Patterson: Coming out becomes low key

Patterson discusses Jodie Foster’s Golden Globes speech and Gen Y’s penchant for over-sharing.

Sara Patterson

Sara PattersonSo while I’m here being all confessional, I guess I have a sudden urge to say something that I’ve never really been able to air in public. So, a declaration that I’m a little nervous about, but maybe not quite as nervous as my publicist right now, huh Jennifer? But I’m just going to put it out there, right? Loud and proud, right?”

My ears perked up as I sat on my couch watching the Golden Globes. Would this be the moment that Jodie Foster, one of the most recognizable public figures of the last 40 years, finally comes out and does it on live television, in front of 20 million people?

“I am single.”

Maybe not.

Although she went on to say that she came out “a thousand years ago” to friends and family and all of the people whom she actually knew as opposed to anybody who clicks on her Wikipedia page, the moment had passed. Her speech felt angry. Her comments about not being Honey Boo Boo seemed to mock those brave celebrities, like Ellen DeGeneres and Neil Patrick Harris, who are open about their private lives and have blazed the trail for those who come after them. By the end of it, however, she had in fact officially come out and she did so without ever saying the words gay or lesbian, which is pretty impressive.

There were a number of reactions to Foster’s speech. Many applauded her for coming out in her own way, on her own terms. On the other hand, some were upset she waited so long and did it in such a passive-aggressive way.

Matthew Breen, editor-in-chief of The Advocate, the United States’ oldest LGBT magazine, posted a commentary on the publication’s website saying how “deeply confused and conflicted” he felt, torn between respecting Foster’s demand for privacy and his disappointment that someone as smart and capable as she is wouldn’t just come out and say, “I’m a lesbian and there’s nothing wrong or shameful about it.”

I’m with Breen. I’m torn over how I feel about it. It shouldn’t matter how celebrities come out or even if they do come out. It really shouldn’t. Coming out is a personal decision and who are we, as people who do not know them, to criticize celebrities for what they choose to do? If someone chooses to come out, we should support them. If someone chooses not to, we should respect their decision. At the same time, it is because of people like DeGeneres, who publicly came out at a time when doing so was not nearly as acceptable as it is today, that the public opinion on homosexuality has shifted. Like Breen, I can’t help but be disappointed with Foster. And I can’t help but wonder if her hesitancy to come out gives off the impression of shame, a feeling that the LGBT community has tried to banish for so long.

Foster’s speech and the criticisms of it beg the question: Who needs to know?

For someone in the public eye, coming out means becoming a representative of the LGBT community, which is something that not everyone wants to be. It’s a ridiculous amount of pressure that I can’t even fathom and it’s no wonder so many would rather keep quiet and have their privacy.

Even more than a question of the differences in the lives of celebrities versus the lives of us common folk, I think it’s a question of the differences of our generation versus the generations before us. Young actors like Chris Colfer and Ezra Miller have been forthcoming about their sexualities while not making a huge deal out of it. The importance of being out has shifted over the years. Whereas being in the closet was a means of survival for people 60 years ago, ask anyone today and they will tell you that coming out is essential to living a happy and healthy life.

We are the generation of over-sharing. We’re narcissists. We Instagram every meal we eat — complete with before and after shots — and tweet the most meaningful thoughts we get throughout the day, as long as they’re 140 characters or less. It’s no surprise that we are shocked and offended when a celebrity is hesitant to divulge their sexual preferences when we broadcast our relationship status, political views, religious beliefs and whether we like men or women to all 850 of our Facebook friends.

So, who does need to know? Family and friends? Of course. It’s important to share personal parts of your life with those you love and trust. Hundreds of people whom you went to high school with and no longer talk to? Maybe, if only to confirm some of their suspicions. The person you just met at a party? Probably not, unless you’re trying to get a date.

There’s a fine line between being openly gay and being that weird guy who is a little too eager to share personal details, and there’s a big difference between being closeted out of shame and just being a private person.

I might not be the best person to talk about discretion, seeing as though I’m arguably the most openly gay person at Temple, but I appreciate privacy. As important as it is to be comfortable enough to come out, it’s just as important to save some of those personal details for those you really trust. If I’m with friends or family, I’m not hesitant to be out. But when someone at work asks me if I have a boyfriend, rather than say, “Boys? Ugh. Ew. Yuck,” I just keep it to a simple, “Nope. I’m single.”

What can I say? I like to keep an air of mystery.

Sara Patterson can be reached at 

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