Don’t get me wrong: I am very admiring of her as an actress, as a director and as a strong woman in a male-dominated industry who continues to navigate what can only be described as an individualistic, trends-bucking career.
And she doesn’t look half bad in a soft close-up, either. But that’s another thought entirely. My gripe with Jodie is her insistence on living a closeted life when, as an intelligent, thoughtful woman who seems to understands prejudice and intolerance, she should have appreciation for the value of lesbian visibility.
The Jodie Question is no longer whether or not she is a lesbian. Rather, it is Why Won’t She Come Out. In the past, Hollywood lesbians who have toyed indecisively with the closet door have done so in large part because they have had to overcome very real fears about how coming out would impact their careers. Think Portia de Rossi, who by her own admission stayed in the closet for a long time because she knew her career would suffer if and when she came out.
Think Ellen DeGeneres, who practically kicked the closet door down, only to find that her career did indeed suffer so dramatically that she proably should have tried tip-toeing out instead. But think also Melissa Etheridge, whose grand announcement was met with, well, indifference. Not because women the world over didn’t care, but because they knew anyway, and because her career was so well established, largely due to her gay appeal, that it made no difference one way or the other.
Rather than Portia or Ellen, Jodie falls in the Melissa category. Ask yourself: what would a candid Yes I am interview in The Advocate do for her career?
Answer: Probably not much.
It’s not as if her romantic lead roles will suddenly dry up – when last did you see Jodie in a hetro snog? Maverick, of course, doesn’t count, for the simple reason that everyone concerned looked so ill at ease as to render the whole film decidedly a-sexual. Ditto Contact, where the sole sex scene was nothing more than a superfluous nod to an odd improbability in the original script. Jodie has gone man-less in her more memorably, and, crucially, most commercially successful movies: Silence of the Lambs, Panic Room, Flight Plan.
It is safe also to say that Jodie probably isn’t going to be doing slushy romcoms or romatic dramas in the near future: she simply isn’t going to reading for the Jessica Simpson / Kirsten Dunst roles, nor is any dollar-minded director going to be casting her in those roles. So what is the big deal?
Jodie is fiercely private, and obviously has great concern for inviting a media frenzy that could impact on her sons. Fair enough. But by not coming out, what is she teaching her children about honesty and integrity and being true to yourself, not to mention the responsibility of a life lived in public. For as much as Jodie insists on a private life, her livelihood has come from her accessibility on the screen; her invitation to people to bring her into their lives and even into their homes.
She is a role model already, whether she likes it or not. But that kind of role model?
By refusing to acknowledge the truths of her life, she is turning her back on a power that few people have: the power to break stereotypes, the power to promote tolerance of diversity, and, perhaps most importantly, the power to honour honesty and truth.