Wednesday, January 16, 2013

On Jodie Foster's coming out

Jodie Foster (photo credit: Tom Sorensen/Wikipedia)

Those who read this blog with any regularity know that I am, as they say “very heavy” into Classical music. I also enjoy other art forms, including cinema. But I don’t follow any actor/actress with the enthusiasm that I apply to music. In 1986, I stood in line for several hours in the cold weather to get tickets to a Vladimir Horowitz concert. I would never do that for another kind of performer. The closest I came to that was waiting to see President Obama last year.

Be that as it may, I enjoy films, and the work of several performers, among them Jodie Foster. My first recollection of her was in Disney’s film Freaky Friday. The fact that I saw this during its original theatrical run dates me. Over the years, I’ve seen other films with her, including Taxi Driver, Silence of the Lambs, Contact, and Panic Room - as well as Home for the Holidays, which she directed but did not appear in. I enjoy her work, but could not be classified as a “fan”, which is short for “fanatic”.

I’d first heard rumors about Foster being a lesbian in the 1990s. Given that she’d never married, I assumed the rumors were true but didn’t give the matter great thought. I heard more about it from time to time, and prior to her speech at the Golden Globes Sunday night, Foster’s sexuality and her reluctance to discuss it in public were nearly universal knowledge. Foster has been known for decades as someone who guarded her privacy, not just in regard to her sexuality but nearly every aspect of her life. She was also known as someone who supported LGBT groups like The Trevor Project, even though she never marched in parades carrying a rainbow flag. Seriously, did anyone with even marginal awareness of Jodie Foster NOT know that she’s a lesbian prior to Sunday night?

Some people, notably Michelangelo Signorile and other activists, have been highly critical of Foster for her reluctance to discuss her sexual orientation in a public forum. But she’s never denied it, either. As she pointed out at the Golden Globes, "I already did my coming out about 1,000 years ago back in the stone age, those very quaint days when a fragile young girl would open up to trusted friends and family and co-workers, and then gradually and proudly to everyone who knew her, to everyone she actually met." To an extent, her story mirrors the experience of nearly every gay person who has come out – not with a public announcement or a magazine cover, but one-on-one.

But for some, like Signorile, Harvey Fierstein, and Hamilton Nolan, nothing is ever good enough. In their continued criticism of Jodie Foster, they are making something that’s really very simple into something complex: the relationship between Jodie Foster and the “public”. She acts in and directs motion pictures. The public buys tickets to her movies. The interaction ends there. To the extent that Foster or any other celebrity makes their life public should be up to them, not preening paparazzi and gossip columnists. I'm aware that some in the gay community have criticized Foster for not being "out" and "political" enough. But I don't believe that celebrities have any obligation to expose their entire lives to the public. Perhaps if those critical of Foster pondered how she was stalked by an unbalanced man who later shot President Reagan, thus connecting her name to his near assassination, they'd understand why Foster guards her privacy so zealously. If Foster were a politician or evangelist who railed against gays while surreptitiously pursuing homosexual affairs, this would be an entirely different matter. As Barney Frank said, “the right to privacy and the right to hypocrisy don’t coexist”.

Those we call celebrities needn’t be placed on pedestals as role models. Indeed, those who often portray themselves as such, like Lance Armstrong, end up bitterly disappointing their fans. Has Jodie Foster ever let down her peers or her admirers in the way Armstrong has? She consistently gives her best as an actress, and there hasn’t been a hint of scandal around her. She has lived her life with quiet integrity. The quality of her work makes her far more of a role model (along with legions of ordinary gay Americans) than the rantings of gay activists, who often have little to bring to the table other than being loudly gay. These are the very same people who bemoan the “mainstreaming” of LGBT Americans. It’s all very well for them, since they live in gayborhoods, work out at gay gyms, eat in gay restaurants, drink in gay bars. They have little conception of the lives of those of us who live in flyover country, do our jobs, enjoy our friends – and just happen to be openly gay and in the grand scheme of things, do more to further the cause of LGBT acceptance than the “in your face” activists.

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