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Jodie Foster’s Confounding ‘Coming Out’ Speech

On The Dish blog, Andrew Sullivan wasn't having it.

On The Dish blog, Andrew Sullivan wasn’t having it.

BY ANDY HUMM | For someone so concerned about her privacy, Jodie Foster picked a hell of time to take her biggest step so far in coming out publicly — her rambling acceptance speech at the Golden Globes as she received the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award on January 13.

She first teased the audience by saying, “I have a sudden urge to say something that I’ve never been able to say in public” and warned that it would make her publicist “nervous,” only to declare “loud and proud” that “I am single!”

She then said she didn’t need to do “a big coming out speech tonight because I already did my coming out about a thousand years ago in the Stone Age, in those very quaint days when a fragile young girl would open up to trusted friends and family and co-workers and then gradually, proudly to everyone who knew her, to everyone she actually met,” which is news to most of us.

Instead of leaving it there and saying she was now going to be more open, she said, “But now I’m told, apparently, 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,” going on to say, “I am not Honey Boo Boo Child.”

This comparison of the coming out of celebrities to some kind of marketing ploy was offensive and uncalled for. The cameras panned to out lesbian Jane Lynch, who didn’t quite know how to react. And no one can accuse Ellen DeGeneres, Elton John, Stephen Fry, Ian McKellen, David Hyde Pierce, or others who came out well into their celebrity of doing it to advance their notoriety. They faced up to the reality of who they love and decided to live without any shame about it no matter what the cost to their careers. And while none of them dropped everything and became full-time gay activists, they have all stood up for the cause — their cause — in important ways.

Foster went on to acknowledge “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.”

This was not a completely new admission as Foster publicly thanked Cydney when they were still together at a 2007 awards event.

Foster was flanked throughout the Globes dinner by her close friend, the anti-gay, anti-Semitic Mel Gibson to whom she said, “You know you save me, too.” A whole column could be written dissecting that relationship. Gibson earned his pariah status on multiple occasions and while I can admire those who stand by friends in trouble, he seems to be a bridge too far. It is not as if he has done anything to redeem himself.

To be fair, Foster, now 50 — though she has still never said she is a lesbian — has also never said she is not. And she is a major donor to the Trevor Project, a 24-hour hotline dedicated to preventing LGBT teen suicides. We could argue about how much more she could have done for LGBT youth if she simply showed comfort with her orientation and relationship with Cydney years ago. Now she’s off the radar of most young people, having been in show business since she was three years old and winning Academy Awards for “The Accused” all the way back in 1989 and for “Silence of the Lambs” in ’91. Anger over the portrayal of the monster at the heart of “Silence” led to attacks on her for remaining closeted as the film was protested for being anti-transgender.

Also at Foster’s table were her sons, Charlie, 14, and Kit, 11. She called them “my reason to breathe and evolve,” and said to them that “this song, all of this, this song is for you.” Indeed, this step in Foster’s evolution may be similar to that of Ricky Martin, who explicitly says that he came out in order to be honest with his kids and enable them to never have to lie about him. Martin has said he doesn’t want them to think there is anything shameful in being gay — that he wishes he could do his coming out all over again because it is so wonderful.

Ricky has also said he gets pushback from fans who say they are okay with him being gay, but want him to just shut up about it now and get back to being a singer. But Martin understands that sitting on the sidelines in a moral crisis —  the worldwide persecution of LGBT people — is no longer an option. You would think Jodie might have figured this out with her Yale education. But she refused to acknowledge her membership in our community through the worst years of the AIDS epidemic, the anti-gay initiatives across the country, and so much more of our turbulent history.

Harvey Fierstein, who has been out in show business from the get-go in the 1970s, reacted on Facebook to Foster’s speech by writing, “Trying desperately to be fair to Jodie 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…  I am saddened that after all of these years and all the progress we’ve made, her first concern was about how it was going to affect her career and publicity. Oh, my brothers and sisters, we have so much further to go until we can enjoy the sweet victory of equality.”

Michael Musto wrote, “Instead of this cockamamie speech, she could have just said, ‘Yep, I’m gay.’ Twenty years ago.”

Lesbian rights lawyer Kate Kendell tweeted, “Wow. Regardless of the inarticulate nature of this moment for Jodie, let me just say, you go girl! It’s about fucking time. We got your back, babe.”

But Andrew Sullivan titled his blog post, “Jodie Foster Stops Lying,” called it a “narcissistic, self-loving speech,” and characterized her claim to have come out long ago as “unadulterated bullshit.”

Foster is famously private and lots of people cut her slack because she was stalked by John Hinckley in the period before he shot President Ronald Reagan in 1981 — a crime he said he committed to get her attention. But Jodie continues to confuse being open about the details of one’s private life with the things about relationships that most everyone is open about, such as having a partner.

Virtually every actor who gets up at an awards ceremony acknowledges their life partner (except Hillary Swank when she got her first Academy Award, thus Lena Dunham’s Chad Lowe joke at the Globes that was lost on most people). We do not accuse actors who thank their partners of flaunting their private lives. It is simply expected.

Foster concluded by sounding as if she was getting off the stage permanently, then said she might continue in smaller venues: “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 and to be not so very lonely.”

Hey, that’s the reason most of us come out. It’s tough to connect with a lover if we insist on total privacy. But most of us also recognize our obligation to be out in solidarity with others like us so that there will come a day when no LGBT person will feel so very lonely.



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13 Responses to Jodie Foster’s Confounding ‘Coming Out’ Speech

  1. David Ehrenstein January 17, 2013 at 8:59 am

    Is Cindy Mort — the woman for whom she dumped Cydney Bernard — lonely too? On "speculates" (as the "Mainstream Media" woud have it) but as no question and answer session followed Jodie's tortured plea for her ex to come back to her, who's to know?

    And who's to care?

  2. Tony Glover January 17, 2013 at 12:59 pm

    Foster is clearly not an activist. And there's no rule that says she has to be one.

    I have been an activist almost all my life, and, for the most part, I begrudge no one who chooses a different path as long as it's not a path that actively condemns me for who I am.

    I say give everyone their own way of expressing to their audience what is it they want to reveal and when. Not everyone is comfortable in his or her own skin and we have to give them time to do it their way. Just because one is a celebrity does not mean one is obligated to reveal anything about themselves in a way they normally would not do.

    I think Jodie is right to say, basically, that she did it in her own way. So what she did not do it like Ellen, or whomever.

    Also, I think you might be reading too much into her dig about the penchant for celebrities to make money off of their lives. I did not see it as a dig at particular celebrities who have come out. It was a dig at a culture that celebrates revelatory admissions of secrets and makes those people who do reveal, celebrities.

    Too, there seems to be a misplaced anger about AIDS. Do we really blame Jodi as a contributor to the backlash against gay men because she did not come out. My issue would be if she actively contributed to AIDS hysteria, or, simply did nothing to stem the onslaught of the disease. Has she done good works, and not publicized them as much others? I, for one, did not know about her contribution to the Trevor Project, but again I don't always look for this type of info about celebrities.

    Also, the folks who are most vocal about her not coming out are those who made their media careers on critiquing those who did not come out, or, whose careers partly seemed to rely on their gay identity (Fierstein). These are not really the most unbiased folks. Even as I can appreciate their viewpoint, part of these folks "schtick" has become to greater or lesser degrees, critiquing closeted folk even (as in the case of Sullivan), he, himself was not always publicly forthright about his sexual orientation.

  3. David Ehrenstein January 17, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    Honesty is not a "schtick."

    "I think Jodie is right to say, basically, that she did it in her own way"

    And I have the right to kick her to the curb for it.

    • Tony Glover January 17, 2013 at 1:52 pm

      Your reply is not honest unless you cannot clearly read what I was saying. Honesty is not a schtick, but that is not what I meant. There are some whose careers largely rely on confronting closeted gays. Certainly Musto, whom I enjoy reading, partly relies on that. As does Sullivan.

    • Tony Glover January 17, 2013 at 2:30 pm

      No. That's not what I wrote, or meant, but you probably knew that.

      Just making the point that for some, outing and/or critiquing folks who don't come out, is a "schtick," or as Webster's puts it: "A characteristic attribute, talent, or trait that is helpful in securing recognition or attention." There are not a few who fit this definition as the outing and critiquing become part of whom they define themselves to be. Musto, whom I enjoy reading, because it's only part of what defines his journalism, I would include in this category.

  4. Thankthesnake January 17, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    Andy Humm makes some good points about the "non outing" speech of Jody Foster. The point being… What's the point? But I did like the timber of the speech. And I especially appreciated the notion that a "normal" person living a "normal" life can speak about that life as a matter of factly as Jody did while declaring any declaration about her sexuality to be "none of anyone's business". That is the broader, wonderful point that I think Jody was trying to make.

    Jody as far as I know has never hidden her sexuality. Was she obligated to be a martyr for the cause? To draw a hard line in the concrete and take a firm stand for gay rights? Or was her open life inspiration enough for those who cared?

    Perhaps there's a bigger statement here. That statement being that "I am GAY and normal in my life and loves whether you like it or not." And like straight people, "I shouldn't have to declare it!" This isn't the undiscovered country anymore. The broader society may take just a little longer to get there.


  5. janis hetherington January 18, 2013 at 8:07 am

    As the first Lesbian to be inseminated 41 years ago (my son Nick now lives in NY with his wife) I still find it astounding that half a century since I 'came out' this is still an issue.
    My recently published book Love Lies Bleeding, Memoirs of a Sexual Revolutionary deals with all aspects of Gay Life from the 60's to the present day.It also deals with police corruption,brothels and S/M sex which are much more taboo I would have thought than sexual orientation with regard to simple 'gayness'.
    But then I have been fortunate never to have been ashamed of my love for my own sex.

  6. David Ehrenstein January 18, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    "None of anyone's business," yet the entire point of the speech was to make her life everyone's business. She wants us to care about her relationship with her ex-girlfriend. Why should we — especiall when back in the day Pat Kingsley would block anyone from so much as YTHINKING about asking about the girlfriend.

    "Jody as far as I know has never hidden her sexuality"

    Then you don't know very much.

  7. James January 18, 2013 at 9:36 pm

    I've always loved Jodie, but, as a gay man, I was ashamed of her speech. The fact that she couldn't utter the words lesbian or gay was shockingly disappointing. THERE IS NOTHING OF WHICH TO BE ASHAMED. THE GOOD LORD MADE US GAY!!!

  8. @spanprof January 20, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    I was thinking as I watched her speech again, if there might be a link to Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, or Judy Garland who were all child stars like Foster. Does early stardom cause an incomplete emotional development ( a constant game of cops and robbers with the papparazzi) and that maybe this contributes to her inability to speak the truth outloud? Just trying to understand here……

  9. David Ehrenstein January 24, 2013 at 9:27 am

    Hey the New York Times thinks Jodie's a Role Model.

  10. Jon Winkleman February 1, 2013 at 1:08 am

    Webster isn't a Jewish name and therefore that is not the authoritative definition of very nuanced Yiddish words like "Schtick". The word normally implies phony, inauthentic or theatrical affectations rather than an honest and truthful personal characteristic. Calling the criticism of Fierstein or Sullivan a schtick is as insulting as Foster deriding other child stars or the manner in which other actors, who paved the way for her, HAD TO COME OUT.

    That is the point most people have been taking offense to. If Foster wanted to come out in a quieter manner, fine. However it is very insulting to put down the way Ellen Degeneres had to come out 15 years ago when the press conferences and media shit-show were inevitable. Like it or not.

    Jodie though not publicly out at college she did pop into the campuses LGBT student group so she was very informed about the Sharon Kowalski case, Bowers vs Hardwick and the devastation of AIDS. We desperately needed heroes. So when she evokes how out she was at that time it does strike a painful cord for those of us who were fighting and marching to try and get our message out all the while watching our friends die in mass.

  11. Stuart Baanstra February 1, 2013 at 10:53 pm

    What's all this "coming out"? At primary school I was called a "sissy", and at highschool I was called a "p**fta". It was all done for me!


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