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Being a lesbian star in Hollywood - still a balancing act (Essay)

Comments  Comments [ 0 ]    By IANS | 14 September 2008 | 8:00am

Could Hollywood indeed know the underlying magnitude of lesbian affairs? Throughout the American film industry's history, homosexuals, especially gay actresses, have lived just below the radar of mainstream public consciousness.

It is a conundrum really. Hollywood prides itself in being a place of forward and progressive thinking in social issues but none of the major players want to risk ignominy by making their homosexuality public. It's only recently that lesbians have been taking careful steps to live their true lives in public.

The most recent example is Lindsay Lohan. It took her a long time to finally confirm that she is romantically involved with DJ Samantha Ronson. But even before she announced this, she was spotted displaying affection in public places on numerous occasions.

Hollywood has never found a way to properly deal with lesbians. Very few, like the comedian Ellen DeGeneres, have come out boldly in the open, while others like Jodie Foster drop very discreet hints and yet others like Queen Latifah and Helen Hunt are being encouraged to come out and live up to the truth.

Then there are others like Angelina Jolie and Drew Barrymore who are open about their bisexuality. Angelina now even has a family with her partner Brad Pitt. So, the media in Hollywood keeps salivating for more juicy details of private sexual lives just as those with alternate lifestyles go to great lengths to keep it secret.

Jodie Foster just might be the most high-profile lesbian in Hollywood. A few months ago, she gave a speech that on most accounts would have gone unnoticed expect for the fact that she ended it by thanking a woman.

She said: 'My beautiful Cydney who sticks with me through all the rotten and the bliss.' There is absolutely nothing else that Foster gives in terms of drawing any conclusion of her very private life.

The most high-profile lesbian outing was that of the comedian and talk show host DeGeneres. She came out in 1997 when she revealed that she was in a relationship with actress Anne Heche. DeGeneres has now married Australian actress Portia De Rossi.

Assessing the impact of this couple, noted Hollywood reporter Tom O'Neil says: 'Ellen and Portia aren't just Hollywood's token lesbian power couple. They shatter all stereotypes.

'A few years ago, it would have been unimaginable to think that a lesbian would be the only Hollywood star entrusted to host the Oscars, Emmys and Grammys, but Ellen's been ringmaster at all three. Portia's a proven talent in her own right, not a lesbian trophy wife.'

But almost all of today's Hollywood lesbians would herald the braver examples from history. Actresses like Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich continued maintaining lesbian relationships even though they had to work very hard to keep it secret. Only on very few occasions, like in the case Marlene and Tallulah Bankhead, did women come out totally unconcerned with the controversy surrounding their sexual lives.

There is no doubt that in the future there will be many more women who will come out in the open about their sexuality. But till then, Hollywood is going to have to maintain its precarious balancing act - obsession with the sexual lives of celebrities even as they work hard to hide it till they are ready to come out.

(Sevanand Gaddala can be contacted at sevanand@gmail.com)

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