"I'm labeling myself, but in the way that I want to," says the former Disney star.
With celebrities coming out left and right and queer storylines gaining big-screen prominence in Hollywood, it seems hard to imagine that some of our favorite gay stars were encouraged not to come out for the sake of their careers.
One such star is Raven-Symoné. In a video for "It Gets Better," she discussed how difficult it was for her to come out as queer due to pressure from the media and fear that her sexuality would affect her personal brand. "I never thought I would come out because my personal life didn't matter," she said. "It was only supposed to be sold as, you know, a Raven-Symoné record."
It Got Better Featuring Raven-Symoné | L/Studio Created by Lexus www.youtube.com
She was afraid to come out because, as she said in the video, being gay "was always negative. So, if you don't see other people going through it in a positive way, why would you say anything? There was nothing that would have made me want to deal with my own issue at that time."
The pressure to remain in the closet didn't end as the years went on. She recently told Variety that she received criticism for her appearance during her years starring on That's So Raven. "I remember that I wore Abercrombie and Fitch jeans, a stereotypical lesbian vest, a tie," she said, "and one of the members of my team went up to my mom and was like, 'She looks too much like a lesbian. Can you tell her to put on a skirt and makeup? Because then they'll accept her and come to her concert.' I could not! It always happened when I was on tour, because I've always been myself in hip-hop clothes and not necessarily super feminine... So seeing the reaction of people in my own camp who were trying to mold and publicize me in the way that they think girls should look like just blew my mind."
Since she came out in college, Raven-Symoné has never been one to defer to others' expectations. After the comment about her looking too much like a lesbian, she ended up going onstage in a tutu, just to spite her managers.
Later in the interview, she said, "I do not like labels because labels have certain historic connotations that don't describe who I am fully. If I use a certain label, our world view of that word or image will go right to the negative, every single time. I think as my generation and the generations after me continue to grow, we're changing certain labels, but it's still a part of the fabric of society. I'm labeling myself, but in the way that I want to. I know that I am a 'human of the world.'"
In honor of her bravery and generally inspiring outlook on life and the media (read the whole interview here), here are 5 other contemporary gay icons who were encouraged to remain in the closet for the sake of their careers.
1. Ellen Page
The Juno star and globally adored lesbian icon (have you seen the photos of her and her wife?) was initially encouraged to stay in the closet. "I was distinctly told, by people in the industry, when I started to become known: 'People cannot know you're gay,' she said. "And I was pressured—forced, in many cases—to always wear dresses and heels for events and photo shoots." She added, "As if lesbians don't wear dresses and heels. But I will never let anyone put me in anything I feel uncomfortable in ever again."
Still, it wasn't easy for her to come out. "I remember being in my early 20s and really believing it was impossible for me to come out," she told Porter. "But, over time, with more representation, hearts and minds have been changed. It doesn't happen quickly enough and it hasn't happened enough, particularly for the most marginalized in the community. But things have got better."
Now, she has said she feels a responsibility to be out and proud, and is committed to creating queer content. She's also just enjoying married life. "I love being married," she said. "I'll be walking my dog, and I start talking to people, and I end up telling them about my wife and making them look at our Instagram. I'm that person."
Image via ABC News
2. Ezra Miller
Miller is the new star of Justice League, but he solidified a place in many young queers' hearts when he played the queer character Patrick in Perks of Being a Wallflower. Unfortunately, he apparently faced a huge amount of pressure to remain in the closet in order to survive in Hollywood.
"I won't specify [who told me not to come out]," he said. "Folks in the industry, folks outside the industry. People I've never spoken to. They said there's a reason so many gay, queer, gender-fluid people in Hollywood conceal their sexual identity, or their gender identity in their public image. I was told I had done a 'silly' thing in…thwarting my own potential to be a leading man."
Image via Business Insider
3. Hayley Kiyoko
Kiyoko, who has previously stated she knew she was a lesbian since the age of 6, has said that she was told to "tone down" her sexuality after the release of her 2015 single, "Girls Like Girls."
"'Girls Like Girls' was too violent and too sexual for a lot of people to premiere," she said. "When you're in the LGBTQ community and you're open about your sexuality, it's not common for you to hear your music played on the radio. It's more common to be underground and left-of-centre with a selective core that listens to that music. That's why this is an exciting time to really break those barriers of… I wouldn't say judgment, but to break out of that box."
Image via Popbuzz.com
4. Amber Heard
The bisexual actress, who has starred alongside Johnny Depp and Nicholas Cage, was told that coming out as bisexual would ruin her career. "Everyone said, 'You're throwing it all away. You can't do this to your career,'" she said. "And I said, 'I cannot do this any other way. Watch me.'" She later said, "I told myself to describe reality in a truthful way and to offer young people someone to look up to, since those of my generation had grown up without any model of reference. Who knows." She added, "Thanks to me, maybe someone has felt less inadequate."
The outspoken star has also critiqued the LGBTQ community, stating, "I didn't come out. I was never in." She explained, "It's limiting, that LGBTQ thing. It served a function as an umbrella for marginalized people to whom rights were being denied, but it loses its efficacy because of the nuanced nature of humanity. As we become more educated and expand the facts of our nature, we keep adding letters. It was a great shield, but now we're stuck behind it." Food for thought, certainly, but at least it seems that Heard remains committed to speaking her mind and questioning norms.
Image via UPI.com
5. Evan Rachel Wood
The Westworld star has become a feminist force of nature in recent years, due to her honesty about her past as well as her refusal to remain in the closet. Recently, she released a 20-minute confessional video along with the comment, "I recorded a video of myself walking people through my journey of self-realization—abusive relationships, suicide attempts, and finally coming out of the closet."
Still, she wasn't always this open about her sexuality. Because she had few role models growing up, she felt alone. "No one I knew was talking about it," she said in her HRC speech. "I wasn't exposed. So the only thing that I knew was fear, and confusion, and loneliness. How can you be who you are when you don't understand what you're feeling?"
Now, she's become determined to use her platform to spread love and solidarity with other marginalized people. "As an actor, my job is to look at a stranger and find myself in them—to connect the dots, to have such empathy for a character that I can read someone else's words and be moved to tears," Wood said in a 2017 speech at the HRC gala. "Turning empathy into vulnerability... and it wasn't until I saw the effect that it had on other people that I really started to see how powerful really allowing your most vulnerable parts to be seen was. I saw another side to what I did, and it was the power of visibility."
Image via Architectural Digest
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