Are Today’s Top Celebs Hiding in the Open?
The biggest news at this year's Golden Globe Awards was Jodie Foster’s sexuality. Foster’s coming out in her acceptance speech sparked a deluge of divided commentary from LGBT activists and media outlets. Some criticized her for what seemed a vague, awkward admission, while others hailed her for proudly sacrificing her privacy. Most agreed, however, that everyone already knew she was was a lesbian.
Two days later, Victor Garber more frankly confirmed his sexuality in an interview, saying, “I don’t really talk about it, but everybody knows.” The media have denounced Foster for years for not publicly stating her sexual orientation, though both Foster and Garber had publicly acknowledged and been photographed with their partners before.
Diane Anderson-Minshall, executive editor of The Advocate said Foster's mere hints to a non-conformative sexuality wasn't enough to be considered a proper outing. “By our stand, you are not out until you are publicly out.” Anderson-Minshall also asserted that Foster “obviously has been afraid to come out in the public sphere.” The dominant argument for celebrity comings out is if young people see their idols come out, they’ll feel confident to do the same. After years of defending her privacy in the face of criticism, and even doing so in her acceptance speech, Foster came out--albeit cryptically, and with a hint of embarrassment.
The reluctant admission is hardly encouraging. It suggests those who are not out “publicly” must be ashamed of their sexuality and should be ashamed for staying in the closet. Many queer youth lack a supportive environment in which to come out, with four in 10 living in unsafe communities. Bullying celebrities out of the closet teaches young people they’re obligated to name their sexuality if they don't want to be labeled dishonest.
Mainstream discourse also fails to acknowledge that for some individuals, there may be no closet. Michelle Weiser, public affairs and education assistant at Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) in Boston, said she didn't experience a coming out moment.
"I never really felt like I was in the closet, because I learned what queer was and I said, 'Yes, that's me,'" Weiser said. "The concept of the closet bothers me because it sets up this framework of secrecy and shame and hiding, and when you come out, you're supposed to be on the better side."
Celebrities like Garber and Foster, whose relationships are captured by paparazzi, are out. 'Hiding in the open' is a false construction. Foster admitted she came out “a thousand years ago,” but still felt compelled to address it on the national stage. Garber’s response conveys the bafflement of a man whose same-gender relationship and sexuality have been out all along. As society comes to accept queer individuals as having complex identities, which are neither in or out of any socially constructed space, the media may realize they’re the ones stuck inside the closet.
Molly Savard is a reporter for Campus Progress. You can follow her on Twitter @mollicules.