Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Jodie Foster came out – why it matters so much

Photo attribution: Tom Sorensen.
It happened a few months ago, and you would be mistaken to think not much has changed since Jodie Foster finally and unequivocally came out at the Golden Globes in January 2013. Some folks the next day were still wondering if she actually had indeed come out, but the Guardian said it best: You'd have to be "willfully obtuse" to doubt it.  She came out.  And everyone was talking about it the next day. And by everyone, I mean actually everyone. A cross-section of society. Not just the lesbians. Not the way "everyone" was talking about the poolside rendezvous between Sherry Jaffe and Shane.  Jodie's declaration was news around the world. It was talked about by our moms and our colleagues and on the front page of The New York Times.

Jodie Foster was certainly not the first famous person to come out as gay or lesbian.  But her coming out was the biggest, and, I would argue, the most important, and here's why: She's part of our collective American culture — from her childhood movie roles, to the Reagan assassination attempt, to her multiple Academy Awards — and the public cares about her.  An example: A few years ago, in my classroom of college freshmen, I mentioned the legendary actress Meryl Streep. None of the young men in the room knew who she was.  They didn't know Meryl Streep.  They don't watch her movies.  Jodie Foster, they know. They've all seen "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Panic Room."  Jodie's coming out was like having the entire country personally know someone who came out.

But that's not the only reason it was such a big deal. There's something else.  Jodie is not a goofy and lovable comedian like Jane Lynch or Ellen. She is not an egghead intellectual stud like Rachel Maddow.  She's not Chaz Bono.  No, she is one of the cool kids in the upper stratosphere of beauty and status. At least, this is how the straight world perceives her.  She's someone who straight women might aspire to be and straight men might desire. We may have several examples of conventionally desirable, successful lesbians in pop culture, but they are usually fictional characters played by straight actors.  Jodie Foster, on the other hand, is real.  She's beautiful. She's mega-famous. And she's gay -- and now everyone knows.

1 comment:

Fordo said...

I still feel like- what took you so long, Jodie? It's precisely because she is beautiful and status-y that her coming out could have really made a real impact 20 years ago. Or even 10 years ago. But we all already knew she was gay. Her public "coming out" (or whatever that was) seemed more about her and less about helping destigmatize the issue. Though she, of course, can come out however she wants. It was still just so weird to me. And I think the young kids in your classroom aren't homophobic like kids were 20 years ago so it's great that they know she is gay. But I doubt they care nearly as much as students did 10-20-30 years ago. It would have made a bigger difference to kids 20 years ago.

Having said that, JF needs to live her own life and her goal is to take care of her own emotional needs first. Social activism comes second. IMO.

Magic Johnson's TMZ video talking about his gay son seems far more timely and relevant and something that will shake up people's homophobic feelings both because he's black and a major beloved sports superstar, both communities that have not historically been welcoming to gay people.