"I don't even think of you as gay." Well, you should.
When Jodie Foster spoke at the Golden Globe Awards about her long-time partner, and the kids they had together and the family they built, many people gave a collective shrug of “so what.” In some ways, it is heartening to see society greet an actor’s coming out as a non-event. It means we have made progress. At the same time, actors such as myself who spent years in the Celluloid Closet know what a big step it is, and continues to be.
For straight people, sexuality isn’t something that needs to be proclaimed or distinguished, it simply is a part of their daily lives. For example, straight people generally never worry about losing their jobs or families because of who they love, or ever consider, let alone are asked, when they “chose” to be straight. To sexual minorities, however, it is often a daily fight, and an internal conflict that is years if not decades long.
Thousands of kids today still try to kill themselves, and often tragically succeed, out of despair that they will never find love and acceptance from their families or communities. Millions of otherwise well-adjusted adults still hide their sexuality for fear they will lose their livelihood or place in the community. Indeed, it is still legal in many states to fire someone simply because of his or her sexual orientation, nothing more.
So role models matter, yes. They are examples to those struggling to find identity and self-confidence. So when you think about people like me, I want you to remember that I am gay. It is an integral part of who I am, and is something that matters a great deal to me. It is part of what I struggled with for so long, and finally came to accept within myself before finding the courage to tell others.
Jodie Foster also chose to include in her speech a plea for privacy, and we should respect that. (If you’d like to see my remarks on this on Showbiz Tonight, click here.) Remember that this is someone who has spent all of her life in the public eye, and even had a stalker try to kill a president just to impress her. Until we have walked in her shoes, we cannot know her heart. So often in the LGBT community we want our heroes to be superhuman, and to do what millions still are unable to do, which is to live openly and proudly with their own identities, even with all cameras rolling. Most of us can relate to how difficult it was to come out even to our own friends and families; imagine then, if you will, how much courage it takes to face the judgment of the world. So before we rend apart our own with much wringing of hands and gnashing of our collective teeth, and ask why someone like Jodie Foster could not simply say the words, “I am a lesbian” on the night of her acceptance speech, let us instead each do our own part.
Here’s how: If you are straight, consider that it isn’t helpful to believe or announce that it “doesn’t matter” whether someone else is gay. Of course it matters. That person has likely suffered internal conflict, social opprobrium and personal pain that you have never experienced. So long as there is prejudice and inequality, it will continue to matter. If you have gay family members, friends or colleagues, recognize that they have faced demons and come out stronger, and that they are very brave to be open, even today. It does matter.
And if you are gay, don’t simply believe that others will carry the fight forward for you. We each must tend to our own gardens, so to speak, and do what each of us thinks is best for ourselves and our loved ones. Coming out is always a personal step, and one that is as different for each of us as our very life experiences are.
Thanks for listening, friends. And remember, it’s OK to be Takei.