Hearts and Stars is Slate’s pop-up blog about celebrity relationships.
As Kristen Stewart gets gayer, so do I. Right now, she’s pretty gay: She’s in a relationship with supermodel Stella Maxwell, her most significant pairing since her famous romance with Robert Pattinson and a magnet for the tabloids. With every headline I see, every surreptitious photo of the pair “cuddling up” on a hike or at the airport, I get a little gayer. And I have to say: I’m grateful.
I can trace this phenomenon back to my bedroom in 2004. I was 10, so nothing creepy. I had a poster of a young Stewart in the action-packed and quite dorky children’s spy movie Catch That Kid. In the film, she plays a tomboy teenage spy, and I wanted to be just like her. I didn’t know quite what that meant at the time. (Nor did I realize Jennifer Beals, also known as Bette from The L Word, plays Stewart’s mother. No wonder Stewart became the real-life Shane McCutcheon.)
Soon, of course, came Twilight, the franchise that skyrocketed Stewart to fame alongside Pattison, who she dated throughout my high school career. Though their relationship publicly stayed steady (that is, until Stewart cheated on him with the director of Snow White and the Huntsman), my gaydar was flying off the charts. On-screen, at least, Stewart continued her queer-baiting with a turn as Joan Jett in the 2010 biopic The Runaways. Playing the lesbians’ favorite not-gay-but-totally-gay rock ’n’ roller Joan Jett—who shares a passionate kiss with her best friend Cherie Currie, aka Dakota Fanning—was almost more than my not-out, fledgling bisexual heart could take.
It didn’t help that, at this point in my life, I was an avid Tumblr user—in particular, the gay-until-proven-straight part of Tumblr. My feed often included Tumblr celesbians (celebrity lesbians) and a queer icon who didn’t realize it yet: Kristen Stewart. Or at least “Krisbians,” fans who would “turn” lesbian for the one and only. I can’t say how many of them were on the same journey as I was.
A few years later, it became real. Shortly after breaking up with Pattinson, Stewart had her first public queer relationship with visual effects producer Alicia Cargile, in 2014. This is where she really became essential to me and who knows how many others. Stewart never had a public coming-out process, and somehow, that made me realize that I didn’t need one either. She just starting dating women openly and felt no need to redefine her sexuality, and I guess I figured I could do the same thing. Stewart has confirmed this in various interviews. In 2015, she told Nylon:
I live in the ambiguity of this life and I love it. I don’t feel like it would be true for me to be like, “I’m coming out!”
In 2016 , she told Variety that she decided to appear in public with her girlfriends because she thought it was important for young fans to see that. In my case at least, she was certainly right. For someone who lived out her young dating years under a furious and often humiliating spotlight, this seemed like a pretty selfless posture for Stewart to take.
During this time, Clouds of Sils Maria opened. In the film, Juliette Binoche plays an actress who falls in love with her assistant—played, naturally, by Stewart. That year, I started publicly dating women. Stewart also starred in Jenny Lewis’ “One of the Guys” music video, in which she dresses as a Justin Bieber lookalike with Brie Larson and Anne Hathaway. Aside from Stewart’s role as Jett, I’ve never seen her look gayer. I followed suit.
Stewart dated Cargile, the producer, on and off until 2016, after which she was rumored to date several musicians I adored, including Soko and St. Vincent, as a young celesbian does. Then, in 2016, it happened: Stewart started dating Stella Maxwell, and they moved in together after five months, otherwise known as “U-Hauling,” a stereotype we all know is real. (I had followed Maxwell’s love life prior, because she briefly dated Miley Cyrus.) As you can imagine, this was a major life development for me. When Stewart hosted Saturday Night Live in early 2017, she joked about Donald Trump’s famous tweet that Pattinson needed to dump her, to which she responded, “I’m, like, so gay.” That was pretty much it for me.
Stewart’s brand of visibility isn’t for everyone, but it helped me arrive at a sexuality I didn’t feel ready to define. I still feel a minor rush of gratitude (and OK, maybe a little longing) when I remember how she turned our sometimes-cruel focus on her relationships into a gentle lesson for young queers. The cult around celebrity relationships may be a wayward religion for many people, but for me, it was just the church I needed.
Stewart and Maxwell, by the way, are coming up on two years. I’m taking my time, but I know where to look for inspiration when I’m ready.