The lesbians of “Stonewall”

On set, Joanne suffered some physical injuries for the part.

“The stuff on-set was actually hard because I was bruised up and down my arms from wearing handcuffs for days on end and I had my ribs kind of crushed a little bit. Not crushed, but heavily bruised,” she said. “I was in extreme pain. It was days of pain and then days and days of recovery because I couldn’t breathe. So I kind of gave my body to that!”

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Joanne said it is a constant struggle to find great roles. She’s often relegated to a few lines or otherwise boring parts, although she does think it’s changing.

“This is a life long journey for me as a lesbian actor, because it’s a lot of time and I’ve been severely—what would be the word?—scrutinized and certainly attacked, in many ways, for the choices that I’ve made because I refuse to walk into a room being other than that core self,” she said. “The culture’s not ready for it. When I have to audition for any part, I walk in gendered as I am, which includes pants and wearing short hair, and doing the best that I can with the size of the role that I’m given. I work harder in some ways to make sure that I’m completely 100 percent prepared for any audition that I have so that they might consider hiring me even if the part is not made for a lesbian. Maybe they’ll change their minds is kind of the way I go into every room. Not thinking just about being a lesbian because, of course, I’m playing a character, and want to embody that character, but I bring that part of me—my lesbianism—to every role I play. People will attack me for it and they do, but it’s a choice I made and it’s not an easy one.”

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Coming up, Joanne is playing a genderqueer role in the second season of Bravo’s Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce and is creating her own content, including a short film she hopes to make into a feature. She also has a memoir, tentatively titled Walking Through Glass, due out spring 2017.

“As an actor, there just isn’t enough content. Instead of getting weird and becoming crazy like a lot of people can be, and I mean that with love if you don’t have enough opportunity, it can be a really hard world to be in,” Joanne said. “And it is a hard world to be in, as evidenced on the Emmys with Viola [Davis] in her Emmy speech about the difference between white women and black women and opportunities, and I feel the same way about being a lesbian and a woman, and both are really difficult. It’s just very difficult. I’m trying to change that in my life and create more content. I really feel that’s what we have to do, all of us, to advance the culture for each other.”

Joanne’s hope for Stonewall is that it will lead to further investigation of the riots and LGBT history, and eventually, more films. 

“Negative energy does not advance any of us in any way, and I think our energy is better spent feeding more work and more stories and exposing the lives of people we have yet to learn about like Storme and the women of the women’s bar down the street,” she said. “There are so many stories to tell; I feel like that would be a better use of energy.”