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Yes We Cannes!

Celebrating the expansion of pop culture lesbian narratives

Photo by Mike Marsland/WireImage/Getty

II developed my first lesbian crush when I was 17, but until fairly recently, I was adamant that I was not a lesbian. This was mostly due to how I conceived of lesbians, which was not anything I wanted to be. Lesbians coached sports and wore chinos. They loved acoustic guitar and building things. They rejected what I cared about, like party rap and symmetrical hair styles.

At 31, I’ve finally come to accept my sexuality, partly due to maturity, but mostly due to a dramatic shift in popular representation. Growing up, I had no lesbian icons. There was Ellen DeGeneres, who I found corny and undesirable. I wanted to be with someone with flowing hair and curves not concealed by a sports bra. I was feminine and attracted to femininity, which I didn’t realize was a type of lesbian relationship that existed. For years, the only viable option seemed to be bicurious straight women, but they always left me for men. Sometimes I fell for gay-seeming or legitimately gay men, who also left me for men. Aside from being horrible for my self-esteem, these experiences emphasized to me that sexuality is not as neat and easily definable as many believe.

But the past decade has seen massive strides in how the public conceives of queerness. First, we’re coming to embrace sexual fluidity. A 2016 survey found that 35 percent of millennials aged 21–34 and 52 percent of individuals aged 13–20 (or Gen Z), identify as something other than heterosexual, but not necessarily gay, bisexual, or lesbian either. For decades, the Kinsey Scale has suggested that sexuality exists on a spectrum and changes over time.

But equally as important, hot queer women are so hot right now. For a long time, Portia de Rossi was the only femme lesbian on screen. But in the past few years, beautiful femme queers have been popping up left and right, starting with Lindsay Lohan, whose relationship with Sam Ronson inspired my first lesbian hookup. Then came Cara Delevingne, the model-turned-actress whose eyebrows I’d been envying since the aughts. Next, Kristen Stewart ditched British “heartthrob” Robert Pattinson for a non-famous, normal-looking woman. And finally, gay rumors so vehement about Kendall Jenner it doesn’t seem to matter that they’re probably not true.

But among the most iconic cultural moments for queer women occurred just this spring at a little French film festival called Cannes.

I’m trying to imagine being 17 and knowing what a meme is, seeing the internet light aflame with images of Kristen Stewart “gayzing” at Cate Blanchett in a pink power suit in the south of France. On May 10, The Advocate endorsed Twitter’s “shipping” of Blanchett and Stewart, deeming them “queer icons.”

Kristen Stewart achieved queer icon status in 2017, when she admitted to being “like, so gay, dude” during her opening monologue on SNL. Blanchett’s was cemented in 2015, when important director Todd Haynes directed Carol, an important movie about a glamorous lesbian divorcée pursuing a fine-featured younger woman, culminating in a romantic shoulder touch heard around the queer world.

Afterwards, Blanchett was asked at Cannes — seriously, it’s lesbian Mykonos — whether Carol was her first lesbian experience. She responded: “On film, or in real life?” The interviewer clarified, asking whether she’d had relationships with women in the past.

“Yes. Many times,” Blanchett responded.

She’s since retracted the statement, explaining that it was taken out of context. But whether she’s actually queer doesn’t seem to matter. Celebrities exist for us to project our fantasies onto. As The Advocate concluded: “Will the pairing happen? Not likely. Do we care? Not really.” Blanchett herself told The Telegraph:

“Call me old-fashioned, but I thought one’s job as an actor was not to present one’s own boring, small, microscopic universe but to raise and expand your sense of the universe, to make a psychological and empathic connection to another character’s experience so you can play them. So you can present another world to an audience.”

And another world she hath presented!

Gay audiences have generated swathes of content from Stewart longingly gayzing at Blanchett in a number of exquisite outfits over the course of the festival, creating the ultimate “20gayteen mood.” But to me, equally interesting as the memes is the narrative lurking in the negative space. IRL, Kristen is dating 28-year-old Victoria’s Secret model, Stella Maxwell. The internet’s shipping of a relationship that rejects “Kristella” in favor of K-Stew’s longing gaze at a 49-year-old woman embodies a gay culture I can get behind.

To be clear: Stella Maxwell is a Straight 10. She was ranked #1 on the 2016 Maxim’s Hot 100 and hasn’t expressed any sort of public opinion aside from an implicit: No shit, I look good. But Blanchett is pure eleganza. She’s won two Academy Awards, was appointed Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture in 2012, and she can pull off a power suit like few women before her. Blanchett is fierce and accomplished, the type of woman the average straight man might overlook as a threat. But not Stewart, as women are uniquely skilled in recognizing the sex appeal of our own. In another fuck-your-rules moment, K-Stew performatively ditched her heels on the Cannes red carpet this year.

Online celebrity culture is often dismissed as mindless trash, but watching women live unapologetically in the public eye has allowed me to accept the most shameful parts of myself. Lana Del Rey helped me see depression as something glamorous, from which I could create art. Mary Kate Olsen taught me that unkempt hair can epitomize chic. When I feel ostracized as hell among my deeply Southern family for my queerness, I think of Susan Sontag, the among the most photographed writers of all time. And Stewart’s romantic ogling of Blanchett at Cannes and its subsequent internet explosion represents a gay culture that makes me proud to be a homo.

Indigo Girls, begone. Yes we Cannes!

vagablonde (unnamed press, may 2020); bad lawyer (hachette books, spring 2021)

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