I wrote yesterday about the kerfuffle over Jodie Foster’s unique coming out speech while receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globes. I was relatively agnostic about the whole thing. While I thought Foster was wrong to criticize gay people who wanted her to come out, I also think the blistering response she got from some was unfair (to a degree).
A highlight of her narcissistic, self-loving speech:
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, co-workers, 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.
What unadulterated bullshit. She never came out until, very obliquely, in 2007. And virtually every coming out these days is low-key, simple and no-drama. I do not remember Anderson Cooper’s press conference, fragrance or reality show.
I’m thrilled Foster can now live a fuller life with less fear. I’m saddened she waited until others far less powerful had made the sacrifice to make that possible. And that she waited for the safest moment of all – winning a well-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award – to do so.
Here’s a bit more compassion about Jodie Foster from Nathaniel Frank, who made a name for himself during the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal process:
Any step a gay person takes to hide their identity that they wouldn’t take to hide the fact they’re, say, Irish, vegetarian or left-handed, is probably not a neutral quest for privacy, but reflects their own doubt about just how okay it is to be gay. Foster’s reluctance to just pull an Ellen (“Yep, I’m gay”), her tortured speech with its resentful tone and its ultimate avoidance of the L-word, made being gay and coming out seem tortured things in themselves.
Still, gay people are born with the unique burden of disclosure, one which is supremely unfair. Coming out is never just a single act but a constant obligation if one is to assure that people don’t assume they’re straight. We’re always encountering new people who won’t know, hence stuffing us back into the closet, and re-imposing the burden of coming out. And for years, the world has berated and punished us not only for being gay but for being honest.
For folks like Foster, I’d borrow another theme from the Golden Globes: “Will you join in our crusade?” But that’s different from, “You’re an a**hole if you don’t.” Gay people should understand a bit about the messiness of public and private. What seems to draw many gay people to celebrity culture, perhaps more so than others, is the skill that both gays and celebrities must cultivate to navigate between privacy and disclosure under the watchful eye of strangers.
How hard it is to get it perfect. If there’s one thing LGBT people should agree on, it’s the importance of compassion, and of not bullying our own.