It’s no surprise to anyone that gay women are vastly underrepresented in mainstream media. The rare times they are, it’s either through the male gaze, targeted toward an older demographic, or they die a tragic death. Roughly one third of lesbian and bisexual TV characters are written off, disappear, or are not important enough to get a proper send off.
Because of this, it’s easy to feel invisible as a young gay woman. It’s difficult for women to come out, because they don’t have that many examples to turn to for encouragement, at least in mainstream pop culture.
For any queer woman, it’s been pretty awkward to see publications refer to Kristen Stewart and her former-personal-assistant-now-alleged-girlfriend Alicia Cargile as “gal pals”—a term reserved specifically for headlines and that I’ve never actually heard uttered in real life. I say “alleged girlfriend” because Stewart doesn’t use the word “girlfriend.” She doesn’t use any words to describe Cargile, in fact, because she never talks about her. She doesn’t want to be labeled as “gay,” “bi,” or “queer,” and that’s fine. She doesn’t have to. Personally, I find it strange that celebrities feel obligated to tell the press anything about their private lives.
That being said, it’s strange how the media feels so uncomfortable labeling her romantic relationship with Cargile. Even when the two of them hold hands and kiss, they are “gal pals.” There have been entire essays dedicated to why we can’t assume Stewart is gay (when she is clearly gay! And not hiding it!), because she and Cargile do “pretty much exactly what two close friends would do.”
I don’t know that many people who make out with their platonic best friends on the beach (sober), but if you do, that’s great, but you can’t blame anyone for jumping to conclusions.
No one should be offended if someone assumes they’re gay, it’s not a bad thing to be. People assume I’m straight all the time (despite my layers and layers of flannels), but I don’t take it personally.
When the media is uncomfortable talking about gay women, it makes other people uncomfortable talking about gay women, and it makes us even more invisible.
That’s why it was such a big moment this week when Stewart walked the red carpet at Cannes with her girlfriend, while Cargile carried Stewart’s checkered Vans in a plastic bag next to her—which turned my cold, cold gay heart into a puddle. So it’s finally red carpet official. Which is about as official as Jodi Foster’s veiled coming out acceptance speech at the 2013 Golden Globes, and not quite as official as Clay Aiken on the cover of People.
Seeing these young women stepping out proudly with their girlfriends is so comforting to young queer girls, since we don’t see a lot of young gay female couples on Hollywood red carpets, or in Hollywood films. Most movies starring gay women depict the tired older woman/younger woman trope, and in movies where the main characters are older, gay women are depicted a lot more “normal” than they are in millennial-focused media.
Not only is this a good thing for young gay women, but it’s a great message to send to the media who think they’re just gals paling around, and to every straight person who’s ever asked a young lesbian couple, “So, you’re sisters, right?”.
The less mystery there is surrounding young queer women, the better. There’s still mystery surrounding who we are, what we look like, and how we have sex. We don’t want to be mistaken for close friends (unless we’re in certain, not-so-gay-friendly parts of the country). Gay girls on the red carpet—especially young, cool, label-less gay girls—can help demystify queer women in a way that hasn’t happened yet.