According to the U.S. Trans Survey, conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality, a third of trans people have faced discrimination from a health care provider.
Sandy Hooper, USA TODAY
“Here we go again,” I sighed, staring at yet another headline offering commentary on a star’s supposed LGBTQ status. Key word: “Supposed.”
Ariana Grande’s latest single “Monopoly” prompted a flurry of renewed speculation about her sexual orientation, thanks to some cheeky lyrics and a gossip-hungry world: “I like women and men.” The singer was quick to address the speculation via Twitter after a fan wrote, “ariana ain’t gotta label herself, but she said what she said.”
The pop star responded, “i haven’t before and still don’t feel the need to now which is okay.”
Grande is (objectively!) correct: We don’t need to put LGBTQ labels on celebrities — or any people, for that matter — who don’t feel the need to label themselves. And even if Grande never addressed the lyric, it still isn’t information we need to know to go about our lives. But why do we try and make it our business?
The truth is that it doesn’t matter why. We shouldn’t. It’s damaging to the LGBTQ community at large. It paints sexual orientation and gender identity as something that’s right or wrong; assumes people have an obligation to share this information with their fans; and sends a message to queer people everywhere that their identity is something to gossip about and not celebrate.
Rumors about celebrities’ sexual orientations, gay or straight, are hardly new: everyone from Rock Hudson to Dolly Parton to John Travolta to Kendall Jenner (please don’t Google these people solely for their sexual orientations; you’re missing the point) have had their sexuality questioned. But listen up, kids: The year is 2019. We have an openly gay man running for president. We’ll soon have the first black lesbian mayor of Chicago. There’s no need to guess someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. They’ll be open about it or they won’t.
The potential consequences are multi-fold: If one of these celebrities is indeed in the closet, gossip could push them further back in. If they’re not, they’re still in a lose-lose position. Defending who they are only comes off as just that: Defensive and putting queerness into a “negative” position once again.
A coming out journey is unique
Take Shawn Mendes, often a subject of gay rumors among gay men themselves, for instance: “In the back of my heart, I feel like I need to go be seen with someone — like a girl — in public, to prove to people that I’m not gay,” he told Rolling Stone in November. “Even though in my heart I know that it’s not a bad thing. There’s still a piece of me that thinks that. And I hate that side of me.”
We’re all human, and I’d be lying to you if I told you I haven’t chuckled at a meme implying that Shawn Mendes is gay. But that doesn’t make it right, and it’s unfair to him to try and write his narrative for him.
If someone was making memes of me implying I was gay before I had accepted it myself and come out, how would I feel? Humiliated, dejected and worthless.
Amit Paley, CEO and executive director of The Trevor Project, confirmed in a statement to USA TODAY: “Coming out is a process and it’s unique for everyone, and some people might even decide to not come out to more folks after thinking about it, and that’s totally fine if they aren’t ready.” The Trevor Project is a national organization geared toward crisis and suicide prevention efforts for LGBTQ youth.
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Bisexual comedian Margaret Cho made a substantial argument for gay celebrities to come out in a HuffPost piece, citing the implications of the 1980s AIDS crisis: “We wanted gay celebrities to come out because we were dying, and we needed help,” she wrote.
“If public figures came out of the closet, then the LGBT kids who saw them on TV would feel safe, before they even knew why they felt dangerous,” she added. “Maybe if enough people came out of the closet, gay kids would never feel dangerous.”
While positive messaging is a boon to LGBTQ fans of stars, without a celebrity’s public acknowledgment, it’s not something we need to play a guessing game about. And making it a game turns what should be a celebration into labeling someone’s identity for them.
I hope we live in a world one day where a celebrity coming out isn’t news at all. When someone can be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or non-binary, and not have to explain themselves to anyone.
But until that day let’s cheer people on who have the courage to come out — and say “thank u, next” to anyone who tries to rewrite that journey.
Song of the week: Ariana Grande plays ‘Monopoly’ with Victoria Monet
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