Sunday, December 16, 2007

Jodie, We Hardly Knew Ye

Conventional wisdom says that coming out is an intensely personal decision. In many ways, it is. Accordingly, each of us has a right to calculate for ourselves the risks and advantages consequent to saying, "I'm here, I'm Queer, and I'm not going to be afraid of it, or hide it, or lie about it anymore."

There are real risks, God knows, especially now, when the theocrats are screaming for our blood. And almost inevitably, each of us believes the risks are greater for us, perhaps, than for others who've made the decision to come out. Surely that belief results from the intimidation and oppression that keep us in the closet to begin with. That is, we’re meant to be afraid, very afraid, and one result can be an exaggerated forecast of what will happen if we defy the chains.

I know from personal experience that it’s rarely an easy call. For the most part, I agree that it's a private decision. That's why it's taken me a little while to understand why I'm feeling unhappy at the news that Jodie Foster has finally come out.

Because of the John Hinckley horror, as a case study in celebrity outings, Jodie Foster’s is unique. No one can say how much Hinckley might have affected her need for privacy and protection, or how all that might have become entangled in her coming out decision. It doesn’t take genius, though, to see that Hinckley’s pathological fixation, and his pathetic attempt to impress her through violence, didn’t make her life as a lesbian woman any easier.

I'm disturbed because I'm sad. To the extent that Hinckley delayed Foster's coming out, his insane violence made unremarked victims of all of us. Here’s why.

Regardless of outcome, every coming-out decision has public consequences, and not only for Queer people.

For instance, those who opt to hide and dissemble--this may seem harsh, but I think it's true nonetheless--do nothing to end the lie that there's a reason to be ashamed for being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered. In fact, they reinforce that myth whether they mean to do so or not. It’s not possible to pretend to be someone else without hiding who we are, and not credible to put an asterisk on the closet saying, “I’m not afraid or ashamed. I'm just in here because I like clothes.” That's sad.

Also, especially when they are accomplished people, as Foster certainly is, folk in the closet deny younger Queers the role modeling that living out, loud, and proud embodies. Mistakes and all, living openly as a lesbian woman shows those who come later how to confront the challenges that come with being Queer. I can't help but wonder what it cost us that we haven't had an out Jodie all this time. It's not that I expect she'd have lived brilliantly. It's that she'd have been more authentic and impressive, the way a Susan Sarandon and a Sean Penn are authentic and impressive.

And then there are the partners. Obviously, it's just not possible for half a Queer couple to come out. Therefore, as they go about their lives, those who choose the closet deliberately put their partners in the shadows. This is the kind of thing that makes everyone wince and turn away. After all, close friends and family already know or guess. Awful as witnessing such a charade may be, subjecting one's life partner to it is grotesque and heart-breaking for what it says about everyone involved. And nobody can tell me that Cydney hasn't paid a price for closet space.

Last but not least—in fact, maybe most of all, people who choose the closet withhold their authentic selves from those who know, interact with, and love them. Who can measure that cost? If all the energy that went into playing the straight role had gone into her career, what might she have achieved? Who else might she have touched, and touched more deeply as a friend, mentor, and colleague?

So yeah, I'm glad that Jodie came out. I just wish she could have come out a long time ago. I'm feeling, simultaneously, sad that she felt she couldn't, angry that she didn't, and glad that she finally did. I would have liked having Foster squarely in my corner--not because she’s a pretty actress but because she’s an accomplished woman. I think it might have helped younger Queers to see her 14-year relationship unfold and show its staying power. It might even have helped to make the USA a little kinder to us, the way Rock Hudson forced the nation a grudging foot further toward common decency.

Anyway, I’m hoping that now Jodie Foster will join Melissa Etheridge and K.D. Lang and Ellen Degeneres in living more confidently as a lesbian, because, God willing, she’s got plenty of time left to make a difference for everyone faced with living authentically in the Age of the Christianists. God knows, we need all the support we can get.