It’s Not OK to Ask Celebrities If They’ve Had a Gay Experience

· Updated on August 30, 2018

On Monday, PrideSource sat down with everyone’s favorite Twitter comedian—I mean actress—Anna Kendrick to discuss her new movie A Simple Favor. Kendrick stars alongside Blake Lively in the Sapphic-leaning film that explores female-on-female obsession, and in the interview, a reporter took the opportunity to ask the Pitch Perfect star if she’s ever had a queer experience herself. Her answer engendered a newsworthy soundbite, but the whole scenario made me itch, and I got to thinking: Is it ok to ask a celebrity, point blank, if they’re queer?

For me, the obvious answer is no—but reporters do this all the time, some more stealthily than others. In this case, the question was as blunt as could be. The interviewer asked Kendrick, “You’ve been open about your girl crushes over the years. Have you ever had a girl crush that was or could have been romantic?”

The 33-year old actress responded, “Let me think about that. I definitely – there’s somebody I’m still friends with, and when we met we kissed.” She added, “This was after high school, and it was the first time I had kissed a girl where it wasn’t just like, we’re at a party and boys are watching! That horrible performance silliness. But I think I haven’t had that emotional love for a lady, which isn’t saying it could never happen to me.”

Kendrick deftly answered the thorny question—she didn’t evade it but rather gave her honest truth. However, she was totally put in the hot seat, and that’s unfair. Sure, a situation like this can’t be considered outing, but it’s bordering on sleazy. It’s manipulative to trap a person in that way or force them to explain their sexual experiences on the spot. We wouldn’t ask a non-celebrity if they were queer or if they’ve had queer experiences, out of the blue. Personally, even if I’m 90 percent sure a woman is queer, I won’t ask if they date women, because it’s not my business unless they choose to let me in. If a person is closeted or isn’t ready to talk about sexuality, it’s inconsiderate to coerce them into doing so. Every LGBTQ person should be afforded the opportunity to come out on their own terms—that’s just basic human decency. So, why aren’t celebrities given those same liberties?

Of course, we want more celebrities to openly identify as queer. Representation for LGBTQ people is still slim in Hollywood, though the pool grows deeper every day. Hayley Kiyoko dubbed this year #20GayTeen, and the year has certainly lived up to the hype — stars like Janelle Monae, Brendon Urie, Alyson Stoner, and Abbi Jacobson have all come out of their own volition. But other big names haven’t been treated delicately by the media—instead, they were pressured, at times forced to come out.

Earlier this year, Rita Ora dropped a Sapphic pop tune called “Girls,” in which she sings about girl-on-girl sexual attraction. But after social media users and media outlets dragged her for being a heterosexual woman making a spectacle of queerness, Ora was eventually forced to release an official statement, where she outlined clearly that she identifies as bisexual.

Similarly, pop stars like Demi Lovato and Harry Styles have both been questioned ad nauseam about their sexualities. In 2015, talk show hosts like Alan Carr probed Lovato (who wasn’t out at the time) about her song “Cool For The Summer,” and whether it was based on her own experiences. Demi responded, “I am not confirming and I’m definitely not denying… All of my songs are based off of personal experiences.”

Two years later, the same PrideSource reporter who interrogated Anna Kendrick asked Lovato to come clean about her sexual identity. He said, “Your sexuality has been thoroughly dissected by the Internet after you alluded to being open to both genders. I want to give you the opportunity to speak on it as directly as you’d like.” The vocalist responded, “Thank you for the opportunity, but I think I’m gonna pass.”

But he kept going. The reporter asked why Demi wouldn’t speak openly about her sexuality. The singer, who eventually came out on her own terms in a documentary one month later, said, “I just feel like everyone’s always looking for a headline and they always want their magazine or TV show or whatever to be the one to break what my sexuality is.”

That’s just it: Asking celebrities for a declaration on their sexuality isn’t solving any crises in representation. Personally, I don’t need another famous person to say they’re queer if it’s for the purpose of a grabby headline. That’s not why people come out. Queer people come out when they feel ready because they finally feel comfortable enough with themselves and the people around them to trust them with their truth. We come out so that others will feel inspired to do the same—and I understand that’s why reporters are quick to ask public figures to brandish themselves with the rainbow flag; the more public-facing LGBTQ people we see, the more normalized queerness becomes. But a gossipy headline—which is exactly what the Anna Kendrick story became—isn’t inspirational. It isn’t a journalistic win. It’s invasive.

There’s a gaping difference between an interview like Kendrick’s, where she was asked directly if she’s had a queer experience, and an interview like Brendon Urie’s, who came out to PAPER in July. Even though the Panic! at the Disco singer was asked about his queer fanbase, it was Urie who brought up his sexual preference. Clearly, he was ready to speak openly about his sexual experiences with both men and women, so he went for it. He told the magazine, “I’m married to a woman and I’m very much in love with her but I’m not opposed to a man because to me, I like a person. Yeah, I guess you could qualify me as pansexual because I really don’t care.”

In some cases, I’d argue it is OK to ask a famous person about their sexuality or same-sex experiences—if they’re already out publicly. Anna Kendrick had previously dubbed herself a “boringface” straight—and if that’s how she identifies, we should leave it at that. Conversely, in February, Wendy Williams asked Lindsay Lohan if she considered herself to be sexually fluid. Lohan gave a bizarre answer—“No, I like men”—despite having a very public relationship with Samantha Ronson. The redhead had previously publicly declared herself bisexual. Aaron Carter, too, came out as bisexual, and was subsequently asked by Hollywood Life if he was open to dating men. To me, that’s kosher. If you’re out, and you’re famous, that’s a fair question.

If a person isn’t out, whether they’re closeted or not, it’s definitely not OK to ask directly—especially if there are rumors swirling about said celebrity. In April, Vogue profiled Kendall Jenner, who queer women love to speculate about as being queer. Although there’s no real basis for the speculation, outside of her close friendship with queer model Cara Delevingne and her sporty lewks, a Vogue journalist attempted to scam Jenner into outing herself. The reporter asked Jenner why the internet thinks she’s gay, to which the model responded, “I don’t think I have a bisexual or gay bone in my body, but I don’t know!”

Like Jenner, Shawn Mendes’ sexuality has been the subject of internet speculation for year. Writer John Paul Brammer slammed stans who like to muse about Mendes’ sexuality. “Many of the jokes about Shawn are wrapped up in bottom-shaming and misogyny, with the punchline being that gayness itself is laughable,” Brammer wrote. “It implies there’s being something embarrassing about being in the closet.

In some cases, online fan chatter like this can be somewhat harmless, because there’s no immediate pressure for a celebrity to respond to fans’ tweets. For example, Bella Thorne came out on social media after a fan asked if she was bisexual, to which the actress simply responded “Yes.” Even though pictures of the former Disney star kissing a girl had leaked before her admission, Thorne was clearly ready to say it and wanted to, so she seized the moment.

Speaking to the press is different—it’s something of a trap, because the celebrity can either dance around it or deny it, or they can be honest. But asking someone about their sexuality like the PrideSource reporter did implies there’s something queer people need to own up to, like being queer is still this giant, burdensome secret that we must be transparent about. And if we’re not, we’re liars.

Media outlets have a responsibility to represent and speak to marginalized voices fairly. The way the media treats LGBTQ sets the precedent for how LGBTQ people are treated in real life. If we send the message that dragging or pressuring people out of the closet on a world stage is OK, it implies that it’s also OK to do the same to our peers, family members, and LGBTQ youth—but it’s really not. Ideally, I’d love to live in a world where being any letter or combination of the letters in the acronym is no biggie. Unfortunately, we’re just not there yet. But we’ll never get there if we don’t treat queer people with the delicacy and respect they deserve.

Image via Getty

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