Coming Out Victorious - LGBTQ+ Celebrity Visibility
by Sakshi Singh | June 25, 2020
This is going to start heavy, but I promise––it’ll get better.
That rate of depression and anxiety in the LGBTQ+ community is 1.5 to 2.5 times higher than it is in straight and cis communities. Seventy-four percent of LGBT+ youth will be verbally, mentally, or physically harassed at some point in their lives because of their sexual orientation. Why? This definitely isn’t how it’s supposed to be.
What do you do when you start to feel like you're different? What do you do when you feel like the world you've been trying to fit in to would prefer if you disappeared? The road for gay, bi, lesbian, and trans people has never been smooth. A lack of LGBTQ+ representation in popular media has contributed to the alienated feelings that many LGBTQ+ folk experience––but that’s changing.
We live in a world where celebrities and influencers are the most visible people in the culture. I wanted to look into the stories of famous people who battled public perception about being gay or gender-non-conforming, and ‘came out’ victorious.
How did they do it? How did Sam Smith just decide to come out on social media? It must have taken serious guts for Billy Porter to have worn a gown to the Oscars, and Ellen Degeneres nearly lost it all when she showed her authentic self to the world. Their stories can become part of the queer narrative, and their success can prove to be inspiration to anyone who’s felt different, and afraid to tell the world who they really are.
I am sure you were hoping for this name to pop up. I mean, before I mentioned her in the introduction. Ellen is a boss. She is a living inspiration to all young women battling with a lack of self-confidence.
In April 1997, Ellen Degeneres publicly came out as a lesbian. She paired her formal announcements in the Times and on the Oprah Winfrey Show, with a coming out episode on her show “Ellen,” titled “The Puppy Episode.” Ellen Morgan, came out alongside the real life actor who portrayed her. “The Puppy Episode” did well initially, despite the controversy it sparked, or because of it. It won an Emmy, but the show also earned an explicit tag, because the title character was queer. Sadly, once the initial drama of her coming out died down, the sitcom started tanking in the ratings. Executives said that it was because people weren’t ready to see that much “gay content,” and the show’s overall tone was becoming too serious. Ellen’s show was axed, and she was fired.
There were some attempts at stand up comedy, and another sitcom, but people kept coming back to the idea that Ellen was “too gay”. Ellen lost it all––she went from celebrityhood, to people calling her ‘Ellen DeGenerate’.
What changed? How did she become the Ellen Degeneres? Ellen battled her way out of the closet, and by doing so told everyone exactly who she was. You need to accept yourself. The rest of the world can wait. She overcame her fear of what might happen. Ellen’s story proves to us all that, at the end of the day, you have to live life truthfully.
It wasn’t a cakewalk for Ellen. She got support from her partners, and friends like Oprah Winfrey. In May 2003 Ellen debuted as the voice of Dory from “Finding Nemo”, and then in September of the same year her talk show came out. One of Ellen’s trademarks is authenticity, and it’s hard to imagine that she’d be where she is today: happy, and well employed, if she hadn’t gone through what she went through.
Unless your safety is at risk, talk to your friends, your parents, and close ones. Seek therapy. Maybe find a support group, some are anonymous. Get help if you need it, and think to yourself, what would Ellen do? .
From an interview in Time magazine, Ellen says, "I never wanted to be 'the lesbian actress.' I never wanted to be the spokesperson for the gay community. Ever. I did it for my own truth."
In February 2019, Singh tweeted out a checklist of her personal identifiers––Female, colored, bisexual.
If you are familiar with the brown community, and the Indian community, you know that being public about being anything other than straight can blow up your life. Literally. No joke. I can speak to this, because I am a brown, Indian girl myself. When you’re growing up, you’re not even taught about different sexual preferences, and you are assumed to feel romantically towards the opposite sex. Period.
"Throughout my life, these have proven to be obstacles from time to time, but now I'm fully embracing them as my superpowers. No matter how many 'boxes' you check, I encourage you to do the same." In one of her monologues, Lily talked about how she had to seek help from outside, from therapies and support groups because things at home were becoming heated. It seems like it worked, because Lily’s telling us all to embrace our super powers, and we are here for it.
Lily Singh is incredibly brave, and you can be too, especially if you ask for help.
Too good at goodbyes, he sings. When you look at someone from a distance, you have no idea about the storm inside. No idea at all. It’s easy to mistake a person going through depression as being happy.
I have been a Sam Smith fan for years, so when he posted on Instagram in September 2019––
"I've decided I am changing my pronouns to THEY/THEM, [...] After a lifetime of being at war with my gender, I've decided to embrace myself for who I am, inside and out. I'm so excited and privileged to be surrounded by people that support me in this decision, but I've been very nervous about announcing this because I care too much about what people think but f— it! I understand there will be many mistakes and misgendering, but all I ask is you please please try. I hope you can see me as I see myself now. Thank you."
He also added, "When I saw the word 'non-binary/genderqueer' and I read into it, and I heard these people speaking, I was like, 'F—, that is me."
I was blown away, I mean, isn't that just refreshing? Would that we could all dare to be who we are, publically. The world might not be there for you at first, but it’ll come around, like many of Sam Smith’s fans had to do. Sometimes you just have to pull a Sam and say, F--- it, I am who I am. Maybe then the storm clouds will pass.
If you are a media buff like me, you will hands-down remember Billy Porter at the 2019 Oscars. What a dream. That dress though Billy! Billy is without a doubt a badass––since coming out he has refused to play the stereotypical ‘gay’ roles offered to him, and he’s faced significant backlash for being black and gay, but has somehow handled it all with supreme elegance.
In 2017, Billy revealed to NY times that he had been bullied and abused, mentally, sexually, and physically in his childhood. Billy has never had it easy, so when he openly revealed that he "Lost high-profile roles, I knew I could have gotten, and the paychecks that went with them. [...] Homelessness and bankruptcy were part of this journey as well," You’ve got to respect him, he’s basically fearless.
Porter kept his chin up, tested his tenacity, and said to one media outlet, "The world has caught up with me, and I'm a living witness that dreams do come true, even if they aren't the ones you start out with."
Isn’t that what we all want? For the world to catch up? Billy shows us how important it is to stay true to you, and maintain optimism, even in the darkest of times. These celebrities had to shake off social pressures, and face a world full of judgemental eyes and nasty comments when they came out. It couldn’t have been easy.
You may not be a celebrity, and you may not have millions of people commenting on your personal journey towards self-acceptance, but that doesn’t mean your path is any less rocky. No one tells you where to find help, or where to look for it. It’s important to highlight the bravery of our LGBTQ+ community members, and to highlight celebrities who are pushing back on the idea that it’s possible to be “too gay.” Their work creating visibility is vital, I mean, Obama didn’t give DeGeneres the Presidential Medal of Freedom for nothing, right? Things get better. Even if right now, that feels impossible. Things. Do. Get. Better. Media is evolving, and so are we.
If you’re looking for somewhere to start, maybe try Lara Ellison or one of the other amazing providers at Which Doctor. Laura’s practice focuses on helping clients accept their sexuality, and gender identity. She also supports clients when they need to cope with experiences of homophobia, and transphobia. So, you know, if you need help, there are people ready to welcome you with no questions asked. It's all about taking the first step.
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