Jodie Foster and the Coming-Out Process

Much has been written about Jodie Foster's so-called "coming-out speech" at the Golden Globes, and I must admit that I was wondering, "Will she or won't she?" I was all ready for the big announcement, and then she cruelly turned it into a joke when she said she was "single." It was like having the rug pulled out from under me. A rare out-and-proud moment was squandered. The "L" word or the word "gay" were never mentioned. And they kept shooting closeups of Jane Lynch, who looked as perplexed as the rest of us.

I also thought, given the way Foster was speaking of her mother with reverence, that her mother was departed, but I found out the next day that her mom is very much alive and has Alzheimer's disease. My mom had that dreaded illness for 16 years before she left this world in 2006, so I can relate to what Jodie is going through, except that I wish that she had made that clear in her speech. It might have all made sense.

Then Foster seemed to imply that she was leaving show business by saying that we wouldn't see her on that stage again. But she later refuted that, saying that she was not giving up acting.

I thought, "Three strikes and you're out, Jodie. Fool me once...," or whatever that crazy phrase is. The next day I read several pieces about the speech, and many were praising her and saying that her references to her ex-partner was another way of announcing her sexual orientation. But in fact, Foster had publicly acknowledged her former significant other in 2007, at another award ceremony, a fact that I seem to remember. So, technically, Foster has been "out" for some time. So why the need for the ambiguous speech and the seemingly defensive mention of desiring privacy?

After reflect on the whole event for a while now, I have come to the conclusion that I may never know the answer to that question, and maybe it's none of my business. It may be that as a gay woman, I would love to see a person of Jodie Foster's stature, an Oscar-winning actress and director, embrace her homosexuality publicly to help the cause, so to speak. But the truth is that I am being selfish.

Some are down on Foster for not coming out sooner. That old adage about walking in someone else's shoes is very apropos here. I have no idea what it must have been like to be a child actor who was raised in a time when being gay was toxic, or what it must have been like to be a teen star when being gay was a liability to one's career and could cost an actor good roles. In fact, I remember a time when just playing the part of a lesbian could be detrimental to an actress' image. I recall an outstanding, recently departed actress named Maria Schneider, whose acting career went into oblivion after she confessed that she was bisexual. If you are asking, "Who?" that's making my point. But she's a pioneer for sure.

So all these factors could have played a role in Foster's decision to keep her private life private. Plus, she could just be a private person. None of us really knows what it's like to be a celebrity who lives in the spotlight, where everything you say and do could be plastered across the tabloids the next day.

If anything, Foster needs to be commended for managing to stay out of the public eye as well as she has and not fall into the traps of addiction and despair that so many other child stars have experienced.

We also have to remember that coming out is a personal journey that is unique to the individual. In fact, why does anyone really need to come out publicly at all? Why is it anyone's business but one's own?

My coming-out process happened in phases. First I had to declare my homosexuality to myself (probably the most important step), then to my family, then to my friends, then to the world. I've known I'm gay since fourth grade, when I had my first crush, but I was 29 when I finally admitted it to myself. After coming out in California, where I lived at the time, I flew east for a trip home. When my parents greeted me at the airport, I blurted out to them, "Hi! I'm gay." They were slightly shocked, but I felt the need to tell them right away. I was blessed to have parents who loved me unconditionally, and though it took them both a while, in their own ways, to come to grips with that fact about me, they always supported me.

After that I shouted it to the world from the rooftops. I was obnoxiously proud, cutting my hair short and wearing the rainbow flag on my waitress apron. I didn't care who knew I was gay. It was quite a liberating period in my life, actually. However, I was not an actress seeking roles but a musician who taught French horn, though I was sure to "straighten up" my place when students and their parents came over for lessons. I didn't want to scare them away. In that sense I can understand where Foster may have been coming from in her early acting days.

It has taken me years to realize that it is not up to me to tell someone how and when to come out, or even if they should publicly come out. I have a perfect example of that within my own family. My sister, a trumpeter and composer who passed away in 2007 from breast cancer, was bisexual and the total opposite of me when it came to public revelations. She had a wonderful, loving, long-term relationship, but she and her partner were private about their personal life together. While I marched in Pride parades and attended lesbian events and a gay church, my sister and her lover were leading quiet, isolated lives. Nevertheless, they were deeply in love, devoted to one another and very happy.

Our different approaches sometimes had us butting heads. I sought validation from her, because I felt that she was someone in the family who could truly understand me, given that we were both attracted to women. Once, on a family trip to the beach, I wore a baseball cap that had two intertwined women symbols on it. My sister had a fit, because she thought I was attracting attention to the family and, consequentially, her and her partner. I felt it was my right to proudly express who I am. At the time I couldn't understand her irrational reaction and felt that maybe she was ashamed of being gay, or even a coward.

It wasn't until years later, when she was gone, that it sank into my thick skull that certain traumatic life experiences had caused her to believe that having people know that she was attracted to women was dangerous and a matter of life or death. My own selfish desire to declare my gay pride made me blind to her needs and her wishes for privacy. I believe we made peace on this issue before she left this plane, but just in case, I have asked for her forgiveness for my callousness and self-centeredness.

The moral of the story is that we should accept people for who they are: public or private, out or in the closet, gay or straight or bi, movie star or waitress, single or married, Republican or Democrat, black or white, male or female, young or old. We have to remind ourselves that each of us has our own spiritual journey, and what works for one person may not work for another. The ultimate goal is to find one's own personal truth.

My sister was probably the most spiritual and loving person I ever knew, so I have come to the conclusion that it no longer matters to me where she was in her so-called coming-out process. That is not my business, and I am not one who will judge her or Jodie Foster for their personal handling of their private lives.

The best thing we can do for ourselves and the cause of human rights is to follow our truth and stand up for what we believe in but also respect others' journeys and not judge their processes.