The next time I go to a lesbian party, I’m going to play a game called “Take a shot every time someone mentions Clea DuVall.” I’d be tipsy in no time, just wandering around asking, “Hey guys, what was your root?” Or “How about this week’s episode of American Horror Story?” Even “Who here loved She’s All That?” Down the hatches, for real.
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Clea DuVall is like some magical name that induces instantaneous sensual symptoms in lesbians of all ages, mostly due to her character Graham in But I’m a Cheerleader. I admit that I, too, fell under the spell of the black button-down shirt at the Cocksucker. And considering that film is one of the best lesbian stories of all time (black comedy meets romance co-starring RuPaul with that seriously good soundtrack), it’s no wonder Clea is a household name amongst gay women. It’s also not shocking to me that many lesbians I meet think she’s out as a lesbian herself. And then I have to go around killing the mood as the ultimate party pooper when I explain “Actually, she’s never said anything on record about her sexuality.” Smiles fade, sparkles leave eyes, dreams have died.
Throughout her career, Clea has played a handful of queer characters in Carnivale, Ghosts of Mars, Saving Grace, and most recently on American Horror Story: Asylum, where she plays a closeted school teacher who ends up committing her partner to an institution rather than be outed. She told Vulture of the part:
It was such a different time. You and I can look at it from the perspective of people living in 2012, but I think that the fear at that time was very real, and you could have your entire life destroyed by who you love and by being who you are. And I think Wendy was caught in a moment that she probably never expected to be in, and she’d worked so hard to hide who she was. And then to have someone just walk in her house and tell her that the person that she loved more than anything had been hurt but then also say that she’s going to tear her life apart — I definitely have compassion for her and understand the position she was put in.
Interestingly, Wendy’s partner, Lana, is played by out lesbian actress Sarah Paulson, who has done many straight roles as well. In fact, she was nominated for an Emmy for her work in Game Change this year. But it’s exciting to see an out lesbian playing such a pivotal part in a major storyline such as this one, especially with the commentary it makes on ex-gay conversion therapy and lesbianism as a mental illness in the 1960s. Obviously it isn’t necessary that lesbian actresses play these lesbian roles, but it does kind of add an admirable element. It doesn’t necessarily mean if Clea truly is gay that she’s doing us a disservice by not admitting it, but still, it would be nice, right?
A few years ago, I might have thought (well, I definitely thought) actresses were probably closeted for the reason of losing out on roles. Today actresses like Sarah Paulson are proof that sexuality is becoming less and less a factor in the parts people are chosen to play (or not play). Something else that has changed: Typecasting. It used to be actresses who played gay would feel they were limited in the future based on their decision to play a lesbian one time. In 2012, Hollywood has had enough lesbian and bisexual roles and actresses who have played them that it’s no longer such a stigma. Clea answered a question about being typecast as a lesbian in that same interview with Vulture:
I don’t think it matters much anymore. I think that there was a stigma playing gay characters before that there just isn’t now. When I started acting in the early nineties, that was a bigger consideration, but now it doesn’t feel like that much of a big deal. You look at how many gay characters are on television and in movies and actors just aren’t afraid to do that any more. I think because there are more of those roles, the fear and the novelty of it have kind of gone away, and now it’s just like, “Oh, characters.” It feels like a bigger “Who cares?” now than it did before.
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We do care, though, as women who want to see themselves represented on television. And Clea has had her share of non-gay roles, too, including her part in the new film Argo. She’s been steadily working all throughout the 2000s, but with the new show and part in the Ben Affleck movie, there’s been a Clea DuVall resurgence. But is it too much to hope that she’d ever reveal more about herself as a person? She can be ALLEGEDLY dating a member of a lesbian band or another assumed-to-be-gay actress, be BFF with out director Jamie Babbit and Tegan and Sara or any other celesbian you could also mention at a potluck party, but until she decides to say “Here’s how I relate to my character in the gay way,” we’ll probably just continue speculating/wishing/hoping/praying.
What would it matter if Clea were, in fact, gay and came out as such? We’d probably feel a little more validated in the way we did when Jodie Foster acknowledged her partner for the first time, or when Wanda Sykes said she couldn’t stand idly by and be married to her wife while Prop. 8 was being fought in her home state. We just want to feel like people are proud of themselves and their tie to our community as we feel that pride and tie to them.
All I’m saying is if our collective gaydar is proven correct in the future, and if, theoretically, she ever did happen to come out as a lesbian, drinks are on me.