When world-celebrities come out as members of the LGBT+ community, it is generally a good thing. Demi Lovato brought as yet unheard of visibility to non-binary people around the world in 2021 when they came out. Millions of people who already knew and loved them were exposed, many of them for the first time, to the idea of breaking out of the gender binary, to the idea of being a they rather than a he or a she.
What Demi Lovato did for non-binary people in top interracial dating sites 2021, Elliot Page did for transgender men in 2020. Decades before that Ellen DeGeneres made history by coming out as a lesbian in her first sitcom Ellen in 1997. As far back as the 70s, Elton John brought the idea of bisexuality to a mainstream audience in an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine (he would, of course, come out as gay in subsequent decades).
The list goes on and on. Every time someone in the public eye comes out, it opens the eyes of millions just a bit wider to the plight of a community that continues to be marginalised, even in a year as ostensibly enlightened as 2022. But not every LGBT+ celebrity gets to come out of their own accord.
Portia de Rossi, Neil Patrick Harris, George Michael, and Freddy Mercury, just to name a few, were all outed as LGBT+ against their will and if you’ve been following the news cycle, the past week you’ll know that Australia’s own Rebel Wilson has joined that ever-growing list.
I won’t recount the whole sordid narrative in detail – odds are you already know what happened. If you don’t, I’ll give you the cliff notes. Last week Rebel Wilson announced she was dating someone new, a fashion designer named Ramona Agruma in an incredibly heart-warming Instagram post. While she eschewed labelling herself outright, she clarified she was coming out as a member of the LGBT+ community.
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The worldwide reaction was swift and overwhelmingly positive. The kind of response many young LGBT+ people can only dream of when they imagine sharing their gender or sexuality with the world. What happened next was a little more sordid. It was revealed that Rebel made her announcement only after being contacted by a reporter (I’ve ing him explicitly, a litany of very public figures have already lined up to lead the charge there). She was given what we can only describe as an ultimatum. She had 48 hours to respond, then the story would be published, whether she wanted it to be or not. In a tragically comical twist, this reporter is himself, actually gay.
In the days since, the reporter in question has admitted he mishandled the situation, and the paper has issued several apologies. Rebel and her new partner, to their credit, have handled the entire affair with the utmost grace.
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All in all, things have turned out about as well as they could have under the circumstances. But this isn’t how these stories always go. Outing someone isn’t just inconsiderate, it can be an act of incredible cruelty and sometimes, it can be outright dangerous.
I “came out” to my parents when my mother went snooping (for lack of a better word) through my emails when I was 15. They weren’t ready for the news and I definitely wasn’t ready for them to know. What followed was, to put it bluntly, awful – the emotional fallout, the screaming, the crying, the blame, awful things said in the heat of the moment that still sting to this day.
In fact, the result of my inadvertent coming out was so unbearable that I went back into the closet (as it turns out people really believe whatever you tell them when it’s what they want to hear). My relationship with my parents was strained considerably. The damage took years to repair and the scars of those early months and years of being outed as a pansexual trans-woman still linger to this day. This happened repeatedly throughout high school – a relationship with a boy didn’t work out, so he told the entire school about my bisexuality. Friends told crushes how I felt about them when they did not know my sexual orientation included people of their gender.
There’s a narrative about coming out in the public imagination. You do it once, it’s a big moment. It happens and then it’s done. In reality, LGBT+ people are coming out constantly and it isn’t always their choice to do so. I finally came out to my parents once and for all when I was 17, at a time and place of my own. What followed was still hard. I won’t deny that. There were a lot of hard conversations on that day and many since, but it was my choice and it prepared me for the consequences. I was ready.