Columnists » Grinding The Edge

Jodie Foster Reignites Debate About Coming Out

by Steve Weinstein
Monday Jan 14, 2013

Well, thank you, Jodie Foster! In the past few years, the raging battles over ending "Don't Ask Don't Tell," adoption laws, bullying and especially marriage have overshadowed the most important aspect of being gay: the act of coming out.

Like Tolstoy's unhappy families, everyone's coming out story is different, and every one is dramatic. For all of us, it's a traumatic experience, and even these days of much greater acceptance, and even in the most liberal enclaves like San Francisco or Ann Arbor or Manhattan, the act of coming out still takes courage. If you don't believe that, go into a hook-up site and see all of the young men who insist they're straight or on the down low or mark "Out/No."

Foster's discursive (some have said rambling; others, incoherent) acceptance of a special award at the Golden Globes ignited debate and refocused attention on the act of coming out and what it signifies.

As unique as each coming out is, I would roughly divide the process into two distinct camps.

There is the declaration. People who use this tactic have decided to make a clean breast of it. They notify family, friends, perhaps a cleric, teachers, co-workers. The best celebrity examples I can think of are Neil Patrick Harris, who issued perhaps the definitive "declaration" statement when he said he was gay and happy and that was the end of it; and, of course, Ellen deGeneres, whose simultaneous coming out in real life and on her eponymous television show was a media sensation.

In Harris' case, he handled it beautifully. By basically telling the media there would be nothing to sensationalize, reporters have left him alone. As a result, he has been able to hone his image as a heterosexual horn dog on "How I Met Your Mother" and to hilarious effect in movies like "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle" (in which, as I recall, not only does Harris bag a prostitute, he also brands her).

In contrast to that is the "soft" coming out. These people ease out of the closet slowly. They give off hints or strew a few bits of information to those close to them (who inevitably tell him or her "Oh we knew it all along").

The best celebrity examples of the soft coming out are Anderson Cooper and, yes, Jodie Foster. Coop never publicized or made a fuss about his boyfriend, the owner of a Lower East Side bar (who made a very public breakup by allowing himself to be photographed necking with another man in Central Park -- about as private as putting in on Jumotron in Times Square). Before that, I used to see him walking in Chelsea with his gay buddies in a wife beater. He never made a show of it, but he never hid himself away, either.

Foster thanked her then-partner in a speech a few years ago. She never made a show of dating a man or allowed herself to be linked to a male love interest. But, until the Golden Globes on Sunday night, she never specifically said she was gay -- whether or not you think she said it at the Globes.

Those who criticize Foster don't realize how much pressure there is on someone like her. She literally grew up in the spotlights of film cameras and media coverage. Playing a 12-year-old prostitute in "Taxi Driver" brought her to the attention of a disturbed young man named John Hinkley, who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan to prove his love for her.

Becoming the object of lust to the dirty old man brigade must have been bad enough, but being the cause of a national crisis ... well, that's some pretty heavy shit for a teenager. Unlike many child stars, however, she never burned out, became addicted, had a nervous breakdown or gave herself to Jesus.

Instead, she left Hollywood to attend and graduate with honors from a top Ivy, Yale (as did another super-smart lesbian child actress, Sara Gilbert, the TV daughter on "Roseanne"). She came back, promptly won two Best Actress Oscars, forged a career as a director and raised a family.

As she has lived her life on her own terms, so has she come out. To those who criticize her for not doing it earlier and becoming a role model I would say that she felt she had to do it in her own way.

Now let's see what happens with Queen Latifa, who has been doing her own version of a very, very soft coming out.

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).


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