The Real Reason Twitter Restricted Rose McGowan's Account Instead Of Just Deleting One Tweet

BuzzFeed News has learned that Twitter’s Trust and Safety Team doesn’t have the ability to remove or block individual tweets; it can only take action on accounts. That’s why Twitter disabled key features of actor Rose McGowan’s account on Wednesday night after she posted a private phone number to the service.

That move disabled McGowan’s ability to tweet, retweet, or like anything on Twitter at a critical moment: She had been using the platform to detail the alleged sexual misconduct of film mogul Harvey Weinstein, and to call for repercussions for such behavior and those who enable it.

When McGowan published a tweet in violation of Twitter’s rules, the company’s Trust and Safety Team’s only option was to silence her entire account until she deleted that tweet. McGowan did so and was initially told she’d have to wait 12 hours for full functionality to be restored, but someone from Twitter apparently intervened and restored it in full.

Sources familiar with Twitter’s trust and safety operations and policies say this heavy-handed protocol is intentional. “It’s not just a technical bit; that’s the way the Twitter policy is drawn up,” one former employee told BuzzFeed News. But it’s clear that the policy isn’t particularly well-suited to cases like McGowan’s. After a number of Twitter users expressed shock that the actor had been restricted while some legitimate trolls and harassers often go undisciplined, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey conceded the company needs to better explain the rationale behind its enforcement actions. “We do need to do a better job at showing that we are not selectively applying rules,” Dorsey said.

For the platform’s critics, the McGowan restriction is confirmation of a fundamental disconnect between Twitter’s harassment prevention tools and the realities of policing the social network. Many of the company’s terms-of-service rules and abuse prevention tools feel like relics of a different, smaller Twitter, drawn up long before the service became the beating heart of breaking news and a chaotic political battleground.

The frustration around the McGowan incident is magnified by countless of stories of Twitter dismissing reports of clear-cut harassment. Though Twitter has repeatedly pledged to do a better job policing its platform for abuse, BuzzFeed News has compiled dozens of instances of valid reports of harassment that the company dismissed as not in violation of its rules. Similarly, Twitter’s enforcement of those rules continues to be inconsistent. Earlier this month, when conspiracy theorist Alex Jones tweeted out a graphic, unconfirmed image of the alleged Vegas shooter’s body in a pool of blood, Twitter kept the photo up — adding a sensitive image tag — under its “newsworthiness” clause. The social network gave the same “newsworthiness” reason for not intervening when president Trump tweeted late last month at North Korea, a gesture the country called “an act of war.”

Twitter declined comment.

Some observers feel the company should rethink its trust and safety system. “What would Twitter have to lose in completely blowing up their whole approach to trust and safety?” a former Twitter employee told BuzzFeed News. “It’s not more transparency, it’s the fucking rules. The interpretation of the rules and clarity of the rules. I don’t see what the company would have to lose at this point by completely redrafting the policy.”

Perhaps, but sources close to the company told BuzzFeed News Twitter doesn’t want to be seen as making editorial decisions about the material published on its platform.

But silencing an entire account until a tweet is removed instead of removing that tweet itself could also be Twitter’s way of rationalizing that it’s not really removing that content. And in this case, the system it designed blew up in its face.

Alex Kantrowitz is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco. He reports on social and communications.

Contact Alex Kantrowitz at

Charlie Warzel is a senior writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Warzel reports on and writes about the intersection of tech and culture.

Contact Charlie Warzel at

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Pink Regrets Saying She Was Team Taylor Swift

Pink, who is no stranger to being embroiled in public feuds in the past, made it clear that she’s in a way different place in her life now and is not here for being dragged into spats, saying:

I have two kids — I have a baby. And it’s so different now. I’m not inclined toward drama and feuds and soundbites.

It surprises me how snarky it’s gotten. There were always these feuds between rock stars…but it’s gotten pretty bad. And we’re giving our power away by playing into it.

27 Things We Learned On Set With Lili Reinhart

Natalie Portman.

I had The Lizzie McGuire Movie soundtrack CD. Surprisingly at 21, I do sing songs from it still today.

“Surprisingly at 21, I do sing songs from The Lizzie McGuire Movie still today.” 

Comfortable, casual, jeans.

This girl somehow bypassed security on set when we were filming outside, and all of a sudden she’s standing in front of me and she’s like, “Hi, how are you?” And I didn’t really know who she was. She just hugs me and she’s standing there staring at me, and I realize that she’s a fan and she somehow got onto our set and it was just very, very strange and weird. It was like, “How did you get here?” We have three security guards. Sneaky little girl.

Taylor Miller / BuzzFeed

My dad! He’s in Venice right now, so he’s saying, “Love you, miss you, hope you’re having a great time in New York. I’m thinking of you — enjoy the moment.” So sweet.

Wake up, go to the beach all day. And then, whoever I’m with that day — go home and cuddle up, watch my favorite movie with my favorite foods, and order in some pizza. It’s all about good food and good company. I just love spending the day at the beach and then staying inside all night.

“I just love spending the day at the beach and then staying inside all night.”

I was reading a Marie Antoinette biography, but I also just bought Bryan Cranston’s autobiography.


Taylor Miller / BuzzFeed

Everyone says Brittany Murphy — everyone. They think I’m her reincarnated. There are a lot of pictures of us side by side where we look crazy–alike. If you just google Lili Reinhart and Brittany Murphy, you’ll see it.

Growing up, I watched a lot of TLC — I loved Four Weddings and Hoarding: Buried Alive. They’re so binge-able.

Right now, Ashley Graham. Obsessed with her. Honestly, I’ve never been so inspired by a celebrity or by someone that I didn’t know. She’s so confident and so stunning and her way of body acceptance and talking about her body and women’s bodies in general is so inspiring to me, and I’ve honestly never been inspired by someone as much as her as an adult.

“When I don’t eat sugar, my body literally shakes. It’s not something I’m proud of.” 

Sugar. I get jittery. I have a sugar addiction — when I don’t eat sugar, my body literally shakes. It’s not something I’m proud of.

Taylor Miller / BuzzFeed

Pimple popping videos. I’m obsessed.

I have so many of them. I think people who get super-confused at really simple situations. People who are like, “Wait, what are you talking about?” They ask, “What?” before you’re even finished explaining something. And it’s like, “Will you calm down?”

“I really want to go to Tuscany. Anywhere romantic.” 

Chipotle. I’ve been eating way too much Chipotle.

I always said Bora Bora, but that was my answer when I was like 16. Now that I’m older, I think I really want to go to Tuscany. Anywhere romantic.

Taylor Miller / BuzzFeed

Instagram. Right now I’m following a cow — @moochithecow. He’s a miniature cow and he’s the cutest thing you’ve ever seen in your life. Cows are definitely having a moment.

“You can be told to follow your heart for 21 years, and it doesn’t really resonate with you until you’re going through something where you need to just listen to yourself.”

Two pieces of advice. One from my dad when I was really young — but also just growing up — he just told to me to make sure that whatever I do in life, it’s something that makes me happy. He told me don’t choose a career that’s going to make you miserable. It’s not about money. You have to choose something that’s going to make you happy, because otherwise, what’s the point?

And then recently, I feel like, you grow up seeing all these quotes on Pinterest like “follow your heart,” “follow your dreams,” but it only really becomes relevant once something happens in your life where you have to follow your heart. My makeup artist on my show, her name is Erin Mackenzie — she did my makeup in Season 1 and came back for Season 2. And when I was dealing with some personal drama, personal relationships — you know, you can be told to follow your heart for 21 years and it doesn’t really resonate with you until you’re going through something where you need to just listen to yourself. And she said, “follow your heart, it will never lead you astray,” and it’s true.

Probably the OK hand emoji .

Taylor Miller / BuzzFeed

There was a Dark Betty that we saw in Season 1, where she had a wig and it was kind of campy. But in Season 2, it’s not campy anymore. And it’s a real, grounded, gritty, raw, dark side of this girl that I love so much. It’s fun seeing her get dressed up in a black wig for a minute, and you’re like, “Woah, where did that come from?” But this is the dark side of a real person that’s grounded in something. Grounded in truth. So you see Dark Betty a couple of times, and we’re not even midway through [filming] the season and she’s coming out full force sometimes in these episodes. She’s also dealing with Jughead being on the Southside, possibly joining the Serpents, and what that means for her and their relationship. And then there’s finding out that she has a long-lost brother, and she doesn’t really know what to do with that information. So, that’s something that we tap into in Season 2 as well.

“You see Dark Betty a couple of times… she’s coming out full force in these episodes.”

I shut it down already. I probably shouldn’t be shutting down theories, because I’m crushing peoples’ dreams, but it’s also like — I didn’t want people to get their hopes up and get too invested in a theory that I think I can say isn’t true. But certain theories, I do think, “That does make a lot of sense.” People are smart and really creative.

I’m right in the middle. I’m not a River Vixen, because I’m so not peppy. I’m the calmest person, usually, and I am just a very laid-back person. I think I’m more of a Serpent because I’m a little bit more on the outside, not too much involved in a group. And maybe I like to think of myself as more of a badass than I actually am.

Probably the “I love you” scene in the Season 1 finale. It was just so beautifully written and so honest, and when he takes his hat off, it’s just like, “Aww.” It’s just a very earnest moment between the two of them. They didn’t really have to think about it. Well, Jughead maybe had to think about it. Like, “Do I love her? Am I in love?” Because he’s never experienced something like that before, and maybe he’s not necessarily used to being around a woman that he loves because his mom’s not really in the picture… So for him it was a much bigger deal, but for Betty it was immediately like, “I love you too” — it wasn’t even a second thought. She knew deep down that she loved him. She didn’t even have to process it or think about it. As soon as she said the words, it was out there and it was true. It was just a really sweet moment.

Taylor Miller / BuzzFeed

I think it was a plan from the beginning. I’m not sure what they wanted the course of the relationship to look like, but we filmed the entire first season without airing any of the episodes, so we didn’t hear any feedback from fans. I guess we were lucky that so many people were on board with those two being together, because that was just the course of Season 1. I think that was Roberto [Aguirre-Sacasa], our creator, his plan to have them together all along. Because they’re both kind of on the outside in different ways. Betty is a little bit of a floater, not necessarily fitting in with a certain group, and Jughead obviously is an outsider. So, it’s two of these people on the outside coming together. It’s really sweet.

No, and I’ve never been so invested in a show where I’ve been a part of a ship or I’ve shipped two characters. I’ve never really been involved like that in a fandom, so it was very interesting to be on the receiving end of it. But it’s definitely special to see — it just means that people genuinely care about these characters. It’s kind of amazing to know that I can play this character that so many people genuinely care about, that’s how I take it.

KJ‘s just a goofball. I think sometimes his personality doesn’t get to show — he’s shy. He’s very shy. You have to crack him open to see the real him and it took us a long time to see his super-goofy personality. He’s kind of reserved in interviews, but deep down he’s goofy.

Cami and I have a very similar sense of humor. We’re both very different and come from completely different backgrounds, but I think one of the reasons we bonded so well was our sense of humor.

Cole is the smartest person I know, hands down.

“When I joined [Riverdale]… I finally felt like I had a group where I belonged, and I wasn’t an odd man out.” 

Just working with my best friends. I grew up with a very small, select group of friends that I kept my whole life. And when I joined the show, I literally got, like, 10 new best friends. I got all these people in my life that genuinely cared about me and I cared about them. I kind of finally felt like I had a group where I belonged, and I wasn’t an odd man out and so, honestly, just being in such a supportive, family-like group is my favorite part. They’re my people. They’re my family.

Taylor Miller / BuzzFeed

There's Actually An Amazing Reason Why Miley Cyrus Stopped Being So Controversial

When James Corden asked what she’d “changed most” in her life since the MTV VMAs, Miley responded:

It’s funny you mention the VMAs. The first VMAs in 2013, with the twerking and Robin Thicke, has led me to being the activist that I am now. Because I realised that if so many people were going to talk about something that I did, or I do, then I should make it a good thing. Something that can change people’s lives rather than being a controversial conversation that does nothing but become a fun Halloween costume for people.

Why Positive Representations Of Asexuals On TV Are So Important

Dean Buscher/The CW

Jughead and Betty on Riverdale.

If you turn to page three of Jughead #4, part of the Archie Comics reboot series written by Chip Zdarsky and illustrated by Erica Henderson, you’ll find a striking exchange between the titular character and his friend Kevin Keller.

KEVIN: Look, there are only, like, five gay guys at Riverdale High! My romantic options can’t take that kind of hit! You just don’t get it ‘cause you’re asexual…

Yeah, well, it’s why I can think clearly and see this administration for what it is! I’m not hobbled by these hormonal impulses!

The comic was released in July 2015, and it was the first time Jughead was ever written to be canonically asexual; the reveal caused quite a stir. But Mr. Jones’ history with romantic and sexual aversion goes back much further than Zdarsky’s interpretation.

Jughead Jones has existed within the Archie Comics universe for over 75 years as an ardent self-professed “woman hater” — he’s more likely to be found jonesing for a burger at the local diner than trying to lock down a date with Betty Cooper or Veronica Lodge. He has good female friends, but the “woman hater” bit comes from his revulsion toward dating, and especially dating women. He thinks it’s ridiculous how his guy friends fawn over girls, and can’t fathom the idea of ever doing the same.

This is notable within the comics because the other characters in Riverdale, the central Archie Comics town, are so love- and sex-obsessed. The premise of the series was originally that two girls, Betty and Veronica, were fighting over who would end up with the eponymous Archie Andrews; and the vast majority of the secondary cast, from Midge Klump to Reggie Mantle, are in relationships or pursuing them at least some of the time. But not Jughead. Considering how beloved a character he’s been for decades — and how infrequently three-dimensional, non-evil aromantic and asexual characters are portrayed in media — Zdarsky’s comments about interpreting Jughead’s legendary standoffishness to be a (perfectly normal) expression of asexuality were groundbreaking.

To see an aromantic or asexual character who is as fleshed out, complex, and human as Jughead could make a huge difference in asexual representation.

After it was announced in January 2016 that the CW was going to adapt Archie Comics into a television series, a big question on fans’ minds was whether or not the show’s writers would choose to characterize Riverdale’s Jughead as asexual, in accordance with Zdarsky’s recent canon version of the character. Fans’ hopes were bolstered when Cole Sprouse, the actor cast to play Jughead, said in February 2017 interviews that he had “argued creatively” for an aromantic, asexual Jughead and wished the writers would consider the importance of representation in the show. “I hope that huge corporations like the CW recognize that this kind of representation is rare and severely important to people who resonate with it,” he said in an interview with Teen Vogue a few days before the first episode aired.

As viewers now know, Riverdale’s writers chose to write a Jughead–Betty pairing that emerged midway into the first season, a choice defended by Sprouse himself, who says that research into the comics’ history reveals that this narrative has “existed for a long time.” The defense here is that many times throughout the comics, Jughead has mentioned that if — and that’s a key if — he were into dating women, kissing women, the works, he would choose Betty. After the season finale, fans were left wondering if there’s no hope left for an asexual Jughead — or if there’s still a chance for an asexual reveal in the second season, which premieres tonight.

To see an aromantic or asexual character who is as fleshed out, complex, and human as Jughead could make a huge difference in asexual representation in popular culture — multifaceted and complex asexual characters on TV are exceedingly rare. Many of the few asexual-coded characters in mainstream media have historically been depicted as outcasts, social deviants, or outright evil. An asexual Jughead could go a long way in lessening the stigma that asexual and aromantic people face every day. Will the second season of Riverdale deliver?

The CW

The cast of Riverdale.

It looks like there may still be hope. On a surprise Reddit AMA this past April as the first season approached its conclusion, Sprouse popped in to answer, among other things, a fan’s question about whether or not the actor still advocated for an (eventually) asexual Jughead as the show prepared to enter into its second season.

The answer? “Yes, I’m still a big proponent of this representation, and it needs to be done correctly.”

Even more recently, this September Sprouse responded again to a fan on a pre–Season 2 Reddit AMA who was curious about continued efforts to have asexual representation on Riverdale, saying, “Of course, I haven’t stopped the [asexual representation] dialogue. … Can’t spoil too much unfortunately, but this topic was one of the first I discussed with Roberto [Aguirre-Sacasa, the Riverdale showrunner] before this season started. I’m also of the mind that our show’s discussion of such content needs to be done with tact, so that the group in question doesn’t feel betrayed by some half-hearted attempt to make it feel honest. As I’ve said in the past, we need shoot these questions towards the creative team too~ every voice counts in this conversation.”

All of this points to one thing: Asexual Jughead might still be on the table, reigniting fans’ hopes that Riverdale could potentially reveal that Jughead finds romantic, sexual relationships aren’t for him after all. Showing a well-developed out asexual character like Jughead could fulfill a vacant space in asexual representation and give audiences unfamiliar with asexuality a better understanding of what the identity can encompass. But what could an asexual Jughead look like?

There’s a difference between characters who actively identify as asexual and those who seem as if they exhibit asexual qualities. Some, like the character Voodoo on the now-canceled USA Network show Sirens, outright says she’s asexual and that any romantic relationships she’s in will be strictly emotional, without any physical elements. (There are some characters on the show who don’t take asexuality seriously, and that’s problematic in itself, but Voodoo is not ashamed of her identity.) Ideally, Jughead would fall into this category. Others, like The Golden Girls’ Rose Nylund, reject sex or are confused by it but do not label themselves as asexual, leaving their actual orientation unknown. Still others, like characters who are shown without any romantic or sexual relationships in their stories, are even harder to pin down when it comes to their sexual identity.

It’s also important to note that within asexuality, there are a lot of gray areas. You can be asexual, for instance, and completely reject all forms of sex; or you might tolerate sex with only certain people or certain situations; or you might have and enjoy sex but rarely experience sexual attraction. All of the above can be considered asexual — and for that reason, there are a lot of different ways that an asexual Jughead could be portrayed. Those gray areas also means that many existing characters in other narratives can impact the mainstream perception of asexuality.

Because there are so many different variations of asexuality, there are also a lot of misconceptions about the identity. Many people think asexuality is made-up, a disease, or a sign of biological dysfunction. And although no one factor can take on the blame, these misconceptions continue to persist in part because of characters who exhibit what can be perceived as asexual features — since confirmed asexual characters are so rare — in mainstream media.

Although there are some recent examples who defy the mold, most asexual characters — that is, characters who have come closest to exhibiting the rejection of sex and love that is characteristic of asexuality — have long been branded as abnormal and “less human.” Consider Lord Voldemort, the central villain of the Harry Potter series. He was infamously incapable of love. JK Rowling has said Voldemort “loved only power, and himself,” and through his deliberate decision not to love (among, you know, committing a ton of horrifying crimes in the pursuit of immortality), “dehumanized himself.” Following that logic, love = humanity, and since one huge expression of love in the series is desire for another person, Voldemort’s apparent aromanticism and asexuality strip him of much of what would have qualified him as human.

Because there are so many different variations of asexuality, there are also a lot of misconceptions about the identity.

Dexter Morgan, the oddly endearing serial-killing antihero of the Showtime series Dexter, is another prime example of a character whose sociopathy and villainous actions are linked to his inability to love (even if Dexter kills “for good,” he’s still killing people). Dexter, with his disinterest in love and sex, could have easily been interpreted as asexual in early seasons, but the character was gradually written into more sexual scenarios as the show progressed. What audiences were left with by the end of the TV series was a character who showed more signs of being sexually repressed than anything else, perhaps in a bid to show the humanity in the serial killer. (Interestingly, the book version of the same character was portrayed as disinterested in sex and only ever engaged enough to convince his wife he was “normal” — sexual activity was much more of a cover for him than something he was genuinely interested in.) In the end, even Dexter, a character who is a literal serial killer, was written to have more sexual relationships to show “improvement” and that he was getting “better.”

And these are just a couple characters for whom aromantic or asexual qualities — or both — have been used as evidence of their abnormality or social deviance. Sherlock Holmes is another example of how sociopathy and a lack of sexual connections play into the perception of “asexuality = pathology.” Holmes, a brilliant logician and detective who is “married to [his] work” in the BBC adaption, is a self-professed “high-functioning sociopath” with little regard for tact and an underdeveloped sarcasm radar.

Throughout the BBC show, Holmes is frequently referred to as strange and unusual in a distinctly negative way — and though this isn’t solely because of his indifference to sexuality, that indifference is one thing that makes him seem more alien. The fact that he has no regard for sexual fulfillment is another thing that, along with his inhuman skills, inability to understand common jokes, sometimes-sociopathic qualities, and odd idiosyncrasies, sets him apart from “regular” humans. Along a similar vein, Data, an officer aboard the Star Trek Starfleet in Star Trek: The Next Generation and four of the franchise’s feature films (Star Trek Generations, Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: Insurrection, and Star Trek: Nemesis), goes a step farther in this asexuality-inhumanity spectrum. Instead of being figuratively inhuman, Data is literally inhuman — a robot — and has no sexual desire of his own in contrast to his fellow crewmates.

Asexual people in real life are also often told that their problem is likely medical rather than an acceptable identity, and there’s an episode of the medical-mystery drama House that demonstrates this perfectly. In “Better Half,” Dr. Gregory House sees a female patient who identifies as asexual and who is married to an asexual man. It’s the first time we see an asexual patient on the show, but by the end — shocker! — the husband isn’t actually asexual. He has a tumor in his pituitary gland that’s inhibiting his libido! And — double shocker! — his wife isn’t asexual, either. Instead, she’s been pretending to be asexual this whole time to make her husband feel less uncomfortable. More often than not, fans of potentially asexual characters are given the old bait and switch, like with Jughead in Season 1 of Riverdale. Surprise! the show reveals. They were romantic and/or sexual all along!

The show’s message is clear: Asexuality isn’t real, and if you think you’re asexual, you probably just have a tumor in the base of your brain from which you could potentially be cured. And while medical issues can affect sex drive, they’re not representative of all people who don’t have an interest in sex.

The House episode specifically reinforces the mentality that asexuality is not to be taken seriously — and worse, that it is, as David Jay, founder of the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network, put it, “problematic and pathological.” Onscreen asexuality isn’t generally shown, and even when it is, narratives like “Better Half” imply that it’s a curable, temporary condition rather than a legitimate, valid identity.

Certain kinds of entertainment are particularly bad when it comes to asexual representation. Particularly in the case of sitcoms, which rely on relating to the audience for laughs and reactions, it can be difficult to deviate from the familiar “will they/won’t they” of romantic plotlines. The vast majority of the world can’t connect as deeply with post-puberty characters who aren’t interested in romantic love and sex, and media responds to that reaction in kind, writing in the tangled romantic relationships that support season after season of many shows. Sheldon Cooper, the loveable, cynical, antisocial theoretical physicist of The Big Bang Theory, was shown without romantic or sexual inclinations for the first couple seasons of the series, but ultimately — perhaps because it made him more relatable — the show’s writers wrote in a relationship that eventually involved sex.

You could argue that Sheldon’s transition from aro-ace nerd into a romantic lead was an example of character development — he started off selfish and without much awareness of social norms and gradually became more accepting of what the people around him (like his girlfriend) want and need. But at the same time, it’s curious why the show didn’t feel Sheldon could have had a character development arc that stayed consistent with his potential aro-ace identity. His stronger connections with people around him could have been shown through deepening respect and relationships with his friends and acquaintances without including sexual encounters, and it would have arguably made more logical sense for the character considering his past behavior.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from sitcoms’ tendency to push romantic plotlines on their characters, there are many characters who are disabled and frequently automatically assumed to be asexual even when that might not be the case. Take, for instance, Mad-Eye Moody from Harry Potter or Quasimodo from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Neither have the status of their sexual desires explicitly explored, and that’s almost to be expected: It’s generally uncommon for characters with disabilities to be shown pursuing or engaging in sex. This can mire the relationship between disability and asexuality in murky waters. Asexuality, as media has generally portrayed the identity, is often used as a marker of abnormality. Since people with disabilities are so often considered to be outside the norm, their sex lives are frequently considered taboo. Since asexuality itself is sometimes considered a disorder, and it’s widely assumed that all people with disabilities must have no sexual desire, it’s easy to see how insufficient representation on all sides can negatively impact both identities.

Given that the characters frequently perceived to be asexual are pathologized, villainized, or erased, it’s understandable how many aro-ace fans were excited by the prospect of seeing Jughead champion this identity. He’s a well-loved character, a fan favorite, with plenty of friends and a family; he’s not evil and, according to the comics, he’s not at all ashamed of his disinterest in romantic love and sex. It’s not something he ever has to defend, especially in Zdarksy’s universe. To the contrary: His one true love, food, is and has always been a celebrated part of who he is ever since his first appearance. He’s being played by Cole Sprouse, a beloved actor in his own right and one whose presence on Riverdale has been lauded.

All things considered, an openly asexual version of Jughead, even on a network as sex-steeped as the CW, probably would have been perceived fairly warmly, and it’s a shame that it wasn’t an avenue the writers chose to explore in the first season. In the comics, Jughead was always casually blasé about romance since his inception, and since Zdarsky’s reboot he’s been openly asexual, even calling out his buddy Archie when he needs to. Take this scene, for example:

ARCHIE: Oh, come on! Don’t be so dramatic…

JUGHEAD: Me being dramatic?? Your little, classic “love triangle” thing with Betty and [Veronica] is the height of “drama,” pal!

ARCHIE: — Look, I’m not going to apologize for being a normal guy, I —

Jughead’s pointed look directed at Archie after the latter claims to be a “normal” guy — that is, obsessed with chasing girls — says it all, and Archie then apologizes for implying that by not sharing the same interests, Jughead is somehow abnormal.

This is the Jughead many fans were excited to see on Riverdale — the staunchly out and proud, classically Jughead Jughead who was so unwaveringly himself. Instead, Riverdale’s Jughead was looped into a very overtly romantic relationship with his friend Betty that gradually grew in intensity as the pair spearheaded the convoluted investigation into classmate Jason Blossom’s mysterious murder. In the final moments of Season 1’s finale, that relationship came within a hair of becoming sexual: As Betty and Jughead shed their clothes and passionately embraced, a sudden knock at the door from the local Riverdale gang, the Southside Serpents, stopped the scene from progressing further — only just preserving the potential for an asexual Jughead at the same time.

Although there is definitely insufficient understanding and representation of asexuality in contemporary mainstream media, Jughead would not be the first positive representation of asexuality. Lately, some shows have been stepping up in big ways to champion asexual representation — Netflix’s original series BoJack Horseman, for instance, garnered praise from the LGBT community when character Todd Chavez explored his potential asexuality in the Season 3 finale. “I’m not gay,” he says in the episode. “I mean, I don’t think I am, but I don’t think I’m straight, either. I don’t know what I am. I think I might be nothing.”

The character officially came out in Season 4 as asexual, opening up to his supportive friend BoJack about his acceptance of the label and attending an asexual meetup. In the same episode, Todd learns more about the multitude of gray areas in asexuality and the debunking of various myths, like the idea that asexual people can’t be in a married relationship. It’s clear in the depiction of Todd’s coming out that to him and those who care for him, asexuality isn’t weird or scary — on the contrary, it’s enthusiastically accepted. The reveal caused a swell of positive reactions from nonprofit organizations and activists.

But in particular the episode resonated deeply with many fans who identified as asexual, many of whom were seeing asexuality discussed candidly and positively on TV for the first time.

Todd and asexual characters like him who are out, proud, and seen as human represent more than just hope for fans and people who yearn for asexual visibility — they can promote understanding for those who have yet to learn about this identity. If one asexual character could spark this much conversation, the introduction of a second high-profile asexual character like Jughead could have incredible ripple effects. So, Riverdale writers, it’s up to you. But know this: Given the fan excitement and Cole Sprouse’s approval, asexual Jughead could be the much-needed change we need in TV. ●

Is Celesbian Gossip A Step Backward, Or A Sign Of Equality?

BuzzFeed News; Getty Images; Alamy

Demi Lovato during the 2017 Global Citizen Festival.

There’s a musical episode of Boxed In — director and writer Amy York Rubin’s very funny series of digital shorts for IFC’s Comedy Crib — that kicks off with Rubin’s character receiving a news alert from TMZ: “Dianna Agron dishes on the unique intimacy of female relationships.” Rubin, sitting in a coffee shop, gets mobbed by a group of women wondering what the news alert might mean.

“Stop! Everyone stop what you’re doing!” one woman yells, knocking a coffee out of an unsuspecting patron’s hands. “A traditionally attractive female celebrity just made an ambiguous comment about her sexuality!”

The entire coffee shop bursts into song — “Tell your friends, spread the news, someone famous might be gay” — while Rubin’s character attempts to staunch the flow of their excitement.

“Seriously, this is what we care about?” she says. “What about everything on the news?”

“We’ve got news,” they sing back at her. “Someone’s gay!”

By the end of the bite-size episode, another news alert clarifies that (a fictionalized) Dianna Agron isn’t gay after all. But Rubin’s character has gotten swept up in the commotion, right when everyone’s just lost the faith: “Wait! Did you guys see this picture of Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid?”

The episode perfectly captures how easily LGBT fans can get swept up into speculation about a celebrity’s sexuality — even at a time when there are more out celebrities than ever before.


The “Fame” episode of Boxed In.

Twenty years ago, before public support for gay people was anything like what it is now, Ellen DeGeneres risked her career and made history with her 1997 “Yep, I’m Gay” Time cover story, paving the way for many of the celebrities who have proudly claimed their queerness or openly expressed affection for their partners since. Though nowadays, you’re more likely to see a celebrity casually mention their sexual orientation in a tweet or Snapchat or Instagram post than to see one more formally claiming an identity in front of the world.

But the years-long uptick in out celebrities, and the steady normalization of out queer people in Hollywood and beyond, hasn’t stopped the are-they-or-aren’t-they rumor mill from churning — if anything, it has only picked up steam. Female celebrities can inspire their own particular kind of fervor. In 2017, there’s a new generation of famous lesbians and bisexual women (celesbians, if you will) who are casually living out a real-life version of The L Word in front of our eyes, inspiring mass social media followings from fans hungry for the latest celesbian gossip — including for the many celebrities who aren’t confirmed to be sleeping with other people of the same gender, but are the subjects of constant, frantic speculation. The recent brouhaha around Demi Lovato (who’s been spotted holding hands with a female DJ, and who refused to label her sexuality in a recent interview, after which she defended her decision in a series of tweets) is the latest example of the celesbian gossip train going a bit off the rails.

There is no simple, clear-cut binary of “out” versus “in.”

Whether queer celebrities have a responsibility to come out — especially those who have referenced potentially queer experiences in their work, or who have profited from the LGBT community’s support — is a question that long precedes celebrities’ ability to tweet about it. But that question has become more complicated in a time when coming out is seemingly not as big a deal as it once was, when a new generation is embracing ideas of sexual fluidity and eschewing labels, and, as always, there is no simple, clear-cut binary of “out” versus “in.” For female celebrities, that complication is compounded by the gal-palification of intimacy between women, which happens less frequently now in the tabloids but still makes the rounds (like it did with Lovato in September).

We’re also living through yet another revival of “lesbian chic” — a theme in fashion and pop culture at large that paints a certain kind of edgy, feminine-leaning androgyny as the next new hot thing, boiling lesbianism down to a passing but commodifiable fad. And while positive representation of queer women on television is on the rise, it’s still far from perfect, leading many LGBT fans to look to celebrity gossip on social media to get their fix of queer drama — and queer possibility. As more famous women continue to come out at younger and younger ages (much like the general population), our cultural fascination with the way they introduce and perform their queerness is only continuing to grow. Whether or not that’s a good thing depends on who you ask.

Demi Lovato’s sexuality has been the subject of speculation for years. While promoting her new album, Tell Me You Love Me, released late last month, Lovato gave an interview to PrideSource’s Chris Azzopardi that reignited an old debate. They spoke about her LGBT activism: She’s headlined pride events, including filming her 2013 video for “Really Don’t Care” at LA Pride, and last year accepted the GLAAD Vanguard Award, which honors entertainers who have promoted LGBT rights.

But when Azzopardi mentioned that Lovato’s sexuality has been “thoroughly dissected” on the internet, and gave her the “opportunity to speak on it as directly as you’d like,” Lovato swerved: “Thank you for the opportunity, but I think I’m gonna pass.” She explained that she chooses not to speak openly about her orientation because “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.”

Earlier, Azzopardi had asked about the criticism her 2015 song “Cool for the Summer” had received from some lesbian websites like AfterEllen for, they argued, implying that women should sample queer sexual relationships only temporarily, and keep it a secret. “My intention with the song was just fun and bi-curiosity,” Lovato said. “I think people look at song lyrics — they look too into it. I wish I could tell that website to ‘chill the fuck out’ and ‘take a break,’ because it’s just a song.”

The interview, published on September 15, gained a lot of attention, particularly because Lovato had just been spotted with a “gal pal” — a phrase that many lesbians have started to consider a sort of no-homo dog whistle for “possible girlfriend” — at a Disney outing a few days earlier. The gal pal in question was out DJ and producer Lauren Abedini. The two were photographed holding hands (and more), leading to widespread speculation that they might be dating. (Lovato’s publicist did not respond to a request for comment.) Lovato declined to talk about her sexuality, but hinted that her new YouTube documentary coming out on October 17 might detail “some” things about her sexuality, “because if ever I want to talk about it, I want it to be on my own terms.”

But the internet really blew up after HuffPost’s Noah Michelson wrote an essay declaring that “Demi Lovato’s Reason For Refusing To Talk About Her Sexuality Is Total Bulls**t.” Lovato responded directly to Michelson, tweeting, “Expectant and rude. Watch my documentary and chill out.” She also tweeted a couple more general statements to her 49 million followers, which garnered her a number of you-go-girl writeups from places like InStyle and PopSugar: “Just because I’m refuse [sic] to label myself for the sake of a headline doesn’t mean I’m not going to stand up for what I believe in … If you’re that curious about my sexuality, watch my documentary. But I don’t owe anybody anything.”

“How can they look us in the eyes and tell us how brave we are for being who we are — and ask us to fill their pockets — if they won’t do the same?”

In his piece, Michelson argued that Lovato is open about so many other aspects of her personal life — so why not this one?

Michelson told me that he has written about his beliefs that “sexual orientation should not be considered a ‘private’ characteristic before, and it’s never gone over well.” But, he said, he wasn’t expecting Lovato to respond, and he “didn’t expect so many people to misunderstand what I was saying.”

Michelson believes in the political power of coming out, for all of those in a position to do so, but especially feels that “those who present themselves as allies and/or make money off of their relationship with the queer community … have an even greater responsibility to be open about who they are. How can they look us in the eyes and tell us how brave we are for being who we are or how proud we should stand — and ask us to fill their pockets — if they won’t do the same?” Michelson stressed that “people can refuse to talk about their orientation,” though he generally thinks they shouldn’t, “but the reason for it should not be ‘that’s private’ — especially in the specific context of who Lovato says she is and claims to stand for.”

It isn’t only journalists, though, who may have taken issue with Lovato’s message. In a June interview for Paper Magazine, out bisexual pop singer Halsey — who earlier this summer released “Strangers” with a fellow out bi singer, Fifth Harmony’s Lauren Jauregui, and who has been a vocal LGBT activist — called out pop songs about experimental hookups, which she said perpetuate “Bisexuality as a taboo. ‘Don’t tell your mom’ or ‘We shouldn’t do this’ or ‘This feels so wrong but it’s so right’ … That narrative is so fucking damaging to bisexuality and its place in society.” Halsey didn’t mention Lovato specifically, but the lyrics sound like they were plucked from both “Cool for the Summer” and Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl.” Lovato, at least, appeared to interpret Halsey’s criticisms that way at the time, tweeting what looked like a response. (When asked for comment on the interview and Lovato’s tweet, a representative for Halsey responded that “the two are friends and there is no drama and no comment,” pointing to Lovato’s Instagram post from July showing Halsey and Lovato posing merrily together. “Happy National Coming Out Day Positivity to you!” she added.)

It’s an age-old debate in the queer community: Do celebrities have a political or moral imperative to come out? Scores of Demi Lovato’s stans, who flooded Michelson’s mentions after Lovato tweeted at him, certainly don’t seem to think so — they defended Lovato’s choice, echoing her words that she doesn’t “owe” anybody anything. Many of them also believe that the matter has to do with her privacy, and she should not be “forced” to come out, accusing Michelson of essentially outing her. But especially in the case of celebrities who have referenced same-sex sexual experiences in their work, or have appeared in public getting cozy with an out gay person, what actually counts as being “outed”?

That question was on many minds a decade ago, when Lindsay Lohan and Sam Ronson, or LoRo, were posting photos of each other on Myspace and kissing in public. (So, long before she was defending Harvey Weinstein on Instagram Stories.) Lohan — who has since described her on-and-off relationship with Ronson as “toxic”, and whose representative did not return a request for comment — never publicly announced whether or not they were dating at the time. But, as my colleague Kate Aurthur wrote in 2008 when she was at the LA Times, that didn’t stop celebrity magazines from churning out speculative stories about their relationship.

LoRo marked a sea change in the world of celebrity culture, because up until that point, print publications had “generally employed their own form of don’t ask/don’t tell when covering gay or bisexual celebrities who have not come out via press release or some other explicit declaration.” Aurthur spoke with prominent gossip columnist Michael Musto, who is openly gay and has been writing, sometimes controversially, about closeted celebrities for years: “Traditionally, the media has been as interested in closeting celebrities as the celebrities themselves have been,” he said. “I’ve read things in gossip columns that would never go there in the past and realized, ‘Wow, they’re going there now.’ They don’t consider gay a dirty thing anymore. And it’s very cool.” (I reached out to Musto to see what he thinks about the current state of the celebrity closet, but he hadn’t responded by publication time.)

LoRo forced the gossip press, gay media, and the public at large to consider whether or not reporting on an unconfirmed queer relationship counts as “outing” them — a question that came up again in a big way in 2015, when Kristen Stewart’s mother, Jules Stewart, gave an interview to the Sunday Mirror apparently confirming that Kristen was in a relationship at the time with Alicia Cargile. “I’ve met Kristen’s new girlfriend,” she said, “I like her.” The story went viral — many of Stewart’s fans and multiple media outlets accused her mother of “outing” her daughter to the world. (At the time, the younger Stewart had not formally made an announcement about her sexuality, and she had always avoided discussing her dating life to the press, even back when she was dating Robert Pattinson.) Soon afterward, Jules Stewart denied speaking about Kristen’s dating life in the interview, though the reporter stood by her story, saying that she’d taped their conversation.

The Jules Stewart debacle revealed how fraught the concept of “outing” has remained. Kristen Stewart and Cargile lived together; they went grocery shopping together; they were photographed kissing on a beach in Hawaii. At that point, they were relatively open about their relationship, except for giving it an official name. Could Stewart really have been “outed” by her mother if, in some ways, she was never really hiding?

Stewart (who, through her representative, did not respond to a request for comment) is perhaps the most famous female celebrity to have gotten frequently gal-palled by the tabloids — which went on for years, even after Stewart publicly addressed her relationship with Cargile in a 2016 interview, and even after she identified herself as “so gay, dude,” on SNL earlier this year, causing lesbians everywhere to lose their shit. Stewart has formally and officially come out in different ways multiple times now, most recently talking about the fluidity of sexuality and indicating that “it’s not confusing at all” if you’re bisexual: “For me, it’s quite the opposite.” But even she is not yet free from being BFF’d or gal-palled — an April screenshot from the Daily Mail’s Snapchat Discover calling Stewart and her current girlfriend, the supermodel Stella Maxwell, “sisters in arms” caused a stir on Celesbian Twitter.

But it wasn’t only the tabloids and the media at large that danced awkwardly around Stewart and Cargile’s relationship, and Stewart’s later relationships with other women. A popular member of Celesbian Twitter who preferred to be identified by her middle name, Emilia, told me via Twitter DM that some of Stewart’s fans circa her Twilight days can be just as bad, if not worse, than the tabloids when it comes to downplaying Stewart’s queerness.

Could Stewart really have been “outed” by her mother if, in some ways, she was never really hiding?

“Back in the day you couldn’t even talk about Kristen being interested in women because her fans refused to accept that being a reality,” she said. Even though it’s been years since Stewart and Cargile broke up, and Stewart has publicly dated multiple other women since — including the French singer Soko, Annie Clark, better known by her stage name St. Vincent, and currently Stella Maxwell — Emilia says that “those Robsten fans are never going to give up … I’ve seen some of them claim that she hasn’t moved on because she hasn’t dated a man since Rob, and only when she dates a man will she truly move on.” Emilia considers these theories “very invalidating of Kristen’s choice to date a woman instead of Rob (or any other man).”

Now, for the most part, the gossip press — even the Daily Mail — has gotten used to reporting on Stewart’s dating life using terms like “dating” and “girlfriend,” though they can still slip back into old habits with other celebrities. The Daily Mail (representatives for which didn’t return a request for comment) reverted to gal pal language when Lovato and Abedini went on what looked suspiciously like a date at Disney California Adventure, but that kind of coverage was in the minority; plenty of other outlets speculated that the two looked like more than friends. According to Page Six, the outing “sparked rumors of a possible romance.” Autostraddle: “Demi Lovato Almost Maybe Possibly Has a Girlfriend Now.” Even though Lovato is not, by some definitions, “out” — as in, she has not given herself a label, though she has said that “love is fluid” in the past — pointing out that two women might, in fact, be dating seems less likely to inspire accusations of “outing” them than it has in the past.

But there’s no grand consensus on that front. Michelson says that he wasn’t “trying to drag” Lovato “out of the closet” with his piece. “It’s not up to me to say when someone should come out of the closet, and we don’t cover stories like ‘Demi Lovato seen holding hands with a girl at Disneyland!’ at HuffPost,” he said. “I didn’t even mention that (alleged) story in my piece about Demi. Why? Because it’s not relevant to the questions I was asking.”

Stef Schwartz, a founding member and “self-appointed Vapid Fluff Editor” at Autostraddle, told me when we spoke this past spring that the site shoots for “funny but respectful coverage” of queer celebrities, with a tone that’s “more affectionate” than the typical tabloid. “I think we try really hard to make clear we’re poking fun at this genre — we use ‘gal pal’ pretty frequently.” When it comes to the topic of “outing,” though, Schwartz was more circumspect. “We try really hard not to out anybody who’s not really consensually out,” she said. For No Filter, Autostraddle’s column on celebrity social media, “we try in particular to only cover explicitly queer people… but it’s tricky.”

The fact that there are different approaches to covering queer or maybe-queer celebrities is only indicative of how much the conversation around queer celebrities has changed. Elaine Lui, better known as Lainey from her immensely popular and well-respected blog Lainey Gossip, told me when we spoke on the phone earlier this year that Kristen Stewart — arguably the most internationally famous young queer woman in the spotlight over the last few years — has been evidence of that.

“In the past, the story used to be: So and so is gay,” said Lui. “That’s the scoop. If I were to draw a comparison between ‘straight’ gossip, for lack of a better way of saying it, when we gossip about straight celebrities and romances and love lives, it’s ‘He was dating her, then he was dating her, he was flirting with somebody else, does that mean he cheating with her, she was talking with this other guy, she had chemistry with other guy on set…’ We weren’t getting that with gay celebs.”

Now, she said, “with Kristen Stewart, it’s not just ‘Kristen Stewart is gay.’ It’s ‘Kristen Stewart dated four people in 2016, she’s a serial monogamist, she’s a player’ — in the same way we might talk about how Kate Hudson is a man-eater.”

Lui has written about how Stewart has started taking a “no apologies” approach to her dating life. “It’s a credit to her that she’s living her life, being authentic,” she told me. “Whenever she gets a girlfriend or breaks up with one person, she doesn’t attempt to hide the fact that she’s with somebody else — she knows what people are gonna say, how they’re going to talk. I don’t want to put intention in her mind but I feel like she’s contributing to that normalization. Straight actresses are talked about that way all the time.”

“I don’t want to go so far as to say that’s achieving equality,” Lui said. But she wondered what the current, ever-fraught state of gossip means for achieving something like equality in the future.

Part of the reason that Stewart and her relationships have drawn such an overwhelming amount of attention from queer fans and the public at large is that she’s among the ranks of “lesbian cool girls,” as a June Vogue story put it. “With their beauty, and their jet-set lifestyles, and their insouciant miens,” celesbians “are performing a vital role in bringing lesbians into the American mainstream.”

High-femme lesbianism’s current cultural moment is also in evidence on one of the covers for Vogue Italia’s “Bacio!” September 2017 issue, where two feminine women wearing tiny crocheted tops are photographed in black and white, sharing a half-hearted kiss while one of them stares directly into the camera, meeting the public’s greedy gaze.

The idea of “lesbian chic” is, of course, far from new. Its modern iteration kicked off in 1993, when k.d. lang, wearing a men’s three-piece suit, received a shave from Cindy Crawford on the August cover of Vanity Fair, leaning contentedly into Crawford’s breasts. The Canadian singer also graced another famous cover earlier that year, for New York mag, announcing “the bold and brave new world of gay women” over the gigantic words “LESBIAN CHIC.” It was a big summer for the rest of the world waking up and discovering lesbians exist — Newsweek had a cover of its own that June, featuring a couple embracing under a cover line that said simply, and rather hilariously, “LESBIANS.”

Vanity Fair, New York Magazine, Newsweek

Nearly a decade later came The L Word, a Showtime series created by executive producer and out lesbian Ilene Chaiken. The show, about a group of glamorous queer women living in West Hollywood, spurred another resurgence of “lesbian chic” (just a year after Madonna, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera infamously kissed at the VMAs). The main characters, who were almost all white and almost all feminine or feminine-adjacent, didn’t come close to representing the vast diversity of the queer community in terms of race, socioeconomic status, or gender presentation — but they did, for better or worse, put lesbians on the cultural map. A 2004 New York mag cover declared that these women were “not your mother’s lesbians.” Once relegated to the butt of sitcom jokes and SNL gaffes, The L Word was making lesbianism sexy. Recently, amid yet another era of “lesbian chic”, it was announced that a sequel was in the works at Showtime, to the sorts of famously mixed reactions The L Word has always inspired.

Seeing lesbianism commodified and glamorized in trendy waves can be frustrating for a lot of lesbians, who get tired of hearing this message from mainstream pop culture: Congrats, your marginalized identity is cool now, so long as you perform it in a super-specific way that caters to capitalism and the male gaze!

But of course, queer culture breaking through the mainstream, and vice versa, isn’t all bad. Autostraddle, now the world’s biggest independent website for lesbians and queer women, actually has its roots in L Word internet fandom — the site, which launched in 2009, grew out of editor-in-chief Riese Bernard’s blog about the show. Now, Autostraddle is a widely beloved source for queer news, pop culture, and online community. Since The L Word has long since been off the air, gossiping about the latest crop of lesbian celebrities has, for some Autostraddle members, filled the space that the show left behind. “I’ve been joking that Kristen Stewart’s paid my phone bill for the past two years,” Schwartz told me.

When I spoke to Amy York Rubin earlier this year, she said she’d been inspired to write the musical “Fame” episode of Boxed In because rumor-mongering about celebrities’ sexuality “felt like such a recurrent thing.” The first time she noticed both LGBT people and gossip mags freaking out about a traditionally attractive female celebrity’s maybe-queerness was during the Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson craze of the mid-2000s. Lohan was one of the first famous women seen canoodling with another woman that Rubin could remember who “didn’t have the stereotypical look of a lesbian — which is problematic, but the truth of our culture,” she said.

In the years following LoRo, said Rubin, there were suddenly “these [queer] women who were cool. They were sex objects. This started becoming true with Kristen Stewart and Cara Delevingne — everyone gets excited, thinking, Hey, maybe there’s somebody like me who looks like the type of woman that our culture values and holds up. Even though that’s so wrong, and part of a larger problem.”

The visibility of young queer or maybe-queer women wouldn’t have been made possible without Ellen DeGeneres and other assigned-female Gen-X and boomer celebrities across the art, news, and entertainment worlds, who have changed the landscape for today’s LGBT celebrities. Ellen came out when she was 39; now famous people — and regular people, for that matter — are coming out at younger and younger ages. Big-name celesbians like Stewart, Delevingne, Annie Clark, and Evan Rachel Wood date other women, party in New York and LA, and star in international beauty campaigns as well as gigantic film franchises. Stewart and Delevingne, in particular, aren’t just famous in more niche markets the way some of their queer forebears were — they are global superstars.

The way we talk about queer celebrities is ultimately a way we can talk about ourselves.

But that isn’t to say that the floodgates have been opened for everyone. It is, perhaps, no surprise that some of the most popular queer female celebrities working in more mainstream media today are conventionally beautiful women (read: thin, white, relatively femme) dating other conventionally beautiful women — though celebrities like Samira Wiley and Lena Waithe, who both have had extraordinarily successful years, are battling that standard.

“I really like that there’s a celesbian fandom now and we can actually talk about these queer women and their love lives with other girls who are interested in that sort of thing,” said Emilia, the Celesbian Twitter user. “I’m just really happy to see someone I’ve liked since I was teenager also being queer and publically dating women, and I think it’s fun to follow it.”

It’s not only famous, out-queer women who garner enormous queer followings — there are plenty of corners of Celesbian Twitter devoted to “proving” that seemingly straight celebrities are queer. Last year, Broadly investigated the popular conspiracy theory that Taylor Swift is secretly gay, and dating her bestie Karlie Kloss. (Swift has denied these rumors.)

These theories — and celesbian gossip in general — are a welcome reprieve from the horrors of the news cycle lately. A bunch of retweets and reblogs of Kristen Stewart and Stella Maxwell wearing each other’s clothes and going on a coffee run are nothing if not pleasantly low-stakes. Celesbian gossip is fun for the same reason any kind of gossip is: It’s salacious, and sexy, and funny, and it’s just something to talk about.

But these conversations also stem in part from queer people’s desire to see themselves reflected in pop culture. The way we talk about queer celebrities is ultimately a way we can talk about ourselves. These celebrities are our avatars, upon whom we can project our complicated feelings about the closet, about queer respectability and assimilation, about how big or small a part of our public identities our queerness should be, about monogamy and domesticity, about life and love. Gossip isn’t always “just” gossip; sometimes, it’s a common language.

Bryan Bedder / Getty Images

DJ Samantha Ronson and actor Lindsay Lohan in 2009.

On a recent episode of comedian Cameron Esposito’s podcast, Queery, she and Tegan Quin (of the band Tegan and Sara) discussed how frustrating it is that because they are openly gay, their acts have sometimes been assumed to be “just” for lesbian audiences, and pushing back against that false assumption can make you seem as though you don’t appreciate your lesbian fans. “It’s an awful bear trap,” said Quin.

Quin also brought up a time a few years ago, right before she and Sara were set to open for Katy Perry’s tour, that she was talking to a queer artist she’d never met before, whom she respects and looks up to. Quin said that their band had made a concerted effort to make a pop record to reach a larger audience, because as of 2012, there were few to no queer voices in the mainstream. The other queer artist responded saying that was cool — and maybe the Katy Perry tour would be an opportunity for her and Sara, her twin sister, to come out.

“And I was like, huh?” Quin remembered. “This was 2012 — I was like, we’ve been out since 1988! But this was not the first time this has happened.” If people are still doubting the outness of Tegan and Sara, two of the most visible and successful lesbians in pop culture, what does that mean for everybody else?

In a post-marriage-equality world, even the most famous queer people still face challenges, whether they’re being accused of coming out “for attention,” they have limited dating options because many women in the entertainment industry are still not out, or they’re told that being honest about their sexuality would hurt their careers. Many women — famous and unfamous — are still fetishized, belittled or disbelieved, no matter how many times they “officially” come out.

When Demi Lovato’s documentary comes out on October 17, she may or may not choose to make a formal declaration about her sexuality. No matter what, she’s sure to inspire more conversations, more debate, more accusations, more celebration.

In an ideal world, no one would have to make a formal declaration about who they sleep with or fall in love with, over and over again, ad infinitum. But it’s also hard to imagine what that kind of world might look like, since LGBT people are still a minority (though some studies suggest that could change). Perhaps we will always have to make ourselves known, in some way, whether it’s in a documentary, or on a magazine cover, or on social media; whether it’s to a new doctor, or a new coworker, or to a new friend. Regardless, there’s little chance we’ll ever develop a consensus on what’s good and right and appropriate when it comes to coming out, and what goes on afterward: the being out part. Which is kind of exhausting — how long are we all going to keep talking about this? — but, in a way, it’s kind of thrilling, too. We’re still invested in figuring out what’s supposed to happen next. ●