The Silence of the Hams


Every time I sit down to write this blog, I wonder if I’m revealing too much.  Even though the stories I tell here are all imbued with fictitious elements—if only name changes or streamlined plots—I worry that someone will make the wrong assumption.  Or the right one.  For a moment before I click “post”—or, more often, just after—I wonder whether it’s wise to air this dirty laundry, whether mine or someone else’s.  I wonder what people will think.  Will they assume that every story I tell actually happened to me?  (For the record, they didn’t.  But would there be any shame if they had?)

Like millions of people, I watched Jodie Foster at the Golden Globes last night with a sense of shock.  Not because she came out.  I’m still trying to figure out whether she came out, actually, since the words gay and lesbian were missing from her speech.  I was shocked because, after all these years of being begged to tell her story, when the moment finally came she did it with a combination of defensiveness and rambling incoherence.  As if it were indeed the spontaneous decision she claimed, as if it were completely unscripted.  More important, as if she were being dragged kicking and screaming through every word.

Even in the midst of this attempt at openness, the word that resonated the most for me was privacy.  Like a lot of celebrities followed by gay rumors, Foster emphasized the importance of privacy, the idea that her private life was simply nobody’s business.  We don’t ask our dentists about their sexual orientations.  Why should we ask our movie stars?

There are a lot of potential answers to that question, and I can’t say with confidence that there was ever anything wrong with Foster’s refusal to come out before last night.  It really is nobody’s business. 

What I find most interesting is the notion of privacy coming from an artist—someone whose work is all about self-expression. 

A writer friend of mine was once horrified to be asked whether her novel was autobiographical.  And even I was a bit disturbed when someone, discussing my first novel with me, referred to the narrator as “you,” as if there were no distinction to be made between this fictional character and the man who had created him. 

As Foster noted, we live in a Honey Boo Boo world.  But you don’t have to be a reality star to expose yourself.  All artists expose themselves.  It’s what we do.  A writer can make up every detail of a book—the characters, the plot, the setting, everything—and not escape revealing something personal.  There’s the rub:  we dredge up our souls, consciously or not, and put them out there for the world to see.

So even if we don’t appear on the Today show and tell Matt Lauer and a few million of his closest friends every detail of our lives, we are still revealing ourselves. 

Some of the plots I write came directly from my own life.  Some of them didn’t.  Some of the men I write about are people I slept with.  Some of them aren’t.  So when I worry that a reader will confuse my fiction for my reality, I need to remind myself of what’s really important.  Is it so embarrassing to have people picture me in bed with someone?  Is it a violation when people imagine what I have done with my body but somehow safer for them to know what I’ve done with my heart?  I’m an artist:  I use my heart and my soul the way an architect uses glass and steel—all there for everyone to see.  I can’t complain when they see it.