Sapphic Salon: Does Drew Barrymore Deserve the Vanguard Award?

Natalie Stein
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2010 has been pretty good to Drew Barrymore thus far. The birthday girl (yesterday was the big 35) has a major ad campaign as one of the faces of Cover Girl and she won both a Screen Actors Guild Award and a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Miniseries or Television Film for her portrayal of Little Edie in Grey Gardens. She also rekindled her relationship with actor Justin Long and just recently found out she would be awarded the Vanguard Award by GLAAD at an upcoming ceremony.


The Vanguard Award goes to "media professionals who have increased the visibility and understanding of the LGBT community." GLAAD notes that Drew has done so by starring in Boys on the Side, from openly gay filmmaker Don Roos, producing He's Just Not That Into You "in which she played a straight reporter at a LGBT newspaper who desperately seeks dating advice from her gay best friends" and playing the lesbian daughter of Robert de Niro in 2009's Everybody's Fine.

Said Barrymore:

I am who I am because of the people who influenced me growing up, and many of them were gay. No one has the right to tell anyone what makes a family…this is something that means everything to me.

I have to admit that I was scratching my head a bit about Drew being giving this award. Firstly, she didn't play gay in Boys on the Side — that was Whoopi Goldberg, who also played gay in The Color Purple. And the film He's Just Not That Into You played into several stereotypes including the gay ones that came out of her BFFship with her co-workers at the aforementioned gay newspaper. (In a huge ensemble cast, the gay men were completely desexualized and not part of the very straight sex and romance storylines.) And in Everybody's Fine, Drew played a closeted woman who referred to her partner as her friend.

These things aside, I've often wondered about Drew Barrymore, who once referred to herself as bisexual — quite often, in fact. From a 1996 interview in Harper's Bazaar:

Considers herself bisexual, though she has never met a woman who could hold her attention for long.


Drew once dated Jane Pratt, who is famous for publishing the magazine Jane. Last year, Pratt went on Sirius Radio and confirmed the relationship:

One of my dreams is to return to Howard [Stern]'s show and tell him the truth about Drew Barrymore and me. ... I did have sex with Drew Barrymore.

OK, not exactly the most positive statement on bisexuality, but Drew herself used to openly speak about her love for women. More recently, she's been quoted as saying:

A woman and a woman together are beautiful, just as a man and a woman together are beautiful. Being with a woman is like exploring your own body, but through someone else. When I was younger I used to go with lots of women. Totally. I love it.


I'm not here to doubt Drew Barrymore's bisexuality — I'm asking if it disappeared, or if that notion is even a possibility. I know plenty of women who identify as bisexual that end up dating or marrying a man, but still identify themselves as queer or bisexual or, even in some cases, a lesbian. So when Drew Barrymore said she's grown up around a lot of gay people and doesn't include herself among them when being awarded an honor from GLAAD, it just gives me pause to wonder how your feelings about women can evaporate into thin air.

Perhaps what adds a little more insult to injury for me is her directorial debut, Whip It, last year. The film was about roller derby, starring Ellen Page, Eve, Juliette Lewis and Drew herself, among several others. The movie was all about women and a sport that empowers women, and a sport that also happens to have many lesbian participants. But where were they in the movie? Non-existent. One of the movie's stars Ari Graynor, who played Eva Destruction, said she wanted her character to be gay, but the innuendos ended up on the cutting room floor.

That didn't stop Drew Barrymore from kissing Ellen Page in Marie Claire for a promotional photoshoot.


I do not doubt that Drew Barrymore ever had feelings for women, or that she is now exclusively dating men. I am not criticizing bisexual women, nor am I calling into question Barrymore's ability to identify however she'd like. I am concerned, however, with the effects her visibility (or lack thereof) might have when it comes to the perception of bisexual women in the media. I find that she's been somewhat disarming in her advocacy and, possibly, her own identity.

Maybe I'm alone in this, but I'd love to hear your thoughts. Is Drew Barrymore giving bisexuality a bad name?

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17 Comments Have Been Posted

Bisexuality Loses

YES! She is definitely giving bisexuality a bad name. The picture that comes out of what she says is that of a woman seeing other women as either a pastime, something to get you out of boredom in your bad days, or as means for advertising your movie.

Bisexuals gives bisexuality

Bisexuals gives bisexuality a bad name.

Care to elaborate?

Naaah, What exactly do you mean when you say that "Bisexuals gives [sic] bisexuality a bad name"? Surely you can't mean that all bisexuals are bad or deserve a bad name, right? Because that would be mean spirited, narrow minded, and against the Bitch Media blog comment policy. Please elaborate.

drew is not really the best "progressive," period.

I guess I don't have much to say about Drew B. as a bisexual or a friend of the LGBT community. But I AM consistently frustrated with her faux-feminist, girl power schtick when over and over again she stars in and produces movies that are rarely particularly positive for women (strong female characters, pass the bechdel test) and often reinforce really shitty stereotypes (HJNTIY, all of her romantic comedies--some of which I enjoy, but I enjoy a lot of crap that's bad for me). There are definitely some good things to say about Whip It, but it leaves itself way open for critiques too (also I thought it sucked).

The kicker for me, however, came when I found out that Barrymore's Flower Films produces the VH1 show Tough Love---you know, that show where some douchebag "matchmaker" tells a whole bunch of women why men don't like them and what they need to do to get married (replete with the usual "you're not acting feminine enough," "if you don't stop dressing like that you're going to get raped.") That was my last straw for Drew. It's amazing that she, as a woman, has gained a certain amount of power in a fucked up, horrible, sexist industry. And she has done so so little good with that power.

I'll answer the first

I'll answer the first question - no, I don't think she deserves the Vanguard Award. Based on the work she's done this year I can't honestly say she's increased the visibility or understanding of the LGBT community. As a director, she managed to de-gay a movie about one of the lezziest sports outside of the PGA tour. As a producer, she reinforced annoyingly heterosexist stereotypes in <i>He's Just Not That Into You</i>. I'm also a little perplexed and disappointed by the fact that she gets credit for simply appearing in a movie (not playing gay) by a gay director. Well, in that case, I deserve a similar award for working with straight people. Which is to say that's a ridiculous thing to reward.

If Drew Barrymore is truly a contender for this award (and honestly, I'm going to need to go back and come up with my own list), then that's extremely sad. It's also evidence of how low the bar has been set for these kinds of awards. It's almost like anyone outside of Isaiah Washington could win one.

I think it's probably harsh to say Drew Barrymore is giving bisexuality a bad name. It also makes me wonder what would be giving bisexuality a good name? Perhaps I'm just reading it differently, but I don't get anything exclusionary in her statement about growing up around gay people. If anything she's been completely mum about it for some time - which could be a function of a shift in interview openness, or a shift in her sexuality. It's hard to tell.

One last thing - if one of Jane Pratt's *dreams* is to go on Howard Stern to blab about having had sex with Drew Barrymore, then she really needs to aim a little higher and with more class.

Is she? no. I take this

Is she? no. I take this opportunity to link to a great post, <a href=" Bisexuality and Slut Shaming</a>, which essentially says that we can't dictate how anyone else's bisexuality should manifest and what counts. However, given the info you provided (and I didn't even know anything about her bi-identification before), I am not sure she's an ideal candidate for the Vanguard Award either.

Right. So, I think the real

Right. So, I think the real question here is what makes a good bisexual?

One that lives up to the definition of being attracted to both males and females, I suppose. How do express that publicly? By being seen with both men and women? By talking about being with both men and women?

Um, sure. BUT if you are with both men and women, you are a slut, and sluttifying what it means to be bisexual. BUT if you just talk about being with both men and women and don't really release your relationship to the public, you're all talk, OR just using bisexuality for the publicity OR whatever it is that people think.

What I despise with a passion (as a bisexual woman) is when folks claim to be bisexual purely for the attention of it--not because they're giving bisexuals a bad name, but because they're being disingenuous. I know several women in college who were horribly disappointed by their 'bisexual' girlfriends (and one boyfriend) who were not actually into women. If I interact with a person on a fairly regular basis, I can determine whether or not their interest is real, or if they are 'faking it'. I cannot tell that with a celebrity.

I think that the first question about the Vangaurd is TOTALLY and absolutely different from the second. I think asking whether or not someone is a bad bisexual or giving bisexuality a bad name is ... well, is a question you can't ask.

This culture does not value people who take multiple lovers*. This culture does not value people who are different. This culture does not value things that are not heteronormative. This culture does not value things/people/actions/whatever that do not please the male gaze. This culture does not value certain kinds of sexuality.

With those things in mind, how can you define a "good" bisexual?

*I am NOT saying bisexuals are also polyamorous (I most certainly am not), but that its difficult to show both the culturally appreciated stable, monogomous relationships and show your bisexuality. Am I not bisexual because I married a man? Does my bisexual 'status' change because my former formerly female lover now identifies as a man? (He says I still count, btw)

i concur

i don't read Drew's response to getting the award as not including herself among queers... unless there's something missing from that statement you've quoted, but that few sentences was all i could find w/ a cursory Google search. one need not constantly reassert their sexual identity or inclusion in the queer community to be a worthwhile part of that community. hell, one need not even be visibly active in the community to be an authentic part of it--which i think is the crux of your argument: that Drew is somehow not a 'good' bisexual because that's not the part of her identity she prioritizes above all others... that she is not always a political flag-waver and, at times, prefers subtlety. it's a sentiment i can appreciate, though its one i think speaks more to one's own identity formation and need for reinforcement of authenticity than it does about Drew's authenticity and how she's representing queer women. i'm a queer radical feminist who also no longer feels the need to perpetually wear my identity politics on my sleeve, and i'm sure some people mistakenly take me for a submissive hetero wifey, at times. but does that make me any less a queer radical feminist? sure doesn't.


Concerning queer women in Whip It, I definitely read both Graynor's and Eve's characters as lesbians. How about that scene where they're flirting in the hot tub, presumably about to hook up, and dismiss Fallon with the line that he couldn't join in *in this lifetime?* I know it's not as explicit as it could have been, but come on, look at their body language! (The gayness of the male coach, of course, was more explicit, albeit sometimes stereotypical.) Sidelined though it may have been, I think the queerness of Whip It was one of the factors that gave the film that rare achievement of being better than its novel. In Derby Girl, there's actually a scene to assert that *every single girl* on the team dates men.
I'm also pretty sure that Barrymore and Page actually dated, but that's a ramble for another forum.
As for Drew, I don't doubt her bisexuality. She's come out -- as the article says, "quite often" -- and like another commenter stated, we can't judge how authentically that manifests itself. She knows her mind and desires, so unless she comes out as no-longer-bi a la Elton John, I have to assume she falls onto that spectrum. And, no, she's not "giving bisexuality a bad name." First of all, that accusation would be made no matter how she conducted herself (too straight! too gay! too promiscuous! too boring! too exploitative! too conservative!) and I think she does the queer community good simply by being out, especially when she's so visible. I would say the same, even, for some far more problematic queers (er, Lohan for 200?) but while I'm not an avid follower, I think Barrymore's a strong and charismatic figure to have in our community. And she's done a lot of annoying or not so good films, sure but then her resume is huge and I admire a lot of other ones.
That said, I'd like her even more if her advocacy were more overt. She expresses so many feminist, queer-positive and size-acceptance sentiments; think how many groups could benefit if she threw her weight behind them!

Giving bisexuality a bad name...

I think having to justify "how bisexual" a man or woman is gives bisexuality a bad name.

Coming from a bisexual female who has experienced many "stages" of being out, I find it disheartening there is some sort of need for us to be universally bisexual. Sometimes I date women. Sometimes I date men. Sometimes I date both. Even though it's been years since I have pursued a one-on-one long-term relationship with another woman, I don't consider myself bisexually-inept or somehow "less bisexual" than I was. Just because I enjoy threesomes doesn't make me a "party bisexual" either. I tend to be attracted into long-term relationships with men -- does this make me more or less as identifying as a bisexual? I don't think so.

So, why would I -- or Drew Barrymore, in this case -- have to prove her number on the Kinsey scale to anyone? Perhaps her identity with bisexuality is that it fluctuates... and that sounds about normal to me.

I REALLY like the '"Fake"

I REALLY like the '"Fake" Bisexuality and Slut Shaming' article. I don't doubt Drew is someone's sexuality manifests is very individual and personal.

Awards are bizarre things. I've never totally gotten them. I think celebrity is very bizarre also, as must being a celebrity be. Celebrities/entertainers/etc sure give each other a lot of awards, whereas regular people generally do not.

I actually think maybe the reason entertainers and people in the public eye give each other so many awards is b/c there's a hell of a lot of criticism and negaitivity bombarded at them all the live long day, so maybe the positive pat on the back helps - wherever it comes from.

I think Drew is a human being and woman first though and possibly is still trying to figure love out (whether it's with a man or a woman). When she does do that, we'll probably see her with one or the other for a long period of time.

As for whether or not she deserves the award, why not her as opposed to someone else? Whenever she's put a scene with a gay character(s) in one of her films, what it sometimes comes across as to me is a tad uncertain...almost like I am drawn to this but I'm just not sure. They say a good or great artist reveals untold things about themselves, the heart in particular in their work. Perhaps this is a reflection of how she may feel about her own sexuality when it comes to women.

Just a theory.



As far as I am concerned ...

These GLAAD awards are nothing short of another Hollywood self-congratulatory kiss-fest sham. They mean nothing to me, a real living human being struggling to survive with dignity and acceptance on this planet called Earth.

I am getting very tired of all this putting of celebrities on pedestals and judging them based on what they do in their private lives. It's not important to me, as an activist engaged with real people's struggles of living in a society that has problems/issues far more important than the latest celebrity feud/scandal that does nothing more than divert attention away from the real problems that are affecting the everyday lives of you and me.

I don't give a flying f*ck what Drew Barrymore or anyone else in the public eye does with their private lives-where they are partying with and who they are sleeping with at night. Don't get me wrong ... I indeed want and need to be entertained once in awhile. But all I care about are stories, characters, their expressions and what they mean to people's hearts, minds, and souls, hopefully motivating them into doing something truly meaningful with their lives.

Need a hero? Look within yourselves and your own communities. Best yet ... be one yourself.

She doesn't have a responsibility to anyone but herself

At some point, you have to come to terms with the fact that as someone who is attracted to both sexes, people on both sides of the fence are going to judge you - especially if you end up with a man. It IS easier, in terms of marriage and children. I can't help that, however, I'm also not going to exclude a woman, should I be attracted to her. If I end up with a man, fine. I'm not going to apologize for the fact that the person I happened to fall in love with and want to make a life with has a penis. Yes, socially, it's easier for a bisexual person to marry/partner with someone of the opposite sex, but that doesn't make it 'a choice' for most people - it is what it is.

Just because you are bisexual or have slept with women in the past and maybe don't identify as bisexual, perhaps a fluid sexuality or whatever, DOES NOT MAKE YOU A POSTER CHILD FOR EVERY BISEXUAL PERSON. She is free to sleep with whoever she likes and I find it, quite frankly, insulting that just because she had relationships with women, she is expected to behave ANY way just because it would make for better representation of bisexuals in media. I'm bisexual. She doesn't owe me a damn thing and I don't expect her to do/say anything on my behalf because it isn't her responsibility. The only responsibility a person has, in terms of their sexuality, is to be true to themselves and make the right decisions for their own life. Not anybody else.

Also, I'm bisexual. I'm not gay. I wouldn't include myself among gays either. There's a difference.

To each their own

Well done claire- you explained how it is beautifully. Our sexual orientations are our own and not for the amusement or approval of others. We owe it to ourselves to stay true to oursleves. Whatever that truth may be, and as long as we are not (intentionally) hurting any one else.

If you really need someone

If you really need someone to call out as being a 'bad bisexual' - Tila Tequila's still kicking around in some cesspool of media whoredom.


No, she is not giving bisexuality a bad name. You just dont want to admit that many women and men can be bisexual! and i dont understand why do people make so many topics on that. I think that the person decides whether he or she wants to be with a woman or a man, the sex doesn¨t matter! the most important thing is your personality, and its not important if you are bisexual or gay or lesbian, or whatever... the only thing that matters is how you feel about yourself and your close person!

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