3 min

Reading Anne Heche like tea leaves

The Psycho star tells us all we need to know about homosexuality

Why would anyone care about Anne Heche?

Her biggest star turn, 1998’s Six Days Seven Nights, barely grossed $74 million at the US box office on a budget of $70 million – opposite Harrison Ford, no less.

Her name hardly comes up in reviews of Volcano, The Third Miracle or Wag The Dog, except to describe her hair (“pixie cut”) or complexion (“even her skin looks blonde”).

Heche is a B actress, a lightweight along the lines of Geena Davis, though when Davis’s relationship with her director hubby went kablooey, it didn’t make the front page of the national newspapers, nor were there hourly updates on the Internet.

What exactly did Anne say when she wandered up to that house in Fresno post-break-up, like in a scene from the coolly-received Psycho remake? Was she on drugs? Where was she going? Where was she staying? Would she make it to Toronto in time for the filming of John Q?

You could pin it all on Ellen’s high profile as the first out gay lead character (or out gay star – it was all very fuzzy which was which) on network TV. But ex TV stars with dead sitcoms are a dime a dozen. Jerry Seinfeld was much more popular, and his romantic exploits barely make the tabloids now. Ellen’s been treading water since the demise of her show and still probably hasn’t got a clue what she’ll do next.

Besides, it wasn’t Ellen in the news. It was Anne. Because, unnerving as it is, Anne personifies the hopes and fears of contemporary homo culture.

Anne’s bird-like body and airhead image produce a perfect blank screen on which to project our anxieties. Ellen tucks herself inside an emotional fortress we’ll never enter. Ellen is a woman who has memorized and internalized mainstream gay and lesbian party policy; each of her public comments reads like a vetted press release from the Gay And Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

Anne is unguarded, even careless. She seems to be the only homo celebrity who is. She is a pawn to her unconscious desires. We watch her working things out and wonder at the larger significance.

Anne, 31, was not a lesbian until she was attracted to Ellen. Proof that gender doesn’t determine attraction if you ignore society’s dictums – we’re all just souls.

Or proof that a person can live in denial much of her life.

Or proof that women are less inclined to hide their inherent bisexuality.

We waited almost four years and we still don’t know what’s true, how Anne will settle the nature-nurture arguments, the conundrum of fluid sexual identity. John Q’s box office might benefit from movie-goers examining each shot closely for the truth regarding rumours that Heche is having an affair with a man associated with the film.

Oh, that’s right, too. Anne is also the test of whether an out star can make it in Hollywood. If the rumours are true, when we see her kissing a man on the screen, we will determine if an out ex-gay star can do better box office than an out gay star.

As a couple, they were dull. But it was fun guessing how much of their public persona was put on, how much time they spent sitting in their $1.7 million Hollywood Hills home or their $3.7 million Ojai home, thinking of ways to display their lesbian relationship to the American public. When they met US President Bill Clinton, their arms were thrown around each other like drinking buddies. We wonder now if Anne wouldn’t have minded a three-way.

Anne and Ellen were the only major queer celebs currently in the long-term relationship horse race (Melissa Etheridge’s partner Julie Cypher doesn’t count as a celeb). Anne and Ellen’s relationship, we suppose, would have lasted forever if it wasn’t for society’s homophobia, Anne’s internalized homophobia, the scrutiny of the media in the wake of Ellen’s failure or the fact that people aren’t meant to be in long-term relationships anyway – or at least not queer people.

What’s remarkable is that Anne and Ellen didn’t even defeat the current title-holders Bob Paris and Rod Jackson, bodybuilders who lasted seven years and managed to squeeze a co-authored book out of their wedded bliss.

Beaten by two buff men with fake tans, Ellen and Anne’s three-and-a-half years together disprove everything we know about the stability of lesbian relationships compared to gay male relationships. Unless Ellen was enforcing monogamy. Since Bob and Rob couldn’t have been.

Now we wait for Anne’s next move: boy or girl or maybe both? The future of gay politics is in her hands.

Paul Gallant is Features Editor for Xtra.