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.