Celebrities are forced to deal with a myriad of difficult decisions in relation to their public image. When it comes to sexuality, being perceived as anything other than straight is seen as going against the mold, and forms a narrative that a celebrity needs to “come out.”
There's pressure from management and fans to present an idealized version of themselves at all times. This is mentally draining and unrealistic socially — and plays a major part in a celebrity's mental health and perception of themselves.
Young celebrities especially fall victim to this. Singer Billie Eilish has been accused of “queerbaiting” on multiple occasions by being overly affectionate with other young women without declaring herself part of the LGBTQ+ community.
While Eilish herself is an individual, queerbaiting is usually seen as a marketing technique that writers and creators use. When creators queerbait, they imply LGBTQ+ representation to gain a fanbase within the community but without alienating straight fans.
But applying this to Eilish insinuates the belief that women cannot be affectionate with one another without being perceived as gay, and hypersexualizes Eilish just because of her fame and social status.
While her being gay would provide extra visibility that is beneficial for the LGBTQ+ community, it's rude to speculate someone’s sexuality and discuss it if it's not publicly available. Making assumptions based on how they act in public always leaves room for incorrect interpretations. Most fan speculation that exists is just that — speculation — and is rarely based on facts or explicit proof.
There are some positives of coming out in the current social climate. People are much more accepting of the LGBTQ+ community now than they were 10 or 20 years ago. So much social change and legislation has transitioned the dialogue away from dehumanizing the community and their culture. Young people especially are much more accepting of different communities and ideals.
Additionally, more people are comfortable coming out with the rise of the internet, and social media’s dialogue around gayness is so normalized that there are countless meme accounts on social media dedicated to gay culture.
On the other hand, by coming out, audiences may see you as a representative for your identity and your identity becomes revolved around sexuality. An interesting example is Lil Nas X: He serves as an inspiration to millions, but his essence may feel one-dimensional because of how his sexuality relates to his internet presence and fame.
He may feel pressured that he must always find ways in order to turn his sexuality into a spectacle for his fans and detractors, instead of something personal that he can speak on at his leisure.
In contrast, Kal Penn, an actor who rose to fame in the “Harold & Kumar” movie series recently came out as gay at 44 years old, which took an immense amount of courage and years of unlearning to accept who he is today.
Celebrities with followings in communities that have less LGBTQ+ representation may feel more pressured to come out because their fans look up to them as a role model for their community.
If some of a celebrity's actions or manner of speaking is perceived as feminine, it's common for pressure to come out to be a common part of their lives, regardless of if they're gay or not. Pressure permeates their Instagram comments section and Twitter trending topics. Fans are known to voice their opinions, with pop stars Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello being prominent examples.
Mendes is constantly being accused of being in the closet, and his recent breakup with Cabello only amplified the rumors. Mendes received thousands of comments and was subject to many memes, stating he could finally embrace being gay. His Instagram comments were filled with his fans assuming his sexuality because of his perceived femininity, which Mendes has said affects his mental health.
Young women are primarily the victims of queerbaiting allegations because a woman’s sexuality is constantly filtered through the male gaze. Female pop stars are sexualized, and are vilified if they’re not seen as ethical, or submitting to societal standards.
Women especially are accused of queerbaiting their fans in order to increase album sales. Their identity and actions are more heavily scrutinized than their male counterparts, and this decreases how the public perceives their authenticity.
These frustrating aspects of celebrity culture can change when we realize we are not entitled to understand everything about celebrities — we should respect their privacy as human beings, rather than centering everything around image and potential profit.