The celebrity coming-out is a fairly recent phenomenon. Since Ellen DeGeneres broke ground in 1997, a celebrity’s coming out has been a news event and pretty much a requirement of being queer in the public eye. Even in 2018, when the lines of gay and straight have been blurred and tolerance is on the rise, heterosexuality is the default: straight – unless proven otherwise.
When Janelle Monae came out as pansexual in April 2018, I was excited and almost relieved. She’s one of my favorite actors and musicians, and I loved the fact that I could relate to her on some level and that she was bringing pansexuality to the spotlight. In July, Brendon Urie also adopted the pansexual identity officially for the first time, causing a stir among fans of his band, Panic! at the Disco. Both of these artists had faced speculation about their sexuality for years and had avoided defining it before: Monae would say that she only dated androids, while Urie stuck to an ambiguous line about loving people regardless of gender. A lot of other celebrities – for example, Harry Styles – adopt similar positions, reluctant to put a label to their sexuality despite constant rumors and questions.
I’m really torn about whether celebrities should come out and use labels like gay, bisexual and straight to define their identities. On one hand, the assumed default of heterosexuality and the need to label yourself for the sake of other people is outdated and should be unnecessary. I also understand that so many celebrities want some privacy for their personal lives; when people know almost everything about you, it must be nice to keep an important and intimate part of your identity to yourself. Celebrities don’t owe us information about who they love. On the other hand, so much good can come from a public coming-out. As more openly, proudly queer people exist in the spotlight, more information and acceptance can spread. Kids who are growing up gay can see a role model that they relate to in the media. Also, regular people often don’t have the privilege of not labeling themselves. For example, if I date both guys and girls, I’ll be called bisexual by the people around me whether I like it or not. To see someone explicitly adopting that identity with no reservations is so heartening and comforting.
I completely respect someone’s right to not label themselves, and I think that gender and sexual fluidity in our society are the ideal situation to aim for. However, while we’re still not at that point, claiming a queer identity with pride can be a valuable message to send. Hopefully, the more labels we use, the less we will need them.