Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The uncomfortable coming out of Jodie Foster

No --- I didn't watch the Golden Globes. But I did watch clips of the odd and uncomfortable coming out --- sort of --- speech that Jodie Foster made while accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award for Lifetime Achievement on Sunday. And read some of the commentary that followed.

The whole business probably is of more interest to LGBT people, closeted and otherwise, than it is to your  garden-variety hetersexual. We've all "come out" --- or not --- at one time or another, after all, and can see ourselves reflected at least a little in the apparent discomfort, resentment and fear of that talented and accomplished actor, director and producer.

What seemed especially odd was that she did it at all. Foster's sexual orientation has been apparent for decades to anyone interested in such things, as has been her reluctance to talk about her private life (although she has acknowledged her former long-time partner, Cydney Bernard, on previous occasions). No one was expecting anything quite so revealing.

But what you might call the Anderson Cooper effect seems to be operating nowadays --- celebrity types feeling a little sheepish about being in the closet after others have blazed the trail out developing the urge to join in. Cooper handled it more gracefully by just dropping his unsurprising revelation casually into the ongoing conversation.

There's certainly been justification --- and still is --- for fear. If Foster had exposed herself this way 27 years into her career, rather than 47, there most likely wouldn't have been much to base a lifetime achievement award upon. The same could be said for Cooper and his career as a journalist. In the entertainment field, it's taken brave souls like Ellen DeGeneres, Elton John, Ian McKellan and many others to start knocking down those barriers. 

Many gay people can tell you, too, about the peculiar don't-make-me-talk-about-it factor that operates when relating to straight folks on a one-to-one --- or considerably broader --- basis. "I'll love you or like you or watch your performances, but please don't make me acknowledge who you really are."

And of course every LGBT person --- every single one --- begins life with the gut-wrenching fear that if Mom and Dad realize or are forced to acknowledge they've produced a gay child they'll no longer be loved. So I couldn't help but wonder what role Foster's mother and former manager --- now living with dementia and so movingly acknowledged in her speech --- played in all of this.

Yes, I know she said she'd always been "out" to those she loved. Everyone says that. Except for some of the youngsters growing up today, it's rarely true. And sure, everyone deserves privacy. But if talent fuels a ship, celebrity keeps in afloat --- and those who rely on celebrity have to accept the fact there will be intense interest in their personal lives.

But I'm glad Jodie Foster finally came out, sort of. We still need all the positive role models we can get. And maybe, now that all of this has been said and done, even though a little clumsily, she'll be happier --- and "not so very lonely," too.

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