Zoie Palmer and the Canadian Screen Awards, or, “Come out, come out, wherever you are!”

(originally posted on 3/10/14)

This blog is about Zoie Palmer and her coming out at the Canadian Screen Awards. But we’re going to take a circuitous route to get there. Bear with me and enjoy the ride.

When Ellen Page came out in a beautifully crafted, emotional speech at an HRC event, she garnered support, accolades, and requests to “be my valentine” from celebrities and average Janes alike. I read a fair amount of the coverage of her coming out, and one piece in particular struck me. A man named Mark Rawden wrote a lovely blog entitled “Ellen Page Coming Out Does Matter, Whether You Think So Or Not,” in which he argued that because her coming out mattered to some people, it matters more broadly, whether or not it matters to you. Drawing a hilarious analogy to the Lord of the Rings, Rawden writes about Page’s coming out:

“If you don’t care, that’s fine. I don’t give a rat’s ass about Lord Of The Rings, and that doesn’t make me a bad person. Don’t for one second, however, think because you don’t care it’s not important or it isn’t news to movie fans. I’m not presumptuous enough to assume Lord Of The Rings is a waste of time just because I don’t like it, and it’s faulty thinking to ignore that logic for coming out stories. There are thousands of teenage girls out there who love Juno and love Ellen Page.” (http://www.cinemablend.com/pop/Ellen-Page-Coming-Out-Does-Matter-Whether-You-Think-So-Or-62307.html)

As much as I’m a fan girl, I believe celebrity culture to be dangerous, especially to young people who long for the glamor, thin physique, flawless skin, perfect hair, and so forth. In addition to deploring the way that the hours of labor to produce these stunning appearance are carefully obscured, I also loathe the way celebrities these days have no privacy, whether they’re exhibitionists or not. So it’s somewhat hypocritical of me to say that I love it when a famous actress comes out. But I do.

It’s been said before, but bears repeating, that a public icon coming out gives hope and strength to lost and confused young people struggling with their own identities, their families, bullies, their faith, and any number of issues that might lead to suicide, homelessness, and depression. Even for those of us comfortable in our own skin, it’s incredibly affirming when a smart, well-spoken, talented, beautiful woman publicly joins our ranks. When famous people come out publicly, it turns everything dangerous and horrible about celebrity culture into something positive.

Every coming out story is unique, remarkable, and honorable. Zoie Palmer’s coming out matters, and it matters for very different reasons than, say, Ellen Page’s or Jodi Foster’s. All three women have always been darlings of the lesbian community, tripping our gaydar, striking us in all the right places with their walks, their voices, their gestures.

What’s brilliant about Palmer’s coming out is that she’s now a gay actress most famous for playing a lesbian character. Now that Neil Patrick Harris has put to rest the question of whether a gay actor can play a straight (and horny) character, it’s lovely to see Palmer demonstrate that gay actors can play gay characters. It feels to me like a new barrier being broken, where gay women aren’t afraid of doubling-down by playing gay. Lost Girl is a lesbian favorite because it’s feminist, avoids slut-shaming, and foregrounds diversity, sure, but it’s also beloved because its portrayal of a same-sex relationship has a ring of authenticity to it lacking even in The L-Word (my gay friends still can’t get over how unrealistic the sex scenes from The L-Word were). This authenticity of Lost Girl has left lesbian fans craving something, searching for something, wanting to fill the hole where our belief that Palmer must be gay would be validated. It is incredibly generous of her to offer us the very affirmation we were searching for. Thank you, Ms. Palmer.

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