- Anderson Cooper and Jodie Foster: The Glass Closet and Gay Visibility in the Media
Anderson Cooper has routinely graced the list of Out Magazine’s top 50 most powerful celebrities, appearing, perhaps most memorably, in 2008 next to Jodie Foster. But the pictures were pasted onto Popsicle sticks, held on to by an anonymous man and woman in suits, a clear reminder that these two celebrities were indeed firmly hiding in the glass closet.1 By glass closet, Out Magazine and others mean the person whom “everyone” knows is gay, but never acknowledges her or his sexuality, despite ample evidence to suggest that this person is indeed living an openly gay life.
Cooper and Foster shared not only a cover and a glass closet, but also the obligation to make a difference in the tale of gay visibility and celebrity. In the entertainment world, far too few people have ever admitted to any kind of gay life, and in the world of news, there are just a handful of openly gay individuals, with Cooper being the first primetime national news anchor (though on cable) to actually come out. I tackle Cooper here in this Foster Forum because his coming out story both mirrors and departs from Foster. His coming out can be classified as a “nonevent.” Cooper came out, but the headlines in mainstream news were about visibility, not about Cooper-the-celebrity.
At first glance, the two shared much in common from within the glass closet. They professed a demand for privacy; justified staying in this glass closet as good for their work; and note that they are not hiding anything from anyone who should know. But here is the departure. Cooper came out loud and proud—and [End Page 193] decisively. And as a result, with questions answered, a constructive conversation about visibility could begin.
In June 2012, Entertainment Weekly featured a cover story about the “New Art of Coming Out,” where celebrity announcements were, according to the magazine, treated as “such matter-of-fact understatement” compared to Ellen’s of 15 years ago.2 Blogger Andrew Sullivan invited Cooper to comment on the sentiment more generally, giving the news anchor the opening to come out. Sullivan couched the importance of the question posed to Cooper, writing, that visibility mattered because it “is one of the core means for our equality.”3 Cooper, after twenty years in the public eye, finally announced: “The fact is, I’m gay, always have been, always will be, and I couldn’t be any more happy, comfortable with myself, and proud.”4
Foster’s glass closet was more subdued, but there were ample clues: no father for her children; the occasional paparazzi photo of another woman with her children; the choice for dark drama over romantic comedy; no mention of a man in her life; rumors at Yale.5 She made a rare and public reference to thank her “beautiful Cydney [Bernard]” at the 16th annual Women in Entertainment Breakfast in 2007, without ever offering any additional comment. This, of course, prompted some to affirmatively declare she is a lesbian (see the Daily Mail ’s “Jodie Foster comes out with emotional tribute to girlfriend of fourteen years”).6
Both Foster and Cooper ducked questions about their sexuality, asking for respect for their privacy, a privilege rarely granted when other heterosexual celebrities hope to have their romances kept from the newsstands. Foster wrote a sharply worded essay about the subject in 2012, noting, “a salary for a given on-screen performance does not include the right to invade anyone’s privacy.”7 And Cooper, in his coming out email to Sullivan, explained, “Even though my job puts me in the public eye, I have tried to maintain some level of privacy in my life.”8
Both Foster and Cooper could make the justification that staying in the closet was actually helpful for their careers. Foster did not do so directly, but fellow celebrities suggested she was playing the celebrity game quite astutely. When asked to comment on the Golden Globes speech, Jessica Chastain, of Zero Dark Thirty, explained: “The actors who I respect are the ones who try hard to...