Jodie Foster's Privacy Plea Ignores Hollywood Homophobia

Years ago, feminists rightly noted that the personal is political. That has never been more true than when it comes to the personal lives of gay people in America.

Accepting the Cecil B. DeMille award at last night's Golden Globes, Jodie Foster delivered a heartfelt and sincere comment on her long career in film. Equal parts sincere appreciation and fraternity levels of booze-intake, (so I assume, given how many bottles of champagne there appeared to be on the tables at the Beverly Hilton), it probably wasn't half as eloquent as much commentary has suggested, but what it lacked in structure it made up for with punch. Because tucked into the meandering statement was circumspect confirmation of what has for some time been an open secret, the fact that she is a lesbian.

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Though she gave a moving tribute to Cydney Bernard, her former partner and co-parent to her children, Foster also observed her commitment to maintaining strict personal privacy, comparing the discussion of her private life to reality TV phenomenon Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, and declaring that she has no interest in making her life into a reality show. I don't intend to begrudge her demands for privacy - when you've been in the public eye since your toddling years, the desire to be left the hell alone when you aren't on the public figure clock is perfectly sensible.

But the unfortunate fact is that in seeking to put her sexual orientation into the context of that privacy, Foster somewhat misrepresented one of the more sullied and sad aspects of American popular and political culture. And that would be the hateful, and brutally enforced homophobia that forced generations of gay and lesbian actors so deep into the closet they shared a zip code with Mr. Tumnus, lest their lives and careers be ruined.

Frankly, the claim that all of it boils down to 'privacy' cannot be seen outside of that context, and it is disingenuous to attempt to do so.

We don't even need to dig deep for obscure examples that decimate any claim that enforcement of privacy isn't a side effect of bigoted societal outcomes. Prior to the 1970s, as the gay rights movement began to achieve small successes, and the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental illness, Hollywood history was replete with gay and lesbian - but especially male gay - actors forced to do unspeakable psychological damage to themselves in the quest to protect their careers from hateful guardians of moral behavior. Rock Hudson is the most famous of those forced into bearded marriages, and of course Liberace famously sued a tabloid - and won! - to quash allegations that he was gay. But these men are hardly unique.

And even when the era of forced-bearded marriages came to an end, being openly gay could still hurt a career. Rupert Everett, just for one example, has famously complained that coming out of the closet as early as he did significantly set him back, and he bitterly advised against it in a 2009 interview. Notably, he was out in the early 80s, a time when it was more common for people like Morrissey and Stephen Fry to embrace celibacy rather than live openly gay, than it was for a public figure to be a known homosexual. Gay and lesbian actors thus still either offered up the pretense of heterosexuality (Rosie, for instance, feigning lust for Tom Cruise* on her talk show), or as was increasingly common going into the 1980s, erecting a wall of iron-clad privacy, a complete refusal to discuss one's private lives in any substantial way whatsoever. And of the latter group, Jodie Foster is perhaps the most famous of all.

We all know how rumors had followed her throughout her career - rumors, I feel compelled to make clear, were prurient and largely about turning her life into a scandal, as was generally the case with all rumors about a star's homosexuality. Through it all, at least until 2007, she had a strict policy of total silence on any aspect of her private life. That is her right, but consider that no heterosexual actor has ever felt the need to maintain such strict privacy that they refuse to even acknowledge they are in a relationship at all. There's a good reason for that: no heterosexual actor would ever face punishment or ostracization for admitting they're in a straight relationship with a person of the opposite sex.

We are fortunate to be living in an era when the sexual orientation of celebrities does not, for the most part, appear to be even remotely a big thing as in years past. White Collar star Matt Bomer's status as a TV sex symbol has not been affected one whit by his confirmation a year ago that he's gay, and just last week, actor Matt Dallas came out to barely any reaction beyond 'oh neat, you're engaged, congrats.' So much progress has been made, in fact, that even film maker Lana Wachowski's confirmation of her transgendered status didn't generate tawdry gossip (and thank the gods for that,) only support.

But the acceptance of GLBT people as ordinary is a very recent phenomenon. It was made possibly only by the tireless work of two generations of GLBT activists willing to stake their lives and careers on the notion that being who they are is as normal as being, like me, a straight male. Jodie Foster is indeed entitled to be left alone, but the next time she speaks in public, it would be nice if she could acknowledge that her no-big-deal official outing of herself was made possible only thanks to that hard work.

* Yes, I recognize the insane amount of irony suggested by that. There are Möbius strips that are easier on the brain.


  • Derek says:

    Dear Mr. Lincoln and Movieline editorial staff:

    I am writing today because of hyperbolic language and general inaccuracies that I see becoming more and more common among internet articles. Unfortunately this article, and by association your website, have now joined that sulen fraternity. I would associate this rise in poor writing with two phenomena: one is the degradation of respectable practices in reporting as print journalism enters its half-life. The other is when a writer not in a group tries to write about that community. If the writer is interested in a politcally correct, progressive, super sensitive viewpoint they will often mask their neophte knowledge and affiliations with the group by resorting to hyperbolic language. I call this "Trying to be Down Syndrome". Unfortunately this article is infected with the syndrome. We must all do our best to seek a cure.

    Lastly, while I do not begrudge you having an opinion, my main problem is when you pass this off as fact. Shall we begin?

    "forced to do unspeakable psychological damage to themselves in the quest to protect their careers from hateful guardians of moral behavior"

    How can something be unspeakable? You're a writer. Part of your job is to articulate what others cannot. It leaves me wondering if you simply did not possess the desire, knowledge, or ability to adequately describe this damage. A more cynical observer might comment that it is far easier to say something is unspeakable than to do the necessary research.

    "But the acceptance of GLBT people as ordinary is a very recent phenomenon..."

    It is not a recent phenomenon. GLBT people have served in prominent roles in society since the dawn of time. It is a recent phenomenon in this society, country, and culture. I'll admit this is nit-picky, but for someone who wants to stand up for that community, your lack of research and clarity is disapointing.

    "That is her right, but consider that no heterosexual actor has ever felt the need to maintain such strict privacy that they refuse to even acknowledge they are in a relationship at all"

    There have been hundreds of thousands of actors for hundreds of years in this country. Do you really think a heterosexual actor has NEVER denied they are in a relationship at all, not wanting the inevitable attention and investigation into responding with a vague 'I'm with someone'. Your conjecture that this is utterly, completely, and purely a homosexual phenomenon is obtuse, hyperbolic, and defies statistical logic.

    "There's a good reason for that: no heterosexual actor would ever face punishment or ostracization for admitting they're in a straight relationship with a person of the opposite sex."

    There is that fatal word again: ever. I will be concise and charitable: Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner.

    "acknowledge that her no-big-deal official outing of herself was made possible only thanks to that hard work."

    Nice to who? Nice to you, a non-member of a community you have inarticulately represented? Her official outing was made in front of an army of her peers on national television. The woman was literally on stage. That does not seem like a "no-big-deal" way of officially coming out. She may have felt she was staking her life and career, the same as these other activists. You may recall, Jodie Foster's life was possibly threatened by a stalker sexually interested in her: John Hinckley Jr., who attempted to assassinate two seperate American Presidents to get her attention. Again though, this requires research.

    Lastly, I hope you have realized the absurd irony that your pro-GLBT article ends on a notion of shame, guilt, and disapointment for the person who just officially came out. Tsk tsk sir.

  • Jeremy says:

    I disagree about it being the work of the GLBT community that's allowed the changes to happen. Sure they've worked hard, but it's simply a matter of our generations being more willing to accept everyone for who they are. You can fight as hard as you want for equal rights, but the reason it's easier now is because our last 2-3 generations don't have as much bigotry as the previous ones. That's not because we've been taught by the GLBT how to treat them, it's just that we've become more intelligent and informed and simply realized that the people that came before us were being ridiculous and hurtful and we decided not to think like them. Give credit to the people, we're the ones who changed, and most of us did it on our own without ever knowing who the GLBT community ever were. I accepted gay friends in middleschool and highschool before I knew anything about them, and it wasn't because the GLBT community had asked me to respect them or not bully them, I respected them and cared for them because I was given a choice to do so and I made the right decision.

    As for Jodie's speech, I felt she was speaking more about giving celebrities the privacy they deserve more than the fact that everyone already knew she was a lesbian. Her point was that her job is to be an actress, not a side show for the public to gawk over and invade her everyday life - hence the Honey Boo Boo mention. She's pointing out how insane our society has become in terms of what we deem appropriate invasion of pricacy and we shouldn't expect people to tell us every detail of their life, it's their life, let them live it and appreciate the entertainment that they give us, in her case entertainment through film work.

  • a.davidson says:

    doing crap movies like 'the next best thing' set back rupert everett's career.

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