OPINION: Is Billie Eilish right - should we ditch labels for good?

Wednesday, 6 December 2023 12:44 GMT

Billie Eilish attends the Variety Hitmakers Brunch, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., December 2, 2023. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The 21-year-old singer’s candid honesty about her attraction to women will help young LGBTQ+ people far more than any label

Lucy Middleton is deputy editor of Openly.

Who Billie Eilish is or isn’t attracted to has been getting a lot of attention in recent weeks.

The 21-year-old singer has been plagued by accusations of queer-baiting this year – a term used to describe people who act as if they are LGBTQ+ in a bid to falsely draw in queer audiences.

But in November, she put the speculation to bed by telling Variety she was “physically attracted” to women, comments that prompted a reporter to ask her about her sexuality during the magazine’s Hitmakers event on December 2.

Asked if she had intended to come out, Eilish told the interviewer: “No, I didn’t but I kind of thought... wasn’t it obvious? I didn’t realise people didn’t know.”

She later took to Instagram to criticise the interest in her sexuality, telling her followers: “I like boys and girls leave me alone about it please literally who cares.”

As an LGBTQ+ person who has also grappled with labels and coming out, I can understand where she is coming from.

When I first came out to my family and friends in 2014 – when I was just one year older than Eilish – I refused a label for myself. I knew I wasn’t straight or gay, but revealing the extent of my sexuality around the dinner table with my parents made me feel uneasy.

I went on to become comfortable privately using the label bisexual, with the same assumption as Eilish that it was surely “obvious” to everyone else. But four years later, when I was in a long-term heterosexual relationship, I realised I’d failed to tell my own mum my identity.

She’d met and loved my ex-girlfriend, but unsurprisingly, she hadn’t been able to read my mind. I decided there and then I would take responsibility for expressing myself and bought a bisexual flag on my phone to wear at London Pride one week later.

It changed my life. The next day I came out as bisexual on Instagram and two months later in a national newspaper where I was working as a reporter.

Talking about bisexuality is now as easy to me as discussing the colour of my hair – but nowadays, the label doesn’t sit as well. I prefer to say I like who I like, regardless of gender.

Labels like pansexual or bisexual can allow me to quickly summarise my romantic life, but they can also be restrictive and often come with predetermined meanings. The spectrum of sexuality is far wider than just one word.

It is the same too for my gender. Around 2021, I quietly started telling friends I was non-binary, but ultimately it didn’t feel right. I’ve spent almost my whole life feeling internally genderless, but I don’t currently need to define it with a word.

This year, I decided to change my pronouns to include they/them on social media. It made me happy – and the fact only one person has ever asked me about it has made me even happier.

I don’t know what I would do if the world turned its attention to me in the way it has done with Eilish, who is reported to have lost more than 100,000 followers on social media since the weekend.

No one should be expected to know any answers about themselves at 21. I’m a decade older than Eilish and still working things out as I go.

LGBTQ+ visibility and representation is important, but queer people don’t owe anyone a neatly packaged description of who they are unless they’re ready to.

Besides, Eilish has been refreshingly honest about her experience of not feeling feminine and finding other women intimidating, especially considering she is so young.

“I’ve never felt like a woman, to be honest with you. I’ve never felt desirable,” the seven-time Grammy winner told Variety.

These are the types of experiences a lot of young LGBTQ+ people relate to and need to hear more about. Eilish being so candid and open will benefit them far more than the finer details of who she’s dating.

Openly is an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to impartial coverage of LGBT+ issues from around the world.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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