Sapphic Salon: Does Drew Barrymore Deserve the Vanguard Award?
2010 has been pretty good to Drew Barrymore thus far. The birthday girl (yesterday was the big 35) has a major ad campaign as one of the faces of Cover Girl and she won both a Screen Actors Guild Award and a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Miniseries or Television Film for her portrayal of Little Edie in Grey Gardens. She also rekindled her relationship with actor Justin Long and just recently found out she would be awarded the Vanguard Award by GLAAD at an upcoming ceremony.
The Vanguard Award goes to "media professionals who have increased the visibility and understanding of the LGBT community." GLAAD notes that Drew has done so by starring in Boys on the Side, from openly gay filmmaker Don Roos, producing He’s Just Not That Into You "in which she played a straight reporter at a LGBT newspaper who desperately seeks dating advice from her gay best friends" and playing the lesbian daughter of Robert de Niro in 2009's Everybody's Fine.
I am who I am because of the people who influenced me growing up, and many of them were gay. No one has the right to tell anyone what makes a family…this is something that means everything to me.
I have to admit that I was scratching my head a bit about Drew being giving this award. Firstly, she didn't play gay in Boys on the Side — that was Whoopi Goldberg, who also played gay in The Color Purple. And the film He's Just Not That Into You played into several stereotypes including the gay ones that came out of her BFFship with her co-workers at the aforementioned gay newspaper. (In a huge ensemble cast, the gay men were completely desexualized and not part of the very straight sex and romance storylines.) And in Everybody's Fine, Drew played a closeted woman who referred to her partner as her friend.
These things aside, I've often wondered about Drew Barrymore, who once referred to herself as bisexual — quite often, in fact. From a 1996 interview in Harper's Bazaar:
Considers herself bisexual, though she has never met a woman who could hold her attention for long.
Drew once dated Jane Pratt, who is famous for publishing the magazine Jane. Last year, Pratt went on Sirius Radio and confirmed the relationship:
One of my dreams is to return to Howard [Stern]'s show and tell him the truth about Drew Barrymore and me. ... I did have sex with Drew Barrymore.
OK, not exactly the most positive statement on bisexuality, but Drew herself used to openly speak about her love for women. More recently, she's been quoted as saying:
A woman and a woman together are beautiful, just as a man and a woman together are beautiful. Being with a woman is like exploring your own body, but through someone else. When I was younger I used to go with lots of women. Totally. I love it.
I'm not here to doubt Drew Barrymore's bisexuality — I'm asking if it disappeared, or if that notion is even a possibility. I know plenty of women who identify as bisexual that end up dating or marrying a man, but still identify themselves as queer or bisexual or, even in some cases, a lesbian. So when Drew Barrymore said she's grown up around a lot of gay people and doesn't include herself among them when being awarded an honor from GLAAD, it just gives me pause to wonder how your feelings about women can evaporate into thin air.
Perhaps what adds a little more insult to injury for me is her directorial debut, Whip It, last year. The film was about roller derby, starring Ellen Page, Eve, Juliette Lewis and Drew herself, among several others. The movie was all about women and a sport that empowers women, and a sport that also happens to have many lesbian participants. But where were they in the movie? Non-existent. One of the movie's stars Ari Graynor, who played Eva Destruction, said she wanted her character to be gay, but the innuendos ended up on the cutting room floor.
That didn't stop Drew Barrymore from kissing Ellen Page in Marie Claire for a promotional photoshoot.
I do not doubt that Drew Barrymore ever had feelings for women, or that she is now exclusively dating men. I am not criticizing bisexual women, nor am I calling into question Barrymore's ability to identify however she'd like. I am concerned, however, with the effects her visibility (or lack thereof) might have when it comes to the perception of bisexual women in the media. I find that she's been somewhat disarming in her advocacy and, possibly, her own identity.
Maybe I'm alone in this, but I'd love to hear your thoughts. Is Drew Barrymore giving bisexuality a bad name?
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