4:52 pm Jan. 14, 20135
As you know, last night, Jodie Foster received the Cecil B. DeMille Award, a career award, at The Golden Globes. She also delivered a seven-minute acceptance speech in which she publicly acknowledged ... something!
I wanted to talk to Kate Aurthur, chief Los Angeles correspondent for Buzzfeed, about why it is that Jodie Foster can't seem to achieve outness. Here's our conversation; I've put the full video of Foster's speech at the bottom if you need to catch up.
Tom McGeveran: OK so: Did Jodie Foster come out last night? That's the question I'm still left with after reading your excellent item about her speech. It seems like an easy question but, coming out isn't something you can do twice, is it? So partly it's a question of whether she "came out" before at a Hollywood Reporter event several years ago; partly it's a question of whether she just was "out" without having to "come out." And part of it is whether last night was really explicit enough to count? What counts? What actually is "coming out" anyway?
Kate Aurthur: Coming out is something you have to do five billion times. Would that we all could stand up in front of 19 million people and just get it over with. As Jodie Foster said, you tell people in your life one by one, and, man, does it get boring.
I was at that Hollywood Reporter event in 2007. I worked at The Los Angeles Times at the time. I heard what she said and was extremely surprised by it. And yet, it did not occur to me that we should write about it; I don't think anyone in the MSM reported on it. I'm embarrassed that I was a part of that. But with the sort of coverage we did—fairly rote features, news stories, and reviews, all of which I was and am proud of — there was no place for such a story.
That goes to your larger point: What is "coming out"? Yes, Foster came out. She said, "I already did my coming out..." so let's count that. We can also count, "My heroic co-parent, my ex-partner in love," about Cydney Bernard. I'm being absurd on purpose, because short of her screaming I AM A LEZ, apparently people are still confused and/or angry. The New York Times called it "a possible declaration of her sexuality."
Tom: Let's get this out of the way right now. I'm gay. What are you? So sure, coming out is something you have to do all the time, right? I just had to do it with you--I think. (Maybe it wasn't necessary!)
Kate: I, TOO, AM GAY. And no, I didn't know you were.
Tom: So we have just had two coming outs! But with a celebrity shouldn't it be the opposite? I mean, I'm trying to imagine the life moments right now in which Ricky Martin finds himself having to tell people he's gay. Like, maybe he has to tell the florist on Valentine's Day or ... maybe if he has a doctors' appointment with a new doctor or something? I'm sure there's something I'm not thinking of.
Now, a reporter's breakfast in 2007 is one thing. And as you say, it wasn't the angle you guys focused on there. But it happened--and it just wasn't picked up really. So now, she has done it for millions, at an awards show, to a national audience. And still, somehow, it doesn't seem to be quite working. And then, in the same speech, she says she wants privacy--isn't it all so strange?
Kate: Jodie Foster's "cause," if she has one, has never been LGBT issues — clearly! It has been privacy. Over the summer, during Kristen Stewart's Waterloo, Foster wrote a piece defending her; it was the most personal thing I've ever seen her revealing, unless you count some of the weird glossy magazine interviews she would do when she was a more mainstream star in which she'd say strange things like "I eat in my car." (I tried to find that one last night and failed.)
I'm blown away that even this coming out for Foster isn't working. I really don't know what people want. It's sad that there can only be one way to do this. Anderson Cooper clearly realized that, right? "The fact is, I'm gay." (Years before, there was Ellen's "Yep, I'm gay," of course.) What these celebrities don't acknowledge is how controlling they were about their clostedness; for years, to interview Anderson Cooper, you had to agree to no personal questions. I don't know about Jodie Foster. But the MSM is really so in on this secretiveness that there's almost no need to demand it.
Tom: I almost want to call it the glass closet. It does seem a little bit special that we keep making her do it, doesn't it? And when she tries to do it once and for all so that she doesn't have to keep doing it, we look set up to make her do it again.
I'm thinking about Anderson Cooper, too. He was first, according to this study, identified as "openly gay" in a gay New York bar rag, Metrosource, way back in 2003. And yet he sorta wasn't. Having edited articles about him (or, rather, "around him"), between then and when he publicly acknowledged he was gay nine years later, the fact that a friend of a friend of mine knew his boyfriend was a bit immaterial to the question whether we could write that he was gay in an article about him, right?
Kate: Here's a good, horrible recent story to your Anderson Cooper point. Remember when Rachel Maddow said that she feels that gay news anchors have a "responsibility to come out?"
That was less than two years ago. I was an editor at The Daily Beast then, and assigned Tricia Romano to write a story about that issue. It was tricky, because Anderson Cooper wasn't out yet, and talking about Shepard Smith means having to deal with Fox News, which can be hard.
The story was coming along, and somehow Howard Kurtz, a colleague, got wind of it, and sent an email to a top editor who was nervous about the story, saying "I hope this isn't about AC." Like he couldn't even write out his name. Howard Kurtz, media reporter, CNN employee: He interfered with a story about a then-closeted anchor at the network that pays him at the other place that pays him! There should be a "Reliable Sources" segment about it. Eventually, the story became such a pain in the ass, and this particular editor was so nervous about it, that we had to kill it. People just get crazy about the HIDEOUS possibility that you might call a gay person gay.
Tom: If I try to remember back to the days where "outing" was a controversial tactic inside the gay rights movement, I remember the debate being about whether it was fair for us to force well known figures into a disclosure that could harm them professionally, right? But most of the time, if "we" knew the person was gay, it was actually the mainstream press that was extremely complicit in keeping them closeted that made it an issue at all.
Kate: I was, and am, pro-outing. I've written a tiny bit about why here, but at the risk of repeating myself, I don't think it can be stressed enough how important it is for gay kids to know that there are gay adults who are cool and smart and, yes, sexually desirable. Outing was also so important during the height of the AIDS crisis in exposing monstrous hypocrisy. We wouldn't be where we are now without outing.
Tom: And now, with Jodie Foster, it is officially no longer "outing" for us to call her ... what? I agree with you absolutely: Jodie Foster came out, again, last night. But she hasn't given me the information I would need in later articles to refer to her as a lesbian. She's disclosed something about herself and her family, but the thing she disclosed, to be precise, was not her identity. And, of course, that's totally fine with me!
I wonder how intentional that is? And if it is, then what it intends? I can see lots of reasons for it. For instance, what if her next relationship were with a man? Wouldn't that send the media into a frenzy again?
Kate: I can speak only for myself here: I think we can now call her "gay" or a "lesbian." After all, we don't have only what she said on Sunday night, we have years of glass closet knowledge we can now use. She was with Cydney Bernard for many years; they had children together. After that, she dated Cynthia Mort (The Daily Mail, bless them, doesn't seem to have a problem reporting this sort of information!). She told us Sunday that she's single — and I hear you can still be an active gay person even if you have no partner at the moment! I loved that point of hers.
But Tom, do you think this means that we can finally learn more about the long-rumored Jodie/Kelly McGillis/Whitney Houston love triangle? Because that got me through college.
Tom: I'm guessing: no. We'll have to wait for the book, or another awards ceremony.
Editor's note: This article comes from an email interview, which was edited and re-ordered for clarity and to be more fun to read.