Pop Culture Fix: Suffering Sappho, Cate Blanchett Is Baffled by Lesbian Labels

Goooood morning, my friends! Here is your first Pop Culture Fix of the week!

+ I know I casually, jokingly mentioned Cate Blanchett’s Vanity Fair interview last week, in which she talked about Tár and also how she’s baffled by LGBTQ+ labels, but the story keeps getting more traction so I’ll be serious about it for a second. Her are the relevant interview quotes:

“I don’t think about my gender or my sexuality,” [Blanchett] says. “For me in school, it was David Bowie, it was Annie Lennox. There’s always been that sort of gender fluidity.” She admits to feeling perplexed by the very notion of having to think about stepping into an identity outside of her own: “I have to really listen very hard when people have an issue with it. I just don’t understand the  language they’re speaking, and I need to understand it because you can’t dismiss the obsession with those labels—behind the obsession is something really important. But personally I’ve never had it… If [Carol] was made now, me not being gay—would I be given public permission to play that role? … If you and I were having a conversation [25 years ago], it would be in your publication and that was it. Now, somehow it’s like these opinions get published, and Scarlett Johansson doesn’t play a role that maybe she was the only person who could play it.”

So that last thing is obviously a reference to ScarJo signing onto play a trans man, defending her decision, and then ultimately dropping out of the role because of backlash. People far more qualified than me have talked at length about the dangers of cis people playing trans roles, something that we should be more concerned about than ever before as trans people are under unprecedented legislative and cultural attacks in new and terrifying ways every day. The fact that Blanchett is even equating being a rich white cis straight woman playing a rich white cis gay woman with being a cis person playing a trans person indicates, to me, that she doesn’t get it. Those are not the same conversations — and she’s kind of proving that LGBTQ+ people SHOULD be concerned about non-LGBTQ+ people playing LGBTQ+ roles because she doesn’t understand that distinction.

Blanchett seems to think that the “obsession” LGBTQ+ people have with labels is about excluding non-LGBTQ+ people, and then subjecting them to “cancel culture” — a phrase she doesn’t say, but does imply — rather than the actual point of labels, which is about self-identity, building community, finding strength in the stories of generations of people who came before us and used the same labels. It’s about acceptance and understanding and safety and political power and sharing space with people whose struggles are similar. Language is imprecise and constantly evolving, and even our own community can’t agree on what every label means and whether or not they’re necessary, but the people who get to have opinions about this are the ones whose lives are materially impacted by it. And I don’t mean their Oscar hopes, I mean their actual lives. The repercussions of pop culture representation on LGBTQ+ people is not theoretical, and I’ve got to believe that if Cate Blanchett really wanted to understand the point of labels, she would. The research and infinite corroborative stories aren’t hidden away in some fantastical castle guarded by dragons; they’re simply a Google away.

+ ANYHOODLE. Disney+ has cancelled Big Shot. Peacock has renewed Poker Face.

+ Looks like The Marvels’ release date has been pushed back again, but the new poster looks amazing!

+ Housewives star Meredith Marks tumbles at lesbian bar with Sam Smith.

+ The Veronicas to perform “Untouched” at Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade.

+ 43 thoughts Vogue’s Emma Specter had while watching Your Place or Mine.

+ Persona 5 can’t handle queer relationships.

+ On this week’s It’s Been a Minute on NPR: Kelela’s guide for breaking up with men. “Host Brittany Luse sits down with Kelela to discuss Black queer liberation, and how she hopes this record helps folks find freedom on the dance floor.”

+ Kylie Jenner accused of queerbaiting over Valentine’s Day kiss with regular pal, not gal pal.

+ Brittney Griner has re-signed with the Phoenix Mercury on a one-year deal, and Diana Taurasi has re-signed on a two year deal. Also, the Washington Post says Elena Delle Donne is fully recovered and back to being Elena Delle Donne, which is great news for the Mystics!

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

Heather Hogan

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior editor who lives in New York City with her wife, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, GALECA: The Society of LGBTQ Entertainment Critics, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Heather has written 1718 articles for us.


  1. Imagine thinking Scarlett Johansson is the only person who could play a trans man on film. Actors are so up their own ass when it comes to this “We should be allowed to play anybody” nonsense. Let’s be honest Cate and/or Scarlett, who are two of the most powerful and highly paid actresses in the business are going to be offered any role they want but the marginalized communities are allowed to have an opinion about it whether they like it or not. That is not “cancel culture”. If Carol were made today she would still be playing Carol. Hell, she’s doing this interview to begin with because she’s nominated for an Oscar for playing yet another THIS YEAR. This is theater.

  2. I hope that there will be competitive parity throughout the WNBA this season after the Aces and Liberty supersized. The draft hasn’t happened yet, but I wonder will this be Indiana’s year to make it above 500. Can the Storm and Sky rebuild fast enough to remain playoff worthy? I am not feeling overly confident, but hopeful since I am a ride or die Storm fan. Taurasi is making a lot of money to play two more seasons, almost double what Griner signed for this year. I just wonder at her age, if that will keep the Mercury mediocre. Can’t wait to see Delle Donne at full health, last season her load management and development from back surgery didn’t stop her from showing flares of dominance. I think my sleeper team will be Dallas. Thank you for the article Heather, I really couldn’t comment on the Cate Blanchett topic, polarizing.

    • holy smokes! have i been on a hamster wheel about competition for the coming year. don’t have a local team, so my loyalty has lately been whose fun (for me) to watch.

      Chicago was it for the past several years, esp after they got Parker. Vandersloot reteamed with Dolson is interesting, but if Delle Donne is back to form, then she and Cloud will be super fun. (i see the pun, but i do not mean it…)

    • Fellow Storm fan here. Next year will probably be tough, but we’ll see!!! I’m rooting for Ezi as a starter. And I hope Gabby will be back (not sure though, as she is very commited to the french national team).

      Thanks Heather (and Natalie) for the basketball content, here and on tweeter sometimes :).

  3. “And I don’t mean their Oscar hopes, I mean their actual lives.” THIS.

    And thank you as always for WNBA coverage! I can’t wait to see how bananas Kah, Courtney, and Mabrey will be on the court together. And how they’re gonna take on KP’s trash talk.

  4. i can imagine how Blanchett sees things from the lens of 2014-5, where maybe/probably Carol, the film we know, doesn’t get made if she doesn’t sign on. the film Johansson dropped out of didn’t, so maybe that’s her point? i know it was discussed as a tv show 2-3 years ago, but i can’t find anything that says it’s in development…

    all of the lauding Blachett received professionally and culturally could seemingly infer some credibility, and perhaps it’s fair to say the gains we have now owe something to her participation then. which can be true at the same time as Heather’s point: if she wanted to understand the issue, she likely would.

  5. I don’t have any problems with Cate Blanchett’s comments. And I don’t think she’s stupid or whatever people make as comments.
    An actor is an actor. And I don’t think it’s a good thing that lesbians or trans people always should get their own sex or gender role.
    If this upsets people: go ahead. It’s also just a comment.

      • I don’t agree that gay people always have to play gay roles and it’s complicated because people can be gay and play gay whilst closeted… But trans people get so little opportunities and cis men playing trans women feeds in to the view that trans women are men pretending to be women, same as cis women playing trans men. Does she also think it’s acceptable for white actors to play POC?
        Also, straight, cos people don’t have to worry about not being accepted for who they are and who they love. They don’t have to come out as cis or straight. She quite clearly does not get it and doesn’t want to. Also, the term cancel culture needs to go because people just use it whenever they are called out or criticised. Show me someone who has actually faced the consequences of their actions…. I’ll wait.

  6. THIS is SUCH a crucial analysis, Heather:

    “The fact that Blanchett is even equating being a rich white cis straight woman playing a rich white cis gay woman with being a cis person playing a trans person indicates, to me, that she doesn’t get it. Those are not the same conversations — and she’s kind of proving that LGBTQ+ people SHOULD be concerned about non-LGBTQ+ people playing LGBTQ+ roles because she doesn’t understand that distinction.”

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!