JoJo Siwa opened up about what it was like coming out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community with a massive, and very young, fanbase in an interview with People earlier this week.
The 17-year-old singer, dancer, YouTuber and Nickelodeon star clarified that she uses the words "gay" and "queer" to describe herself, but that she identifies as pansexual. "That's how I have always been my whole life is just like, my human is my human," she explained. She's now dating 18-year-old Kylie Prew, who Siwa met on a cruise ship.
"I've never gotten this much support from the world," Siwa says, but she also faced backlash after coming out.
In fact, Siwa says she didn't sleep for three days after seeing a barrage of negative comments from parents who vowed never to let their children watch her content again. It's an important reminder that while LGBTQ+ representation in pop culture is improving, there's still a long way to go—and that being out and proud can be hard for young people.
There are a few lessons parents can both take away from Siwa's coming out story and pass on to their kids.
- It's common for LGBTQ+ people to identify with several different labels. Especially for someone as young and as early in identifying as LGBTQ+ as Siwa, not knowing exactly which words you prefer best is to be expected. Sexual orientation and sexual identity can fluctuate well into your twenties and beyond, so if your child (or their favorite star!) comes out several times as they settle into their identity, they're going through normal development (not "a phase").
- Kids often know they're LGBTQ+ very early in life, but they need more support to come out. Siwa told People, "I've known since I was little." Her mom, Jessalyn, confirmed that she knew, too. Pew Research backs this up: 27% of gays, lesbians and bisexuals realize they're not straight before they're 10, and another 41% realize between 10 and 14. However, only 2% come out before 10, and only another 8% come out between 10 and 14. That means that the vast majority of kids who know they're LGB stay in the closet for some of their most pivotal years. If you think your child might be LGBTQ+ or questioning, having positive conversations about it might help them feel more comfortable coming out.
- Having a community matters. When Siwa came out, knowing that she was part of a community helped her to deal with negative comments. "My thing is, I don't want people to watch my videos or buy my merchandise if they aren't going to support not only me, but the LGBTQ community," she said. If your child or one of their friends comes out as LGBTQ+, simple steps like joining PFLAG, supporting a queer-straight alliance club at their school or celebrating Pride Month with them can go a long way.
Now Siwa says, "I think this is the first time that I've felt so personally happy." Soon, hopefully all young LGBTQ+ people will feel the same way after coming out.