A few things crossed my mind when I watched Jodie Foster's speech at this year's Golden Globes, where she was handed the Cecil B. DeMille award for her career in film. The first thing that took me by surprise was that she is 50 years old; she's certainly looking good for it. I like Jodie Foster, and I've always regarded her as somewhat underrated. I know she's been nominated for the Best Actress Oscar four times (winning twice), but still, her decision to shy away from the pull of the Hollywood celebrity lifestyle has, in my eyes, resulted in her often being overlooked in debates about the best female acting talent. I guess she's my female William H. Macy (if we forgive his turn in Jurassic Park 3). For years now the gay rumor machine has been working overdrive when it comes to Foster's orientation, the general consensus being that she's gay but simply not comfortable talking about it in the public arena. And why should she have to?
In a recent interview with rucomingout.com, Scissor Sisters' front man Jake Shears said that "gay celebrities at least have the responsibility to come out." When I published Shears' interview, I was really interested in hearing what other people though about that particular comment. The reaction was pretty mixed. Many people agreed that as role models to young (and older) lesbian, gay and bisexual people who may be looking for inspiration, actors, pop stars, athletes and politicians shouldn't waste such an amazing opportunity to show that you don't have to settle for low aspirations just because you aren't straight. Other readers of the website had completely opposite views and suggested that Shears was irresponsible and insensitive in his comments. I have to say that I could kind of see both arguments.
Coming out means very different things to all of us. Some of us see it as making a statement, being proactive in standing up and saying proudly, "This is who I am, and I am happy." Other people feel that as long as there's no outright denial of one's sexuality or a purposeful lie to hide possible embarrassment, then that's also a job well done. I don't think that anyone has a duty to stand up and shout their sexual orientation to the world if they choose not to; however, I do feel that if you are at a point in your life where you are comfortable with who you are, then you have a duty to yourself to feel able to talk about your sexuality in relevant situations without fear or shame. However, although we've come a long way in gay equality, this still isn't always easy to do, whether you're famous or not.
I have always respected Jodie Foster for not bowing down to media and public pressure and talking about her private life in interviews in which she is only required by contract to sell the film she's currently staring in. Does this make her less accessible to her fans? Yes, of course it does. Does it make her less of a role model? Of course not. People should not idolize Foster just because she is a lesbian. Young girls (and boys) should look up to her and admire her work because she's an amazing talent. However, she isn't an amazing talent because she is a lesbian. Foster has a natural talent (she's been working since she was 3 years old) and a great work ethic. She is selective when it comes to choosing her films, which can be seen in her relatively limited filmography. These are the reasons that she should be admired and looked up to.
The majority of young lesbian, gay and bisexual people who may be struggling with their sexuality in 2013 won't grow up to be Golden Globe winners. They will be shop workers, doctors, lawyers, teachers, hairdressers, builders, office workers, travel agents, engineers, charity workers, volunteers. That's not to say that our future film stars, pop stars and Olympians aren't these same people struggling with their sexual identity, but the voices of inspiration they need to hear should come from everyone, not just someone who graces magazine covers around the world. Why should Jodie Foster, Jake Shears, Anderson Cooper, Ellen DeGeneres and Gareth Thomas shoulder this responsibility simply because the careers they chose happen to make them recognizable if you were to pass them in the street? Of course, it would be great if they did feel comfortable opening up their private lives to the world, but being famous is not a prerequisite to have to do this.
The reason I respect Foster is because she used her speech to defend her right to protect her and her family's privacy throughout her career. She hasn't kept quiet specifically about her sexuality all these years; she's simply not comfortable with the idea of laying out her private life in the public domain for all to pore over. Part of me felt sorry for her for having to stand up there on that stage in front of her peers, her family and the rest of the world. She was being rewarded for her skills as an actress, not for being a lesbian, and yet she felt that she had to at least refer to it. It may sound strange coming from the founder of a website that encourages people to share their coming-out stories with others, but I kind of wish she hadn't bowed down to that pressure after all. She didn't ask to be a lesbian, and she doesn't have to talk about it if she doesn't want to. The acknowledgment of her "modern family" and her reference to her ex-partner and co-parent Cydney was enough for anyone still needing that confirmation that Foster is gay. This wasn't a coming-out speech, because, as she said, she "already did her coming out about a thousand years ago."
What Foster has achieved with that speech, however, is making people all over the world look at what coming out means today, in 2013. The day will come when people don't have to live in the closet, because coming out won't be seen as a huge shock to people. That day isn't here yet, though, and we have a long way to go until it is. It's great when public figures stand up and talk about being gay, but it's also great when those of us who don't act, sing or play sports for a living stand up and talk about our experiences (both positive and negative) of being gay.
I would love for Jodie Foster to one day write about her experiences of discovering her sexuality and her coming out, but only because I think it would be a really interesting read. If this never happens, I'm not going to think anything less of her as an actress, lesbian or human being. Everyday heroes exist around us. Since my website started almost a year ago, over 125 people have written and shared their coming-out stories with the world, with the sole purpose of trying to make other people who may be going through what they did feel hopeful about their futures. I'd ask any gay, lesbian or bisexual person who has criticized Foster for being so tight-lipped about her sexual orientation over the years to do the very thing they are criticizing her for not doing: share your coming-out story. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. If you write and send me your coming-out story, I will publish it, and it will help people. Whether or not you choose to do so is your decision, and one that no one else has the right to judge you for.
Follow Wayne Dhesi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/waynedavid81