Watching Hollywood awards shows is something of a habit for me, and I always hope to find some nugget of meaning in them. When I was a kid, my family used to gather around the old Admiral TV and root for our favorites. It was a moment of precious togetherness when secrets and hurt feelings were suspended and we could tap in to that strain of love we knew existed but all too often hid, for one reason or another. For me that reason was fear of rejection, which in fact happened after I came out officially in 1988. I'd been clean and sober for eight years, and integrity yanked at my soul: I couldn't let my friends be outed as gay and dying of AIDS without acknowledging that I, too, was gay. My mother couldn't handle the truth, and the family split was official.
After that I started watching awards shows differently, focusing on who was wearing a red AIDS ribbon and who might be gay, especially after director Debra Chasnoff won an Oscar for It's Elementary and thanked her partner from the stage. Every moment of courage and visibility mattered: Our people were dying every day, and mainstream America didn't seem to care. Pissed-off activists and gay journalists started calling out celebrities and power players on the immorality of hiding in the closet. OutWeek became a must-read publication.
Actress Jodie Foster was one of the celebrities most often mentioned, especially after Queer Nation and others pointed out the homophobia (or, by today's more precise terminology, the transphobia) of the 1991 hit The Silence of the Lambs, about which she said nothing (see Michelangelo Signorile's HuffPost piece about Jodie Foster's coming out).
I tended to cut her some slack because of the incredible fear she must have experienced in 1984, when her stalker, John Hinckley, Jr., tried to kill President Reagan to get her attention. Celebrity stalkers in Hollywood are no joke, and to have the added publicity of being out when anti-gay religious leaders like Lou Sheldon and politicians like Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) were calling gay people "perverts" and "abominations" was enough reason to stay in the closet.
Nonetheless, in the early 1990s, Foster helped her best friend Randy Stone and co-producer Peggy Rajski make the Oscar-winning 1994 short film Trevor (which was remade for HBO in 1998, ironically produced by the newly out Ellen DeGeneres). And in 2007, the same year that Randy Stone died of heart disease, Foster contributed another huge chunk of change to The Trevor Project, the largest in the organization's history. I met her then, on the rope line. She seemed quintessentially Hollywood-sophisticated, posing for pictures and seemingly accessible but inscrutable when asked questions. She said in a statement:
I feel so lucky to have had a best friend like Randy Stone, the funniest guy I've ever known. He was talented, passionate, supportive, and as big as life. He brought all his beautiful energy to The Trevor Project, which has done such meaningful work on behalf of gay and questioning youths. The call center campaign's impact will continue the Trevor mission in Randy's honor just as he would have wanted. I am proud to continue my support of Trevor in memory of my dearest friend. He is missed.
Some of us wondered whether that trip to the Trevor Project event was the impetus for coming out of the closet later that December, when she accepted an award at the 16th annual Women in Entertainment Power 100 breakfast, during which she said, "I'm not sure I've managed to deserve the family of friends that surrounds me ... [including] my beautiful Cydney, who sticks with me through the rotten and the bliss."
The comment received attention in the gay and tabloid press as a quiet coming out befitting Foster's secretive nature. But when Foster left older Cydney Bernard after 15 years for younger writer/producer Cynthia Mort in May 2008 -- just as same-sex marriage was granted in California -- more and more details about Foster's private life emerged. Foster and Mort, 33, who was described by the British press as "a rising star of the pink mafia," apparently met on the set of The Brave One. Here's an excerpt from a very long article in the Daily Mail:
[Foster and Bernard's] lesbian partnership seemed to be the very model of a modern same-sex pairing.
Jodie had the babies, which were conceived with the help of a sperm donor who is generally recognised to have been her friend Randy Stone, a gay film director.
She and Cydney then raised them in the suburban comfort of West Hollywood, where they had dogs, went for walks in the local park and lived as an utterly "regular" family.
They had been together for five years before Jodie had her first son, Charles, and by that time Cydney and her were wearing matching Tiffany eternity rings.
Kit was born three years later, in 1998.
From time to time, Jodie would make a movie, but mostly she and Cydney stayed at home, taking Charlie and Kit for picnics, whizzing them to school in one of the couple's matching convertible BMWs, and every now and then going for a big family holiday to Europe or the Caribbean.
Occasions like Thanksgiving and Christmas were especially big deals; Foster's mother Brandy would come along as well.
It must be said, also, that Jodie Foster is a thoroughly unusual woman: the sole breadwinner for her single-parent family from the age of three, incredibly intelligent, and not given to any expressions of emotion.
"It is not my personality to be extroverted emotionally," she told an interviewer. "So acting has been really helpful to me."
She was the youngest of four children, and her parents split up when her mother was pregnant.
She was raised in a household led by her ambitious mother, who was in a lesbian relationship with "Auntie" Jo.
Her brother Buddy said that mum Brandy was a controlling woman, but Jodie clearly does not agree -- she was so appalled by the book he wrote on the subject of their childhood that she hasn't spoken to him in 12 years.
Jodie once said on the subject: "When it's your responsibility to put bread on the table, crying is out of the question. No one says that to you, but you just know."
She added: "Look, it's terrible, I know, but weakness really, really bugs me, to the point that if there is a wounded bird on the sidewalk, I look at it and I go: 'I think I'll just kick it.'"
Perhaps one should not be surprised, then, by this latest rather ruthless act in her life.
So, as far as I'm concerned, Jodie Foster has been out since 2007, which is one reason that I was so confused and angry when she made what I considered a convoluted, self-serving Golden Globes speech last night. Judging by the explosion of responses on Twitter, a lot of folks thought she officially came out, if somewhat awkwardly. A number of people thought her speech was "beautiful" and "real" and "raw" and "complex," needing to be "deconstructed" and "unpacked" later to grasp its full meaning.
Well, let's do some of that now. To start with, she's 50. In a business that prizes youth almost as much as money, that's a terrific admission. And we're happy that Robert Downey, Jr., has talked her out of quitting acting, because she's pretty good (though I totally missed the hamster reference in Downey's intro, with Mel Gibson playing second fiddle and Foster pretending to take a bite out of the stuffed hamster, which was literally on a silver platter).
"Trust me, 47 years in the film business is a long time," Foster said, apparently going back to her bare-bottomed Coppertone commercial. And then came the big tease, the big wind-up, that no one expected:
I guess I just have a sudden urge to say something that, um, I've never really been able to air in public, so a declaration that I'm a little nervous about, but maybe not quite as nervous as my publicist right now, huh, Jennifer? Um, but, uh, you know, I'm just gonna put it out there, right? Loud and proud, right? So, um, I'm gonna need your support on this: I am, uh, single. Yes, I am! I am single! No, I'm kidding, but I mean I'm not really kidding, but I'm kind of kidding. I mean, thank you for the enthusiasm. Can I get a wolf whistle or something? I mean, please! Jesus!
What? This is starting to sound like she's coming off the rails, as if it's something she cooked up with her verbally abusive friend Mel Gibson that they both think is funny and worth saying while accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award. And then she appeared to take a swipe at those who've come out more visibly than she:
Seriously, I hope that you're not disappointed that there won't be a big coming-out speech tonight, because, uh, I already did my coming out about a thousand years ago, back in the Stone Age, in those, uh, those very quaint days when a fragile young girl would open up to trusted friends and family and co-workers and then gradually, proudly, to everyone who knew her, to everyone she actually met. But now, apparently, I'm told that every celebrity is expected to honor the details of their private life with a press conference, a fragrance and a primetime reality show.
Such as Jane Lynch, who was sitting there looking a bit befuddled? Or any of the myriad of other gay people in the room who are openly gay but whose sexual orientation no one has made a big deal about? And why would she have to pretend to be straight to stay on air if she had a reality show? She continued:
You know, you guys might be surprised, but I am not Honey Boo Boo Child. No, I'm sorry, that's just not me. It never was, and it never will be, but please don't cry, because my reality show would be so boring. I would have to make out with Marion Cotillard, or I'd have to spank Daniel Craig's bottom, you know, just to stay on the air. It's, you know, not bad work if you can get it, though.
Now here's where it gets dicey. On the one hand, you can understand why she so desires privacy. On the other hand, she's earned and accepted many awards and has appeared in the tabloids off and on, but not with any overwhelming consistency:
But seriously, if you had been a public figure from the time that you were a toddler, if you'd had to fight for a life that felt real and honest and normal against all odds, then maybe then you, too, might value privacy above all else. Privacy. Some day, in the future, people will look back and remember how beautiful it once was.
Andrew Sullivan writes, "'How beautiful it once was'? When gay people were put in jail, or mental institutions, or thrown out of their families -- all because of the "beauty" of privacy for Hollywood royalty like Foster? And she honestly believes it's courageous to come out in a retirement speech?" But for me "privacy" is the very excuse that so many hide behind to avoid the consequences of coming out, consequences such as losing family and friends, consequences such as shame, depression and suicide, consequences that gay kids know too well, consequences that Foster's best friend, Randy Stone, was trying to help prevent by co-founding The Trevor Project. To me "privacy" is something Mel Gibson calls for after getting caught in another tirade, not something Randy Stone would tell suffering LGBT youth to claim as a tactic to endure bullying.
Foster said, "I have given everything up there from the time that I was 3 years old. That's reality-show enough, don't you think?" Except that what she left up there on the screen was acting and directing and being someone other than who she truly is, which some people care about as well as her skills at public transformation.
Foster said, "There are a few secrets to keeping your psyche intact over such a long career. The first: Love people and stay beside them. ... My family and friends here tonight and at home, and of course Mel Gibson. You know you saved me, too." Homophobic, anti-Semitic Mel Gibson, mental health counselor? OK, did anyone believe them kissing in Maverick?
And then Foster made it official:
There is no way I could ever stand here without acknowledging one of the deepest loves of my life, my heroic co-parent, my ex-partner in love but righteous soul sister in life, my confessor, ski buddy, consigliere, most beloved BFF of 20 years, Cydney Bernard. Thank you, Cyd. I am so proud of our modern family, our amazing sons, Charlie and Kit, who are my reason to breathe and to evolve, my blood and soul. And boys, in case you didn't know it, this song, like, all of this, this song is for you.
And this is what moved so many to tears, Foster's tribute to her apparently lesbian mother, who is suffering from dementia:
This brings me to the greatest influence of my life, my amazing mother, Evelyn. Mom, I know you're inside those blue eyes somewhere, and that there are so many things that you won't understand tonight, but this is the only important one to take in: I love you, I love you, I love you. And I hope that if I say this three times, it will magically and perfectly enter into your soul, fill you with grace and the joy of knowing that you did good in this life. You're a great mom. Please take that with you when you're finally OK to go.
And in summation, Foster appears to signal retirement, which she later told the press she was not doing:
You see, Charlie and Kit, sometimes your mom loses it, too, but I can't help but get moony, you know? This feels like the end of one era and the beginning of something else. Scary and exciting, and now what? Well, I may never be up on this stage again -- on any stage, for that matter. Change: You gotta love it. I will continue to tell stories, to move people by being moved, the greatest job in the world. It's just that from now on, I may be holding a different talking stick. And maybe it won't be as sparkly. Maybe it won't open on 3,000 screens. Maybe it will be so quiet and delicate that only dogs can hear it whistle. But it will be my writing on the wall: Jodie Foster was here, I still am, and I want to be seen, to be understood deeply and to be not so very lonely. Thank you, all of you, for the company. Here's to the next 50 years.
To me, her most deeply personal, "confessional" remark was, "I want to be seen, to be understood deeply and to be not so very lonely." That is the cry of all of humanity, something that the wealthy superstars at the Beverly Hilton Hotel and the poor, at-risk LGBT kids, crying somewhere in a dark room, can understand. And that is why I found Jodie Foster's Golden Globes speech so infuriating: She knows this! And yet she apparently chooses to side with the angry self-centeredness of Mel Gibson rather than the loving humanity of Randy Stone. Yes, she has a right to do and say what she wants and to come out as she wishes, but she also has it in her to be bigger than that, to contribute what she knows about loneliness and hurt in order to benefit others, to benefit kids who don't have the love of friends and family, and she chose this awards show, this platform that reaches millions, to obfuscate once again. The nugget of meaning I took from this Golden Globes ceremony? Talent and brains don't mean you prize humanity.