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Queer Talk: The Jodie Foster Coming Out Debate (VIDEO)

I very infrequently watch anything on television, and never watch the various “award” shows. As a result, it was the day after the Golden Globes that I became aware of the “coming out” part of Jodie Foster’s speech, which she made as she received a Lifetime Achievement Award. Since then, the various interpretations of the what, how and when of Foster’s “coming out” have been prolific.

At this point, I actually think the interpretations are as, if not more, telling than what Foster said.

Here’s my often expressed take on coming out: it’s personal, and it’s a process. It’s each individual’s decision to make, period. And you make it more than once. Probably not something like, “Hi, I’m Joyce and I’m lesbian,” every time you meet someone, but still, coming out isn’t a one-time-and-I’m-done-with-it kind of thing. No doubt it’s complicated in different kinds of ways for celebrities or public figures than the rest of us, though that doesn’t make either “harder.” No doubt whatsoever that as more individuals come out — no matter who they are — it makes the steps toward full equality a bit easier. But I’m in no position to tell anyone else when and how they should come out.

Below are a few of the perspectives offered on what Foster said.

First, from John Aravosis, at AmericaBlog:

She started off making it sound as though she was going to come out as gay, but then ended the build-up by saying, yes, she was…. ‘single.’

She then proceeded to lecture people who were demanding that she tell more details of her private life. Clearly she meant people who want her to talk about being gay.

It was a bit odd and uncomfortable. But she then made a point that I think has some merit:

‘I’m told that every celebrity is expected to honor the details of their private life with a press conference, a fragrance, and a primetime reality show… . I’m sorry, that’s just not me … . (I)f 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 would value privacy above all else … .

The next day Aravosis wrote:

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).

One such response Aravosis mentions is from Andrew Sullivan, responding to Foster’s statement, “I already did my coming out about a thousand years ago … .”

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’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.

Another unhappy person was Karen Ocamb, at Bilerico, who in part focused on Foster’s words about privacy. Ocamb wrote:

… for me, ‘privacy’ is the very excuse so many hide behind to avoid the consequences of coming out … .

Yes, she has a right to do and say what she wants and to come out as she wishes. But she also has it in her to be bigger than that, to contribute what she knows about loneliness and hurt to benefit others … .

From Michelangelo Signorile:

The defensiveness was there last night as she seemed to be trying to jab at us, the public, even while finally giving us what she believed we wanted … . The responses on Twitter were as all-over-the-place as Foster’s speech itself. Some lauded her for saying she was ‘proud’ and said she came out with ‘grace,’ while others shrugged off Foster’s coming out as ‘too little, too late’ and still others expressed anger and indignation for her casting it all as so private and never saying the ‘L’ word.

From Pam Spaulding:

Most of the brouhaha … seems to be about how, when and to what degree Jodie Foster outs herself. The whole thing seems so retro. How many times does one have to come out publicly before you are actually out?

Finally, Nathaniel Frank focused on the “complicated relationship with privacy and revelation.” Last words to him, and the last paragraph is, from my perspective, particularly powerful.

Some of the deepest and most crucial yet most fragile and vulnerable feelings gays ever experience are, from day one, put under a microscope and judged against what’s ‘normal.’ A human’s single greatest need — love — is derided as the very thing that renders us unlovable.

Some react by withdrawing into a zone of privacy or even concealment that we zealously guard. … (S)ome react the opposite way, by exaggerating disclosure, yielding the theatrics and spectacle characteristic of queer culture. …

Coming out, we eventually determined, as with being queer itself, didn’t need to involve performance, exaggeration and testing. It simply required authenticity, coupled with a dignified insistence that gay was good and not a source of shame. …
This is the journey Jodie Foster revealed so publicly last night. Many gay people have strong feelings about how that journey should look. …

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.

(Jodie Foster via Golden Globes)

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7 Responses to Queer Talk: The Jodie Foster Coming Out Debate (VIDEO)

  1. Taylor Marsh January 18, 2013 at 2:15 pm #

    So glad you covered this, Joyce. The round-up is priceless.

    Honestly, I began watching the Golden Globes because of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, and was about to turn it off when Pres. Bill Clinton intro’d “Lincoln.”

    Jodie Foster’s speech, for me, was absolutely bizarre.

    In your round-up, the last one about “not bullying our own” seemed the most resonating for me. On Twitter when Foster was finished, the elite media was eviscerating, while others outside the Beltway were far more generous.

    • Joyce Arnold January 18, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

      I’ve never understood the idea that my coming out experience is a norm or measure or standard for anyone else. It’s something that can be shared, in a supportive kind of way, even a celebrative kind of way. But for whatever similarities there are — and of course, there are similarities — each of us experiences a process unique to who we are.

      Foster’s speech was a bit odd and scattered, definitely. But I like leaning toward the compassion and not bullying attitudes :)

  2. secularhumanizinevoluter January 18, 2013 at 3:19 pm #

    “It simply required authenticity, coupled with a dignified insistence that gay was good and not a source of shame. …”
    I didn’t know Ms. Foster was gay…never thought about it and even if I had it make no difference to me one way or the other. All that ever mattered to me was that she was a crazy talented actor and an even CRAZIER talented Director.
    Who she loves is and should be SO none of my business and SO not an issue….will we EVER as a country and people get to the point where people don’t even need to “come out”? I hope so….but don’t think it will happen till I am a very, very old as opposed to a simply old man.

  3. Cujo359 January 18, 2013 at 3:46 pm #

    It really is up to each person to decide what he or she wishes to share with the world. I don’t need to know about the love lives of celebrities. There are far more interesting subjects out there. I don’t find Ms. Foster’s speech bizarre at all – she’s telling people it’s her private life and she’s keeping it private. As someone who values his privacy, I say more power to her. She’s “coming out” as someone who thinks it’s none of our business what she does in private.

  4. spincitysd January 18, 2013 at 4:02 pm #

    I found too much of Jodie’s speech self-serving and narcissistic. By now there are so many ways of coming out that you really can’t generalize them. There is no need these days for a brass band, or a reality show as follow up.

    If she really wanted her private life private, she could have just put that out there. How about “there has been much talk out there about matters that I consider my private affairs, I will not comment about such things.” Or maybe an even more forceful “Who I choose to love and live with is none of your business.”

    Jodie was not under any obligation to discuss her sexual orientation. No public figure is. If a public figure feels his or her coming out will assist in the normalization of their sexuality, God Bless and go forward, every little bit helps I guess. But no, Ms. Foster was not, in any way, shape, or form obligated to come out.

    Every star like Foster makes a Faustian bargain. They trade the pleasures and privileges of an ordinary, work-a-day, life to raise up and eat Ambrosia with the Gods. They trade obscurity for recognition and everything that goes with it. They are richly rewarded for this trade off. At the top of the game they become richer than many small island nations. Ms. Foster may live in a fishbowl, but it is a rather nice and richly gilded fishbowl. Her whining about her privacy cuts no mustard with me. She can, and should, tell people that her sexuality is her own god-damn business, and if they don’t like that, they can kindly, gently, pack sand.

    • secularhumanizinevoluter January 19, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

      So sez the be all end all arbiter of what celebrities should say and do. Thank you for clearing that up for us!!!

  5. Lake Lady January 18, 2013 at 8:56 pm #

    Thanks Joyce for this piece. I really enjoyed reading all the different takes on Foster’s appearence, including all the comments.Nathanial Fink’s parting thoughts had the most resonance for me.

    My take was so different than others. I think she has always been defensive and opaque when she comes before an audience as herself.I never quite understand what she said or meant but I always interpert it as her way of not becoming a pathetic, former child star, emotional trainwreak. She built walls as soon as she got in control of her own life. I never thought is was about being gay,I always thought it was about what she tried to express…an authentic life.

.... a writer is someone who takes the universal whore of language
and turns her into a virgin again.  ~ erica jong