Jodie Foster was honored with a Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2013 Golden Globe Awards ceremony tonight. She’s only 50 years old, but she’s been an actress since she was 3. I adore her and respect her work. But I was, truthfully, more focused on wanting her to come out, to serve as a great example of our successful community oh all hail the mighty Out Lesbians, and she’s a mother to boot!
Come on, Jodie, it’s time. That’s what was on my mind. Foster knew it, knew that “fans” like me have been holding a rainbow label in our hands just waiting for her to jump through it like a circus hoop. She knew it, she grabbed the label, showed us it matched one she already was wearing, and then she burnt both of them down.
Jodie Foster came out, make no mistake about that.
Although she’s a public figure who is presumed to be a lesbian, Foster had never in the past officially taken a stage or a microphone and come out. Still, through the years there has been the noted absence of any attempt to have a beard, and plenty of clues that her longterm partner and co-parent was Cydney Bernard. They’ve been photographed together with Foster’s children, the children bear both last names, and Foster has publicly thanked “my Cydney” at the place in an awards ceremony where spouses are thanked. But Foster has largely let that relationship stand undescribed in place of a public coming out statement about herself.
All of those small indicators have been treasured in the LGBT/progressive press, where it is celebrated when public figures come out, just as I did here when Anderson Cooper and Megan Rapinoe came out earlier this year. But the details about her life have also been a point of contention. Why won’t Foster just come out already? The visibility of coming out is so very important in advancing LGBT rights, in promoting acceptance, and in creating positive “It Gets Better” type of examples that save teens’ lives.
But do those benefits mean one must come out publicly if one has a platform? The career costs of coming out for an actress can still be massive. The burden of coming out are certainly unfair and something actors with straight privilege don’t have to consider. Why is any of it our business, anyway? But the pressure to come out or else be presumed straight can make a private person look deceitful and a proponent of shame. The pressure most certainly has been damned-if-you-do-or-don’t for Jodie Foster for a long time.
I sure felt the pressure for her as she took the stage to accept her award, and I wanted her to face the storm head-on. Come out. But what would Foster do, especially since she is now apparently single? Would she finally take this great award as a chance to come out? Would she focus on her work only? How would she acknowledge her family? If she chose to avoid the issue, she assuredly would come under attack as closeted. It was a high-pressure storm pushed to max because a quick acceptance speech just wouldn’t do. This is a lifetime achievement award. This is a whole life we’re talking about. A whole, we think, lesbian life.
She took it all on.
Hell yes, Jodie Foster came out. She did so without using the words “gay” or “lesbian.” She did so in an intelligent takedown that blew convention and pressure out of the water, and in doing so confused a lot of people, according to Twitter, anyway. She accepted her award with humor, confidence, anger, pain, grace, dignity and defiance.
Foster affirmed in several ways that she is gay. She made a huge joke of her upcoming confession, asking for help in her big reveal, in a way that had audiences on the edge of our seats because, duh! we knew what she needed to reveal…and then she smacked down and made a mockery of anyone who would dare ask for or consume her private life as a piece of gossip. And if we knew anyway…oh. Advantage Jodie.
So while I’m here being all confessional, I guess I just have a sudden urge to say something that I’ve never really been able to air in public. So, a declaration that I’m a little nervous about, but maybe not quite as nervous as my publicist. Hi Jennifer! Um, but I’m just gonna put it out there, you know? Loud and proud. So I’m gonna need your support on this.
Then, more to the point, she affirmed that she came out to herself long ago, and actually redefined “coming out” as a process without a public component:
I am not giving a coming out speech tonight, because I already did my coming out about a 1000 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. 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.
And, you guys might be surprised, but I am not Honey Boo Boo Child. No. I’m sorry, that’s just not me, and it never will be. But please don’t cry because my reality show would be so boring. I would have to make out with Marion Cotillard, I would have to spank Daniel Craig’s bottom just to stay on the air. It’s not bad work if you can get it, though.
But seriously, 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 normal and honest against all odds, then maybe then you too might value privacy above all else.
Foster threw down the quietest, loudest coming out we’ve ever seen. As a mother, in front of her children. As a single woman, in front of her ex and co-parent. As an artist, in front of her industry and public.
Isn’t that enough?
She went on to praise and thank Cydney as her “ex partner in love,” and mentioned pride in their “Modern Family.” The same sorts of codes she’s deployed before, maybe heightened a notch. And with a bit of a flip off to her audience. Because here she showed us that yes, we were right. We saw her family and presumed she was gay because she let us see it, preciously, quietly. But our insistence on holding her feet to the fire for more, for a certain word, for the loud declaration she didn’t want to make, not now, maybe not ever? We ruined our intimacy with her right there. We threw away a real coming out in our desires for a broad public one.
I saw immediate reactions to her speech range from mad props to frustration and confusion, to dismissal because of said confusion, and to anger that she challenged the benefits of publicly coming out. I saw straight privilege run amok, with people revealing that they have no idea how hard it is to be gay and to come out or not come out again and again and again. And I saw a lot of pain and frustration from LGBT-identified viewers, who want so much for us to ever move the acceptance needle forward.
Which, I’d argue, Jodie Foster has done. And has been doing, for all those 47 of her 50 years.
Foster ended her speech by pointing to reinvention:
Maybe it will be so quiet and delicate that only dogs can hear it whistle, but it will be my writing on the wall: Jodie Foster was here, I still am, and I want to be seen, to be understood deeply, and to be not so very lonely. Thank you, all of you, for the company. Here’s to the next 50 years.
It was a complex moment that resonated deeply with me. She wants to be seen, to be understood, to be not lonely. She wants privacy. Real acceptance. Yes, all of that. I understand. Don’t we all? She has come out again and again, of course she has. We all have.
Damn me for wishing she would be any certain way, make any statement or have any “coming out” timing, other than her very own.
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