On Jodie Foster and ‘privacy’ vs. shame

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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