Loud and proud: The first hint of Foster’s resentment toward coming out is the phrase “loud and proud”. Those words instantly lose their meaning and value when we discover that her ‘coming out’ is an act of “kidding, not kidding” and a desperate call for validation (“can I get a wolf whistle or something?”). She can’t even bring herself to say the words “I’m gay” or “I’m a lesbian”. It’s a simple admission yet the power of those words cannot be underestimated. Saying those words is like unburdening a big lie and making a commitment to living one’s life with authenticity. By joking about it and ‘coming out’ as single, Foster failed to be loud or proud.
The Stone Age: Foster does make one good point. Like many of us, she did her coming out in a methodical way, scoping out her risks by telling “trusted friends and family” first and then expanded her circle of confessions to a larger group of people that she “actually met”.
Still, Foster seems oblivious that it was in the so-called “stone age” that the LGBT equality movement could have benefited if high profile public figures had come out.
No one really knows when Foster did her private coming out. She could have been a brave teenager and came out in the 1970s. Hers was the generation that came of age with the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. If this is when Foster privately came out then she did it during a time when it was very difficult for anyone to come out. Gay men, especially, were ostracized by the government, medical establishment and religious institutions. Women – lesbian, bisexual and straight – were, in many cases, primary care givers to gay men with AIDS. Many lesbian and bisexual women were forced to come out as families and friends questioned their intimate involvement in the lives of gay men.
The AIDS crisis is a recent event in queer history, the repercussions of which we are still suffering. It was hardly the stone age and those days certainly weren’t “quaint”. LGBT activism was reignited with an increased urgency and vigor. It was one of the most significant and empowering movements in queer history. To characterize that time as “quaint” is an insult to those – the everyday men and women – who showed more courage than Foster by publicly coming out, risking their safety and their lives.
Indeed at the time we were desperately calling on celebrities to come out. It wasn’t so much that we wanted them to become spokespersons for our movement and start headlining AIDS Walk in major cities. We wanted to put a face to end the rampant homophobia, especially homophobia silently endorsed by the very occupations that these celebrities belonged to: entertainment and media, politics, and professional sports. There wasn’t a single celebrity that stepped forward to say, I am gay and I am appalled by how my brothers are being treated. And by this refusal to come forward they perpetuated the shame associated with being LGBT, they stoked the flames of homophobic stereotypes, and participated in the marginalization and criminalization of LGBT people at a time when silence indeed equaled death.
3. Then and Now: Okay, so Foster did her private coming out in the stone age. After that, she remained one of the most bankable and successful female stars in television and movies. She was never really seen as a romantic lead. Her biggest hits and award winners – The Accused, Silence of the Lambs, Nell, Flightplan, Brave One – were stories in which she had no romantic involvement with a male character. So the reason why most celebrities don’t come out – that they will never again be believable as a romantic lead, or their career will come to an end – was never an issue in Foster’s case.
Which leaves us scratching our heads as to why she did not publicly come out in the stone age. Had she done so, she would have been a trailblazer. Instead, by coming out in 2013 at the age of 50, she is simply walking down a safe and supportive path paved by much more courageous women like Lily Tomlin, Ellen DeGeneres, Martina Navratilova, Rosie O’Donnell, Wanda Sykes, Rachel Maddow, Cynthia Nixon, Jane Lynch and others. None of them have a prime-time reality show or a fragrance. Some of them even went on to write wildly successful books, both fiction and biographical, that were crucial in changing the public’s attitude toward homosexuality.
Foster’s speech was laced with barely concealed irritation and resentment, implying that the public had somehow forced her to come out. Has she not paid attention to the dead-on-arrival coming out of people like Lance Bass, Ricky Martin, and Sean Hayes who were long suspected to be gay and by the time they came out (or were pushed out), it was a non-event that ended up in mostly ridicule? Foster should think twice before taking out her passive aggression on the same public that has made her the big star she is.
4. Privacy: All LGBT people fight for a life that, as Foster said, can “feel real, honest and normal against all odds”. That is the fundamental premise of our quest for equality. But there is a huge difference between wanting privacy and remaining closeted. No civil rights movement has succeeded in achieving its goals by people remaining silent and private. As long as LGBT people are denied full civil rights and equality, we don’t have the luxury to confuse self-identity with “details of our private lives”. We have never wanted to stalk an out celebrity or any member of their family nor do we want to know what sexual position they prefer.
Foster is clearly confused between our right to equality and our right to privacy. She sounds shocked that celebrities get media and public attention. If privacy is what she wanted then she should have become a librarian and not a film star. Indeed she had contemplated leaving stardom when she was the victim of death threats from psychopathic fans who stalked her when she was barely fifteen. If the wound of that experience is the reason for Foster’s insistence on privacy then she should acknowledge that instead of pointing an accusatory finger at the public who adores her.
5. The Next 50 Years: Foster ends her speech on an incredibly emotional note by confessing that she has felt misunderstood and lonely and she doesn’t want to feel that anymore. Isn’t that the whole reason for coming out? That once we come out, we stop feeling misunderstood. And if we are cast out by family or coworkers, there is always someone from the LGBT community to catch us, hold us, and affirm us so that we don’t feel lonely. Whether she continues to work in the film industry or “hold a different stick”, we wish her well because this is one conflicted woman, still battling the screaming of the lambs in her head. Foster hints at generating her own “writing on the wall”. As far as I’m concerned, that writing had better start with an apology to the LGBT community. I’m kidding, but I’m not really kidding, but I’m kind of kidding.