Gay Community Ambivalent Over Foster’s (Sort-of) Coming Out
NEW YORK -- Was it a proud revelation, or an impassioned case for privacy? A coming-out speech, or a why-SHOULD-I-come-out speech? Too little and too late, or just enough?
Jodie Foster's rambling, fascinating and intensely personal remarks at the Golden Globes were not merely the watercooler moment of the ceremony. They were a big moment for the gay community, and many advocates - though not all - were cheering her on Monday for finally referring publicly to her sexual orientation, albeit in her own particular way.
While some were criticizing the actress for not uttering the words "gay" or "lesbian," and for waiting decades to come out at all, others were saying she deserved to come out in any way she chose, and with any words she happened to favor.
"No doubt, she was partly speaking in code, and she may never have wrapped her words around the fact that she is a lesbian," said Fred Sainz of the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights group. "But everyone watching clearly understood that she was communicating to people that she is gay. She is to be congratulated, no matter how awkward or inarticulate it may have seemed to some. It took an awful lot of courage."
The moment that Foster, a 50-year-old Oscar winner for "The Silence of the Lambs" and "The Accused," took the stage to accept the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award, it was clear she wasn’t going to give a run-of-the-mill speech. The huge roomful of TV and movie stars fell rapt with attention.
"I guess I have a sudden urge to say something that I’ve never really been able to air in public," said the actress and director, long known for being fiercely private. She suggested she had something to say that would make her publicist nervous.
"But, you know, I’m just going to put it out there, right? Loud and proud, right? So I’m going to need your support on this," she said. Then, after a pause: "I am single."
After some laughter, she added: "Seriously, I hope that 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." (A few of her words early in the speech were dropped by the censor; NBC said it was because Foster had uttered the word "Jesus.")
After joking that celebrities are now expected to reveal they’re gay "with a press conference, a fragrance and a prime-time reality show," the actress quipped: "I am not Honey Boo Boo Child. No. I’m sorry. That’s just not me." And then, more defiantly: "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."
Sainz, who is vice president of communications at the HRC, said he understood the claim to privacy. "She wants to be judged on her merits as a director and actress and not necessarily by her private life," he said. "This shouldn’t be the headline of her illustrious career - it’s a footnote."
The privacy argument has come up in other recent instances of celebrities coming out. Last summer, CNN journalist Anderson Cooper confirmed he is gay after years of reluctance to go public. He said that, as a reporter, he had wanted to keep his orientation private for professional reasons, but finally realized that "visibility is important."
Soon after, R&B star Frank Ocean announced on his Tumblr page that his first love was a man. "I don’t have any secrets I need to keep anymore," Ocean wrote. And that same month, when pioneering astronaut Sally Ride died, her orientation was disclosed posthumously in an obituary she wrote with her partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy. Some were supportive that Ride had chosen privacy in her lifetime; others were not.
On The Huffington Post’s "Gay Voices" page on Monday, entertainment writer Deb Baer called Foster a "coward" and said she "could have helped millions of people by coming out years ago."
"Why am I so angry?" Baer wrote. "Because I’m roughly the same age as Jodie, and yet I had the courage to come out exactly 20 years ago." She added: "The `privacy’ excuse is just that: An excuse."
The editor of "Gay Voices," Noah Michelson, said Baer’s view was in the minority - most of his site’s followers were very happy with Foster’s action, he noted - but that he himself had problems with her speech.
"She did it with a sort of bitterness, a hesitation," he said. "It was almost like she was being pulled out of the closet, like she HAD to do it." It didn’t really matter, he said, that Foster was an intensely private person.
"I do think queer people who are famous should be out," he said. "I have the same expectations of all people who are famous. People forget that gay kids today are still killing themselves. So we are not at a place where it doesn’t matter whether people come out or not."
One of Foster’s online critics was actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein, who wrote on his Facebook page: "Trying desperately to be fair to JODI FOSTER, but what she did last night by standing in front of millions of people and being too ashamed to say the word lesbian or gay sent the message that being gay is something of which to be ashamed."
But Wilson Cruz, a former TV actor who came out publicly at 19 - he’s now 39 - and is a spokesman at GLAAD, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, said he viewed the situation as more complicated. At first, he had posted a comment critical of Foster on Facebook. He spoke to The Associated Press after further reflection.
"The way people come out today is very different than 10, 15 years ago," he said. "Then it was an act of political activism. Now, it’s less of a political statement." He added that Foster "has a level of stardom that I cannot imagine, so I can’t imagine the pressure. She also has children that she had to think about. She came out when she was ready. She did it her way."
But Cruz, who played a gay teen on the show "My So-Called Life" in the `90s, said that now, Foster has an opportunity she should not squander.
"She can talk to young people," he said. "She has the opportunity - not to overstate it, but she has the opportunity to save lives."