At Long Last Jodie

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A young Jodie FosterJodie Foster is about my age--she's a few years older, actually--and was an object of extreme fascination for me when I was child. I felt like I could sense that Jodie was a lesbian even before I knew the word "lesbian," and certainly before I ever applied the word to myself.

Other lesbians in my age group have told me the same thing. Some claim their gaydar went off as early as Jodie's appearance as Becky Thatcher in Tom Sawyer. That role was in 1973, which would have made Jodie 11 at the time.

Jodie was in college around the same time I was. And it was through the college connection that I heard that Jodie Foster did, in fact, prefer women. To be more specific, I found out through the greatest gossip source in the country--better even than the formidable gay grapevine. I heard the news through the Yale alumni gossip phone tree. [Edit: I am not a Yale alum. Jodie is, and I know people who went to school with her.]

(Yale alumni are the best gossip source because they encompass so many movers and shakers in all fields. Catch a Yale alum on the phone the day after they've received their alumni news in the mail--when resentment of their peers' accomplishments is at its highest--and you never know what will spill out: news of Presidential affairs, the sexual preferences of a recent Oscar winner, etc.)

If Jodie had chosen to come out after her college years, during the height of the AIDS epidemic, it would have made a huge impact on the gay and lesbian community. Rock Hudson's coming out--reluctant though it was--made a huge difference in how people perceived gays and understood AIDS. It would have also made a significant impact on me, because I was young and there weren't many visible role models for gays and lesbians.

I've always felt that coming out is an individual decision that shouldn't be pushed or prodded. As a practical matter, pushing and prodding usually isn't very successful. But even so, coming out is a difficult decision to make. It's not only an individual decision, it's a political decision--one with tremendous consequences for the individual.

I read a number of articles about Jodie Foster's coming out speech at the Golden Globes that criticized Jodie for not coming out earlier. The general tenor of these pieces was, "Hey, it's not a big deal anymore to come out! You missed the boat, Jodie. You should have done this earlier! Same-sex couples are getting married now!"

Um, no. While some headway has been made in recognizing same-sex relationships, we still have not achieved marriage equality. Housing, employment, health care and personal safety remain areas of vulnerability for gays and lesbians. People forget what a radical act it is to come out. It started as an act of political defiance and it will remain one for as long as stating one's sexual orientation has the potential to endanger one's life and liberty.

I know many people today who are open with friends and family but who are closeted at work. Even in big cities and gay-friendly professions, there remains a glass ceiling for gays and lesbians. When I listened to Jodie Foster's speech, I didn't hear her retiring, I heard her wondering aloud if she was ever going to work in Hollywood again.

People might say, "No way! Look at Ellen! Look at Rosie!" But they are comedians, not leading ladies. There are no out leading ladies, which should tell you something about Hollywood's attitude towards the idea. That's why it's a big deal that Jodie Foster came out. Say whatever you like about how and when Jodie chose to come out, it is a milestone, especially for those in the acting profession.

Michelangelo Signorile wrote that Jodie's speech was "another example of the new way that celebrities are coming out, embarrassed in 2013 to have ever been in the closet and claiming that they've always been out." I'm sympathetic to that argument, but I think Signorile has the wrong target.

It's not just that American's attitudes towards being in the closet or being gay have changed. There is a larger shift happening, and it is only partly generational. People are fed up with being lied to. Lied to for years upon years, about things that are important to them. They don't like the government lying to them, or the media, or Hollywood, or the church, or the military or the banks.

That's what transparency is about, as well as Wikileaks and hactivism and other growing cultural and political phenomena. Unfortunately, many of our institutions are built on the premise of controlled access to information. They decide what you need to know, whether it is the sexual preferences of top money-makers in Hollywood, how your tax dollars are being spent, or what you can access on the Internet.

Deb Baer writes about her anger regarding Jodie Foster not coming out earlier by making a comparison:

I, and so very many others, took a leap of faith and dealt with the consequences. Sure, I wasn't worried about losing $20 million a picture, but it's all relative: I feared that family and friends would abandon me, that I'd get passed over for jobs and promotions, that I'd be the victim of violence, and all the other clich├ęs from the after-school specials.

Actually, it's not all relative. $20 million a picture is $20 million a picture. Money is the reason why Hollywood doesn't want its stars to come out. Coming out is not part of the business model, just as privacy for stars is not part of the business model. Self-exploitation is a big part of how the star system works. With her speech, Jodie appeared to be opting out of a system that encouraged her to lie about her private life for so long.

5 Comments

Hi T- I listened to her speech, and I wonder if I was sleeping because I never actually heard her say she was a lesbian .. was it merely implied in all of her words? She did make me tear up at one time, but I have no idea what she said as the camera panned the stars and a few women were also tearing up. Myabe it had to do with her being free. I don't know. It was an emtional speech. She did say she was single, which I did not find all that amusing as she held the audience captive with her wordplay at the very beginning... I hated being jerked around from the start. Can you give a direct quote of her saying 'it?' I enjoyed reading your words on transparency and how we are tired of being lied to by nearly everyone... I mean who ever thought Lance Armstrong was a liar.. lol...everyone but Lance!

Hi Fran,
She did not use the word lesbian, which some have criticized her for. You could say she was being cowardly, or elusive, or maybe not willing to give the media a headline. I'm not interested in judging the details. I congratulate her on having come out, even if it wasn't done in a declarative or, some would say, timely fashion. My overall sense of the speech was that she was tightly wound when she gave it. I didn't find the jokes in her speech funny because she was so nervous delivering it.
Thanks for commenting!

I thought what you had to say was brilliant. I also thought the picture you chose was brilliant. Bias? Nah.

I think you hit 2 very important points. One being, that people are angry. They're angry because they're now first realizing HOW very much they've been lied to, to the point where the foundation of what they believed is now being questioned by them. To see how manipulated their lives are. THE BIG LIE.

Obviously Hollywood's lies are minor compared the lies perpetrated by the government, etc. but that is my second point, how much Hollywood has always lied to us about the celebrities that they pay obscene amounts of money to, to be something they're not. That, in and of itself, is insignificant, but when it does affect people's personal beliefs and judgments about sexuality, gender and politics, it is a very big thing.

Hollywood has always sold a lie, an illusion primarily to a heterosexual audience, that they make billions of dollars off of, by exploiting primarily gay celebrities into convincing the straight audience that they are heterosexual, to the point that these people's lives are scripted, down to who they marry, how many kids (usually adopted) they have.

For those high risk(gay)celebrities there's even more pressure to have children. All this creates straight privilege, disempowering those young gay people to stay in the closet, because it's better to be straight, it pays to be straight. That's the message.

Jodie Foster's speech was powerful because it addressed the "control" issues Hollywood has on these celebrities' lives, to live THE BIG LIE. Those celebrities in the audience know who they are and are complicit because the pay off is so great: lots and lots of money and attention, living la dolce vita and knowing if you come out, you can be replaced by someone who is willing to stay in the closet.


As long as Hollywood is run by a bunch of fat old white guys who insist on making movies that address their own perverted sexual fantasies and are more interested in getting laid by those celebrities they promote, than actually making good movies, Hollywood will not tolerate their "investments" coming out. Gay celebrities are box office poison to these studios - and to probably a lot of the straight audience out there.

And as far as citing Rosie and Ellen - that's a joke. C'mon. With over hundreds of celebrities out there, all you can come up with is TWO comedians??? Not a very good showing in a town that claims they're all for gay rights. Now how about outing Kristen Stewart and Robert Pettison from the "Twilight" series? No that would be a wake-up call to straight America.

Ain't gonna happen, though. Hollywood is making trillions on their "legitimate" real life affair to get more hets hooked in order to make more money while the straight audience is stoked over and over again - because, after all, it's all about them and their lifestyle.

Thank you for an intelligent article.

I, too, took Jodie Foster's speech to be not about retiring but fear that fewer people will want to watch her films or fewer bucks will be prepared to finance her films. I really hope her fears are misplaced; I, for one, will make a point of going to see her future films even though I'm not a big cinema-goer.

It surprises me that so many are wondering if she actually came out or not. I think, on reflection, that those who needed to understand her message did so.

My gaydar went haywire the first time I saw Silence of the Lambs, and she seemed to be open but unspoken given the occasional photo that I've seen over the years and the speech she made a few years ago referencing her partner. I'm really glad she has fought against the Hollywood machine and been so open; not for me, because I don't know her, but for her sons and those she's close to. She's right, she's entitled to privacy and it was none of our business, but I'm really glad she did it.

Hi Rose,
Thanks for the comment! Interesting to hear you were thinking the same thing about her speech not being a retirement announcement. When I first saw the press going crazy about whether she was retiring or not, I wondered if journalists were just being willfully ignorant about her intent, in the same way that they so studiously ignored her earlier speech--which you mention--in which she thanked her girlfriend.
Teresa

Recent Comments

  • Teresa: Hi Rose, Thanks for the comment! Interesting to hear you read more
  • Rose: Thank you for an intelligent article. I, too, took Jodie read more
  • thecutelittleredheadedgrrlfriend: I thought what you had to say was brilliant. I read more
  • Teresa: Hi Fran, She did not use the word lesbian, which read more
  • frankie: Hi T- I listened to her speech, and I wonder read more