Known for her role on The Good Place, actress and host Jameela Jamil officially came out as queer in a Twitter statement only a few days ago. Unfortunately, Jameela’s news doesn’t feel like a rainbow-themed celebration — she only released her statement after facing backlash for her new role on the competition show, Legendary, that will focus on modern-day ball culture.
It could be argued that taking a subculture which belongs to an oppressed minority and exploiting it for mainstream consumption is problematic in itself, but at the very least it should serve as a platform to elevate the members of that community. As far as the internet was concerned before her statement, Jamil was not part of that community, and her taking the job essentially meant that the opportunity was being taken away from someone who was.
One of the people who made this point was transgender actor Trace Lysette, who said she auditioned for the role and that "as the mother of a house for nearly a decade it’s kind of mind-blowing when ppl with no connection to our culture gets the gig".
However, there were people who didn't see a problem with Jamil taking the position. One of the most common comparisons was to Michelle Visage, who is a judge on RuPaul's Drag Race despite being straight, however, this isn't really a direct equivalent, because Visage does have decades-long ties to the community. She apparently has been part of the scene since she was a teenager.
Jamil, on the other hand, is unclear on her own connection to ballroom. In her original tweet she says she is "a long time fan of ballroom", but this isn't something that people can remember ever having heard her mention in the past. And in her later statement, she claimed she was a "newcomer to ballroom". People are confused.
Jameela Comes Out As Queer
Jamil has been in a high profile relationship with a man for the past five years. For many queer people, especially bi or pansexual women, identity erasure is a real issue – unless people decide you are visibly not straight, it is totally fine to dismiss our identities. This comes from straight people and from the LGBTQ+ community.
It’s difficult to celebrate Jameela’s coming out when she isn’t celebrating it herself. In her statement, she says, “This is absolutely not how I wanted to come out.”
“This is why I never officially came out as queer,” Jameela continues, “I added a rainbow to my name when I felt ready a few years ago, as it’s not easy within the south Asian community to be accepted, and I always answered honestly if ever straight-up asked about it on Twitter. But I kept it low because I was scared of the pain of being accused of performative bandwagon jumping, over something that caused me a lot of confusion, fear and turmoil when I was a kid.”
It’s clear that Jameela was still coming to terms with her sexuality, and she had plenty of reasons to be nervous about identifying herself as queer. Not only is she open to ridicule as a public figure, but she also has to face potential backlash from the South Asian community as well.
That she felt fearful to come out is as understandable as it is heartbreaking, but her revelation is not without its issues.
The criticism may not seem fair to some. After all, everyone should be free to come out (or not) however and whenever they want. But it's fair to say that her doing so directly after receiving backlash from the queer community raises questions. She addresses the issue in her statement, saying - "I know that my being queer doesn't qualify me as ballroom."
Which is making many people wonder, why come out at this precise moment? And why be part of the show at all?
The claim that criticism forced her to come out has also prompted questions. Ultimately, the vast majority of people who were saying she was wrong to take the role on Legendary were mostly queer people of colour with ties to the community, so dismissing their points as simply "bullying" dismisses a real issue of concern.
As one Twitter user pointed out - "By this reasoning, any time a straight person is cast in a queer role or a non-trans actor is cast in a trans role, no one should ever voice concerns because.... what if they ARE they just haven’t told us. It’s bullshit and of course, her fans are eating it up."
Support And Love
The other side of Twitter was quick to praise, support and send love to Jamil for coming out. More out queer celebrities are undeniably a positive step towards better representation.
In addition, people were upset by the fact that she felt she was "forced" to come out because of the criticism she received yesterday. They expressed strongly that no one should be forced or bullied into coming out and she had to go through just that.
Coming out is a difficult choice and being forced to come out is a violation of a person's rights, her fans and supporters jumped to respond to the backlash and support Jamil unconditionally.
Even after her statement, the response is mixed — while some Twitter users are supportive, others still argue that Jameela isn’t “queer enough” for the show. These critics use Jameela’s current heterosexual relationship as fuel for the fire.
Jamil is still incredibly popular with the mainstream, and it's hard to imagine that a spat with one faction of the LGBTQ+ community will lead to any kind of genuine cancellation. But she is still planning to work on Legacy, proving she either doesn't understand or doesn't accept the criticism.
The winners from all this seem to be HBO, whose responsibility it should have been to cast within the community, and who have escaped with minimal criticism.
The next time that Jameela addresses her sexuality, we can only hope it’ll be on a positive note — and not a response to feeling cornered and ridiculed.