When Ellen DeGeneres announced her same-gender attraction 16 years ago, she was criticized. When Jodie Foster casually but affectionately spoke of her same-gender partner last week, she was criticized, but for different reasons, essentially for not doing it sooner. She was further criticized for not making any big announcement and for not saying the words "I'm gay" or "I'm a lesbian." As far as I was concerned, Jodie Foster has been out. I thought this was common knowledge. I thought what she said was more of a plea for privacy than anything else.
During her acceptance speech she referred endearingly to Cydney Bernard as "one of the deepest loves of my life, my heroic co-parent, my ex-partner in love but righteous soul sister in life." She'd previously expressed similar sentiments when she spoke of Bernard five years ago while accepting another award. Last week was not Jodie Foster's first time speaking publicly about her female partner.
There was quite a backlash to her speech, though. Jodie Foster has never made a big deal of her sexual orientation. Some claim that she's "dishonest" because of this. I feel that that's far from a fair assessment. Her desire for privacy has been misconstrued as dishonesty. She caused no harm. She did nothing wrong. She just didn't act and speak the way some people wanted her to.
What does the backlash achieve? I certainly wouldn't like to be in the position of someone who has been the subject of "speculation" and now wants to be open about her love life. What a deterrent such a backlash must be for someone in the public eye who now wants to do her bit to advance efforts to further LGBT equality and increase our community's visibility. People have different reasons for doing what they do. One's choices are one's own, and Jodie Foster's choices are her own. The backlash is not only unwarranted and unfair but counterproductive.
It's not about doing things the way some people want you to do them. This is something that underpins the movement for equality. Condemnation undermines it. It's about respect, not consensus. Ellen DeGeneres was condemned for what she did. Jodie Foster was condemned for what she didn't do. Yet neither did anything wrong or caused any harm to any person. To subject anyone to ridicule and condemnation is to imply that people are justified in acting that way over anything they don't agree with. It's as good as encouraging people to condemn someone because they don't like the way that person does something.
Of course, it is fair to say that without the likes of Ellen DeGeneres and many others, Jodie Foster would not have been in a position to do what she did. And that's fair. Visibility continues to be most important for achieving LGBT equality. Jodie Foster enhanced our visibility by referring to her female partner at a prestigious award show before millions of television viewers and making news headlines for days afterwards.
A more equal world is one where coming out has given way to simply being out, and Jodie Foster demonstrated how this is done. Twice. Consider the future. Consider a world where people casually mention their loves and families, their girlfriends, their boyfriends, and whatever their genders may be makes little difference. No labels. No announcements. No difference.
Singer P!nk said recently, "I think that the best day will be when we no longer talk about being gay or straight," and judging by the reaction on Facebook, the wealth of favor that that statement found is beyond dispute. I continue to see the quotation in my news feed regularly. What I don't see is how this day could ever possibly arrive unless people act the part. Jodie Foster acted the part twice.
Some chose to condemn her for what she didn't do, but there is much to commend for what she did. She didn't have to say anything! She was there to pick up a lifetime achievement award. And here's the beauty of it: There was nothing unusual about what she said. On the same night, at the same event, Adele, in her acceptance speech for the award for Best Original Song, referred to her special someone and their child. Jodie Foster did the very same thing!
Jodie Foster's speech is a marker of progress. She made no big deal of her sexual orientation, which is something that shouldn't be a big deal. Is that not what everybody wants the future to look like? Jodie Foster paved the way for what it should be like. What it will be like. By casually referring to her ex-partner and the family they created together, she set a fine example for others to follow. And I don't just mean those in the public eye. I mean everyone. Following that example may surprise some people in your life, but importantly, it also increases our community's visibility and educates others, which helps move our society away from this outdated idea that love only involves a man and a woman.
I salute Jodie Foster for what she did, but even more for her work, her talent and all her incredible achievements, which is why she was on that stage in the first place. But I won't deny that I do have a particularly soft spot for that glimpse of the future she gave us.