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Daum: Jodie Foster comes out -- as human

Jodie FosterCrime, Law and JusticeGay RightsGolden Globe AwardsAlzheimer's DiseaseMel Gibson

It's the news the nation's been trying to digest all week (at least before Lance Armstrong made everyone lose their lunch): Jodie Foster, one of the industry's most cool and collected figures, is capable of being a rambling mess.

You've heard about it 100 times by now. Accepting the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes on Sunday night, Foster spent seven minutes chipping away at her image as the industry's most staid and no-nonsense Hollywood power player.

She began by making a rather bawdy announcement that she was 50. "I was going to bring my walker tonight, but it just didn't go with the cleavage," she said.

After thanking various colleagues, Foster then went in for the throat grabber, announcing "a sudden urge to say something that I've never really been able to air in public."

Ladies and gentleman, in case you didn't already know, Foster is … single.

"Yes, I am, I am single," she said. "No, I'm kidding, but I mean I'm not really kidding."

Foster was pretty clearly trying to say that she is gay, though she never used the word. The problem was that her "news" has been widely known for years. Many inside the industry believe her to have come out in 2007 when she referred lovingly to her longtime partner Cydney Bernard at a Hollywood Reporter event.

Back then, the press opted to ignore her veiled coming out, but this week it had no choice. Foster stole the show Sunday night; she was the show. Bristling at the pressure on celebrities to "honor the details of their private life with a press conference, a fragrance and a prime-time reality show," Foster spoke — often quite disjointedly and even maniacally — about her career, friends and family.

She spoke fondly again of Bernard, with whom she reportedly split in 2008, as well as her close pal, the embattled leading-man-turned-pariah Mel Gibson. She addressed her mother, who is reportedly suffering from dementia, and her two young sons, who were making funny faces at her from their table. She spoke of having "to fight for a life that felt real and honest and normal" and of "wanting to be understood deeply and to be not so very lonely."

In other words, Foster did not come out as gay. She came out as a human being — a passionate, messy, angry, grateful, imperfect human being. And it's those qualities, not her sexuality, that she's kept hidden all these years.

Foster's mystique has always been rooted in her intelligence, her uncommon self-possession and, perhaps more than anything else, her inscrutability. A breathtakingly gifted child actor, a Yale graduate, even, sadly, a figure in political history (John Hinckley Jr. claimed he attempted to assassinate President Reagan to impress her), Foster at times has seemed too impressive to be true. Despite the Hinckley chapter, her reclusiveness has seemed to come from a place of dignity rather than paranoia, as if she wasn't afraid of the public eye as much as simply uninterested in it.

Now, for all the praise she's eliciting from colleagues and industry observers and all the back pats she's getting from GLAAD and other gay rights groups with which she has declined to ally herself over the years, she's also being tarred as abrasive, insecure, needy and overall just kind of weird. "Is Jodie Foster clinically insane?" asked a blogger for Gawker; "Most likely to be remembered" does not equal "most likely to be understood," offered Time magazine.

Of course, owning yourself requires also owning your sexuality. It's possible that only in making a very public proclamation about her orientation could Foster finally begin to let her quirks peek out from behind that buttoned-down persona. It's also possible that, at 50, she realizes life is too short to exercise perfect and predictable decorum all the time.

Still, to reduce her speech to a declaration of sexuality is to ignore all the other things that she was telling us. Namely, that she's a real woman with real struggles and, it turns out, the capacity to look kind of silly onstage. And for someone like Foster, that's about as scandalous as it gets.

Now if only Armstrong had it in him to shock us. At this point, he'd only manage that by coming out as a decent guy.

mdaum@latimescolumnists.com

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