This has been a big year for women in entertainment coming out as bi, queer, sexually fluid, or some permutation thereof. Predictably, it's also been a big year for policing their sexuality. I was going to title this "hey het people, how about you not," but the problem is that I see fellow queers doing it too, so, homechickens, we need to have a talk about why it is not okay to police the sexuality of other people.
Earlier this year, everyone was freaking out over whether KStew and Alicia Cargyle were having a torrid ladylove affair, but all that speculation has almost been obscured by women coming out and proud to talk about their sexuality. Miley Cyrus has opened up about her fluid approach to sexual attraction, Cate Blanchett has discussed relationships with women (more about her a minute), and Gillian Anderson finally realized all our queerest dreams by openly discussing the fact that she plays for both teams.
They aren't alone. Out bisexual (for values of bi — many of these women identify in a variety of ways) celebrities include Anna Paquin, Angelina Jolie, Evan Rachel Wood, Megan Fox, and Lindsay Lohan. Notably, many of these women have discussed their sexuality in more fluid ways in interviews. Some have very directly and bluntly said they're bisexual, while others have stressed that their sexuality is complicated and not as easily categorized.
Far fewer men are out as bi, which is probably the result of some serious compounding factors including homophobia (both internalized and in Hollywood, where being an out bi man is not necessarily a good thing).
Miley may be outsized and sometimes ridiculous — and prone, sometimes, to public fumbles — but she's committed and outspoken on LGBQT causes. This week, that included a reference to relationships that weren't "straight" or "heterosexual" in an interview with the AP, and in another interview she talked about exploring her own relationship with gender. Notably, she's a canny activist and businesswoman: She knows that people pay attention to her on the basis of her celebrity status, so she uses that to force them to address social issues, using her public profile to spark discussion. But because she's only dated men in public, there's a tendency to steamroller over her stated sexual identity and past.
Meanwhile, Cate Blanchett had a bit of a different ride thanks to what she claims was a mixed up quote — she says she was talking about platonic relationships with women when she was quoted as having had "relationships with women." Taking her statement at face value, it's a frustrating testament to how determined the media, and the public, are to pick through every detail of celebrity sexuality.
Bi and sexually fluid folks are often subject to a form of erasure based on their sexual history. Brilliant logisticians claim that women with a history of publicly dating men aren't "really" bi or queer, because how could they know if they're attracted to women, really? Likewise, women in relationships with men — like Jolie — are treated as heterosexual even though they've been outspoken about the fact that they are not.
There's a pervasive assumption that heterosexuality is the norm paired with a belief that people have to actively and continuously prove other sexual orientations. Straight women aren't ordered to demonstrate that they're attracted to men — the assumption is that of course they are, because that's how the world works. When they're in relationships with men, no one questions their sexual orientation, because it fits in with heterosexual norms.
The erasure of sexuality for bisexual and queer people in general is frustrating, but it's particularly troubling with celebrities, because of the message that it sends to other queer people, especially queer youth. When you're surrounded by messaging that your sexual identity isn't really valid, it doesn't make you feel very good about yourself, or about coming out. There are many reasons why depression and other mental health conditions are more common among LGBQT youth, but denial of fundamental identity and personhood is one of them.
It's important to stop interrogating the sexual identities of celebrities in general, but especially in the case of those who opt to share their sexuality with the public. Just because a bi woman is dating a man doesn't make her heterosexual. If she's dating a woman, she's not a lesbian. If she's not dating anyone, that doesn't mean that she's oscillating in some kind of unstable state; she's just not dating anyone (that you know of).
There's an ongoing larger and important debate about celebrity comings out and whether they do or should matter — whether they reduce stigma, or underscore the fact that sexuality continues to be a big honkin' deal instead of something that should be a totally neutral trait like having blue eyes or red hair — but the policing is a problem. Whether comings out are important to you or not, it's deeply disturbing to see female celebrities put through the wringer every time they come out as queer, bi, or anything other than heterosexual, like they need to show licenses and paperwork and demonstrate that they're completely in order if they want to receive full Gay Cred.
Sexuality is something incredibly fluid and complex. Someone might identify at any number of points along the spectrum of human sexuality at various points in her life, and in some cases, she may choose to keep those identifications private. If she does choose to come out, she shouldn't be subjected to a public grilling on the basis of her past public relationships or what people think "queer" or "bi" or other identities look like.
What matters is not who people have or haven't dated, or who they're dating currently, but how they experience attraction. A woman can be bi and married to a man, queer with a history of almost exclusively male relationships, or anything she likes. It's not our place to tell her how she should identify; people don't have an obligation to come out or be explicit about their sexuality for the consumption of the general public, and when they do decide to share that information, we owe it to them to be respectful instead of being giant dicks about it.
(PS: Gillian, call me. I will totally go on a date with you. Anywhere, anytime.)