Jodie Foster's second public mention of Cydney Bernard — her ex-girlfriend/ partner/ roommate/euphemism/whatever, of something like 16 years -– at Sunday's Golden Globe Awards, left people confused. They argued loudly, angrily on Twitter and elsewhere, about whether this counted as Foster's real coming out and, if in fact it did, whether she did it correctly by voicing apparent anger, frustration and conflict over her cultural obligation of having to discuss her private life at all.
Unlike Mike Signorile, his noted gay peer Michael Musto was unimpressed. Musto told Out, "I thought it was a convoluted coming out speech framed as a NOT-coming-out speech, and it would have been more effective if she'd just said, ‘Yep, I'm gay,' 20 years ago."
It all solidified the prescience of Mark Harris' influential Entertainment Weekly article from last year, "By the Way, We're Gay. The New Art of Coming Out." He wrote:
Nearly five years after Jodie Foster, at an awards breakfast, thanked ‘my beautiful Cydney, who sticks with me through all the rotten and the bliss' - with no subsequent allusion to a same-sex relationship - writers, editors, and gay-rights advocates are still arguing among themselves about whether that counted as coming out.
Maybe what was so jarring about Foster's speech was how it contrasted with the "new way of dealing publicly with one's sexual orientation" that Harris wrote about:
[S]peaking in a manner that's subdued but up-front; leading by example, but not necessarily from atop a pride-parade float; setting boundaries so that some aspects of their lives remain private.
Foster was anything anything but up-front (sideways and to the left, really). She clearly was wary of disclosing her sexuality much less assuming the role of leader as a result of it. And, after opening the smallest of small windows of the protected fortress of her personal life, she seemed intent on retaining all of its boundaries.
These were her biggest downfalls where her dissenters were concerned. Granted, in some ways, Foster's speech mirrored the comings out of those who have made the the transition without so much resulting flack. Overall, though, it did not adhere to modern guidelines that we can glean from the more successful public declarations of sexuality by celebrities over past year or so. These guidelines include, sometimes simultaneously, sometimes not (see them mix and match!):
Have something tangible to lose.
Until gay people have equal rights around the globe, coming out remains a risk that can render people alienated, ignored and considered lesser. That said, some people have more to lose than others, given the states of their careers. Among those whose timing was particularly courageous are:
Frank Ocean – He came out via a narrative posted on Tumblr a week before the release of his debut album channel ORANGE, risking being shunned by the disproportionately straight-identifying worlds of R&B and hip-hop. (He's doing just fine, though.)
Matt Bomer – As a masculine, handsome potential leading man, Bomer previously shrugged off gay rumors (in a 2010 Details article, he explained, "I have a network and a show riding on my shoulders," in reference to USA's White Collar). And with good reason (probably): Jackie Collins claimed that the open secret of Bomer's sexuality kept him from being cast in 2003's ill-fated Superman: Flyby, and a troll no less prominent than Bret Easton Ellis said that a MSM such as Bomer playing the lead in Fifty Shades of Grey would be "absolutely ludicrous." That kind of discussion alone (regardless of its veracity) is just a small sample of the shit no straight actor has to deal with.
Omar Sharif, Jr. – In his coming-out essay in The Advocate, he wrote: "And so I hesitantly confess: I am Egyptian, I am half Jewish, and I am gay. That my mother is Jewish is no small disclosure when you are from Egypt, no matter the year. And being openly gay has always meant asking for trouble, but perhaps especially during this time of political and social upheaval. With the victories of several Islamist parties in recent elections, a conversation needs to be had and certain questions need to be raised. I ask myself: Am I welcome in the new Egypt?" 'Nuff said.
Anderson Cooper – Cooper's coming-out letter via Andrew Sullivan hit the Internet two months ahead of the season premiere of his newly revamped talk Anderson Live. The world of daytime talk shows had already accepted Ellen DeGeneres, but not yet a gay man. Just a few months later, it was announced that this would be Anderson's last season. That probably has less to do with his sexuality than his stiff personality not being really suited for the job, but who knows, ultimately.
Frank Ocean – His coming-out essay was lovely and poetic.
Anderson Cooper – His coming-out essay was unadorned and straightforward.
Lana Wachowski – We'd already known that the Matrix director is transgender even when she finally spoke out about it at length for the first time in a New Yorker piece from September 2012 that devoted a lot of space to her "gender situation." But her speech the following month to accept the Human Rights Campaign's Visibility Award was more eloquent and artful than any of her public communication thus far.
Don't label yourself.
You might think that leaving things open would frustrate or confuse an audience that values the ease of black-and-white declarations, but most of these people have come out with little hassle despite not actually ever declaring a label.
Matt Bomer – He came out by acknowledging his male partner and he, too, later voiced his disdain for labels: "What we really have to do is stop the adjective before the job title — whether it's 'black actor,' a 'gay actor' or 'anything actor. Everybody thinks that equality comes from identifying people, and that's not where equality comes from. Equality comes from treating everybody the same regardless of who they are. I hope the media and the press catches on to that because it's time to move out of 1992."
Others who have come out as having or having had a same-sex partner without specifically declaring an affiliation and/or have expressed a wariness of labeling include: Sam Champion, Todd Glass, Kristy McNichol, Azealia Banks, and, yes, Jodie Foster, who has acknowledged her sexuality only via her relationship with Bernard.
Sherman Hemsley and Sally Ride were only outed as a result of their deaths (and the former still isn't 100 percent confirmed). Oh, and the aforementioned issue with labels? Sally Ride had it, too, says her sister.
Be like, "Everyone already knows."
Do it in a retweet.
One of the quietest comings out came via Insanity creator Shaun T, who merely retweeted his friend's picture from his wedding.
Explain the reluctance you overcame to get to this moment of public disclosure.
Anderson Cooper: "I've always believed that who a reporter votes for, what religion they are, who they love, should not be something they have to discuss publicly. As long as a journalist shows fairness and honesty in his or her work, their private life shouldn't matter. I've stuck to those principles for my entire professional career, even when I've been directly 12039_084asked "the gay question," which happens occasionally. I did not address my sexual orientation in the memoir I wrote several years ago because it was a book focused on war, disasters, loss and survival. I didn't set out to write about other aspects of my life."
Hong Kong pop singer Denise Ho: "For many years, when I faced questions from the media, I always felt that sexual orientation is a personal matter, that there is no need to label yourself or tell the public. But in 2012 when one would expect more acceptance and progress (in terms of gay equality), I find that there is still discrimination and prejudice. I feel that silence is no longer an option."
Singer Mika, who in 2009, came out as bisexual, revised his declaration last year: "If you ask me am I gay, I say yeah. Are these songs about my relationship with a man? I say yeah. And it's only through my music that I've found the strength to come to terms with my sexuality beyond the context of just my lyrics. This is my real life."
Poker player Jason Somerville: "I was worried that no matter what I ever accomplished or did, I'd be labeled 'that gay poker player' above all else, and it would be a title of shame. I feared that I'd lose friendships that meant a lot to me, that I'd ring a bell that could never be unrung and I'd be miserable, somehow. It took me a long time to mostly get over all those somewhat irrational anxieties (fingers crossed!) and to truly start being myself, regardless of what that might mean or look like to others."
Acknowledge the importance of what you are doing.
Anderson Cooper: "In a perfect world, I don't think it's anyone else's business, but I do think there is value in standing up and being counted. I'm not an activist, but I am a human being and I don't give that up by being a journalist."
Boxer Orlando Cruz: "I want to try to be the best role model I can be for kids who might look into boxing as a sport and a professional career. I have and will always be a proud Puerto Rican. I have always been and always will be a proud gay man."
The Hard Times of RJ Berger's Paul Iacono: "I didn't have much to look up to as a kid. I had to search to find like-minded images. I'm happy to be that person so kids won't have to grow up and be afraid of their sexuality and this won't be an issue."
U.S. Olympic soccer player Megan Rapinoe: "I feel like sports in general are still homophobic, in the sense that not a lot of people are out," she says. "I feel everyone is really craving [for] people to come out. People want — they need — to see that there are people like me playing soccer for the good ol' U.S. of A."
Omar Sharif Jr.: "I anticipate that I will be chastised, scorned, and most certainly threatened. From the vaunted class of Egyptian actor and personality, I might just become an Egyptian public enemy. And yet I speak out because I am a patriot."
Orchestrate a casual mentioning of it in the middle or even toward the bottom of an article that's profiling you.
Harris' piece contends that such matters as placement and whether or not the coming out will be announced in the headline are generally decided by the star (and/or his or her people). Those whose sexuality announcement has been slipped in to larger pieces about their life and career include: Zachary Quinto, Nate Silver, Azealia Banks and The Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons.
Don't be complex, especially if you are a woman.
That is, if you don't want to get any shit for it. Gillian Anderson had a multi-journalist ordeal after talking to Out about once having a relationship with a woman. Ezra Miller was widely mocked for coming out as "queer." Cynthia Nixon, who's been out for years, faced scorn last year, when she suggested that her sexuality is a matter of choice.
And then there is Foster, whose admittedly convoluted speech violated several rules of public communication. However, by expressing internal conflict, for having the gall to reject the idea that her personal life must contribute to the greater good, for openly struggling with past and present mores, for having an obviously altered brain by virtue of fame that she has had almost since birth through now (which she could never understood the repercussions of as a child actor, especially one who got her start 50 years ago), Foster was ridiculed. In typical Internet fashion, people were angry that the way Foster expressed herself was not the way they would have expressed themselves given the situation. There is a widely held belief that Foster came out wrong, but I think that's bullshit: Her shortcomings were made up for in the discourse that they provoked. Aside from giving us something to occupy ourselves with for a few days, what was left unsaid in her speech was taken up by those who discussed an dissected it, filling in the holes, like we always do. There's no wrong way to come out and come out again, even if a host of current trends suggest otherwise.