Claiming your identity as a celebrity

Béibhinn Thorsch

Hate crimes are on the rise. In 2018, the UK’s home office released a report which showed that since 2013, the number of hate crimes reported had doubled. While most were racially motivated, part of the large increase was linked to hate crimes based on sexual orientation. Hate crimes against those who are transgender also increased.

Yet, 2020 has already seen the coming out of multiple celebrities of various backgrounds, experience and identities.

Kicking off the year was NikkieTutorials (Nikkie de Jager) of the Netherlands, who is one of YouTube’s top beauty gurus. A surprise to the vast majority, who had never even heard speculation of the truth, came when Nikkie uploaded her coming out video in January. She came out as transgender, saying she had transitioned from male to female as a teenager – “many years ago” she emphasised.

De Jager was open about the extent of her transition, saying she took hormones and growth stoppers. By the time she was 19, she had fully transitioned.

She said she had been blackmailed into coming out when she received an email from a man who was unhappy that she was “lying” to her audience. The man allegedly threatened to leak De Jager’s identity against her will if she did not do it herself.

“You don’t want to be known for that single part of your life,” De Jager said in her video when talking about having to come out to new friends.

“Especially after transitioning and going through everything and closing that chapter, but you can never truly close it off for good.”

While De Jager’s coming out was received exceptionally well, even being invited to appear on The Ellen DeGeneres Show where she spoke openly about coming out and her blackmailer – who is now being dealt with by the authorities.

The main negative reactions De Jager received were in regards to her revealing she hadn’t told her partner of her transition until the blackmailer had come to light. Many felt that while she did not exactly owe it to the public to come out, she should have revealed it to her fiancé.

Julia Chartienitz, Secretary for the DCU LGBTA society, told The College View: “NikkieTutorials was a particularly outrageous case where she was blackmailed and had no choice but to reveal she is a trans woman.”

While NikkieTutorials may have had the support of her unproblematic past and loyal followers, this is not always the case when a celebrity comes out as part of the LGBTQ+ community.

Jameela Jamil, an actress-turned-activist, came out as “queer” on Twitter. One thing her coming out does have in common with Nikkie de Jager’s, is that she also felt she was pushed into coming out against her wishes.

Jamil spoke on the different reasons for her fears in coming out. Claiming the identity of queer, she explained how her South Asian culture and previous run-ins with being seen as problematic in the media led her to fear the reaction to her coming out.

Jamil felt pushed into coming out due to the backlash she received over her becoming a judge on the TV show “Legendary”.

“Legendary” is focused on the Ballroom culture of the ’80s and inspired largely by black and Latina/Latino queer and trans people, with skills relating to queer culture such as Voguing.

“She had been falsely criticized for accepting an LGBTA related role on a new show and had to defend herself by admitting that she identifies as queer and still felt the need to apologise for coming out at an awkward time. This is exactly the opposite of acceptance.” Chartienitz, of the DCU LGBTA society, said.

Before coming out, Jamil had been criticised for being outspoken on topics which many viewed were not hers to speak out on.

“Sometimes it takes those with power to help a show get off the ground so we can elevate marginalized stars that deserve the limelight and give them a chance,” Jamil said in her coming-out tweet.

She also said that because she had little experience with ballroom culture, her place in the show would be a “window in for people who are just discovering it now.”

The vast contrast to Jamil’s experience is the recent coming out of Phillip Schofield. Schofield came out as gay live on air on ITV’s This Morning, with many of his closest friends around him.

Holly Willoughby, his co-host of many years, read out Schofield’s public statement while he sat next to her.

“I’ll be by your side forever,” Willoughby said to Schofield as they hugged afterwards.

Schofield spoke about his love and gratitude for his wife and daughters. Schofield was embraced by other ITV hosts and applauded by the entire crew.

There were some comments online that Schofield had betrayed his family, but the response from the general public was overwhelmingly positive.

Many responses deemed Schofield “brave”.

However, rumours have emerged in recent days claiming that Schofield’s coming-out was a result of an affair he had been having. These rumours have not been confirmed, but they have spread far enough online that the sentiment behind Schofield’s coming out has dwindled into a mass of mixed feelings.

Schofield is still a beloved presenter on This Morning. He has thanked fans for their support and has encouraged people in a similar situation to him to talk to someone.

“Don’t let your head beat you and hopefully you’ll find out that your friends and family have a remarkable ability to surprise you with their love and understanding.”

Béibhinn Thorsch

Image Credit: ITV