Editor’s Letter: Why Jodie Foster Left Us Deeply Conflicted
Jodie Foster could have said nothing about her personal life on Sunday, when she accepted the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the Golden Globes, and few of us, even those in the LGBT media, would have thought it strange. She’s famously private and fiercely protective of the details of her personal life.
Instead of talking about her 47 years in the film industry, she decided very publicly to tease the worldwide audience: “So I’m here being all confessional and I guess I just have the sudden urge to say something that I’ve never really been able to air in public … 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 am single. Yes I am, I am single.”
Sean Hayes, years before coming out publicly, did this very thing at the Los Angeles GLAAD Awards in 2003, saying: “I think it’s time to share something about myself, something that I’ve needed to share with you for a while now but wasn’t quite prepared to do so in the past … So, ladies and gentleman, members of the media, colleagues and friends: I’m being selfish again! I’m being selfish again! Tonight is about [Will & Grace costar] Eric McCormack and his heterosexuality. I apologize.”
The difference is that Jodie Foster confirmed her relationship with a woman in 2007, when she thanked her then-partner, Cydney Bernard, when receiving the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award at the Women in Entertainment breakfast. Those remarks, she knew, were to an audience that would share them with the world. It was a public forum, and that was the first time she’d come out publicly.
I’ve already entered for the record my thoughts on what constitutes being out. It’s different for a celebrity than it is for the rest of us, essentially: If you’re a celebrity and you come out in a public forum, you can call yourself out. Until then, you’re not. While we encourage everyone who doesn’t risk his or her own safety by coming out to do so, The Advocate has a policy of not outing people who are not actively doing harm to LGBTs through word or deed. So saying someone isn’t out is not a judgment, but it is a point of distinction we’re sticking to firmly.
But the definition is almost beside the point. She’s out now, however you mark the moment. More troubling was the animosity bubbling under the speech.
Foster said, “I hope you’re not disappointed that there won’t 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 coworkers and then gradually, proudly to everyone who knew her, to everyone she actually met.”
Everyone should come out in her own time, but Foster was angry last night. One reason could be embarrassment at not having come out publicly (at least in her own estimation) until 2013. Last night’s speech clearly took a lot of guts for Foster to undertake. But too much anger was directed at a straw man of her own creation.
“But now apparently I’m told 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 guys might be surprised, but I am not Honey Boo Boo child. No, I’m sorry, that’s just not me, never was, and it never will be,” she said.
There’s where she’s got it wrong. By referencing Honey Boo Boo, a stand-in for all that is shamelessly confessional about celebrity in 2013, Foster’s implication was that the choices she faces as a public figure are few: (1) stay closeted, never acknowledge your sexual orientation in public, or (2) tell the world every sordid detail of your intimate life. That’s a bogus comparison, and it’s one that reinforces the idea that being LGBT is shameful, worthy of being hidden, and that saying you’re LGBT is an invitation to the whole world to come into your bedroom. That’s patently wrong. There are numerous out celebrities who guard their personal lives: David Hyde Pierce, Anna Paquin, Zachary Quinto, Amber Heard, Anderson Cooper, just to name a few.
No one has the right to Jodie Foster’s privacy. On-screen since age 3, the object of a would-be presidential assassin’s obsession — we get it, Foster has had some unusual circumstances in her life that would reinforce an intense need for privacy. But no one is asking about her sex life. And if they did, no one would fault Foster for insisting that those details are her own business.
I’m not disappointed, Jodie (except for you thanking racist, homophobic Mel Gibson). I’m so glad you’re out now. And I’d crawl over broken glass to discuss some of this with you — not the personal stuff, but your personal philosophy behind living life as a famous LGBT person and how you view the world from your very unique perspective. You’ve contributed to the Trevor Project, and you have children; you must know how the world can mistreat LGBT young people and how much coming out does to shift perceptions in positive ways. I can’t help feel that this powerful impulse toward isolation is central to your feeling lonely.
This speech had me deeply confused and conflicted. On the one hand, not everyone can or wants to be an advocate for LGBT rights. We cannot expect every smart, able celebrity to fly the flag and shout from the rooftops. Yet Jodie Foster is so smart, so capable, so worthy of respect as an actor, a filmmaker, and a feminist that I can’t help having wanted her to say, “I’m a lesbian, and there’s nothing wrong or shameful about it.”