Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Queer Quote: Jodie Foster Coming Out Speech

Jodie Foster gave a speech at the Golden Globes on Sunday night which has been reverberating through the LGBT blogosphere and celebrity circles.

The key parts of her speech which people have been reacting to so viscerally are:
"So while I’m here being all confessional, I guess I have a sudden urge to say something that I’ve never really been able to air in public. So, a declaration that I’m a little nervous about but maybe not quite as nervous as my publicist right now, huh Jennifer? But I’m just going to put it out there, right? Loud and proud, right? So I’m going to need your support on this. 
"I am single. Yes I am, I am single. No, I’m kidding — but I mean I’m not really kidding, but I’m kind of kidding. I mean, thank you for the enthusiasm. Can I get a wolf whistle or something? [Audio is silent for seven seconds] ... be a big coming-out speech tonight because 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 and co-workers and then gradually, proudly to everyone who knew her, to everyone she actually met. 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. 
"You know, you guys might be surprised, but I am not Honey Boo Boo Child. No, I’m sorry, that’s just not me. It never was and it never will be. Please don’t cry because my reality show would be so boring. I would have to make out with Marion Cotillard or I’d have to spank Daniel Craig’s bottom just to stay on the air. It’s not bad work if you can get it, though."

The problem with this aspect of her speech is that she is basically teasing the media about a "confessional" that she is "nervous" about making which will be "loud and proud" and then instead of actually saying "I'm a lesbian" or "I'm a single lesbian" or "I'm single and I'm looking for woman" she just says "I'm single." This inability to actually ever use the words "gay" or "lesbian" in her entire rambling peroration has most definitely frustrated many, many lesbian (and other LGBT) observers.

In addition, she is also claiming that she "already did my coming out about a thousand years ago back in the Stone Age." Really? Jodie Foster has been known in several circles as a lesbian for decades and has therefore been a legitimate target of people who support outing (such as myself) since at least 1991. The first time she can really be considered as being officially out of the closet is probably 2007, when she made a speech at one of the many, many awards ceremonies at which she has been honored and mentioned the main person in her life was named Cydney. Since that was merely over 5 years ago and she has been in the public eye for over 40 years (since the age of 3!) it is at the very least hypocritical for her to claim that she did not actively hide, conceal and obfuscate her sexual orientation for decades while she was near the pinnacle of Hollywood movie making. (This is a woman who has won two Best Actress Oscars--for 1988's The Accused and 1991's The Silence of the Lambs!)

But then her speech moved from merely being hypocritical to literally being offensive when she basically disparages other celebrities who have come out by saying that "ever celebrity is expected to honor the details of their private life with a press conference, a fragrance and a prime time reality show" by equating being honest about your private life to creating a spectacle of one's life like "the Honey Boo-Boo Child." This is simply wrong and incorrect. There are many, many different ways to come out, and to say that everyone who comes out (i.e. discusses "the details of their private life" with the public) is acting like Honey Boo Boo is patently offensive and projects a negative portrayal of people who do come out matter-of-factly, like Anderson Cooper, Ellen Degeneres, Sir Ian McKellen and Rosie O'Donnell. (Although it should be remembered that almost all of these people were also rumored to be LGBT before they publicly acknowledged it.) No one was asking Foster to make a reality show about her family life, but just acknowledge the reality that she loves (and lives with)  women.

There are still people who are widely believed to be gay who are at the same level of fame as Foster (such as 2-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey) who are not out and who are also targets of outing. (There are many many more who may or may not be gay but who are rumored to be such and whom we probably won't know definitively about until after they die or at least decades from now.) Foster's speech will not make things any easier for those members of the Hollywood elite who still think being publicly honest about being gay is something which should not be done, which is odd considering the clear over-representation of people who are LGBT in positions of power and celebrity in Hollywood! (One of the most bizarre aspects of the Celebrity Closet is that very often it is the LGBT staff and hangers-on around the Celebrity that encourages them to stay in the closet.)

She then went on to say, the following, which I am designating as today's Queer Quote:
"There is no way I could ever stand here without acknowledging one of the deepest loves of my life, my heroic co-parent, my ex-partner in love but righteous soul sister in life, my confessor, ski buddy,consigliere, most beloved BFF of 20 years, Cydney Bernard. Thank you, Cyd. I am so proud of our modern family. Our amazing sons, Charlie and Kit, who are my reason to breathe and to evolve, my blood and soul. And boys, in case you didn’t know it, this song, all of this, this song is for you."
The  interesting thing about this second quote is that she acknowledges the existence of her "ex-partner in love" with whom she raised her two kids. But, because "Cydney" sounds like it could be a male name, many of the millions of people watching world wide may not have realized that Jodie Foster was revealing publicly the existence of her longtime same-sex relationship. Thus as a big coming out speech it is not very effective, because it takes an inferential step to deduce the homosexuality of the speaker.

Regardless, it was an important statement to make, and overall it will have a net positive impact on "teh gays" but it would have been a much more effective statement if she had made it 2 decades ago when she was a more relevant part of the media elite. I would be shocked if the percentage of people under the age of 25 years old who even know who Jodie Foster is and can name more than two of her movies is above 10%. Frankly, there was really no excuse for the other aspects of her speech which I have analyzed above as exceedingly problematic.

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