When she was dating Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart's life seemed ruined by the paparazzi's stalking obsession with their relationship. Then, her relationship was ruined by the paparazzi catching her cheating on Robert Pattinson. But when she started dating a woman, it was as if she had suddenly become invisible.
The gossip press isn't shy about getting down and dirty when it comes to invading public figures' privacy. It's literally their business. Whether Caitlyn Jenner was transitioning, whatever is currently going on with Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner's marriage, and the saga of Sofia Vergara's embryos are examples of mini–soap operas providing regular fodder for the glossy weekly magazines and their internet kin. But there's one type of story that is still somehow taboo: when a celebrity is in an observable same-sex relationship.
Perhaps it's attributable to continued, intractable homophobia; after all, we've proceeded for so long as if being gay or bisexual is a stigma. It's a vexed state, and one illustrated in a recent profile of Miley Cyrus in Paper: "She says she's had romantic entanglements with women that were just as serious as the ones (Liam Hemsworth, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Nick Jonas) that ended up in Us Weekly. 'I've had that,' she admits. 'But people never really looked at it, and I never brought it into the spotlight.'"
Of late, this rule has applied to Kristen Stewart — until, that is, the past few days. On Sunday, the Sunday Mirror published an interview with Stewart's mother, Jules Stewart, with the (v. British!) headline "Kristen Stewart forgets all about Robert Pattinson by finding love with a woman - and her mum is made up." Reporter Sharon Feinstein spoke with Jules Stewart in part about her charity work involving wolves, but what led the story — and set the internet on fire — was Stewart's comments about her daughter's romantic relationship with Alicia Cargile, a visual effects producer who is often referred to as the actor's assistant. In the interview, Stewart said: "What's not to be accepting about her now having a girlfriend? She's happy." And: "I've met Kristen's new girlfriend, I like her." And: "I feel like people need to be free to love whoever they want. I accept my daughter loves women and men."
The interview seemed to confirm that Stewart and Cargile are in a relationship. (Stewart's publicist did not respond to BuzzFeed News' request to comment.) Tumblr has been telling the same story for nearly a year, through paparazzi photographs (often published in the Daily Mail) 'shipping them and a "krisbian" tag (co-opting a word coined by women who say they would go gay only for Stewart). In the aftermath of Twilight and Pattinson, Stewart's career — with roles in indie films like Camp X-Ray, Still Alice, and Clouds of Sils Maria — is still thriving. And her personal life appears to have gotten calmer, but she's certainly not in hiding. As with many couples before them, Stewart and Cargile go to Hawaii together and kiss on the beach; they hold hands in public; they go to Whole Foods; they attend Coachella; they wear flannel. They also live together.
Without Stewart's official word on the matter, however, the internet gossip press has routinely described Cargile as Stewart's "gal pal" and her "BFF." Mainstream magazines such as Us — the same ones that were so fascinated by Stewart and Pattinson that they eagerly busted Stewart's 2012 infidelity, printing photographs of her kissing Rupert Sanders, the director of her movie Snow White and the Huntsman — have gone all but silent on her dating life.
Celebrity gossip is a fact of the Hollywood engine, and has been since the modern idea of celebrity came to be. Actors' relationships are part of their images; they are commodities. Their love lives, their children, their divorces are all open season. As the co-stars of Twilight, the offscreen relationship of Pattinson and Stewart fueled the billion-dollar onscreen one. After the cheating scandal, Stewart apologized to Pattinson by issuing an anguished statement ("I love him, I love him, I'm so sorry.")…to People magazine! Whether you love this culture or decry it, this is how the world works for famous people in heterosexual relationships.
Jules Stewart has watched her daughter, who is 25 now, be tabloid fodder since she starred in the first Twilight at 18 — KStew! RPatz! Robsten! — and her answers to Feinstein indicated that she doesn't question the interest in Kristen's life. But when the Sunday Mirror story went up late Saturday night, and went viral on Sunday, by Monday afternoon, Stewart told Us Weekly that yes, she had spoken to Feinstein but "Never ever did we discuss Kristen!" (Jules Stewart did not respond to an interview request from BuzzFeed News sent through Facebook.)
When BuzzFeed News contacted Feinstein on Twitter, she wrote over direct message that she "stands by every word of the story." Feinstein said that her interview with Stewart was "a taped conversation." Later, she put a statement on her website saying, "I have reported the story as discussed and memorialized during our lengthly and cordial formal interview, which took place on Thursday 11th June." The story remains intact on the Mirror website.
People who report on gossip use their eyes, ears, and powers of deduction every day when deciding what to write and what leaps to make. Yet when it comes to speculating about same-sex couples, ones that have not made public declarations about coming out, but aren't making any pretense of hiding either — see: the kissing and hand-holding — the gossip press suddenly becomes uncharacteristically careful, shy, and concerned with the privacy it regularly disregards in every other case. The act of coming out for a celebrity — though certainly still compelling — is now a well-worn path: It has to be as loud and clear as possible, or, as in the case of Jodie Foster at the Golden Globes in 2013, you can still end up confusing the mainstream media.
But surely in 2015 there must be a new way — a way for same-sex couples (famous ones, yes, but maybe everyone) not to have to announce themselves constantly, or to make outmoded, outdated declarations. The burden shouldn't always be on LGBT public figures to state the obvious. This month, the Supreme Court will likely rule in favor of marriage rights for same-sex couples. But when Kristen Stewart's mother speaks lovingly about her daughter's relationship with a woman, she is (according to the words used in many headlines) "outing" her, that terrible sin. Some of the Tumblr #krisbian debaters reamed Jules Stewart, saying it's none of her business. The stain that comes with being accused of outing should fall far below that of not asking questions about true things, or deliberately misrepresenting facts. Or thinking that dating someone of the same sex is something to be embarrassed by in the first place.
Things have moved so quickly for LGBT rights in the last 25 years, achieving a breakneck pace in the past five. But on this one question, it's as if nothing has changed. Will we ever get past this barrier that still feels so much like shame?