Next month, the extremely slim genre of lesbian rom-coms will get a rare addition: Happiest Season, starring Kristen Stewart and Mackenzie Davis. So when the director, Clea Duvall, interviewed Stewart for the November issue of InStyle, they naturally got to talking about LGBTQ+ representation—a topic Stewart has historically done her very best to avoid.
Stewart easily identifies with her character, who’s about to propose to her girlfriend (Davis). But the latter, who has yet to come out to her parents, is also extremely familiar to Stewart. “They’re both people I really felt protective of in different ways, because I’ve been on both sides of that dynamic where someone is having a hard time acknowledging who they are and the other person is more self-accepting,” she said. “I [personally] came into the more complex aspects of myself a little bit later. I never felt an immense shame, but I also don’t feel far away from that story, so I must have it in a latent sense.”
The 30-year-old actress was quick to clarify that she didn’t “want to aggrandize [her] own pain.” But for queer people such as herself, pain is unavoidable. “Living in this world, being a queer person, there are things that hurt constantly,” Stewart said. The script managed to capture that which she had long struggled to realize. “Back then I would have been like, ‘No, I’m fine. My parents are fine with it. Everything’s fine.’ That’s bullshit. It’s been hard. It’s been weird. It’s that way for everyone.”
Stewart has long preferred to avoid labels like “lesbian,” which “hounded” her immediately. “The first time I ever dated a girl, I was immediately being asked if I was a lesbian. And it’s like, ‘god, I’m 21 years old,’” she recalled. She still held hands with her girlfriend, ignoring the warnings that holding hands with her girlfriend would jeopardize her career; she was just “cagey” about acknowledging it. “Not because I felt ashamed of being openly gay but because I didn’t like giving myself to the public, in a way. It felt like such thievery.” The idea that she was supposed to represent queerness only added to the pressure of being photographed, which she had already avoided in her past straight relationships.
On-screen representation came much more easily; Stewart played her first few queer roles before coming out herself. Eventually, she came around to people seeing themselves in all the PDA paparazzi photos, too. “Now I relish it. I love the idea that anything I do with ease rubs off on somebody who is struggling,” she said. “That shit’s dope! When I see a little kid clearly feeling themselves in a way that they wouldn’t have when I grew up, it makes me skip.” As for the labels, she’s now practiced at dodging them—most memorably by comparing her relationships to grilled cheese sandwiches.