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Tabloids Are Pissed Off That LGBT Celebrities Can Come Out Without Them

A new gay-positive approach online doesn't hide the fact that tabloids still relish spinning stories out of famous people's sexualities.

by Sophie Wilkinson
Feb 4 2016, 6:39pm

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

Stretching her endless limbs on a yacht, Taylor Swift noticed a paparazzo on a boat in the blue slipstream. Not wanting him to sell this private bikinied moment, she uploaded a selfie to Instagram, gazumping the pap out of his trade.

That is the feeble victory celebrities have managed to eek out in the war over their private lives. Having accepted that the world owns every inch of their bodies and each minuscule detail of their sex lives, the best they can now hope for is to leak the information themselves rather than let a long-lensed photographer do it.

The latest celebrity to beat the press to an exposition is George Shelley, a pipsqueak pop star referred to by British television and radio presenter Nick Grimshaw as "Harry Styles's little sister." Shelley is a singer in X Factor's Union J, a boyband assembled of angelic voices and perfectly plucked eyebrows. He released a YouTube video to explain that he's loved women and he's loved men.

Very clearly, Shelley says it's not something he feels he can label, that labels themselves are old-fashioned, but he's had girlfriends and boyfriends. But lo the online headlines: 'WATCH: George Shelley comes out in emotional YouTube Video,' 'George Shelley reveals he is bisexual,' 'George Shelley makes emotional revelation about his sexuality.'

The pieces themselves are at least well-meaning. These days it seems there's a tabloid obligation to present a positive narrative around people "coming out." So, for example, British television personality Vicky Pattinson's supportive tweets are screen-grabbed and pasted into stories alongside collated fan celebrations and aggregated hashtags. George is "brave" for announcing he has fallen in love with people, not genitals.

But it wasn't always this way. A 1990 front page of the Sun read "£1M SOCCER STAR: 'I AM Gay'" with the tagline: "Justin Fashanu confesses." Famously, he never played professional football again. In 1999, Irish pop singer Stephen Gately gave a hasty coming out interview to the same paper after hearing that a supposed friend was about to sell the story on him. He later suffered from depression and when he died of pulmonary edema, Mail columnist Jan Moir put it down to his "dangerous lifestyle."

And even though it seems as though things might have changed in the past few years—Olympic diver-turned-vlogger Tom Daley came out in 2013, and Sam Smith came out in a chat with Ellen DeGeneres in 2015—it seems as though, for the tabloids, all that has changed is a move from front-page outrage to back-slapping positivity online while poking-fun in the celeb pages.

Dan Wotton, the very same journalist who yesterday tweeted "It's so sad that boyband members still feel the need to hide their sexuality. It's 2016 people!" commits to an ongoing franchise in the Sun called "The Bi Bus." With his head photoshopped into the driver's seat, this "proud gay man" drives a bus-load of queer celebrities' cut-out heads. The underlying assumption being that being bisexual or queer is a temporary jolly instead of an innate feeling or an approach to love not predicated on the presence of a certain set of genitals.

The Sun's bi bus by the 'Sun.'

Some poor picture editor has surely been tasked with slicing around an image of George's tousled hair so as to neatly superimpose him alongside Bi Bus regulars Miley Cyrus, Tom Hardy, Megan Fox, and Harry Styles. More's the pity for George, who came out specifically to halt the "online speculation." But the way a personal announcement can be immaturely co-opted by tabloid writers as a "ha ha" moment is why queerness is stigmatized in the first place and why so few celebrities feel they can come out.

The oddest bedfellows to emerge from any public coming out are the two factions of the "why do we even care?" school of thought. On one side, there are socially-righteous youths who don't think sexuality needs to be solemnly declared like a cancer diagnosis. On the other, we have older harumphy sorts who would rather all this wasn't in their face all the time.

The former group are idealists, but it's unrealistic to expect no one to discuss their sexuality at a time when one in six LGBT people are victims of hate crimes, and 40 percent of young LGBT people have considered suicide. Queers need positive support wherever they can get it. Indeed, the more intolerant the latter group, the more important it is for LGBT people to come out, to make queerness acknowledged as a normal and everyday occurrence. But as long as editors of national papers react like jilted lovers, butthurt they didn't get the exclusive nosey on someone's private life first, we're going to get more vlogs like George's, whether the subject wants in or not.

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