Rowan Blanchard, the outspoken star of “Girl Meets World,” came out via Twitter on Jan. 16. Though she says she has “only ever liked boys”, she wrote she “don’t wanna label [herself] as straight gay or whateva (sic)” . When questioned for clarification, Blanchard specified that she is “open to liking any gender”, and therefore identifies as queer. She is a prime example of the openness the young generation has towards sexuality and gender outside of society’s heteronormative expectations. The media saw this as part of the trend that the age at which LGBT individuals come out is decreasing dramatically. However, there was backlash due to Blanchard sharing she only has had feelings for the opposite sex when she identifies as female, making her by definition heterosexual and cisgender.
Some worried Blanchard, a passionate social justice advocate at 14, was claiming a space in a community she loves but does not actually belong to. Others saw this as proof that the media is persuading the young to be gay, and that you can choose to be LGBT even without having same-sex attractions or a gender other than the one assigned at birth. This devalues the underrepresented experiences of these individuals while invalidating their identities. It supports the conservative view that allowing the LGBT community to finally have a voice will somehow corrupt children, even though a lack of role models did not stop those who are out from publicly embracing their identity in spite of the stigma and prejudice they face.
The label “queer” is currently seen as an umbrella term for those who are in the minority in terms of sexuality and/or gender — a more inclusive term for the LGBT community. It’s often used as a political statement to reject the gender binary. This term, originally meaning “strange,” has been reclaimed after being used extensively as a pejorative insult. There is strong division among the LGBT community whether or not to embrace this label again.
The language Blanchard used could be interpreted in various ways, lending itself perfectly for discussion of the increasingly wide range of sexuality that has entered mainstream conscience. However, her influence as a child actress puts her under intense scrutiny from media watch groups. Blanchard could be describing heteroflexibility, when a heterosexual is open to having feelings for a member of the same sex. The term was brought to public attention when another young actor, Josh Hutcherson of the “Hunger Games,” described himself as such in 2010. This label would not be considered under the LGBT umbrella. She could also be describing pansexuality: openness to having feelings for people of any gender as it is not a factor for his or her attraction. The term has had a recent resurgence with Miley Cyrus notably coming out as such last year. This label would be considered LGBT. At only 14, Blanchard has a long time to discover who she is.
As someone who is sexually fluid, I am concerned by the criticism targeted toward Rowan, as it echoes dismissive comments I’ve received myself. I was scared to share my same-sex attraction because the rise of the gay rights movement has given way to alternative sexualities being seen as “trendy” without tackling the stereotypes surrounding bisexuality, pansexuality and asexuality. (I have identified as all three at different points of my life.) People of all three identities are often told those labels don’t exist, and are routinely questioned whether they have “picked a side” whenever they have a partner. All of these struggles are faced by homosexuals as well, which is why they unite in a community to support and affirm each other in the face of similar struggles.
I wish the best for Rowan. Clearly compassionate, she’ll go far if she keeps using her fame to help others marginalized in society through social media posts and magazine articles. I hope she finds who she is and loves herself for it. I just don’t want people to mistake the exploration of such complex identities as trying to “fit in.” Being yourself is no passing fad, especially with all the risks involved.