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How The Media Can Avoid Misreporting On Queer, High-Profile Couples

A few weeks ago, Mirror confirmed actress Kristen Stewart’s relationship with her personal assistant, Alicia Cargile, after speaking with Stewart’s mother, Jules. Fortunately, Jules found Cargile “lovely.”

I’m all for parents’ nonchalant acceptance of queer-identified youth, and we can throw a big gay party if any of it is actually true.

In the event that it is, though, reporters may want to take a minute to craft a headline that is in any way better than the Mirror’s: “Kristen Stewart forgets all about Robert Pattinson by finding love with a woman – and her mum is made up.”

As the story gained traction, other news outlets copied the headline’s problematic, invasive tone.

This poses a concern if this story develops further, and it’s also troubling for any future reporting about queer celebrities.

But, we’ve seen this kind of reporting before.

Gossip sites are plastered with stories such as “Miley Cyrus Lesbian Relationship?!” and “Cara Delevingne Admits To Being In Lesbian Relationship.” It’d be hard to imagine these headlines in the context of heterosexual relationships (e.g. “Leonardo DiCaprio Admits To Being In A Heterosexual Relationship With A Model”).

These kinds of stories, besides feeling a bit homophobic, create a special problem for actresses.

Image, needless to say, is everything in Hollywood. But if we’re not creating safe spaces for them to express their sexualities in tandem with their celebrities, chances are fewer of them will.

But, don’t despair. Reporters can be allies, too. It’s easy and fun, and everyone gets rainbow bracelets. If that sounds promising, simply avoid the following:

Characterizing the relationship purely around its gayness

Though queer people and queer couples are much freer to be out than they were in the past, they are still very much a public spectacle.

For those whose relationships with the community extend to watching “Modern Family,” we understand this is new to you. But, that doesn’t mean we’re zoo animals.

Gawking is not appreciated, and neither is using our sexuality for your benefit. Stop making this sound weird or forbidden. “Finding love with a woman” is just what we do every day of the week, not salacious clickbait.


Jumping to bi-erasure

Media, please understand queerness is not all or nothing. It’s human nature to categorize things in order to make them easier to understand, but when we do that to people, we get stereotypes.

If a woman currently dating another woman has also had relationships with men in the past, that would, by definition, make her pansexual or bisexual.

But, in the event celebrities haven’t formally declared what they’d like to be called, or haven’t formally rejected any labels, don’t dishonor those whose sexuality doesn’t fit a lame binary.


Bringing up exes for no reason

On the flip side, some news outlets focus way too much on past relationships as a way to define character.

The way it’s often framed (see the Mirror’s headline in the intro), the only reason women would have to other date women is to forget men.

Or because they hate men. Or because, somewhere deep in their brains, there is some odd wiring that makes it impossible and completely gut-wrenching to fathom heterosexuality.

Men don’t have to be the default excuse as to why women prefer other women.

Sometimes, a particular woman is just better than a particular man, or vice versa. Regardless, journalists seem to prefer women with their ex-boyfriends, anyway, even long after they’ve parted ways.

Miley Cyrus has recently bared the brunt of this style of reporting because of her rumored relationship with Victoria’s Secret model Stella Maxwell.

Apparently, the two were “linked” while Cyrus dated Patrick Schwarzenegger, meaning people have suggested, in a sneaky, almost libelous way, she cheated on him.

These headlines sound similar to the out-of-place mentions of Stewart’s alleged kiss with Rupert Sanders, director of “Snow White and the Huntsman,” while discussing her new relationship with Cargile. (She was with Pattinson at the time, and Sanders was married.)

Simply, hints like these are easy ways to demonize queer women.

No longer do we see independent, self-realized women finally coming to terms with their sexualities (no easy task), but we see them as the unfaithful stolen property of men.

Though pretty much every dissenting conservative around this weekend’s gay marriage decision would disagree, we need to stop casting privileged populations (straight people) as the ones endangered by stillstruggling minorities (us).


Reducing women to their dating statuses

A chronic problem for women in Hollywood is that the public often defines them by who they are dating, why they’re single or by the worth of their partners (usually men). Just take a look at Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande.

So, in case it still needs to be spelled out again: Women are their own beings, and they do not need to be validated by men. It doesn’t matter if they’re queer, single or anything else; they’re not men’s little wives.

If women find bliss with someone new, that’s great, but what’s it to anyone else? Stewart, for instance, gets flak for “Twilight,” but she helped the movie gross over $3 billion.

Later, she received critical acclaim for her awesome acting in “The Runaways” and “Still Alice.” I thought those would be the sort of things to care about when it comes to, uh, actresses.


Misquoting

It’s not uncommon for certain comments regarding sexuality to be paraphrased, taken out of context or eventually retracted by the speaker.

While the reasons for this may vary (including, maybe, that it’s a woman’s own business and none of ours), journalists have a responsibility to report this sensitive news accurately, and they should publish updates when new information becomes available.

That means they need to be editing old articles and fact-checking (and not twisting people’s words in an interview).

It may mean great traffic for gossip websites, but we queer ladies have to deal with the repercussions of lazy reporting.

If all of this sounds too hard, however, there’s another, perhaps, crazier option: Just let a young woman date or not date whomever, without commentary from anyone else. Groundbreaking.

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Carmen Triola

Contributor

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