Over the weekend, you may have seen a slew of headlines reading: “Girl Meets World Star Rowan Blanchard Comes Out.” The 14-year-old replied to a Twitter comment calling for bisexual representation on the show.
@coffeeshoprowan would really be here for this! if not Riley- its vvv important to me, being queer, that there is representation on our show— Rowan Blanchard (@rowblanchard) January 16, 2016
She then went on to explain.
Aye! ♡♡♡ pic.twitter.com/NXOZv5Jlzy— Rowan Blanchard (@rowblanchard) January 16, 2016
And people are…displeased. But not in the expected homophobic way. In the “she is co-opting queer culture when she’s admittedly only ever liked boys” way.
For me, this highlights the exact issues I’ve been having with internet culture as a whole in the last few years. Because, like a 14-year-old girl, we’re all just figuring shit out together in public.
This is not a matter of “PC AMERICA IS RUINING OUR FREEDOM OF SPEECH!” No. Because fuck that. What is happening is that in the last few years, issues that had long taken a backseat have finally been put in the spotlight, largely thanks to social media, particularly Twitter. Our levels of education regarding these issues is greatly skewed by personal experience within them. For a lot of people, the proper terms for gender, races, sexualities, etc., and the proper inclusive ways to have these conversations, it’s all still being learned and understood. And that is not the way the internet has been designed.
As someone who writes for the internet professionally, I’ll let you in on a secret: your entire life is essentially spent scrambling for something to discuss. So when a relatively famous person tweets something slightly interesting, you have no choice but to run with it. It’s your livelihood. It can quite honestly be the difference between rent and not paying your rent. So understandably, at least in industry terms, websites took this tweet—this reply you actually have to go looking for—and turned it into a story.
Now, is that story a great story of today’s youth being open-minded and living outside the boxes the rest of us all too frequently get stuck in, often complacently and contently? Or is this a young girl co-opting LGBT culture to seem more worldly?
Or is it just a kid trying to figure shit out in her life and doing so in front of people?
This isn’t the same as Justin Bieber pissing in a bucket in jail or Lindsay Lohan hitting babies with her car. Blanchard and her similarly impressively and inspirationally outspoken peers Amandla Stenberg and Zendaya have thus far used their fame and their positions as role models for a fanbase entirely consisting of young girls to push messages of equality and inclusivity. This has been an absolutely incredible thing, particularly among child stars—Disney stars even—and adults have taken notice, wishing any of us had heroes like this as kids.
So what’s wrong with that?
Well, now we’ve placed these young women on pedestals. And the possibility of fucking up is great and the smallest misstep could destroy them. Because they’ve been decided as the voices of a generation—the perfect voice who speaks for the unspoken-for. These kids, figuring themselves out and, along with the rest of us, figuring out how to talk about everything. Perfectly.
Can you imagine the pressure?
So now we have this 14-year-old girl, who tells the world she’s open to liking any gender in the future. And we have people saying that’s wrong. And for a lot of us, we don’t goddamn know if it is or isn’t.
Because I know I’m not alone in knowing exactly what Blanchard is saying. I know I’m not the only one who identifies as “probably bi but I’ve never been with a girl because I found my husband at 18 years old and really never looked back.” And because I’ve never faced any struggle or issue because of my sexuality, I’ve never felt comfortable taking any stance whatsoever or including myself among the LGBT+ group. So technically, isn’t she just braver than a bunch of way more confused thirtysomethings? Or, is this the path to Rachel Dolezaldom, where we’re ALL LGBTQIA+ diminishing the lives of those whose lives have been affected by just being themselves?
I don’t know. I just don’t. Because we’re all just figuring this out. But the difference is, we’re adults. She’s 14. I’ve known plenty of people who identified as straight in their youths who are now among the most outspoken and important voices for gay culture. Everyone’s journey is different and every one of those journeys matters. And this young woman gets to identify herself, gets to define herself. We don’t get to do it for her. Especially when so many of us older than her are made uncomfortable by the notion of identifying or defining ourselves. Don’t tell someone they’re existing wrong. You’re not being queer wrong. You’re not being a feminist wrong.
We have a 14-year-old girl that we have helped make a hero icon of feminist inclusivity. Let’s not tear her down for doing it in a way that some of us think is wrong. Give her what she deserves, what she said—just existing.
Special thanks to AngelenoEwok for having a fantastic conversation about this with me this morning.