The way Anne Heche was treated was so horrible and so public that it undoubtedly had far-reaching ramifications for the safety and well-being of other queer people, including bisexuals and pansexuals like myself. Growing up with that rhetoric was particularly traumatizing because it never made sense. Why would it be confusing that she would like both men and women? I did. I assumed other people did, too. But now, seeing how her unconventional approach to labels and sexuality for the time was received, clearly I was wrong. I had to be. Everyone was laughing, so I must’ve just … missed something. Even about myself.
“Call me anything you want — I don’t call me anything,” Heche said decisively in her interview with The Advocate. “The labeling’s about what makes you feel comfortable.” Even in 2001, Heche was far ahead of her time. 21 years ago, sexuality really was widely perceived as a binary system. If you were a man who liked men, you were gay. A woman who liked women, a lesbian. Otherwise, you were straight, and that’s that. Heche, meanwhile, threw that into flux in a very public way around the same time Ellen DeGeneres came out very publicly and was branded a hero.
She became the canary in the cultural coal mine, letting the world know that they were not ready for complex discussions about queerness.