Rebecca Black on coming out as queer: ‘I put way too much pressure on myself to make it perfect’
It’s Friday when we talk to Rebecca Black, and she’s looking forward to the weekend.
It’s her birthday a few days after our interview. She’s turning 23, but all she wants to do is enjoy the California rain — the “June gloom”, as she puts it — and unwind.
She’s in her Los Angeles home, which she shares with actor Alexis G Zall, standing in a white panelled kitchen surrounded by bowls of avocado and glass straws cradled in mason jars. Like many right now, her idea of a Friday night involves cooking at home, and little else.
For Black, this brief silence is welcomed. In 2011, aged 13, she released the uncanny-valley banger “Friday”. It exploded, and her life for years was seized by noise: YouTube comments deriding her, notification pings pummelling her with abuse and a level of instant viral fame that felt almost like a curse.
Older now, Black produces sentences almost like she’s putting a jigsaw together – meticulous about how much she wants to reveal. Earlier this year she came out, now she’s about to celebrate her first Pride month as an openly queer woman – albeit at home.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way — spending her first Pride Month singing in her bedroom, popping up on digital events such as Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project: A Digital Pride Experience. But as Black tells PinkNews, Pride to her was never about the parties, but about taking space and making space for marginalised and vulnerable voices.
PinkNews: What is a typical day in lockdown for you like? What is your Friday lockdown routine?
Rebecca Black: [Laughs] Oh my gosh, right now it just feels like any other day because it’s been months.
I usually will pop on an Instagram Live and do a concert around happy hour, I encourage my audience to have a drink with me and talk about how we’re all doing. To check-in.
It takes me back to when I was in high school. Most of my friends lived across the country from not only just me, but all of us from each other, so we would all FaceTime or Skype and get to know each other that way, and that goes with my audience as well.
I’m an online creator and so that aspect of it hasn’t necessarily changed so much… because the best videos are done in my bedroom! But it’s definitely brought me back to the purity. You really don’t need so much to just connect with people.
My Friday night routine is me cooking unnecessarily extravagant dinner for myself. Full party of one! Every day is so strange because there’s no place to go to make something feel different.
Do you have like a favourite recipe?
It might sound weird, but it’s delicious – a vegan eggplant lasagna roll-up. Just look it up.
I’ve cooked that before! It’s really good. Are you vegan?
I try to be as plant-based as possible. But I don’t… gosh, this goes all around my life it seems but I’m not a big ‘labels’ girl.
Earlier this year you came out, which was fantastic. What was the experience like for you?
I think I put way too much pressure on myself for a long time to have the perfect coming out experience of my own. I think it’s something that a lot of queer people might also fall into, in their own ways. Even if they don’t have an audience.
We want it to be this beautiful, special, amazing experience for ourselves — as it should be. But if all you’re doing is putting pressure on yourself, which is what I was doing. You’re just constantly going to feel like there’s never a right time, because there’s never necessarily a right time until you’re ready.
It can make something that can be so lovely feel… not totally right. So I made a decision a few months before I came out to stop worrying. Whether it was going to be big or whether it was going to be small, I was just trying to picture the perfect experience for myself that was never really going to happen. I just decided to stop being so afraid of answering the question.
When I did come out, it didn’t really feel in that moment like I was necessarily coming out. I was on a podcast with one of my best friends and they asked me about a breakup that I just went through, which was a queer relationship, and I guess I just stopped tiptoeing around the answers.
I felt so comfortable in that scenario because it was just me and a couple of my friends who were there throughout that whole relationship, who know me and who know my experiences.
And, at that point, I’d also been talking to a few of my fans about it without making it this huge thing for myself, and it just made it feel a lot more natural.
It’s so easy to feel like you have to plan everything out and outline all these expectations around coming out.
In terms of the reactions you’ve had from people since coming out, whether from family and friends, how have they been and did they meet your expectations at all?
I always knew that if I ever did come out and talk about my sexuality, that I wanted it to be respectful because the LGBT+ community has always been something that I have tried to uplift and support in every way ever since I ever got started.
I definitely feel very fortunate to have had an overwhelmingly positive response generally, from people in my personal life and people online.
The less positive experiences that I’ve had with people, I try to look at it as a way to equip myself as a queer person, to be able to handle that. To be able to learn from it and hopefully guide others through those more difficult experiences. But also, if it’s right, to help that person who doesn’t necessarily understand to feel like they are safe to ask questions or feel like they’re safe to try to understand if they want to.
Not everybody does want to understand and that’s their own loss, honestly, I try to do the best that I can. But overwhelmingly, I feel very fortunate to live in a time where it is majority positive.
I know how troubling your going viral was for you at certain moments, and online spaces, especially Tumblr, can be places of safety for queer folk. Would you say that, throughout these years and since coming out, that you’ve you found refuge in the LGBT+ community?
Absolutely! Whether it be seeing queer people represented more in media, or feeling like I see myself represented in other ways, whether it be somebody who’s half-Latina like I am or comes from an immigrant parent.
The more that you can see people who are like you out there, showing you that you are to be celebrated and are not strange for being different, and that those kinds of things are what make you who you are, helped me through that a tonne.
And also seeing how certain people with your experience, or with a version of your experience, kind of go through their own life can be a source of guidance.
I was a queer person who didn’t necessarily come into their sexuality until I was about 18 or 19, and at first I think I felt really invalidated. Because a lot of the doubt that I had in myself was, ‘oh my gosh, should I have known about the sooner’, or, ‘why didn’t I ask questions’.
But then, the more that I talk to other queer people and saw and sought out people with that same experience, the more that I realised how normal it was. Which is why I think it’s so important to have representation and media for everybody.
And, right now, we’re seeing that a lot with the Black community as well and the queer Black community and just every person wants to feel like they exist.
What does Pride mean for you?
Holding space for yourself and learning how to kindly hold that space for other people with your experience.
And at times, to demand that space, because no matter what you are fighting for, there are still so many versions of oppression happening in our world.
But we are, especially as a young generation, really avidly fighting for that. I think it’s important to feel solid in that fight and understand that there is nothing about your experience that makes you less deserving of that space to be held for yourself and for anybody else. I think that’s what Pride means.
How has the current climate impacted you creatively as an artist?
Specifically with everything that has been going on – I’ve always been somebody that’s very active vocal about the things that I support and don’t support. So that’s taken up a huge part of every day of mine and my roommate, Alexis, who’s also a queer creator.
It’s something that we’re constantly discussing, like, ‘How can we use our platforms right now to the best of our abilities?’ Because we know that we have young people who are looking for answers and are looking for great places to go wherever they they are.
One thing that I’m kind of grappling with is how should I be feeling? Should I be thriving or should I be paralysed? I don’t really know. It’s really difficult because there’s not really a formula that you can follow.
Most importantly, I am just trying to be aware and be educated. This is not the time to be so worried about how productive you can be in the sense of your career. This is a really important time to understand how to get yourself involved. And this time is shaping everybody’s future. It’s shaping future generations’ futures and I’m just trying to do what I can.
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If a 13-year-old Rebecca Black was standing opposite you now, what would you say to her?
There is nothing to feel ashamed about. One day, you will begin to understand how to heal yourself and hopefully help out other people who are having the same experience.
I think when I was growing up, I was always just looking for a source of guidance. I was always looking for somebody to give me advice on what I was experiencing.
And that is what pushes me, to hopefully be that for somebody else. To be some version of that for a person who is sitting in their family’s house who doesn’t understand them, who doesn’t get them, who maybe doesn’t feel like they have a place to fit in at school.
To show them that it is OK to feel the way that you’re feeling. Whatever you are going through right now does not define your entire life experience and as long as you trust that and trust what you’re capable of, you will grow into that.
Rebecca Black will star in It Gets Better Project: A Digital Pride Experience, a three-day live stream event from Wednesday to Friday (June 24-26)
She’ll appear alongside RuPaul’s Drag Race alum Crystal Method and Jujubee and a roster of beauticians and musicians for the digital Pride event, streaming from the organisation’s YouTube, Facebook and Twitch from 2-7pm (PT).