Why Jodie Foster’s speech matters: Not because she came out

At the Golden Globe awards, lifetime honoree Jodie Foster revealed something a Bollywood celebrity would never ever ‘fess up to.

She came out.

Not as a lesbian. I mean she did come out as a lesbian. Well, sort of, without saying those actual words. It was a “I am not necessarily lesbian but my (ex)girl friend is” kind of coming out.

What really moved me was that she came out as “lonely.”

It was not a sort of lonely-at-the-top bravado. Or even a poor little rich kid self pity. It was just plain darn run-of-the-mill lonely.

“Jodie Foster was here, I still am, and I want to be seen, to be understood deeply and to not be so very lonely.”

That to me was a much truer expression of vulnerability than the actual coming out which was laced with nervous start-stop humour, teasing the audience, letting them in on the joke, all wink wink nudge nudge.

But I’m just going to put it out there, right? Loud and proud, right? So I’m going to need your support on this.

I am single. Yes I am, I am single. No, I’m kidding — but I mean I’m not really kidding, but I’m kind of kidding. I mean, thank you for the enthusiasm.

Jodie Foster at the Golden Globe Awards. AFP.

As many columnists have already said at one time it would have really mattered if Jodie Foster had come out. That’s when Absolutely Queer activists were plastering her picture all over town in order to push her out of the closet. That was in the 1980s. She was a big star, young, Oscar-worthy, going places. Chances are few people have thought much about Jodie Foster’s sexuality in the last five years.

In fact this was not her coming out party. She acknowledged her then partner Cydney Bernard back in 2007 at an industry breakfast. It made no waves in the mainstream. Foster’s part of a new breed of gay celebs who live in what’s called  the “glass closet”. They say they need to never officially come out because they were never in the closet per se.

Advocate magazine pooh poohs that as a cop out, plain and simple. Editor Matthew Breen wrote back in 2011 that just being out to family and friends is not enough.

(I)f you are a person in the public eye and you refuse to say you’re LGBT in a public forum, you’re unequivocally not out. Yes, you have a different standard than the nonfamous.

When you do eventually wander out of the glass closet as Jodie Foster did at the Golden Globes you open yourself up to eye-rolling ridicule writes Michelangelo Signorile.

It was another example of the new way celebrities are coming out, embarrassed in 2013 to have ever been in the closet and claiming that they have always been out.

Indeed it is 2013 and as Foster herself said, change, you gotta love it.

A British prime minister, that too from the Conservative Party, tells his party “I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.” Meanwhile in the sanctum sanctorum of liberal America, a ballroom full of Hollywood types at the Beverly Hilton is moved to tears by the “courage” of a 50-year-old Oscar-winning actress sort of announcing her sexual orientation to the world (alongside her retirement.)

Foster’s version of coming out seems almost anachronistic, a sort of misty-eyed valentine to the way things were.

But it was a different kind of coming out, ground-breaking in its own way. When people choose to come out, it’s usually to present a some kind of picture of well-adjusted normative happiness – perhaps a lovely partner, twins on the way, a Golden Retriever. Or they do it as a proud act of social service – be out there for depressed teens being gay-bashed in school.

There was nothing particularly out and proud about Foster's coming out. That was what seemed puzzling. She didn’t seem relieved to not have a deep dark secret anymore. She didn’t want to show off a lovely wife though she extolled the ex as BFF and soul-sister. She just looked rather lonely, standing there in the middle of a very supportive audience. It was a postscript more than a statement. There was a certain ache in her confession.

Yeah, she’s gay and she’s 50 and she's lonely. Like a lot of other people out there, gay or not. And in 2013, that’s just the way it is.

I hope Bollywood was listening because we have more than our share of glass closets in Bollywood. They don’t exactly hide their sexuality with opposite sex spouses-for-show. They drop teasing hints in chat shows, dance around the question, play cutesy games with pronouns. They don’t deny anything even though they don’t admit anything. I remember one chat show where a celeb laid bare all kinds of personal issues - self-esteem problems, one-sided love stories but just could not go that last mile and come out.

And that’s truly sad and somehow even more lonely.

If there's one lesson from that Golden Globes speech for those celebs, it's this - it’s okay not to come out as the shiny happy gay or the flag-waving activist gay. You can just come out as Jodie Foster gay.