Jodie Foster's stream-of-consciousness Golden Globes speech at once was an exercise in coming out and at the same time defiant in seeming to make the case that public figures have every right not to do so.
She talked of "coming out about a thousand years ago back in the Stone Age," but to friends and family and co-workers, then mocked the celebrity tendency to "honor the details of their private life with a press conference, a fragrance and a prime-time reality show."
Make no doubt about it: She did come out, before an estimated audience of 20 million, even if it was not in the "Yep, I'm Gay" way of old. Instead she thanked her "ex-partner in love" Cyndey Bernard and said how proud she was "of our modern family."
Undoubtedly, it is a far different environment for a major celebrity to come out now than it was 15 or so years ago. The moment that once earned the cover of Time has given way to a subtler means of coming out that at once announces it yet does not make a big deal about it. Anderson Cooper, Matthew Bomer and Zachary Quinto are just a few of the recent examples. Cooper came out in an email to columnist and blogger Andrew Sullivan that, like Foster, noted that friends and family had long known he was gay but he also sought privacy. But even though he said he was reticent for private and professional reasons, Cooper wrote, "I’ve also been reminded recently that while as a society we are moving toward greater inclusion and equality for all people, the tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible. There continue to be far too many incidences of bullying of young people, as well as discrimination and violence against people of all ages, based on their sexual orientation, and I believe there is value in making clear where I stand."
By contrast, Foster's speech seemed to rub more than a few people the wrong way, and it didn't help that Mel Gibson, a polarizing figure in Hollywood on a number of fronts, was part of her lifetime achievement celebration. Where Cooper's e-mail was clear and direct, acknowledging the political and sociological importance of coming out, Foster's was at times gracious, at times irreverent and at times mocking of celebrity culture.
Karen Ocamb writes at LGBT POV that "for me, 'privacy' is the very excuse so many hide behind to avoid the consequences of coming out – consequences such as losing family and friends, shame, depression and suicide – consequences gay kids know too well, consequences her best friend Randy Stone was trying to help prevent by co-founding the Trevor Project. To me, “privacy” is something Mel Gibson calls for after getting caught in another tirade – not something Randy Stone would tell suffering LGBT youth to claim as a tactic to endure bullying."
Andrew Sullivan writes about Foster's comments about privacy. "How beautiful it once was"? When gay people were put in jail, or mental institutions, or thrown out of their families - all because of the "beauty" of privacy for Hollywood royalty like Foster? And she honestly believes it's courageous to come out in a retirement speech? Well I guess we should be relieved she didn't leave it for her obit."
Michelangelo Signorile writes at Huffington Post that "whatever you thought of last night, you'd have to agree that it was another indication of how it's becoming harder and harder for anyone in public life to have any real credibility and still be living in the closet. Personally, I don't care if people like Jodie Foster are bitter or annoyed at activists. It's the job of activists to challenge people and, yes, to annoy people. What I care about is that the repressive and suffocating gay closet not be seen as a good place even if it is still the only safe choice for many."
Sam Leith at the Guardian heaps praise on the speech: "It's a considerable thing to deliver a speech that is at once artfully put together and emotionally affecting. At the Golden Globes – where in accepting the Cecil B DeMille award for lifetime achievement, she made the first public acknowledgement of her sexuality --- Jodie managed both. What's striking is not what the speech gave away, but the control and delicacy with which it delivered its payload."