Robert's Virtual Soapbox

(or, The Sanctimonious Professional Leftist's Blog)
JANUARY 15, 2013 1:34PM

On Jodie Foster and ‘privacy’ vs. shame

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This image released by NBC shows Jodie Foster, recipient of the Cecil B. Demille Award, during the 70th Annual Golden Globe Awards at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Jan. 13, 2013, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP Photo/NBC, Paul Drinkwater)

NBC/Associated Press photo

Actress Jodie Foster kind of officially, publicly came out of the closet the other night when she accepted an award at the Golden Globe Awards. Thankfully, the 50-year-old Foster’s apparent shame over her sexual orientation is rarer in our youthful non-heterosexuals today — no thanks to Foster, of course.

I don’t want this to be a repeat of what I wrote about lesbian astronaut Sally Ride’s posthumous outing in July, so I’ll quote what others have said about actress Jodie Foster’s recent quasi-coming out.

Matthew Breen, the probably-too-pretty editor of The Advocate, wrote this about Foster:

… Everyone should come out in her own time, but Foster was angry last night. One reason could be embarrassment at not having come out publicly (at least in her own estimation) until 2013. Last night’s speech clearly took a lot of guts for Foster to undertake. But too much anger was directed at a straw man of her own creation.

“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 prime-time reality show. You guys might be surprised, but I am not Honey Boo Boo child. No, I’m sorry, that’s just not me, never was, and it never will be,” she said.

There’s where she’s got it wrong. By referencing Honey Boo Boo, a stand-in for all that is shamelessly confessional about celebrity in 2013, Foster’s implication was that the choices she faces as a public figure are few: (1) stay closeted, never acknowledge your sexual orientation in public, or (2) tell the world every sordid detail of your intimate life.

That’s a bogus comparison, and it’s one that reinforces the idea that being LGBT is shameful, worthy of being hidden, and that saying you’re LGBT is an invitation to the whole world to come into your bedroom. That’s patently wrong. There are numerous out celebrities who guard their personal lives: David Hyde Pierce, Anna Paquin, Zachary Quinto, Amber Heard, Anderson Cooper, just to name a few. … [Emphasis is all mine.]

Breen states in his piece on Foster that The Advocate’s policy on outing is this: “While we encourage everyone who doesn’t risk his or her own safety by coming out to do so, The Advocate has a policy of not outing people who are not actively doing harm to LGBTs through word or deed.”

That’s pretty much my personal view on outing, too. Those who can be out should be out, in my book. You can’t assert that someone who might face real physical danger and/or who might be tossed out of his or her home (or maybe even his or her job) should come out if you’re not the one who would have to face the consequences – but often closeted individuals exaggerate how awful it might be should they come out.

Still, that said, even if I strongly think that an individual should be out, in the end, in many if not most cases it’s up to the individual as to whether or not he or she should be out (assuming that everyone doesn’t already know or strongly surmise the individual’s orientation anyway — there are so many closet cases whose self-awareness is so low that they seem to think that no one knows that they’re not heterosexual when pretty much everyone does).

In my book, the individual deserves the “protection” of the closet until and unless he or she does not deserve it, such as if it’s a closeted guy who is not keeping to himself but is sexually harassing others at the workplace (as happened to me) or, of course, if it’s a closet case who actively is working against the “LGBT community,” such as a “Christo”fascist “leader” or a politician. No traitor deserves the “protection” of the closet.

Most people agree on that point, but there remains a sticking point — that of “privacy.”

I like what LGBT writer Nathaniel Frank has to say on this:

… It’s true that hiding [one's sexual orientation] hurts. Research shows mental health consequences to holding major secrets over time. And yes, it’s absolutely a wasted opportunity for powerful, visible people who probably could come out unscathed to deny young LGBT people the nurturance of knowing that an admired public figure is gay.

Privacy and shame are closely connected. Adam and Eve covered their “privates” the moment they gained moral consciousness, an awareness of good and evil, setting the tone for a truism ever since: You don’t cover up stuff if there ain’t something wrong with it.

Any step a gay person takes to hide their identity that they wouldn’t take to hide the fact that they’re, say, Irish, vegetarian or left-handed is probably not a neutral quest for privacy but reflects their own doubt about just how OK it is to be gay. Foster’s reluctance to just pull an Ellen (“Yep, I’m gay”), and her tortured speech, with its resentful tone and its ultimate avoidance of the “L” word, made being gay and coming out seem tortured things in themselves. … [Emphasis mine.]

And that’s the deep and profound problem that I have with the widespread argument that one’s sexual orientation (if it is not heterosexual, and only if it is not heterosexual, of course) is “private”: The vast majority of heterosexuals don’t go around asserting that their attraction to members of the opposite sex is “private,” do they? And why is that? Because they’re not fucking ashamed of their sexual orientation, that’s why.

So to assert that one’s non-heterosexuality — not one’s specific sex acts, but one’s basic sexual orientation – is “private” is to keep alive the toxic, ignorant, bigoted, harmful belief that to be attracted to members of one’s own sex is shameful, abnormal, “sinful,” etc.

And to contribute to that toxic, heterosexist and homophobic environment — and yes, all of us are responsible for the environment, since all of us make up the environment – is only to add to the number of non-heterosexual people who become addicted to drugs and alcohol, who contemplate or commit suicide, who don’t protect themselves from STDs because (in their low self-esteem) they don’t find themselves to be worth protecting, and who are the victims of hate crimes, since they exist in such a heterosexist, homophobic environment that encourages such hate crimes.

You are contributing to the problem or you are contributing to the solution.

Lying that your basic sexual orientation is a matter of “privacy” – and lying that what others really want to know are the “dirty” details of your sex life when, in fact, no one is inquiring as to such details – is to try to excuse yourself for your own laziness, selfishness and cowardice for which there is no fucking excuse.

That is the problem that I have with Jodie Foster and with others like her who toss out the red herring of “privacy” instead of manning the fuck up already and working to make things better for everyone.

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Yup. That is pretty much my take on it.

I have good friends that politely and respectfully disagree with me and I'm okay with both that and the desire for personal privacy from the paparazzi...

HOWEVER, I've been out, vocal and proud for a few decades now and I know my small, insignificant example has helped some people transition. I know that has helped them because they have told me so.

I have to wonder just how much more powerful having people of fame, political power and influence might have.

So no, the Sally rides and Jodie Fosters of the world have no almighty dictate to come out proudly, but I DO think that they have the obligation (as we all do). Their fame shouldn't be used as an excuse not to.
Yup. When enough of us non-heterosexuals aren't out, people start to think that they don't know any non-heterosexuals, and then it's easier for heterosexism and homophobia to thrive.

And when our young people see the example of Jodie Foster -- someone who for years and years has been rumored to be lesbian but who kept in the closet so long -- many of them probably think that that is the thing to do: Keep your orientation silent, under the guise of "privacy."

Not to pick just on Jodie, of course, and I like her work as an actress.

And it is very generational. My partner, like Foster, is 50 years old and has at least some residual shame over his sexual orientation, whereas today's non-heterosexual youth, overall, have a lot less shame than the generations that have preceded them, thank Goddess.
BTW, Robert:

Do you also feel, as I do, that all of the "when is this going to stop being news?..." or "Nobody much cares about her sexuality...", is really str8 people consciously or subconsciously saying, , "Why don't you homos stay quietly in the closet like a good little queers!"?

Am I reading that wrong or right???
Hmmm. Most people who assert that a non-heterosexual's sexual orientation doesn't matter probably just don't want to be bothered with the issue, since fighting for equality is WORK, but they want to pretend as though we non-heterosexuals have equality now -- when, of course, we certainly do not. We have it better in some states than in others, but in too many states we're still second- or even third-class citizens.

And, of course, until and unless we gain federal protections, such as being able to inherit our spouses' Social Security -- the way that heterosexual widows and widowers do -- and being able to get the federal income tax perks that come with marriage (like the heterosexually married folks get), then no one can claim that our non-heterosexuals' struggle for equal human and civil rights is over. (Oh, and to my knowledge there still is no federal anti-discrimination employment law, that is, while no private employer anywhere in the nation may discriminate upon gender or race, in most states private employers still may fire an employee solely for not being heterosexual.)

And even after we non-heterosexuals have the federal recognition, homophobia will remain for a long time. I mean, of course the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not magically wipe out racism, for example...

But anyway, yes, there are many who believe that we non-heterosexuals should just shut up and never talk about our sexual orientation, even though heterosexuals talk about theirs all the fucking time.
Robert, I agree with the crux of much of what you write. I do not agree with your perspective that "Those who can be out should be out." I do notice that you sort of backed away from this stance in your next paragraph, and I appreciate your insight there.

"Should" is a very toxic word, and a springboard to intolerance and bigotry.

There are alot of reasons why a person, ANY person, chooses what of their lives to disclose or to hold private. And yes, our sexual orientation IS private, and if we are expected to expose THIS information about ourselves, then what else ought we also expose. No. It is a personal choice. It is Jodie's choice. It is each of ours.

Withholding personal information is not, as you suggest, "lying." It is simply practicing a basic freedom.

I applaud your views; I do not share all of them.
There is this American/Western viewpoint that whatever we do, or should do but do not do, an individuals does not really affect others.

As we are an interconnected, social species -- not individuals who exist in a vacuum -- this viewpoint demonstrably is incorrect, and this viewpoint is used primarily to justify one's own selfishness and/or cowardice and/or negligence/derilection of duty.

That's why I say that those who safely could be out -- those who unlikely would face any serious repercussions should they be out -- should be out. I see it as their duty.

Do I advocate the bullying of closet cases? No, those who are closeted but who mind their own business and aren't bullying or otherwise working against their fellow non-heterosexuals don't deserve to be bullied. They're pathetic if they're closeted unnecessarily, but they don't deserved to be bullied. Of course not.

But those closet cases who are working against their fellow non-heterosexuals don't deserve not to be outed. The word for that is KARMA.
To me, privacy would include such things as exactly who, if anyone, you are having sexual relations with, and what sexual acts you engage in.

But your basic sexual orientation?

There is no reason to evade divulging that except for a sense of shame.

And there is no reason to feel shame over one's sexuality. We need to evolve already where sexuality is concerned. Feeling shame over being sexual is a holdover from the grip that "Christo"fascism still has on us today. We need to break those chains already.
I was surprised that she rambled. It was like she was nervous. It was about many things like being fifty, a child star, not working, and then after all that, the big hats off to her partner. If that had been it I would have understood she was just like any other star and thanking those she loves and shares a life with.
It is the nervous stuff I don't understand. Maybe she was hopped up on something. Like she smoked a few puffs before getting up there before all the world.
Yes, her speech, which I watched via Hulu, was odd. Kind of like a drunk Clint Eastwood, only she was talking to chairs with people in them. And she seems to be bitter that she spent 47 years of her life in film, but who forced her to? She had no choice in the matter?

Anyway, her speech was more or less a rambling of her grievances, and I don't know that that was the kind of speech that I would have given...

At one point in her speech she pontificated upon the importance of "privacy," but at the end of it, she declared, "I want to be seen, to be understood deeply, and to be not so very lonely."

That doesn't sound like "privacy" to me, to "want to be seen," etc.

Maybe Foster has Sarah Palin's idea of privacy and fame -- that is, she wants the perks of fame without any of the downsides, wants privacy and publicity to always favor her. But when you become a public figure, it doesn't work that way...
Well reasoned piece. I agree with you completely. Even in the small points where I may still disagree, I am prepared to defer and be instructed.

I agree that Foster's implication regarding Honet Boo Boo is not appropriate. It is a serious subject. If she wanted to make a joke there, she should have said so and given the subject its proper respect. Using that as a way to describe "privacy" is somewhat demeaning.

I also agree with you on the subject of outting, and the line drawn between those doing harm, and those "non combatants", if you will. That strikes me as a reasonable condition. Granted, heterosexuality is dominant culture, but there are lots of people who would never tell you the first thing about their heterosexual lives for reasons that they consider private. My parents were among them. One might presume their sexuality, and granted it does not carry the baggage that minority culture carries, but the point is, it is reasonable to expect modesty to be a person's motivation, whatever their sexual identity. (I suppose that is one point of disagreement, from one of your comments. Some heterosexual people wont discuss it, wont laugh about it in public, wont go anywhere near it. You just tend no to notice them...for obvious reasons.)

I'll tell you what shocked me most about Foster is that she remains so loyal and friendly to Mel Gibson. Gibson is a whole lot of things that I hate. He's a bigot, a religious bigot, a misogynist, probably a few other things. But Foster knows him, sticks by him, and does so publicly. I would not help Gibson into an ambulance, yet Foster is very loyal to him. As shocking as that is, that is one of the things I like about her.
What I mean by heterosexuals not hiding their sexual orientation is that they will talk about their boyfriends and girlfriends and spouses, will talk about their dates, will talk about finding members of the opposite sex attractive, will talk about their children (the products of their sexual orientation), etc. These are considered appropriate topics for conversation, yet a deeply closeted non-heterosexual won't bring up such topics at all, but will pretend to be essentially asexual. I don't think that most heterosexuals could imagine what it would be like to censor themselves from every mention of their heterosexuality, lest they "out" themselves.

Again, I'm not at all talking about heterosexuals telling us the gory details of the bedroom, but just talking about their sexual orientation in general. There's a big difference between disclosing one's basic sexual orientation and divulging explicit details of one's sex acts.

My litmus test is this: If it's widely considered OK for a heterosexual to do or say something, then why would it not also be considered OK for a non-heterosexual to do or say the same thing within the same context? It's all about the equality.

Foster's Honey Boo Boo Child comment was meant, I believe, to minimize her failure to be more forthright about herself over the past decades. I suspect that she has some guilt or regret or the like for having been cowardly in this department, and so she used an exaggerated, ridiculous point of comparison in order to get herself off of the hook. But this made things worse, not better, for her, in my book.

Yeah, the Mel Gibson thing I don't understand, either. "The Passion of the Christ" -- a homophobic and probably also anti-semitic Jesus Christ snuff film that has little to no redeeming artistic value -- ruined me on Mel Gibson.
I see your point on the references to one's significant other, but you must remember that it was illegal in many places to be homosexual until very recently. In the U.K. they imprisoned people and put them in mental hospitals. Here in the U.S. they did similar things. You're right, people do mask their orientations, but given the recent, very serious stakes, and some that still remain, I can understand it.
I am fully aware of how non-heterosexuals have been treated by the "criminal" "justice" system, including having been rounded up by the cops just for being present in a gay bar or even just a suspected gay bar. These unconstitutional arrests and the resultant "criminal" records destroyed many, many lives. The victims of this "criminal" "justice" often had to move, often if not usually lost their jobs, and many of them committed suicide. Some of them still are trying to clear their "criminal" records to this day.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court finally ruled in 2003 that no state may criminalize consensual sexual relations between any two adults, regardless of their sex or sexual orientation.

So while it might be understandable for some to still be cowering in fear in the closet, when we choose to cower in fear instead of to be courageous, we only help the oppressors.

Cowards don't advance progress and civil-rights movements.
P.S. I don't mean this in a glib manner, but non-heterosexuals who find themselves in toxic -- even potentially life-threatening -- homophobic environments might be better off moving to a different city or state, one that is progressive and gay-friendly, if they have the means to do so.

I believe in standing up and fighting the fascists to a point, but I could not fault anyone for leaving a God-awful red state. I moved from Arizona to California in 1998, for example, and I'm very, very happy that I did so, for Californians in general are much, much saner and kinder than are Arizonans in general.