Jodie Foster Coming Out: “This Is Something For Us.”

jodie-looking-fierceBefore Ellen and Rosie and Glee and Autostraddle and Unicorn Plan-It, people like me would search for anything we could to find out whom “out there” was gay – who in our lives was maybe like us? When there were no apparents in our family or adult friend set (because it’s not like anyone talked about it really, and you certainly couldn’t flat-out ask) – you turned to celebrities. Who said they were gay, who might be gay, who was “privately” gay? I desperately wanted to just be who I was – whatever that was – and to know that any label I put on myself wouldn’t be stigmatized, ruining my relationship with myself and placing a specific hue on anything I created.

I know – a lofty ideal… but why NOT? Why couldn’t we all just be who we were without having to pronounce ourselves as something that everyone had his or her own definition and idea of? Over the formative years of figuring out who I was and what I wanted, I learned that there is a delicate balance of “public” vs. “private” – and I’m still learning how to dance it. I’ve learned that at a certain point, you have a responsibility to be open, and at a certain point, you have to keep things close. But one thing that’s important is that others like me – you know, gay people – are honest about this one thing publicly – that yes, we are gay – because when we fail to do so, our private lives suffer. And on a community level, visibility is important. And for me, and others I know, in not being open, and therefore strategically hiding that one simple fact about ourselves, our artistic lives would suffer. It doesn’t have to go beyond simply stating the fact, into any sort of details or relationship situations or anything. But the simple fact that people like us – gay people – who are struggling with the revelation of their own truth – to themselves more than to anyone else – can look at “public” figures and say “OK…I’m not alone.”

For many of us, Jodie Foster was THE example of a gay woman who was really “making it” in Hollywood – but of course, the caveat was the reminder of, “Yeah… but she’s not out.” So we danced this line of “public vs private” and learned from birth that acting on instinct was not, in fact, always encouraged. But I am here to say that acting on instinct and being open about LOVE is a very positive thing – and it radiates outward. It’s important.

As we heard in her speech at the Golden Globes, Jodie Foster already came out “back in the stone age,” to her friends and family, and honestly, I understand her defensiveness and annoyance with the fact that going beyond that is necessary. (She also thanked her “beautiful Cydney” in a 2007 speech for the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award.) It is annoying that we are still at the point where we have to declare that, but it is still necessary. She had come out to everyone in her life, and it wasn’t a secret. She hasn’t ever been someone who spilled anything about her life off-screen, but times have changed, and I applaud her. Seriously… I don’t know and have never met Jodie Foster, but just saying, Jodie…I have a feeling it’s going to feel different being you now. Congratulations!

It’s a responsibility to be gay, and a privilege. We are here in part to teach compassion to our fellow humans. We grow up and feel different and then realize we aren’t. We learn specific skills from the start. We are specific, and then, as we meet others like us, we find we are the same. We make our families, and watch our biological families grow and learn, and we grow. And we grow.

I can only imagine to be the kind of public figure Jodie Foster is and has been, for her entire life, everything she said about the need for privacy was 100% understandable, and I believe we will get to the point where “coming out” is unnecessary. We will get to the point where no one will assume someone is straight at birth. We will not need to have “gay role models” because we’ll just have role models.

But the fact that Jodie, the sort of last “holdout” – and the premiere fantasy of just about every gay woman I know, came out in a very public way, stepping way out of her comfort zone… well, this is something. This is something for us. She has been inspiring me for my whole life and now, in a new way, I feel so proud of her! And all of us.


havi
Haviland Stillwell, winner of a 2011 PowerUP Award For “Outstanding Woman in Showbiz,” is an out actress/singer/producer living in Los Angeles with roots in Savannah, Georgia. Her onscreen credits include Single Ladies, CSI:NY, Eastwick, The ApprenticeThe Client List and Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse (voice) and she has appeared on Broadway in Les Miserables and Fiddler On The Roof. Her first album, How I Role, debuted in 2010 and she is a co-star, co-writer and co-producer of Autostraddle’s hit webseries, Unicorn Plan-It.

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40 Comments

  1. Thumb up 6

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    This is what I posted on my FB which sums up all my feels:

    Right now in society the default is straight until proven otherwise. Which means that as a celebrity you might be out to your friends and family and coworkers but if you aren’t out to the public then no one knows that you’re gay which means they assume that you’re straight. This is problematic.

    Does this mean every gay celebrity should gay the gay gay gay all gay long? No that would be annoying. But you can be seen with your partner of who even knows how many years that you have two kids with and be like “yeah this is my family now please respect our privacy” That’s how Johnny Depp rolled with his family. Sometimes ladies live with other ladies. Sometimes they live with men. It’s no big deal either way but you can be out and still maintain a private life, but being out is important until we live in a society that doesn’t assume straightness of everyone.

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      I get what you’re saying. It does seem like there is an easier way to come out, well by easier I mean more low key. But Johnny Depp’s situation is not the same, at all. He’s straight. He only has to worry about privacy. He doesn’t have to worry about losing roles because people may not think he’s believable in a hetero relationship in a movie, blah blah blah. Because there are idiots who think that. Jodie met her partner (ex) in 1992. Do you remember 1992? Ellen’s show was on from 1994 -1998. (I don’t mean that to sound harsh. I just wanted to give some perspective.) And we all know why it was cancelled. I mean Jodie is 50 and even though celebs coming out doesn’t seem like such a big deal now, she grew up in a time where it was a big deal, and we all know the stuff we grow up believing can be hard to move beyond.

      I’ve also heard her talk before about the Hinckley situation and about how prior to that she was an open book and after it felt an extreem need for privacy. That had to be a traumatic experience for her. When you look at all of that, I find it totally understandable that she would not come out for so long. Also, I don’t think that ‘unless a celeb comes out then the public assumes they are gay,’ as you said. There are plenty of celebs who were/are assumed to be gay who haven’t yet come out. For instance, I don’t know anyone who thought Jodie was straight proir to her coming out (last night or in her speech referencing her partner a few years ago).

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    Well done Jodi. Its one thing to be openly gay in your private life but an entirely different thing to be openly gay for the whole world to know and see. For her to allow us into her life that way takes a level of courage to be admired.

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    I’m uncomfortable with the idea that, should I or anyone else become a public figure, that I *owe* anyone anything about my personal life.
    This is coming from the lens of someone who is mostly closeted in the Deep South, where lynchings still occur and you could get fired on suspicion of being queer. So maybe I’m a few decades behind some of the other voices in the discussion.

    The bottom line for me is, my responsibility to the queer community ends where my personal life starts. I’ll vote, I’ll donate, I’ll advocate and I’ll set an example and try to educate people I interact with. I won’t hide my partner. But having a press conference or stating otherwise in some telegraph to the world “I AM GAY” is not something I feel is necessary. I appreciate public lesbians, I truly do.

    But you know who I appreciate more? The people who, back in the stone age, trusted me enough to come out to me. The public school teacher who was seen living her life with her girlfriend. The men in the choir who refused to be known as mere “room mates”. Those people impacted my life infinitely more than a celebrity, who seemingly has so much less to lose by coming out.

    I am much more encouraged by seeing professional women in my personal life having pictures of their same-gender spouse in their office. I learned to accept myself as “normal” when I learned of other women in my life who also were attracted to women. Knowing that a celebrity was gay didn’t mean a thing to me, but those people in my person life? Worth their weight in gold.

    Perhaps the tl;dr of my essay-like comment is this: Perhaps we have something to learn from Jodi Foster. Coming out to those you know and love or work with every day can be infinitely more influential than Lady Gaga or Elton John living publicly queer lives. Let’s start having those conversations, and thanking the people in our lives who were brave enough to be honest with us about their whole selves. In my experience, it’s those small confessions that change the world.

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      My problem with this is that straight famous people can acknowledge that they are in a relationship or married to their partners, which is basically admitting to their sexuality and still lead very private lives. Very few gay celebrities do that. It seems either you come OUT or you live a VERY PRIVATE LIFE THAT ACKNOWLEDGES NOTHING EVER which means that everyone assumes that you’re straight until you state otherwise. Neither of those are good examples.

      I look forward to a time when a person can just BE gay and they don’t have to come out with speeches and fanfare, when straight isn’t the default. But we aren’t there yet.

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      Unfortunately not everyone has out role models in their personal lives. For some people, celebrities may be the only out individuals they “know.” Knowing that a celebrity is gay may not mean anything to you, but for others knowing that someone they look up to and admire is like them can mean a lot.

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      Thank you for this comment. As happy as it makes me when I see/hear people come out, it is no one’s responsibility to do so. Your life is your life. Coming out can get you killed depending on the situation. Safety is what should be thought of first. Who is anyone to tell me that I need to tell the world who I love? GTFO with that shit. So your comment is spot on. (This goes for sexual orientation & gender identity)

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      Just as a note, to acknowledge bravery – Haviland is from the deepest of the deep South. I have known her since she was a child (and so was I) – just to point out the strength of her metal.

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        And major props to her for that! Her bravery or current comfort with her safety doesn’t undo my worldview, though. I grew up terrified and these days counsel kids who are terrified of the same things I was. I’m so very proud and happy for Haviland, but her success doesn’t ensure my safety, you know? And this is also why I hate speculation about people’s sexuality- what if they are in a situation like I was in the day?

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    Ahh. Yes. Well-said.

    She of all people deserves her privacy, and I really love that she defended Kristen Stewart’s right to hers, too. I actually think that — not winning back-to-back Oscars or starting her own film production company — is the most feminist thing Foster’s ever done. Owning it as a female actor and director is one thing, but creating safe spaces for others to follow in your footsteps…man, that shit is admirable.

    Happy she’s found the right time to be publicly out about this.

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    Belle – I absolutely agree with you! We seek inspiration where we can get it, and all the people you mentioned who live their lives privately and do what they have to do to survive and thrive, taking steps that may seem small, but are large for them, is great! I am happy you have those people to model your life after. And yes – changing the world is done on an individual level. Jodie is no better or worse than any of us! Thanks so much for reading and sharing.

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    I really hate it when people (gay & straight) respond to a coming out (personal or celebrity) with the response “I always knew.” No, you didn’t and someone coming out and telling you makes a big, big difference, whether or not you want to play it off as not a big deal. Also, if you (as a gay person) are always clued in to who is and is not gay, that’s pretty different from the average person who doesn’t have the same investment in this fact and for whom knowing a gay person (even if ‘knowing’ is just via movies) is a big deal. I appreciate people who come out publicly because they are forcing people to take notice– even if a straight person would never have to draw so much attention to their sexuality.

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    Thanks for such a smart post. There are so many silly responses making a lot of noise today… especially for people who can’t deal with subtlety. Who want it all to be spelled out in obvious, conforming (homonormative) ways. I think it’s important to see what she accomplished with the “coming out as single” move. The language she used was the cliche’ stuff coming out speeches have and, whether she actually felt that or not, what she accomplished by using that language to “come out as single” was expose the kind of expectations (demands) audiences have… expectations that every person will feel what everyone else feels, that a woman who loves women will choose the label everyone else chooses and slap it on herself, thus becoming delegate of a community she may not want to represent. She pointed out the dangerous stereotypes that exist within homosexual circles. Jeannette Winterson in an interview said she thought it was great that teenagers have the freedom to say they are gay, but also thought it dangerous that they are under pressure to “figure out” and decide a gender identity so early, and then feel pressure to go on falling in love with only people of the same gender of their first crush! I think Foster pointed out the same problems with current coming out narratives, the master narrative that has already developed.

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    While I agree with Belle that a press conference isn’t necessary and in not hiding partner, I would argue that Jodie Foster – through the years – did hid her partner/gay life.

    And I don’t think stars – or anyone – can have it both ways. One cannot hide a partner or purposely be obtuse as possible about being gay and then say “I was out to everyone.”

    This happens all the time with pro or olympic sports players where their entire family/team/agents all know and support that they are queer. But no on is truly public about it.

    In general, there is no need for a press conference. Just show up to an event with a girlfriend/partner and introduce her to one person as your girlfriend and it will just be a fact another fact about life.

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      Thank you Josie… completely agree. There is a lot of privilege in situations like this… how about femme young boys, really butch girls or trans people who can’t hide who they are nor do they have publicists to deflect questions about their orientations or gender? Jodie Foster had every right to communicate her life story as she saw fit (or not) but what I’m very loathe to see is the HRC and GLAAD licking their fundraising lips by having Jodie Foster at their next exclusive banquets, proclaiming her a “community leader” and going on and on about her bravery. The fact is, she didn’t show up for a lot of battles where someone like her could have been very important. I understand we’re all not activists or contribute in different ways, but I just don’t want history rewritten for the sake of organizations making a buck.

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        I agree with you, but want to clarify that I don’t think Foster is any kind of leader for the LGBT community. Her life is her business and she doesn’t owe a public announcement to us. That being said, you can’t be a LGBT leader if you don’t acknowledge being LGBT.

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    Thank you for reminding us of the privilege that exists in this tough situation we sometimes find ourselves in. It gets hard and at times I know we all feel weighed down by it at some point. This is an important thing to remember and I feel the gratitude especially poignant when Ellie from Contact comes on this weird handheld picture machine and tells me she’s single and gay. Nerd. Yes. Its easy to be in a strange and limiting bubble. It is a privilege to be in this group..with our unique perspectives on life and our sensual and fascinating skin. Our brainwaves pulsing towards the future. Thanks Haviland

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    Coming out isn’t only a personal act, it is a political one. Living an opening queer life, makes a difference, makes a statement, and helps make the world better for other queer people. Like many political acts, it can come at a personal cost.

    I think everyone has the right to choose when and who and to whom they come out. But sometimes, its not just all about you, its about helping make the world a better place.

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    I really enjoyed this article, Haviland. The negative reactions I’ve seen floating around the internet have kinda bummed me out – criticism of the content or timing or delivery of a person’s coming out speech doesn’t sit well with me. So I appreciate the positivity and empathy you’ve shown here.

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    “It’s a responsibility to be gay, and a privilege.” Haviland we’ve missed you and your wise wise words around here, please continue to write whenever you can! Your positivity, as always, lightened up my day a little. x

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    I’m reminded of a quote Porta De Rossi said on Oprah a few years ago regarding her choice to be closeted before she dated Ellen. It was something along the lines of there being a fine line between being private and being ashamed. Obviously, it is a difficult struggle to come out for everyone and I can’t imagine what it is like with the type of attention and judgement celebrities have on them. Best wishes and congratulations to Jodie.

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    “Ok…I’m not alone.”

    That’s it. Even now, those deeply ingrained thoughts pop into my head sometimes that make me think for a split second that I’m a freak, that I’m just making this all up, that two women couldn’t possibly have “real sex”, etc. Every time I meet another queer woman or a public figure comes out, these thoughts lose a bit of firepower. I’m not alone. And being gay/lesbian/bi/queer/etc is a completely valid identity. Just because I was taught that I wasn’t supposed to be “like that” doesn’t mean I’m not or that it’s not a perfectly acceptable way to be. So when I walk down the street and wonder if the woman I just passed is gay or when I speculate about an actress’ sexuality, I’m looking for a connection to my community – a community that, unfortunately, I don’t really feel a part of most of the time. How many queer women do I need to meet/be friends with/have sex with before I can feel like I truly belong in the queer community? There’s no answer to that question. But every time someone comes out, I feel connected to something larger than myself – like I’m part of an estranged family that is starting to come back together. Now I feel like I can finally officially welcome her to the family. She’s one of us! Or I’m one of her!

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    I don’t think because I am a lez that I have a responsibility to the world to teach people about love and compassion. I think because I am a fabulous and loving person that that sort of thing happens naturally.

    Likewise I don’t see how a gay celeb owes anyone anything or that their sexuality is more important politically to others than their own sense of comfort is to themselves. People shouldn’t be coerced into having their lives become a symbolic touch stone or rallying cry for others. If that’s something they’re cool with, great. But no guilt trips.

    Also, don’t look to celebrities as role models. For goodness sake, keep a sense of reality.

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