Was Jodie Foster's 'Coming Out' a Step Backward for Gays and Lesbians?
I have to say I was actually downright annoyed by Jodie Foster’s “coming out” speech at the Golden Globes. On the one hand, of course I commend anyone who has the guts to come out, but I felt like her speech was less about coming out and more about chastising the media and her fan base for wanting her to do that. She kept referring to her life in the public eye and her right to privacy, and that’s fine, but if she doesn’t like the public eye, stop living in it. Partner that with her rambling speech and her choice of date (Mel Gibson — really) and I felt like Jodie’s coming out was a step back for gays and lesbians in Hollywood. Am I overreacting, or do you think Jodie Foster made a mess of her “coming out” speech? --Lesbian in L.A.
Indeed I do think you’re overdramatizing things, but you’re far from alone. Many people have unleashed their inner critic in judging Jodie Foster’s remarks at the Golden Globes. One of the kinder souls, Matthew Breen, editor in chief of The Advocate, said that her speech left him “deeply confused and conflicted,” while on the opposite end of the spectrum Brett Easton Ellis, author of “American Psycho,” tweeted, “What is she? A three-year-old lesbian?” Still others piled on, calling her “selfish,” “disjointed,” even “clinically insane.”
I say whoa, what’s with all the shaming and raging?
Yes, the speech rambled (“I’d have to spank Daniel Craig’s bottom.” Huh?) Yes, the tone was sometimes holier than thou (“I am not Honey Boo Boo ....” Leave the poor child alone). And yes, she did stick up for the unconscionable Mel Gibson (at least she’s not a fair-weather friend). But she did come out — in her own words and at a time of her own choosing:
“There is no way I could ever stand here without acknowledging one of the deepest loves of my life, my heroic co-parent, my ex-partner in love but righteous soul sister in life … my most beloved BFF of 20 years, Cydney Bernard. Thank you, Cyd. I am so proud of our modern family.”
Some have called this coming out “oblique” and “veiled” because she didn’t follow some unwritten L.G.B.T. protocol, which apparently demands the use of the all-important L word to make it official. What’s veiled about her reference to a beloved female partner and co-parent? To boot, she did use the phrase “loud and proud” — that’s not exactly an undecipherable code. (Six years ago Ms. Foster acknowledged “my beautiful Cydney” at a Hollywood power breakfast, which also seemed too subtle to be recorded as the definitive coming out.) And what’s happened to our sense of humor? Remember how we just enjoyed the tease when Ellen DeGeneres confided to Rosie O’Donnell that she was, in fact, “Lebanese,” and when Melissa Etheridge recorded a CD called “Yes I Am”? To my ears, Ms. Foster was both following suit and trying her own hand at humor, coming out as — drumroll, please — “single.” Who among us hasn’t flubbed a joke? (Granted, we don’t normally do that in front of 19 million viewers.)
In fact, Ms. Foster’s speech brought me unexpectedly to tears, not because she made a mess of it, but because every time one of us comes out it’s a moment of profound courage and vulnerability. It’s the life-changing blink of an eye in which we shed our skins and ask to be known — and loved — for who we are. And that’s exactly what she said: “I want to be seen, to be understood deeply and to be not so very lonely.” Isn’t that one of the most compelling reasons to leave the closet? Isn’t that what we all want in the end?
If any harm is done, it’s certainly not going to be to Ms. Foster’s image or career, but to all of those still closeted — whether 15 or 50 — who may find yet another reason not to come out, lest their way might not be the “right” way. Sometimes we “ramble”; sometimes we’re “disjointed”; but it’s the raw kernel of honesty that matters — and that I heard in the six-minute speech.
Speaking of 50, it’s difficult to overlook the generational overlay on this entire tempest. Ms. Foster kicked off her speech by saying straight out, “I’m 50!” adding: “I already did my coming out a thousand years ago, in the Stone Age. Those very quaint days when a fragile young girl would open up to trusted friends and family and co-workers and then gradually to everyone who knew her, everyone she actually met.” Her recollection of a more private coming out resonated with many boomers, even the snark twins du jour, Kathy Griffin (“Well done, lady”) and Rosie O’Donnell (“amazing speech”).
Yep, that’s how our generation did it — one conversation at a time, on our own terms, when it felt right. That Ms. Foster finally felt safe enough to go public, however clumsily, speaks volumes about her lifetime achievement.
Originally published in The New York Times, 1/22/2013