What if Jodie Foster Came Out as Complicated?

Why being gay or straight isn't the only story we can tell about ourselves.

Posted Jan 15, 2013

As the Golden Globes played out on Sunday night, my Facebook page was abuzz with "Jodie Foster is crazy and a coward" posts. Apparently the crazy was about the rambling nature of her speech given when she received a Lifetime Achievement award. But the coward was about her supposed refusal to come out of the closet.

It's long been known that Jodie Foster had her children with another woman, Cydney Bernard. How does one come out when everyone already knows you've been in a long-term relationship with a woman? Apparently it involves saying something like "I am gay" or "I am a lesbian," something Ms. Foster did not do.

According to carpetbagger.blogs, 

But the most commented-upon of Ms. Foster’s remarks was a possible declaration of her sexuality. She referenced “coming out” and mentioned Cydney Bernard, a production manager, as “my heroic co-parent, my ex-partner in love but righteous soul sister in life.”

Over at the Huffington Post, Deb Baer wrote this.

According to Baer, Foster's refusal to say the word lesbian was only more evidence of her self-loathing:

Obviously, there's more to this story behind the scenes than I will ever know about, like why in the world she's so close with an inarguable homophobe like Mel Gibson, or the real reason that it took her so long to come to this decision, because it certainly wasn't only about "privacy." Any shrink would agree with that, right?

At the Wall Street Journal, Eric Sasson fumed that:

Wasn’t it possible, for instance, for someone like Foster to have said, fifteen years ago, “I’m gay. And just like straight people, gay people value their privacy. Now leave me alone.” How about ten years ago? Or even five years ago? It’s pretty apparent that it took those famous people who did come out early—at a time when it wasn’t convenient for their careers, when there was the real risk of backlash or ridicule, or worse, discrimination or violence—to force the issue of gay rights into the spotlight, and make people question their beliefs. Someone like Foster doesn’t have to be proud to be gay. She doesn’t have to be a poster child, a role model, a pioneer. She doesn’t have to share the details of her life with any of us.  

(For a far more amusing take on Foster's speech, watch this youtube video.

But what if Jodie Foster has a more complicated sexuality than straight or gay? What if the word lesbian (or straight) feels less like liberation and more ike a straight jacket? Since the invention of the homosexual somewhere around 1865, we moderns have insisted that our sexuality is our identity. Whatever we do at age 20 is the same at age 50 and these practices define our very essence. That's why coming out--as straight or gay--involves saying "I am X." But what if Foster, like many other people, feels as if whatever she is, it's more complicated and less consistent than "gay"? 

It is interesting that Foster came out as single, not lesbian. Perhaps that is because Foster experiences attraction not to one gender or the other, but to people. Rather than desiring a particular set of body parts, Foster might be attracted to humor or intellect or even something less tangible, like their smell or the sparkle in their eye. Maybe deciding, as a single person, that her next great love will definitely have the body parts of a woman seems like both too big a commitment and too limiting of her future possibilities. Or maybe Foster finds "single" a space from which she can explore not having an active libido, one of a growing number of people who find asexuality a far more comfortable place to live than sexual identity.

Whatever the case, I support Foster's right not to privacy, but to complexity. The truth is privacy is not really guaranteed for the rich and famous. But complexity ought to be allowed to each and every one of us. Brave men and women have come out for decades and I certainly acknowledge that this was not easy for them and that it changed how our country thinks about gays and lesbians. But what if coming out doesn't feel brave as much as it feels like a lie? Isn't it time to allow for different ways of thinking about sexuality for the many people who color outside the lines of the straight/gay binary? Maybe it's time to imagine sexuality as rich and varied as other socially constructed categories, such as race. In the same way that we acknowledge that a person can be white, black and Hispanic, we can also acknowledge that sexuality is far more complex than a this or a that. 

So here's to coming out as LGBTQ or even straight. And here's to the far more messy process of being open about the complexity of desire. 

About the Author

Laurie Essig, Ph.D., is a professor of sociology and women and gender studies at Middlebury College.

More Posts