Writing With Heart: Journalist Anne Stockwell

 
 

Kelli O'Donnell and Anne StockwellAnother memorable interview for Stockwell was one she conducted in 2001 with actor Anne Heche. Heche had risen to fame several years earlier as the partner of out lesbian comic Ellen DeGeneres, and had been a vocal advocate for GLBT rights. After a highly-publicized split with DeGeneres, Heche married cameraman Coley Laffoon and wrote Call Me Crazy, a tell-all memoir about her troubled family of origin and her relationship with DeGeneres.

In the exclusive interview, Stockwell referenced tabloid rumors surrounding the Heche-DeGeneres breakup, and asked the types of questions that had surely been on the minds of queer people everywhere (“How do you think the gay community is feeling about you? Do you feel people are angry with you?”). Stockwell even asked Heche if she had ever considered waiting until gay marriage was legalized before she married Laffoon. (For the record, Heche had not.)

Heche good-naturedly revealed much of herself in the interview, and spoke passionately about her relationship with Laffoon and their shared open-minded approach to sexual identity. But when Stockwell asked if her husband’s “openness” might be ascribed to any past same-sex experiences of his own, Heche was aghast. Heche was clearly offended by Stockwell’s question and the interview ended shortly thereafter.

Five years later, Stockwell maintains her respect and admiration for Heche as an actor, and understands her extreme reaction to what some might consider an innocuous question. “She had thought and thought about lots of things and had processed it in her mind. But when I asked her about her husband she went to his defense, even though she had said ‘it doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight’ the whole time. And that’s just human. That is how we are.”

“This stuff affects us on a level that is so much deeper than our thinking processes. We ourselves don’t know why it all bothers us so much. What is our training? What’s reality? And if we have these instincts to defend ourselves when someone calls us gay, what does that mean? All of these things, they go just right to the core of who we are. And a lot of the stuff we feel about it, we don’t like to look at it.”

Heche’s candor stands in stark contrast to the runaround Stockwell often faces in her attempts to interview gay celebrities who have yet to exit the closet. Getting past publicists who would rather their clients didn’t come out is the worst part of the job.

Stockwell admits, “I feel frustrated for publicists and the stars they represent, because the fact is it’s not a secret anymore, and effectively you only have two choices. Either you deal with the story on your own terms and get beyond it, which is what Ellen DeGeneres has done, or you don’t deal with it and it’s all anybody ever talks about. But often people wait until their celebrity is over to come out. And that is pretty poignant. I see actors who are closeted who don’t have their entire selves at their disposal and who are then muted as actors. They’re not able to use their own sexuality, and they don’t have any.”

Ideally, empowering coming-out interviews like those conducted by Stockwell will inspire closeted celebrities to come out themselves. Or, as Stockwell notes, “I hope it at least makes the closet less comfortable. I feel, like all journalists, we’re here to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. But I do really stand by it, that people who enter into that trusting relationship and do coming out interviews with us will be well-served to the absolute limit of what we can do. We will do our best for them, to put them in the best light.”

Stockwell admits that her compassionate nature has at times been at war with her journalistic instincts. “I was a movie-maker before I was doing all of this, I was an artist. So my urge is to believe. And you have to fight that to be worth anything as a journalist.”

“I was a little bit chagrined after interviewing Sheryl Swoopes. In some national publication, somebody had the sense to ask her in a different way what motivated her to sign an endorsement deal with Olivia. And that reporter had gotten the information that she had declared bankruptcy the year before. So there was obviously a strong financial motivation. And I have no problem with it, but I didn’t think to ask that question and you know what, I should have. It wouldn’t have made me like her any less (laughs).”

Despite the steady trend of seeing fewer lesbian and gay people on network television, Stockwell is optimistic about the future of queer media representation. “I’m really happy that we’re not committing suicide all the time anymore. Richard Dreyfuss in Poseidon was going to kill himself, but it was because his lover had left him, not because he was gay.” She adds, “And I like a lot of movies that have been made recently, like Little Miss Sunshine and Quinceanera. And Brothers of the Head is very interesting. I think it’s a really intriguing time.”

Ultimately, Stockwell’s love of the “gay beat” is due to her belief that, “Gay people are the most imaginative, enterprising, resourceful people on earth. And they’re brave and steadfast. I really have loved the chance to learn more about us.”

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