This is the Sunday edition of Paging Dr. Lesbian. Plus, this week’s dispatch from the lesbian internet. If you like this type of thing, subscribe!
Hello all! This week’s post is a guest column written by Becca Stickler, who runs a newsletter called Read Something Queer where she reviews a queer book each week. This week we decided to do a newsletter exchange of sorts, so I wrote a guest column for her newsletter this week about a wonderful work of non-fiction lesbian history (which you can check out here), and she returned the favor by writing this lovely piece about Cate Blanchett. If you like it, you can subscribe to her newsletter here. Enjoy, and stay tuned for this week’s dispatch from the lesbian internet below.
When you hear “queer icon,” who’s the first woman that comes to mind?
If your first thought is “Sarah Paulson” or “Holland Taylor,” you are correct. If it’s Lily Tomlin, Zendaya, Jodie Foster, Tessa Thompson, or any member of the U.S. Women’s National Team, you are also correct.
But there’s also a chance that it’s one of the many straight women who’ve played gay over the past decade. Jennifer Beals, Natasha Lyonne, and Rachel Weisz—they’ve all taken on very queer roles, and they’ve all done a very, very good job.
And of these women, there’s one that stands out among the rest: Catherine Elise Blanchett.
Our gal Cate has inspired tens of thousands of lesbian memes, countless pieces of lesbian fanfiction, and at least a dozen collages of her in a rainbow of suits. She’s widely known as the object of worldwide queer desire, and jokes about that fact have made it well beyond the gay internet to even the most heterosexual of arenas, like late-night talk shows.
So why is this? Why are so many of us, myself obviously included, so into her? Why is it that even when conversations about the importance of casting queer characters in queer roles are finally happening, lesbians are vehemently defending Cate’s right to play gay?
It began, of course, with Carol in 2015. Cate’s portrayal of the titular character, a chain-smoking housewife with an extensive coat collection who used to date Sarah Paulson and then hooks up with Rooney Mara in a motel, made her an Oscar nominee and also an instant celebrity crush for a whole lot of women.
It’s an excellent movie and Cate’s performance is nothing short of incredible. Still, it doesn’t explain her icon status. It’s her only openly queer role, while dozens of other straight actors (Julianne Moore! Chloë Sevigny! Sandra Oh!) have played gay many times, without even half the level of obsession from queer women. Even her co-star in the movie, Rooney Mara has played gay in at least three other films—yet there isn’t a single Instagram account dedicated to lesbian memes about her.
But it wasn’t until the years following Carol that I’d argue Cate rose to icon status. And I’d also argue that Sarah Edwards, the costume designer for Ocean’s 8, was largely responsible for that ascent.
If you’ve seen the film (and I assume you have), you know that Cate wears a truly stunning array of suits—including this three-piece green velvet getup she was first photographed in while filming in October 2016:
This is a perfect outfit, perfectly tailored to Cate and perfectly matched to her perfectly tousled platinum lob. It’s also exceptionally, decisively gay — and I’m inclined to believe that this was on purpose.
When asked in an interview with BuzzFeed if the implication that Cate’s character was queer (and previously dated Sandra Bullock’s character) was intentional, Edwards responded, "You know, I think early on, there was an idea that that might be the case ... But we seemed to move away from that as the shooting went on.”
This is a very diplomatic way of telling us that these two characters absolutely had a thing. And while that detail didn’t make the final cut, Cate’s outfits were definitely chosen with it in mind.
Now, my theory is that as she wore this series of impeccable suits, it was brought to her attention that 1) she looks fucking incredible in a suit and 2) she could easily use this skill to grow her fan base to include every single queer woman in the world. Not convinced? Bear with me.
Prior to Ocean’s, the only time Cate seems to have been photographed in a suit was in this 2014 campaign for a luxury watch brand. But in the months following filming, from late 2017 through 2018, she seemed to only wear suits to promote the movie and attend other major events — and that’s when queer women’s obsessions with her really took off.
The most prominent example of this was at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, where her interactions with noted celesbian Kristen Stewart sparked a thousand very gay memes. Around the same time, her suits also inspired countless listicles proclaiming her the “queen of suits” and demanding that we all “take a moment to appreciate the glorious suits she's been blessing us all with recently,” which is a very fair request.
And it all culminated with the Missoni suit she wore to the Ocean’s 8 premiere in June 2018:
I’m sorry, but... a low-cut blazer made of multicolored sequins? Matching pants with a rainbow stripe right down the leg?? This outfit practically screams, “I love my queer fans and want them to be happy.”
Now, wearing these suits alone would’ve been enough to make queer women collectively fall in love with her. But Cate also engaged in some pretty gay behavior during the press tour, most notably that Today Show interview with Sarah Paulson. Host Hoda Kotb notices roughly 30 seconds in that they “clearly have a thing going on,” and that’s four minutes before Cate climbs onto Sarah’s lap.
Lesbian Twitter exploded with new memes and gay tweets and fan accounts through the entirety of 2018, all with very good reason. And while 2019 was relatively quiet for Cate professionally, the internet thirst went strong—including the @dykeblanchett Instagram account that launched on the second day of the year and quickly amassed tens of thousands of followers.
These accounts, which did an impressive job of recycling old Cate content into new memes for a solid year, played right into her hands when it came time to promote Mrs. America in 2020.
The show is overwhelmingly straight, and Cate plays the notoriously homophobic Phyllis Schlafly. Still, I, along with queer women everywhere, was immediately hooked by a clip from this memorable scene in which Cate pushes Sarah Paulson down onto a hotel bed. The same week that episode aired, Cate and Sarah went live on Instagram, which gave us several noteworthy moments—but most importantly, Cate uttering the phrase, “I’m a lesbian.”
Queer women across the globe lost their goddamn minds.
Now, as I hope you can tell, I’ve done my homework for this exploration. And as I compiled this list of momentous Cate moments, one thing became crystal clear: Sarah Paulson was there for all of them. Let’s recap:
Who was the only known lesbian on the set of Carol? Sarah Paulson.
Who was there when Cate donned a series of suits for Ocean’s 8? Sarah Paulson.
Who did a bunch of gay interviews with her to promote that movie? Sarah Paulson.
Whomst did Cate choke in a hotel room on Mrs. America? Sarah Paulson.
And, finally, who was there when Cate said, “I’m a lesbian”? Sarah Catharine Paulson.
So, to get back to the question at hand: Why do queer women love Cate Blanchett so much?
My working theory, following hours of intensive research is this: Sarah Paulson told her about the value of a devoted queer fan base, and knew that given her immaculate bone structure and ability to wear a suit, she’d have no trouble building one after Carol.
Whether this is the truth or not, it’s undeniable that Cate knows what she’s doing. Every time she puts on a suit, every time she films a scene with queer undertones, and every time she announces on Instagram that she’s a lesbian, she knows that queer women love it. But is this queerbaiting? And should we care?
Scientist that I am, I turned to Lex to conduct some additional research.
When I asked my respondents whether it matters that she’s actually straight, here’s what I got:
“Meh, not any more than it booths me when any other straight actors plays queer a bunch, i.e. Tilda Swindon et al. I think it’s pretty impressive that she’s managed to maintain a killer career while aging as a woman in Hollywood.” — Betty
“Okay it’s kind of hard for me to believe she’s NOT queer to be honest.” — Sorn
“It’s fine with me as long as she continues to wear those suits 😍 In some situations [queerbaiting] is annoying as hell, but for CATE? I’ll let anything slide.” — Delia
This is an admittedly small sample size, and I’m sure there are other queer women who feel differently. But of the few dozen people who responded to my question (all in a matter of hours), not a single one said they were bothered by Cate’s queer icon status.
My highly scientific conclusion to all of this, then, is that Cate is beloved by queer women because she knows what we want, and she’s happy to give it to us. And under the expert guidance of Sarah Paulson (and a stylist with excellent taste in suits), she’s doing a phenomenal job.
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Hope you all enjoyed that guest column from Becca! Now, welcome to this week’s dispatch from the lesbian internet.
On Tuesday, Jada Pinkett Smith’s Facebook talk show, Red Table Talk, released a clip of their episode featuring Niecy Nash and her wife Jessica Bett discussing their love story. We learned from this episode that Niecy calls Jessica her “hersband,” as well as some other, more intimate details about their blooming relationship. People have long speculated that Jada is not quite heterosexual herself, and the episode also included a discussion between Jada and her daughter Willow about the fact that they’ve both been attracted to women before. Hi Jada!
On Wednesday, Demi Lovato made another proclamation about her sexuality. In an interview with Joe Rogan (don’t ask), she explicitly came out as pansexual. But the quote that really caught my attention in the interview was the subheading of this article, which is “I’m part of the alphabet mafia and proud.” This made me laugh for five minutes straight. You’re welcome.
Also on Wednesday, it was Transgender Day of Visibility. Unfortunately, that day also coincided with some upsetting news regarding trans rights in America this past week. On Monday, Arkansas lawmakers passed HB 1570, which bans transition-related healthcare for trans youth. If enacted, this bill will undoubtedly have a devastating effect on trans youth in the state. (You can urge Governor Hutchinson to veto the bill here). A similar bill was proposed in Alabama, which is one of 20 states around the country that have proposed such bills (more actions to take here). More than two dozen states have also proposed bills that would ban trans youth from interscholastic sports. If this concerns you, (and it should!) I suggest you contact lawmakers to make your voice heard (especially if these laws are being passed in your state), and donate to organizations doing important work. You might start with Intransitive, which is based in Arkansas, and The Knights & Orchids Society, which supports black trans and queer people in Alabama. As Jen Skolnik smartly noted on Twitter, increased visibility can actually be dangerous for a community without support to fall back on, so it is imperative that we keep building that support.
In related news, I would be remiss if I did not mention the recent controversy surrounding Substack and their refusal to properly moderate transphobic content and even fund transphobic writers. (More on that here, here, and here). Obviously, this is very troubling news that Substack has yet to properly account for. On my end, since I’m not currently making any money from the platform (and thus not giving them the requisite 10%), for now, I will keep my newsletter here. I have however been considering other options, so if or when I find a suitable replacement for Substack, I will let you all know. For now, I hope you will keep yourselves apprised of some of the issues I have highlighted above. And feel free to leave a comment or message me if you have any further thoughts on the matter.
That’s all for this week folks! I hope you enjoyed that guest column. I’ll leave you with this powerful selfie of Jamie Lee Curtis, Jodie Foster, and Gillian Anderson (who somehow always shows up in famous sapphic photos). See you next week!