The day after Kristen Stewart mentioned she was “so gay” on “SNL,” I argued that her decision to publicly label her sexuality was important for a number of reasons, chief among them the fact that queer visibility, while increasing and improving, is still woefully underrepresented in mainstream culture.
What’s more, when a celebrity comes out, it gives other people the courage to do the same and can help complicate ideas about what it means to be queer and what kind of people identify that way (hint: all kinds of people with all kinds of life experiences and all kinds of other intersectional identities do).
While I was busy celebrating Stewart’s noble, if not somewhat nonchalant decision to finally (publicly) choose a label for her sexual identity, others were frustrated (or confused) that a woman who once dated a man was now identifying as “gay” instead of “bisexual” or “pansexual” or “sexually fluid.” Was she erasing her “true” identity? And if so, why? Or were her past relationships with men just that ― in the past and she now felt that “gay” better encapsulated or explained her current identity? Or was she using the term as a general (and purposefully imprecise) catchall phrase for “not straight”?
To make things even more complicated, in an interview with The Guardian that took place in May 2016 but wasn’t published until last week, Stewart further addressed her sexuality and noted that she’s “just trying to acknowledge that fluidity, that greyness, which has always existed... But maybe only now are we allowed to start talking about it.”
She continued: “It’s cool that you don’t have to nail everything down any more. That whole certainty about whether you’re straight or gay or whatever,” before then claiming the term “bisexual” for herself and asserting, “You’re not confused if you’re bisexual. It’s not confusing at all. For me, it’s quite the opposite.”
So, wait ― she was bisexual? Or sexually fluid? Or maybe she sees bisexuality as encompassing sexual fluidity or vice versa? But now she’s “so gay”?
“It’s cool that you don’t have to nail everything down any more.”
Maybe Stewart’s claim that she was “so gay” was more semantic than anything else because “I’m so bisexual” or “I’m so fluid” on “SNL” may not have been as strong of a statement or a punchline as “I’m so gay.”
Maybe that’s a problem. Bisexual people often feel their identities are misunderstood, mistrusted or all together erased, and maybe as we talk about those identities more, they can and will have the same impact. Maybe Stewart’s sexuality (or understanding of it) is evolving and that means the language she uses to talk about will continue to shift. Maybe she felt gay that day and feels bisexual some days and feels sexually fluid some other days. Maybe all or some or none of the above.
Ultimately, it’s not clear and I don’t want to put words in Stewart’s mouth. But that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t try to gain from her public displays and discussions of her sexuality. She’s provided a beautiful and complex jumping off point to think and wonder and worry (in the best sense possible) about identity.
Seeing a “mainstream” celebrity challenge our culture’s long-held belief that a person’s identity is or must be completely rigid ― whether she intended to or not ― is groundbreaking, long overdue and, to be perfectly honest, downright thrilling.
And even if I’m just projecting and Stewart doesn’t see herself in anything that I’ve written here, that projection and all of the potentially radical possibilities that come tethered to it now exist because of her and that matters.
So, what the fuck is going on with Stewart’s sexuality? As far as I can tell, it’s healthy and thriving and she’s approaching and expressing it from whatever position ― however permanent or precarious ― that feels right to her at any given moment.
“You’re not confused if you’re bisexual. It’s not confusing at all.”
And why shouldn’t we be able to change the word we use to define ourselves or the way we think about our sexuality whenever or however it suits us? Just because it’s fixed for some people ― including myself, as I’ve only ever identified as gay since I was 4 years old ― doesn’t mean that it can’t or won’t be malleable for others. If you identify as bisexual for six years and then feel gay fits better, and then eight months later decide to identify as bisexual again, how does that hurt anyone?
Still, I get that it may be uncomfortable or troubling to some people, particularly some queer people, because we’ve spent so much time trying to convince people that our sexual identities are real, aren’t jokes and deserve consideration and respect. But as our cultural understanding of desire continues to evolve and deepen, we must acknowledge and embrace these complexities that may come with investigating “that fluidity, that greyness, which has always existed” for some people.
“[I'm] just trying to acknowledge that fluidity, that greyness, which has always existed.”
And, because I know some of you are already heading to the comments section to tell me that a person’s sexuality is no one else’s business and I shouldn’t even be writing about Stewart, I want to emphasize one thing: Having discussions about who we are and what we desire is how progress and understanding is created. Stewart herself seems quite pleased with the conversations that her openness has generated. In a recent interview with Entertainment Weekly she said of her “SNL” declaration, “In that moment, to make it normal and cool and completely unashamed? It felt really cool.”
Stewart and her identity ― gay, bisexual, fluid or otherwise ― aren’t problems or problematic. Quite the contrary, whether she knows it or not, she is emblematic of the future, at least if we’re lucky (and smart) and follow her example. That doesn’t necessarily mean we need to constantly (or ever) redefine how we each personally identify ― interrogating your desire and your politics to determine your sexuality and then sticking with it is just fine, too. But finding the courage and conviction to embrace labeling and then relabeling if it feels right should be an option.
No one should get to tell us how to feel or how to identify and no one should get to tell us that we’ve got it wrong or we’re confused because we might change or challenge our minds about who we want and when and why at any point in our lives ― whether it be once or never or every other weekend.
In the end, I’m advocating for whatever allows all of us to live our happiest, most authentic lives and from the look and sound of things, that seems to be exactly what Stewart wants, too.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Stewart originally identified as “so gay,” and used the terms “bisexual” and “fluid” in reference to herself at a later date. She actually referred to herself as “bisexual” and “fluid” first, in an interview with The Guardian in May 2016, but that interview was not published until last week.