none of them got up at one of the biggest entertainment events of the year and made a big stink about it. If Foster really wanted her privacy, maybe she should have found a better way to relay the message. And maybe she shouldn't have turned up her nose at all the men and women who were brave enough to do just that, the people who were turned out of their homes, snubbed by loved ones, or fired from their jobs merely for having the strength to stand up and say the thing that Foster compares to a little girl rolling around in the mud for the public's amusement. (Also, Jodie might want to check out Honey Boo Boo before disparaging her because Honey Boo Boo would tell her that being true to herself is a blessing no matter what she may be.)

That is why I have a problem with the way Jodie Foster came out — because she basically told me that what I did was wrong. None of us (both in the media and on the board of the National Coalition of Proud Homosexuals) asked for this verbal rampage. Jodie thanked her ex-partner Cydney, just as she did at another awards show back in 2007 (which is what many consider her real coming out moment) and, really, that's all that we're asking for. We're asking for Jodie Foster to live her life in the public eye without being afraid. We're asking her to walk down that red carpet with her significant other in tow just like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie or even George Clooney and (ugh) Stacy Keibler. What we're asking for is equality. Until we have it, a few people might have to sacrifice their privacy to get it. I don't think that's too much to ask. I also don't think that it's too much to ask to refrain from making coming out, a definitive moment in every gay person's life, sound like some horrible chore that is inflicted upon us. Last night, Jodie Foster's speech should have felt like she was blowing the closet door off the hinges. Instead, it felt like she was slamming it in all of our faces.

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