Every time there’s any mention of LGBTQ+ celebrity’s sexuality in any story about them, there’s always at least one good-intentioned straight person who comments “why does their sexuality matter? we’re all equal now!”, and there’s always at least one not so good intentioned comment that says “being gay is a fad now.” The second comment is pretty easy to refute – it’s not so much a “fad” or a “trend” as it is that in today’s society, it’s becoming increasingly safe for people within the LGBTQ+ community to come out without fear of violence or negative responses. Despite this more positive climate for us LGBTQ+ folk, however, there are many homophobic, biphobic and transphobic biases that still remain, often without realising, that are a result of Western society still being very much a heteronormative, cissexist society. Which is why we still need celebrity coming out stories in 2016.
Earlier this week, not long after what was perceived as a romantic getaway between reality star and model Kendall Jenner and One Directioner Harry Styles, the internet went crazy over rumours from an anonymous source that Jenner is in fact a lesbian. According to an article on Sugarscape, the US magazine OK! quotes their source saying that Jenner is a lesbian who has recently only come out to her inner circle.
Let’s just talk about this for a minute. Firstly, this is still just a rumour and neither Kendall Jenner, the Jenner-Kardashian family or any of their representatives seem to have said anything on this. But secondly and most importantly should this turn out to be true, Kendall Jenner, who has allegedly only told a select few people about this, has just been outed to the entire world without her consent. This is a HUGE problem: coming out is a terrifying and constant process that never really ends -as a queer person, when you meet someone new you have to weigh up the pros and cons of telling them, and you can never really help but be worried about a negative response, and to be outed without your consent only heightens this anxiety, as well as making you vulnerable to discriminatory remarks and even violence. The “source” making this public and claiming Kendall has only told her inner circle makes me feel bad for her, as there’s seemingly someone in her circle she can’t trust as much as she thought.
Should these rumours be true, however, and should Kendall make the announcement herself, this is still a big deal. As much as I would love to live in a society where being part of the LGBTQ+ umbrella was considered as “normal” and being straight and cisgender, we do not. Homophobia did not end with same-sex marriage, and biphobia and transphobia are just as common, sometimes even more so, and this is especially true for queer people of colour. Something a greater representation of LGBTQ+ people on our screens and by celebrities can help remedy.
Stonewall’s 2013 report, Gay in Britain outlines some pretty scary statistics about the worries of LGBTQ+ people across many different sectors, but specifically within the media over half (57%) of LGB people questioned said there was “too little” representation of the commuity on screen, with that percentage being higher for younger people (68%), lesbians (77%) and bisexual women (70%), with 77% of those people agreeing that much of this representation relies on lazy stereotypes. Similar statistics for transgender people within the UK are harder to come by, but trans representation is even fewer and farther between – the most high profile trans character in the UK (not including American imports and online streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime) that I am aware of was Hayley Cropper from Coronation Street, who was played by a cisgender actress. Eastenders are planning to follow suit, however, with a transgender character actually played by a trans man.
When a celebrity comes out as a member of the LGBT+ community, it gives children and younger people who may be struggling with their sexual or gender identity a person they can relate to. Growing up being very unsure of my bisexuality and my attraction to women, it was rare (and still is) to see, so when the third season of Skins came out and Emily and Naomi were struggling with much of the same thing, it let me know I wasn’t the only one. When Tom Daley publicly came out as bisexual in 2013, even though I’d come out to many of my friends by that point, it was reassuring to know that my multiple-gender attraction was valid, and not weird or a delusion.
Regardless of your opinion on the Kardashian-Jenner clan, you can’t deny that many young people look up to them, or at the very least keep up with them (awful pun intended). Last April, Caitlyn Jenner came out as a trans woman, with both her famous Vanity Fair cover and I Am Cait docu-series premiering in July. Even in spite of her comments on gay marriage and transphobic remarks, her presence as a trans woman in the media, and specifically in one of the most talked about families in the world, will and does serve as an inspiration to many. Should it turn out Caitlyn’s daughter is a lesbian, we could expect much of the same. Shows like Orange is the New Black have a similar effect in that being LGBTQ+ is not only accepted, both normalised and shown in a very honest way, especially where race and sexuality might intersect, is encouraging.
It is no surprise that suicide, self-harm and depression are more common within the LGBTQ+ community. Knowing someone – anyone- out there understands what you’re going through can be such a relief, especially someone in the spotlight, even if they can problematic (we are all human, after all). And that is why we still need celebrity coming out stories, and specifically celebrity coming out stories that are the sole choice of the celebrity in question, not the choice of anonymous sources looking for a quick buck, or a gossip magazine looking for their next big story. The only way we can become a society where being queer truly is no big deal is by showing the world we exist, in all our different ways, and ensuring that we can exist without the fear of anger or violence. Until that day, celebrity coming out stories can quite literally be the difference between life and death.