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Jameela Jamil is being harassed with ‘shocking vitriol’ after coming out as queer and it’s seriously not OK

Emma Powys Maurice February 6, 2020
Jameela Jamil

Jameela Jamil at the at the 2019 Billboard Women In Music on December 12, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Steve Granitz/WireImage/Getty)

In response to criticism over her casting in a voguing show, Jameela Jamil set the record straight by coming out as queer – only to face a barrage of yet more criticism.

The actor, activist, model and presenter received a wave of backlash after it was announced that she will sit on a panel of judges for HBO’s new unscripted voguing competition, Legendary.

Given that voguing is rooted New York’s black ballroom scene, a long-held symbol of queerness and LGBT+ resistance, many questioned Jamil’s role on the show.

The star was accused of “appropriating ballroom culture” and occupying a space that could have been given to someone who is more representative of the marginalised ballroom scene.

Jamil insisted she only accepted the position because she wanted to bring her considerable following to a show that would “support and celebrate” the ballroom community, but in the face of mounting criticism she felt forced to make a personal announcement.

“Twitter is brutal. This is why I never officially came out as queer,” she wrote.

In a statement that was “absolutely not how I wanted to come out,” Jamil explained that she hadn’t revealed her sexuality because she felt restricted by her Asian heritage, and because she was “scared of the pain of being accused of performative bandwagon jumping”.

The ensuing commentary did exactly that.

Rather than being supported for making an incredibly difficult announcement under incredibly difficult circumstances, Jamil was flooded with negativity as people rushed to invalidate her identity as a queer woman.

Many joined the journalist India Willoughby in pointing to her long-term relationship with the singer James Blake as ‘evidence’ that she couldn’t possibly be queer, conveniently forgetting that bisexuality and pansexuality exist.

Others doubted Jamil because of the timing of her announcement, saying that she was claiming queerness as a shield against her critics – even though she did so in full awareness of the fact that it would only increase the scrutiny on her, not minimise it.

One Twitter user drew comparisons with “Kevin Spacey [coming] out as gay to avoid going to jail”, while another suggested her reasons were “fundamentally commercial”, presumably to boost awareness of her upcoming show.

And one stubborn critic picked apart the language in Jamil’s statement, suggesting that her use of the word “ally” was proof that she wasn’t a true member of the LGBT+ community.

Many had legitimate criticism for Jamil’s justification of her role in the show, pointing out that the fact she’s able to utilise her large following doesn’t excuse her taking the place of a more marginalised member of the ballroom community – but a large and ignorant section of the internet was simply focused on policing her sexuality.

As Jamil’s name began trending on Twitter and the anger spiralled further, several supporters considered that this level of hate could only be reserved for a woman of colour.

“I’m really shocked at some of the vitriol that’s being aimed at Jameela Jamil,” wrote actor Charlie Condou. “From what I can tell, it’s because she was offered a job.”

“Jameela has made the mistake of being a brown woman with opinions. Unforgivable, in some quarters,” replied Margo Milne.

Comedian Deborah Frances-White pointed out: “Yes, Jameela Jamil is privileged BUT she’s still a brown woman in a racist world. You don’t have to approve of her every action but it’s not OK to harass her because she’s pretty.

“She’s not exempt from the normal respect you offer women of colour and she’s allowed to take a job.”

Though Jamil has wisely decided to stay off Twitter in the wake of her statement, she would no doubt take heart from the many messages of support she has received amidst the hatred.

Coming out is never easy and it’s especially hard for those forced to so on a public platform. So as both a long-term ally and a new member of the LGBT+ community, we hereby continue to stan Jameela Jamil. Welcome to the family.

More: coming out, Jameela Jamil, Queer

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