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Leah McElrath

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Why Jodie Foster's Golden Globes Speech Matters

Posted: 01/14/2013 2:26 pm

Jodie Foster's Golden Globe speech matters not just because she "came out" as a lesbian -- which she actually did in 2007 -- but because people need role models demonstrating how to live as complex human beings in midlife.

For instance, adults who are now divorced or separated are in desperate need of role models exemplifying how to separate and divorce with dignity and mutual respect. I mean, think about it: How many divorced couples, gay or straight, do you know who call each other their "BFF" ("best friend forever" for those unfamiliar with texting shorthand)? How many divorced couples do you know who would stand up at any public function and publicly acknowledge the importance of the support of their ex-partners in their own current success? For that matter (and this is the most important part), how many divorced couples do you know who even manage to co-parent well?

Divorced parents, both straight and LGBT, also need role models demonstrating how to go forward in life as co-parents. Those of us who have been through a failed marriage, whether a same-sex marriage or a heterosexual one, understand the mourning involved. We understand that there are times when you find yourself on the floor in the fetal position, sobbing and making wounded animal noises. If you are also divorced parent, you know that even in those times, you have to pick yourself up off the floor and get your act together to provide emotional security for your children. It is easy and seductive to want to blame, to want to make the other person the bad one. However, when we are honest with ourselves, we admit that it takes two for a marriage to fail, and that sometimes separation is indeed for the best and the greater good for all involved.

As the now-ex-wife of a rather prominent figure within the LGBT community, I greatly appreciated that Ms. Foster took the time to honor her ex-partner and co-parent for the emotional support she has provided her through the years. Rather than critique her for "rambling," I celebrate Ms. Foster for being a role model who demonstrates how to acknowledge that our most intimate relationships are substantial and life-altering, even after they transition. I know that my ex-partner and I aspire to do this, but it's not easy. It takes work. It takes integrity. It takes commitment to the goal of doing so. It isn't something that comes naturally for most people.

Ms. Foster also spoke to and about her mother, who suffers from dementia. As a caregiver for my father, who also has dementia, I deeply felt her pain and her love when she spoke to and about her mother. I also felt less alone. She made visible an invisible role in which many of us in middle age find ourselves, out of necessity rather than choice. And there are millions of us. If I could have had her speak longer or more specifically about anything, it would have been about the need for support for caregivers of those with dementia, and about the complete lack of access to such support unless one is extremely wealthy. (A local care home near where I live costs $80,000 a year, and that's not even for the highest level of care.)

Some people within the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community are critiquing Ms. Foster's speech by saying that she didn't come out explicitly enough. My point of view is a bit different. I don't underestimate the need for role models for LGBT youth; I understand the need well and have worked for over 20 years, in various capacities, to serve as one myself, and to promote the visibility of others. But it's not only children and teens who need role models. We all do. Adults, too.

In short, Ms. Foster's speech was one given by a whole, complex human being -- a woman, a mother, a co-parent, an ex-wife, a daughter, a caregiver, a middle-aged adult and a true grown-up -- not a one-dimensional poster child for any particular community. If people expected that from her, then that's their problem, not hers.

Brava, Jodie, brava.

 

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