Monday, January 14, 2013

Being Gay at Award Shows: A Contrast

Jodie Foster at the Golden Globes
There were two very different images of being a gay celebrity on recent awards shows, one reflected how things are in 2013, the other was a shadow of a closeted past. On the People's Choice Awards last week, four of the five nominees for Favorite TV Comedy Actor were openly gay: Chris Colfer (Glee), Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family), Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother), and Jim Parsons (The Big Bang Theory). Two play gay characters (Colfer, Ferguson) and two straight (Harris, Parsons). The fifth nominee was Ferguson's straight brother-in-law on his show Ty Burrell. Colfer won, and I didn't even realize the gay slant in this category until I thought about it. Incidentally, the award was presented by Ellen DeGeneris who won her 13th People's Choice Award for Favorite Talk Show Host. The Million Moms must be having conniptions.

The wonderful thing was most of the actors have not made a big deal of coming out, their sexuality is casually mentioned in interviews which is all I've ever wanted. I wanted actors to be be able to mention their same-sex partners or love interests the same as their straight counterparts. I remember Anderson Cooper having to not even hint at his sexuality on CNN. Actors should not have to hide their true selves and it's not an invasion of privacy anymore and it won't damage their careers. It's important that young gay people being bullied in school for being gay have people like the four nominees be seen as popular, funny, and successful and not freaks or objects of derision.

A few days later at the Golden Globes we had a somewhat difference experience. Jodie Foster was honored with the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award. During a rambling speech, she joked about making a big announcement and then came out as single. Then without saying the word gay or lesbian she explained she had been in a same-sex relationship with a person named Sydney and they had two children. Oh and by the way homophobic, anti-Semitic Mel Gibson was her date that night and he saved her career (at least according to her).

She continued to say her private life was her business and the press and public were not entitled to every little detail. I understand her need for privacy (after all, she was subjected to unfair scrutiny when a crazed assassin attempted to kill the president just to get her attention.) Foster is entitled to be as open or closed as she wants about her sexuality, but I think she reflects an era when gayness was seen as such a potentially damaging secret, nobody talked about it, and therefore it was thought that gay celebrities were full of shame. Foster is under no obligation to be a gay activist but her coyness is a sad echo of the oppressive closet many gay artists have had to live in and some still do. I wish she had just acknowledged her former partner and their family as if it were the most natural thing in the world--which it is.

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