If you're a queer lady or have queer lady friends, chances are today is a bit like Christmas on your social media feed. While promoting the new film Carol, which is about two women in a fraught lesbian romance, Cate Blanchett revealed that she's been in relationships with women "many times". Two little words, and now everybody's all aflutter — particularly LGBT Australians, of which I am one.
As a bisexual woman married to a man, Blanchett's statement strikes a particular chord with my experience — and I can even tell you what's coming next. She'll get a slew of people labeling her bisexual (which isn't what she said); questioning whether her relationship with her husband is monogamous; and critics saying it was "just a phase" or "done for attention" (after all, it was a PR interview). She'll also likely be criticized by the LGBT community itself for not being more open about it; not adopting a label or talking about her experiences sooner.
Women who have sexual attraction or experience with both genders get this sh*t a lot. She has my sympathy, but I'm fairly sure she can handle it.
There are, however, other reasons why this reveal is powerful. Here are six reasons I'm really excited about Blanchett's comment — especially as a bisexual woman myself.
1. It's Normalizing
Let's start with the fact that Cate Blanchett has won two Oscars. LGBT or same-sex relationship-acknwowledging winners of Oscars are few and far between. Sir Elton John, Jodie Foster, Dustin Lance Black, Alan Ball, Anna Paquin, Angelina Jolie, Melissa Etheridge — and that's where the list kind of stops. Any addition to that list of rare birds, the best of the best of their highly visible and culturally visible profession, is an excuse for personal happiness.
If Cate Blanchett, who's been Galadriel and Veronica Guerin and Queen Elizabeth and Hedda Gabler and basically every brilliant female role going, can casually add "Yep, totally dated some ladies" to an interviewer, I'm pretty sure my life as a bisexual lady just met a role model and an inspiration.
Blanchett is an aspirational figure, one of the rare public people who's (largely) avoided controversy in her career and maintained high artistic integrity. For a high-functioning and accomplished woman in a successful relationship, with children, to talk about past relationships with women, even briefly, makes it more possible for that to look utterly normal. It's just a part of life. Shrug. Moving on.
2. It Avoids Labels
Some commenters on gossip sites are giving Blanchett short shrift for not copping to being bisexual, or not talking about her past relationships in more detail. For me, however, this is an important decision on her part: the idea that sexuality doesn't have to have labels if the participants don't want them.
Personally, I am proudly bisexual; it's a label with serious queer political connotations and a certain interpretation of gender attraction division (equal to both) — and that works for me. But I also think it's important for people to feel comfortable not defining themselves in labels if they don't want to — not out of fear or privacy, but because self-definition is ultimately everybody's right.
3. It Represents Progress
I respect Blanchett's decision not to be part of the LGBT community for the duration of her career. For all we can say "I wish she'd been open about it earlier," Blanchett was already married to her husband before she hit the international stage with Elizabeth in 1998. It probably didn't top her agenda as a thing to discuss. Also, considering that Ellen Degeneres' sitcom was cancelled in 1998 after she came out as gay, it's not as if Blanchett was entering the profession at an LGBT-friendly time. Her casual reveal shows just how much things have changed since then — and thank heavens for that.
4. It Helps The LGBT Situation In Australia
There is no gay marriage in Australia, or any sort of formal relationship status beyond "de facto" for same-sex couples. They have some of the same legal rights as heterosexual couples when it comes to taxation and social security, but don't have the same worker's compensation death benefits or partner benefits for Defense Force veterans. Just to give you an idea how bad things are, in Tasmania, homosexuality only became legal in 1997 .
And there's huge community discrimination; a survey by the government of Victoria found that 85 percent of all LGBT people had experienced harassment or abuse. For all the gay-friendliness of Sydney and Melbourne, we're not exactly a shining beacon for gay rights. Anybody who steps into the breach in this sort of environment is going to be met with a round of applause by me.
5. She Didn't Frame It As 'Experimental'
Note that Blanchett's statement, short as it was, didn't immediately repudiate anything. She didn't follow up with a gasped "But I'm not a lesbian!" or "But I was only experimenting!" As a woman who has followed the same life pattern — having relationships with both genders and marrying a man — I am intensely grateful for that.
Bisexuality is plagued by many myths, the most potent and harmful of which is that it's a phase for attention or confusion, and is invalidated by any choice you later make in terms of a life partner. I don't expect Blanchett to speak more freely on the topic (she is, after all, a private woman — she didn't even tell the press she'd adopted a baby girl), but the forthright nature of her statement, and her apparent casualness about it, is very important to me.
6. It Doesn't Discredit Her Marriage
Blanchett, as I'm sure many newspapers will remind you, is married to a man, and has been since 1997. That's nearly 20 years. It is fairly clear from that fact that her attraction to women, contrary to popular assumption, hasn't set up her relationship for ultimate doom because of her insatiable lust.
Bisexual and both-gender-attracted people, aside from the stereotype of "greediness," are often viewed warily as longterm partners because their faithfulness is in doubt. Blanchett's long and apparently successful marriage puts paid to that nonsense.
If anybody rudely wonders whether my marriage is going to last I can just shove her and her beautiful cheekbones in their faces and watch them shut the hell up. And that pleases me immensely.
(Also, any excuse to look at her face, frankly.)