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Jodie Foster’s Golden Globe speech and the state of coming out

At some point, an open secret can become more difficult to acknowledge publicly than an actual secret. Hollywood is aflutter this week over the actress Jodie Foster, who, while accepting a Golden Globe lifetime achievement award on Sunday, told the world — obliquely, but definitively — that she is gay. In her speech, Foster made reference to her former girlfriend, with whom she is raising two sons; acknowledged that she came out long ago to family, friends, and coworkers; and asked for privacy. She was brave, but she also offered a glimpse into the weird psychological bubble of celebrity: Even as she bragged on national television about her appearance in a custom Armani gown, she sneered about the public’s interest in her life.

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Yet Foster can be forgiven an off note or two, because the situation she faced was awkward. Speculation about her sexuality surfaced long ago, at a point when a public admission or outing could have had professional consequences. In the intervening years, because of some unequivocally brave moves from the likes of Ellen DeGeneres, a number of gay and lesbian entertainers have come out without sacrificing their popularity. The struggle for public acceptance has moved on to new frontiers; compared with director Lana Wachowski’s stirring 2012 speech to the Human Rights Campaign about her transgender experience, Foster’s Golden Globes non-announcement announcement seems almost ho-hum. Indeed, even as some fans applauded her speech, others wondered why she’d waited so long.

Foster’s speech, like every other celebrity coming-out, makes a little more space for gays and lesbians who live outside of public view. But she also succeeded in a broader challenge: of getting a tough subject out in the open without losing one’s cool.

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