Demi Lovato doesn’t want to talk about her sexuality and I’m really hoping she’s willing to interrogate why that is.
During a recent interview, PrideSource.com’s Chris Azzopardi told the pop star, “Your sexuality has been thoroughly dissected by the Internet after you alluded to being open to both genders. I want to give you the opportunity to speak on it as directly as you’d like.” Lovato replied, “Thank you for the opportunity, but I think I’m gonna pass.”
When Azzopardi questioned why Lovato, who has long been a vocal LGBTQ advocate, wouldn’t speak openly about her sexuality, she responded:
I just feel like everyone’s always looking for a headline and they always want their magazine or TV show or whatever to be the one to break what my sexuality is. I feel like it’s irrelevant to what my music is all about. I stand up for the things that I believe in and the things that I’m passionate about, but I like to keep my personal life as private as possible when it comes to dating and sexuality and all that stuff just because it has nothing to do with my music. Unfortunately, we live in a world where everyone is trying to get that soundbite and I am purposefully not giving the soundbite. Watch my documentary.
As someone who’s never had to endure the kind of scrutiny or judgment celebrities do, I can only begin to imagine how daunting it must be to have strangers constantly scrounging for whatever juicy personal tidbits they can dig up or coerce you to cough up. But, still, I am respectfully going to call bullshit on Lovato’s answer.
Let’s start with Lovato’s 2015 hit “Cool For The Summer,” which plays out the fantasy of a sexually explicit woman-on-woman flirtation complete with not-so-subtle lyrics about biting cherries and being “taken down” into “paradise.” When asked by Alan Carr about whether or not the song was about “lesbianism,” Lovato cheekily told him, “I am not confirming and I’m definitely not denying... All of my songs are based off of personal experiences.” She added, “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with experimentation at all.”
It appears that, on the one hand, Lovato wants us to believe that she won’t talk about “dating and sexuality and all that stuff just because it has nothing to do with my music” but on the other hand, she wants us to know that all of her songs are “based off of personal experiences.” Even more confusing is the fact that, just last week, Entertainment Weekly reported that Lovato’s upcoming album, Tell Me You Love Me, is about her “getting real about her love life in unprecedented ways.” She told the magazine, “I have never really been so honest... You can just hear it through the lyrics. I think my fans are gonna know exactly who I’m talking about.”
The only way that I can make sense of any of this is that Lovato only wants to keep her sexuality private ― not her love life, not who she’s dating, not her relationships. And that’s a problem.
Lovato has been courageously open and honest about other parts of her life that many might consider off limits ― including her mental health, her struggles with substance abuse or her relationship with her father ― which has helped to destigmatize these issues and allowed others to feel less alone in the world. So, if she feels comfortable talking about all of those potentially sensitive topics and experiences, why is she drawing the line at her sexual orientation?
I’d argue that she needs to re-evaluate exactly what she’s hiding and why ― especially after she’s released a song like “Cool For The Summer” that preys on, plays out and benefits from the fetishization of the closet and of alternative sexualities being read as deviant (and therefore thrilling and mostly safe for sampling and monetizing as long as they’re strictly temporary and discreet).
The only reason that people don’t want to reveal their orientation (and let’s be clear, I’m not talking about who she is intimate with or how she is intimate with him/her/them) is because they’re ashamed of it or are fearful of the reactions that they’ll receive because of it.
Think about it: How many straight people refuse to say that they’re straight? Almost none. Why? Because their sexuality isn’t demonized and therefore there’s no reason to keep it private. Likewise, queer sexualities shouldn’t be private either ― especially if we really mean what we say when we claim that we’re “proud” of who we are as queer people.
And Lovato ― either as a member of the queer community or as an ally ― certainly appears to be proud. She’s headlined several Pride festivals, received the GLAAD Vanguard Award in 2016 and even filmed her 2014 “Really Don’t Care” video at the L.A. Pride Parade. So, why all the secrecy? Why the need to keep her sexuality hidden?
What’s more, Lovato’s fear that her orientation will be reduced to a mere “sound byte” is unfounded. It only has the potential to become a sound byte if she approaches her identity ― or her refusal to discuss it ― as a sound byte. By giving Lovato the opportunity to address her sexuality in whatever way she wanted to, Azzopardi was allowing her to control the narrative and to decide how she would be seen going forward.
I don’t even have to look at the comments section of this piece to know that there are probably already angry folks telling me that I’m “bullying” Lovato and that someone’s sexuality is “no one else’s business” or asking “who cares?” or “why does it matter?” But it does matter. Just a few days ago, a judge in Brazil made approved conversion therapy for queer people. Just last week, Derricka Banner became the 20th transgender person killed in America (that we know of) this year. Just last month, the U.S. Justice Department argued that the Supreme Court should find in favor of a bakery that wants to refuse service to queer people. Just two months ago, Donald Trump moved to ban transgender people from the U.S. military. And the list goes on and on.
The bottom line is that we do not live in a post-queer world and we are not done fighting for our rights ― and in many cases, our lives. Being able to stay ― and thrive ― in the closet is a luxury that many people do not have or have actively and courageously chosen to give up in order to make a difference. The more people who come out, the harder it is for our adversaries to paint us as unnatural or immoral ― or to erase us. And the more highly-visible people, like Lovato, who come out, the more other people will be less afraid to say who they are and who they love and who they desire. It matters. It absolutely matters. And, if Lovato isn’t queer, I want her to say that, too. There’s no reason to be coy about it ― there’s no shame in being straight, either ― and we desperately need allies to help us battle for equality for everyone.
Ultimately, I am a big fan of Demi Lovato and in the end, I just want her to be as “confident” and “unapologetic” about who she is as she claims to be. And maybe next month when her YouTube Red documentary “Demi Lovato: Simply Complicated” is released she will clear all of this up “on her own terms,” as she seemed to hint to Azzopardi. But the longer she refuses to talk about this one specific aspect of who she is ― while continually telling the queer community that we should be proud of who we are and simultaneously courting us to buy her albums and concert tickets ― the less I’m inclined to want her support... or to support her.