Kristen Stewart is in love with her girlfriend.
She wasn’t “spotted” out with her. They weren’t linked by vaguely sourced people “close to the star” in the pages of Us Weekly. No tabloid reporter called up her mother and then used quotes out of context to make it seem like they were about the couple.
No, Kristen Stewart actually said it. In a magazine. And in the best way.
In describing her relationship with girlfriend Alicia Cargile to Elle UK—both officially coming out and elucidating for a media, culture, and industry that still doesn’t fully comprehend the power of that very thing—Kristen Stewart gets it.
She gets it all.
She gets why being in a relationship in Hollywood is the worst. She gets—now—why being publicly out is important. And she gets why publicly talking about her same-sex relationship is important.
“When I was dating a guy I was hiding everything that I did because everything personal felt like it was immediately trivialized, so I didn’t like it,” she told Elle UK, in which she was named, appropriately, an Icon of Change. “We were turned into these characters and placed into this ridiculous comic book, and I was like, ‘That’s mine. You’re making my relationship something that it’s not.' I didn’t like that.”
She continued: “But then it changed when I started dating a girl. I was like, ‘Actually, to hide this provides the implication that I’m not down with it or I’m ashamed of it, so I had to alter how I approached being in public. It opened my life up and I’m so much happier.”
This is something that, like most of us, Stewart has evolved on. Asked in May about her relationship by Variety, she said “When I was dating a guy, I would never talk about my relationships. I feel the same now.”
In the few short months that have passed, it seems, Stewart has had epiphany. Talking matters. Being seen matters. Being understood matters.
It’s an increasingly antiquated, though certainly still prevalent, notion in the celebrity industry that coming out as LGBT could—and probably does—limit an actor. The more a celebrity talks about it—their identity, their feelings surrounding it, their relationship—they more they become defined by it, and then constrained by it.
There is validity to this concern because, well, this happens.
We’re an obsessive media culture, as Stewart herself says, and we’re never more obsessive than when an actor publicly comes out. Whether it’s “Yep, I’m Gay” on a People magazine cover or casually mentioning near the end of a New York Times profile, the act of coming out is still just that: an act, an action. Actions make headlines. Headlines spawn thinkpieces. Like this one!
The actor suddenly becomes a de facto spokesperson for the LGBT community, whether or not they want to be. In our catalog of celebrities, we file them in the “gay” folder. It’s not all we want to talk to them about. But we do we want to talk to them about it all the time. And so we have the result: celebrities who, well, don’t want to talk about it. At all.
It’s a chicken or the egg problem, with the media, the entertainment industry, fans, and celebrities themselves all running around clucking and laying eggs. It has created an establishment that, despite its progress in recent years, is still despicably inhospitable and unaccepting of the LGBT community.
This conversation was brought up—and loudly—last fall when Matt Damon, in a series of (perhaps unintentionally) harmful and tone-deaf statements, argued that actors should keep their sexuality and relationships private. Gay actors, specifically.
He revived the demonic dialogue about whether gay actors could play straight that’s been haunting the industry for far too long by bringing up the example of Rupert Everett, who he claimed stopped getting roles after he came out publicly. (Everett, to be fair, has said this very thing.)
“Whether you’re straight or gay, people shouldn’t know anything about your sexuality because that’s one of the mysteries that you should be able to play,” Damon said.
The hypocrisy of it all, of course, is that this statement came in the midst of an interview in which Damon casually talks about his wife and kids and fatherhood on several occasions. The hypocrisy of it all is that it came on a press tour in a career in which Damon routinely talks about his wife and kids and fatherhood in order to brand himself as the Everyman that in turn has benefitted his career.
The hypocrisy of it all is that it would be impossible to convincingly make the case that a straight actor taking advice—to not talk about being straight—would see his or her career be affected in any way by their heterosexual secrecy…or harmed in any way should they talk about their love life.
The idea that a gay actor’s love life or sexuality should be kept secret turns homosexuality into an event or curio that should matter when they are being considered for a role.
But the power of what Stewart is doing—what Stewart gets—is that the more this is talked about, the more this “action,” this being out, is normalized. The sooner it doesn’t become an event or curio. The sooner it doesn’t matter when an actor is being considered for a role. The sooner the institutionalized shaming of LGBT identity ends, and with it the repercussions that follow: suicide, homelessness, depression.
Stewart talked about how her straight relationships were trivialized by media attention. Now she sees how her same-sex relationship can be made profound by it.
I’d argue that we’ve seen the power of this throughout the years, looking at how publicly out actors have changed society’s views on being gay. Ellen coming out was important. But perhaps Ellen marrying Portia de Rossi and discussing her marriage every day on her show was more so. It makes her marriage both momentous and insignificant—the most famous gay married couple, but their relationship, as recounted day-to-day on her talk show, is just like any other.
It’s poignant, following Stewart’s Elle interview, to rewatch one she gave to E!’s Marc Malkin recently while she was promoting her film Equals.
He asked her, riffing on a theme from the film, if she could imagine living in a world where she wasn’t allowed to love who she wants to love.
“That exists!” she replied, giving a soft giggle.
She went on: “I can definitely imagine it. It’s the most terrible notion. It’s so unbelievably hurtful.”
And then: “Having to hide yourself in any way doesn’t feel good to humans. We want to be seen for who we are.”