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Being Jodie Foster

A commentary.

Jim Burroway

January 14th, 2013

Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver (1976)

She was only thirteen, barely out of puberty, when she showed up on the first day of shooting Taxi Driver, the film that would change her life in ways that nobody could ever haveimagined. The role, that of the preteen prostitute Iris was already controversial enough that a long line of other actresses had turned it down. Foster’s performance won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, but gossip columnists weren’t particularly deft in their snide innuendos: where did she learn to play a prostitute so convincingly?

Her own fan base included John Hinckley, Jr., who watched Taxi Driver fifteen times in a row in a continuous loop, and fell in love. Now she’s nineteen and a freshman at Yale, where Hinkley is stalking her, sending love letters and even managing to get her on the phone a couple of times. And then Hinkley did the thing that he was sure would win Foster’s attention, if not her heart: he tried to kill President Ronald Reagan. News trucks invaded the Yale campus and pursued her as relentlessly as Hinkley had done. Then another man, Edward Richardson, began following her around campus, except he didn’t want to woo her or exploit her for television. Instead, he wanted to shoot her, but he decided against it because “she was too pretty.” When Hinkley was declared not guilty by reason of insanity a year later, it was all about Jodie Foster again. She continued making movies, but all reporters wanted to talk about was Hinckley and the shooting and Hinckly’s “getting off easy.” She soon took to walking out of interviews — “What a bitch!” — whenever Hinckley’s name was mentioned. In 1999, Hinckley was allowed to leave the psychiatric hospital in supervised, then unsupervised, releases, but those privileges were revoked when hospital personnel discovered that he was still obsessed with Jodie Foster.

And all the while, Jodie Foster was gay. How’s that for a head trip?

I think when most people see Jodie Foster, they see many things: an accomplish actress, a hounded teenager, an obsessively private person, a closet case. Much unlike the Kardashians, Lohans and Spears of the world, Foster saw public attention as a bullet, not a drug. That she managed to somehow maintain some semblance of calm in all that is a testament to some serious emotional survival skills.

Jodie Foster came out before, tentatively, timidly, to those who were quick enough to catch it. In 2007,  she accepted a leadership award at the 16th annual Women in Entertainment Power 100 breakfast where she thanked “my beautiful Cydney who sticks with me through all the rotten and the bliss.” Who Cydney was, we were left to guess. In one separate interview, she acknowledged having a “partner,” and in another interview she acknowledged wearing an “eternity ring.” Only a few who really, really wanted her to come out — and it’s not a bad thing to have wanted her to come out — tied it all together. And then, apparently, everyone forgot.

But never was she as clear as she was last night. I think most of us are grateful, but I see that some are reacting with an amazing combination of resentment and entitlement. Resentment over her being a wealthy and famous actress — never mind one who was hounded by a would-be assassin — who sought the safety of privacy above all else. And entitlement, because it’s that very word  — privacy — which galls them the most. Some believe that privacy is a quality that someone as famous as Foster isn’t entitled to. Others, perhaps more shockingly, seem to argue that she doesn’t deserve the right to define what’s private in her life and what’s not. There are, in effect, a surprising number of people presuming to be Jodie Foster right now.

Some of us come blazing out of the closet as soon as we hit puberty. Others of us can’t find it within ourselves to do it until we’re in our eighties. Some never come out. I came out at 40; only a fifth of my life so far has been spent out of the closet. Anyone who comes out early in life certainly deserves our admiration and respect. I, for one, have a lot of regrets about not coming out earlier, particularly when I recall how homophobic I was before making that transition. That’s why I’m patient with such transitions, whether its as an LGBT person or as an ally – even when they occur with (potentially) former homophobes.

Jodie Foster, near as I can tell, was never homophobic. But she could have been a role model, they say. They, who are not Jodie Foster. Of course, so could have a million other people. Some of them came out, others still haven’t. But because of those who have come out, there are more role models now than we can shake a glow stick at. So why the controversy now that she has come out? Does anyone seriously think there’s a teenager in Omaha who has been holding off on coming out, waiting for Jodie Foster to take the first step? Does anyone even think there’s a teenager in Omaha who knows who Jodie Foster is?

I’ve never begrudged her decision to maintain her privacy as she defines it, partly because of what she went through, but  more so because it’s simply well within her rights. That she decided to be more public now is a testament to how close we really are to achieving what we’ve been fighting for. But if she had chosen not to make this speech, then that, too, is a testament to the very same victory. Because freedom is meaningless unless it applies to everyone. And that would include those who would take their own life experiences into account in deciding how they should live their lives, and who they should let in to be a part of it.

Comments

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Ryan
January 14th, 2013 | LINK

I think it would be great if we lived in a world where gay people didn’t think mentioning the existence of their spouse or children was considered something very private. Just like no heterosexual on earth thinks those things are private. But we’re obviously not there yet. Foster has the right to come out–or not–as she sees fit. But she went way over the line, attacking openly gay celebrities as being somehow tacky or gauche, like Honey Boo Boo. And bemoaning the loss of “privacy” (aka, acknowledging the existence of your spouse and children) was pretty annoying .

Steve
January 14th, 2013 | LINK

She was more out than you are implying. People in Hollywood certainly knew and she and Bernard went to events together. There are also pictures of them and their children just walking around. She didn’t hide it all costs. It was the definition of the glass closet. Most people knew, but it just wasn’t talked about in public.

@Ryan
With Foster, her need for privacy was more about her being a child star than being gay. She was in the spotlight from when she was three years old. Most of those children get messed up somewhere along the way, especially in their teenage years. She is one of the very few ones who didn’t.

Timothy Kincaid
January 14th, 2013 | LINK

Jim, very very well said.

David Roberts
January 14th, 2013 | LINK

My first reaction is to agree with Ryan above. However, if her privacy issues do stem from her childhood acting career and not her homosexuality, then her actions on that front speak to something other than the state of society on being gay. So I guess my opinion depends on which premise is factual.

The aside, I have to chime in with others in my rather strong confusion over her respect for Mel Gibson, which I find more difficult to comprehend than all the rest.

Either way, very nicely written Jim.

MattNYC
January 14th, 2013 | LINK

Jim, I think you’ve done a good job of capturing my thoughts–whether or not the entire Hinkley issue had anything to do with her approach to privacy.

Priya Lynn
January 14th, 2013 | LINK

I agree, Foster never owed it to anyone to be out.

Does anyone know why Hinckley thought killing Reagan would make a positive impression on her?

markanthony
January 14th, 2013 | LINK

Great post, I had forgotten all of this stuff about about Hinckley and the others. Must have been very difficult. One more issue that was left out was that she apparently has children. I don’t know the timeline on that, but protecting them must have played a role.

Robert
January 14th, 2013 | LINK

Priya Lynn,

In Taxi Driver the Deniro character attempts to assasinate a Senator running for President in order to protect the Foster character. It ALL revolves around the movie plot.

CPT_Doom
January 14th, 2013 | LINK

@Ryan – I didn’t get any sense Foster was attacking other openly gay celebrities with her comments on reality television. My impression was that she was decrying the general intrusiveness of the media, and the modern phenomenon of all these reality stars basically throwing open their lives for general consumption. That is clearly behavior that is totally contrary to her personality.

I also think part of her frustration may come about because she has lived such an open life and did finally publicly acknowledge her partner 5 years ago. Clearly she thought that should be enough and she shouldn’t have to make a public announcement. I don’t know that I agree with her that a public announcement is an annoyance with little value, but she does have a point. If she had a relationship with a man under the same circumstances as her 2-decade relationship with Bernard, including naming the children after both of them (both her sons have Bernard as a middle name), the media would have thought nothing of writing about the relationship as a fact, much like they did with Beyonce and Jay Z when they first got together but wouldn’t confirm anything.

Ben in Oakland
January 14th, 2013 | LINK

My sentiments exactly. Good job, Jim.

Neon Genesis
January 14th, 2013 | LINK

While I respect Jodie Foster’s right to privacy, my concern is that there’s still this attitude in entertainment culture that gay celebrities should keep their sexuality private that Hollywood doesn’t impose on their heterosexual celebrities. Chely Wright has talked a lot about how the country music industry had pressured her to stay in the closet and this pressure to keep her sexuality “private” almost caused her to commit suicide. While privacy is important in everyone’s lives, what kind of message are we sending out to other gay celebrities when we put out this message that you shouldn’t share your private life with others or that you should try to downplay your sexuality? And why is it always famous gay people who try to downplay the importance of their sexuality to their lives?

Steve
January 14th, 2013 | LINK

Chely Wright wasn’t out to anyone. Foster was out to the people around her. Huge difference.

Many gay Hollywood stars are actually out behind the scenes. That practice dates back to the silent films days when the studios actively protected gay actors (though the solution then were fake or lavender marriages). So for people in the business it’s often an open secret who is gay and not. Sometimes more, sometimes less. With Foster, everyone knew. She made no attempts to hide her life and children.

Keith Heimann
January 14th, 2013 | LINK

Sorry, but I just don’t share the enthusiasm here. What is the “risk” for a highly successful multi-millionaire? Show me a teenager from a Red State with Born Again parents who comes out and then we will talk about brave.

Also, anyone who pals around with Mel Gibson is hardly to be admired. More like pitied.

College Jay
January 14th, 2013 | LINK

Foster has been “out” for years, in the way that most of us would define being out. Her family and friends all knew, just like ours do. She made no secret of it. As others have pointed out, she hasn’t ever hid her partner or her children, even thanking them outright during acceptance speeches and the like.

What I think her speech last night hinted at was the absurdity of “coming out” meaning “make a public announcement and wind up on magazine covers with the only topic being my sexuality.” It’s all rather retrograde, especially in this era where even young, dashing male actors (the kind who historically never came out at all) are coming out casually over Twitter.

One minor correction: Foster was nominated, but did not win, the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for “Taxi Driver.”

Ben in Oakland
January 14th, 2013 | LINK

To those who are resentful of her, I do declare, “I think everyone should come out right now. Everyone. Right now. In fact, I’m going to pass a law to require it.”

There. Are you satisfied?

As a gay activist for over 40 years, I do believe everyone should come out right now. The enemy is the closet, and always has been. Within a year or so, this particular battle in the culture war would be as dead as Jerry Falwell, and probably sharing the same BBQ in hell.

But as a thinking, feeling human being, I know that people usually come out when they are ready to, and come out in a very public way ONLY when they are ready to, or forced out. I have no problem with that. We would all love to believe in the Great Gay Brotherhood– lord knows I used to sing bout it at length– but nevertheless, it doesn’t exist always, everywhere, for all people.

It ought to, but it doesn’t.

So ms. Foster is entitled to liv her life as she sees fir. On the other hand…

You don’t really have an extra special right to privacy, whether you’re a star or merely Ben in Oakland. I also have no problem with outing in general, especially of homo-hatin’-homos. but i also have no problem with outing of people who live quite a gay life but consistently deny they are gay. If you want to be gay in this world, be prepared for the consequences. Or better still, come out on your own and CHOOSE your consequences. But don’t whine about it. The rest of us don’t get to.

As far as I can tell, she hasn’t denied it. So she merely lived her life and the information became publicly available. If she doesn’t care SO much, why should none else. Isn’t that what we’re striving for?

Neon Genesis
January 14th, 2013 | LINK

Last I checked, nobody forced Jodie Foster to come out last night. She made that choice all on her own so if she regrets it now in the name of privacy, she has nobody but to blame but herself for making that choice. It’s a double standard that Hollywood culture has no problems sharing with us all the intimate details of the romantic life of Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart yet if a celebrity merely says they are gay, this somehow counts as oversharing and an invasion of privacy.

College Jay
January 14th, 2013 | LINK

Neon Genesis, I think the point of the post was that some people in the gay community resent Jodie Foster for using her privacy as an excuse for not coming out earlier, even though her sexuality has been pretty much known for years. Considering the fact that she is a private person, I don’t think she came out last night without putting a lot of thought into it, and I don’t think we’ll hear her be saying that she regrets it anytime soon.

Kaleo
January 14th, 2013 | LINK

Excellent, Jim. Thank you.

Neon Genesis
January 15th, 2013 | LINK

College Jay, I just feel like people are only making excuses for celebrities like Jodie Foster and Sally Ride just because they’re famous people that they already like when people wouldn’t hesitate to criticize them if they were a politician or a preacher. We should be working to create a society where people can talk about issues like this openly and honestly without fear of judgment and I don’t see how running back into the closet of privacy is going to help.

College Jay
January 15th, 2013 | LINK

Neon Genesis, I’d only criticize a politician or a preacher for not coming out if they were anti-gay. I wouldn’t dream of telling an “average person” when or how they should come out, so I don’t see why public figures should be held to a different standard. If they’re hiding in the closet while engaging in anti-gay words or actions, that’s one thing. If they’re allied, but not out, who cares?

Priya Lynn
January 15th, 2013 | LINK

Neon genisis said “It’s a double standard that Hollywood culture has no problems sharing with us all the intimate details of the romantic life of Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart yet if a celebrity merely says they are gay, this somehow counts as oversharing and an invasion of privacy.”.

But that’s not a double standard at all. Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart sought to keep their private life private, it was the tabloids that forced it into the open against their wishes. When Jodie Foster decides to announce she’s in a same sex relationship she has shared something Pattinson and Stewart tried to keep quiet.

I see this a lot, where people seem to set a higher standard for celebrities than they do for ordinary people, getting angry that they haven’t been forthcoming about their sexual orientation when they wouldn’t think of criticizing the cashier at the local food jobber for keeping her’s a secret. I think people criticizing celebrities for not comming out aren’t being fair, they resent celebrities for their wealth and because of that find fault with them that they wouldn’t find in non-wealthy people behaving the same way.

Andrew
January 15th, 2013 | LINK

Folks, if you’re gay, and you don’t want people to know you’re gay, don’t be in such a rush to become famous. It comes with the territory. Of being famous.

Neon Genesis
January 15th, 2013 | LINK

Pyria, I’m not criticizing Jodie Foster for not coming out earlier. I respect and understand her desire for privacy. What I’m criticizing Ms. Foster for is that she seems to disapprove of other gay celebrities who want to be more open about it.

Priya Lynn
January 15th, 2013 | LINK

I see, Neon Genesis.

College Jay
January 15th, 2013 | LINK

Neon Genesis, I guess I just didn’t take her comments that way. I think she is critical of the fact that “coming out” often requires magazine covers, interviews with Oprah, and a bunch of press coverage.

That’s not the kind of spectacle that any human being would want attached to his or her sexuality, and the fact that it’s normal for the media to react that way when a celebrity comes out is worth criticizing. I think she disapproves of the process, but not necessarily those who have gone through it.

johnson
January 16th, 2013 | LINK

Just a correction re the Article. Foster did NOT win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in “Taxi Driver”. She WAS nominated, but Beatrice Straight won for “Network” that year.

Lemming Free
February 28th, 2013 | LINK

Her last tolerable movie was Silence of the Lambs. I guess she needed a reason to get the tabloids to mention her name since her talent isn’t going to be doing that for her for another 20+ years. It’s not like we didn’t already suspect anyway.

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