|Photo attribution: Tom Sorensen.|
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.