I was going through a bisexual memes forum and I came across a question, “When did you realize you were bi?” This isn’t exactly the most unique question you can ask someone who identifies as LGBTQ+, but for some reason this made me pause.
I grew up in a household that stressed conservative Catholic views, so I thought that my attraction to women meant that I wanted to be like them. The only queer female icons I had on my radar growing up were Ellen Degeneres and Lady Gaga. I thought I was too girly and vanilla to be a lesbian. It didn’t help that I liked guys and the people around me were certain that bisexuality didn’t exist.
It wasn’t until college when I realized that I was, indeed, bisexual. More importantly, I learned that many celebrities I admired, like Demi Lovato and Billie Joe Armstrong, were bisexual.
Fast forward a few years to last month when JoJo Siwa came out to the world.
Siwa is like many kid celebrities where if you’re over the age of 20, but not old enough to have kids, you don’t know much about her. But if you do know about her, you know a lot about her.
Let me get the first category of folks up to speed.
Siwa’s early claim to fame was through the Dance Moms franchise. She joined the Season Five cast of Dance Moms and with her upbeat personality, trademark side ponytail and colorful bows, her career skyrocketed.
On her YouTube channel alone, Siwa has 12.2 million subscribers on YouTube and 32 million followers on TikTok. Siwa was also named Time’s 100 most influential people in 2020.
Some of the things on Siwa’s resume include her single, “Boomerang,” which is an anti-bullying anthem with a music video that has over 900 million views on YouTube. Siwa has her own personal line of bows that became such a status symbol in the United Kingdom that teachers banned the bows to prevent poor students from being bullied for not being able to afford them. Siwa also has merchandise collaborations with Claire’s, published several books aimed for young children, and has many TV credits.
In short, Siwa is the figurehead of a massive empire.
So when Siwa officially came out— first via dancing to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” over TikTok and then showing off a shirt her cousin gave her that read, “Best. Gay. Cousin. Ever”— it was a huge deal.
After all, I was two years old when Ellen Degeneres got blacklisted for coming out. Even though in some areas it’s not a huge deal to come out, it’s only within my lifetime that we’re at a point where a celebrity can come out without ruining their career.
But that’s the thing about Jojo Siwa-- she’s a rare kind of Gen Z celebrity. Influencers in her generation often grow up quickly as they make careers online (see: Charli and Dixie D’Amelio). Siwa is unique because her brand is about embracing her inner kid. In fact, the most political she ever gets is about anti-bullying issues. As a result, Siwa is in an awkward position where she’s seen as a “safe” role model for young girls, including ones that come from conservative families.
And Siwa seems very aware of what coming could have done, as she told Jimmy Fallon, “If I lost everything that I’ve created because of being myself and because of loving who I want to love, I don’t want it.”
Siwa is 17 years old, and it’s normal for older teenagers to explore and express their identity. But the fact that she came out is different than other queer female celebrities like Janelle Monae and Demi Lovato because Siwa is still a child. And most importantly, she came out while still in the middle of exploring her identity.
When asked by a fan what her label was, Siwa said she’s not ready to assign a label to herself yet: “You know, I have thought about this [label question], and the reason why I’m not ready to say this answer is because I don’t really know this answer. I think humans are awesome..."
This is huge because her audience will follow along with Siwa as she grows professionally and personally. And with so many celebrities also congratulating Siwa, I'm daring to hope that being LGBTQ+ is becoming less of a professional detriment.
I can’t imagine what my younger self would have thought if I had someone like Siwa, in all her triple threat talent, colorful bow in her hair, and golden retriever energy as someone to look up to. It might have normalized successful LGBTQ+ people to my family, it might have helped me recognize my own sexuality sooner.
Folks seem to be over influencers these days, but it can’t be denied that Siwa’s coming out when she’s one of the world’s most recognizable and influential teen celebrities is amazing. The fact that she experienced so much support since coming out means that we’ve come a long way since queer women and even straight women playing queer women were blacklisted in Hollywood. The fact that Siwa was swatted in the middle of her coming out livestream means that we still have a ways to go.
Still, I’m glad that we’re living in an era where someone like Siwa feels comfortable living as her true self. It’s really freaking awesome.
Things I talked about here and other reading: