There’s no precedent for what JoJo did — no star of her caliber, at her age, whose audience is made up of mostly elementary schoolers, has come out so publicly. And JoJo, with her unflappable joy, is an example unlike any LGBTQ young people have had.
“JoJo’s pride in her identity and her confidence in shrugging off negative responses indicates that her social media presence will foster a sense of supportive community for LGBTQ youth,” said Traci Gillig, an assistant professor of communication at Washington State University who studies the impacts of LGBTQ+ representation on young people. “She’s one more voice — and a big one — communicating to young LGBTQ people that they are loved.”
Now, LGBTQ kids have one of the world’s biggest child stars in their corner.
JoJo says she’s the happiest she’s ever been
For the uninitiated, Joelle Joanie Siwa is a ray of unrelenting, occasionally grating sunshine. She’s rarely seen without her gravity-defying ponytail tied neatly with an oversized bow. She exudes innocent, inexhaustible positivity. She delivers affirmations to her young viewers in enthusiastic screams.
Because JoJo’s persona has been monetized (and because most of her audience is young children), she keeps fans at a distance. She invites cameras into her home, and while she’s reliably giddy and entertaining, she’s also playing a part.
Her coming out, though, was devoid of all pretense.
Someone on Instagram Live asked her how she identified. She answered candidly — she doesn’t know.
“I wanna share everything with the world; I really do,” she told her rapt audience. “But I also want to keep things in my life private until they’re ready to be public.”
Still, she’s “never, ever, ever been this happy before,” she said, beaming.
“I think coming out has this stigma around it, that it’s a really, really, really scary thing,” she said. “It’s not anymore. There’s so many accepting and loving people out there. Of course people are gonna say it’s not normal, but it’s your normal.”
JoJo also has the advantage, of course, of being rich and popular online. She could lose a lot by coming out — sponsorships, fans, some income — but the non-famous kids who watch her videos stand to lose a lot more.
But seeing someone like JoJo, who at 17 has already conquered worlds, come out in a very public way is still meaningful, said Jill Gutowitz, a culture writer whose upcoming book, “Canon,” examines the impact of queer women in pop culture.
“Queer adults have only just started seeing themselves represented by highly visible celebrities in the past few years, but teens and children — Siwa’s audience — still don’t have many out, queer, highly visible pop culture figures to look to,” Gutowitz told CNN in an email.
Now, they’ve got one of the most visible kids in the world as an example.
“I’ve heard many people say that coming out with such a massive platform is ‘brave,’ and in a way that’s true, given our culture’s history of burying or erasing queerness,” she said. “But I don’t think JoJo Siwa came out because she was doing something ‘brave’ — I think she came out because this is who she is, and it’s important to her to share all of herself with her fans.”
In that way, JoJo’s living the same values she extols in her messages to fans: She’s being her truest self.
She’s setting a new precedent
Gillig, an assistant professor of communication at Washington State University, said JoJo’s coming out is unlike that of any other celebrity.
“JoJo is a rare example of a young person who has been in the media spotlight for years before coming out as LGBTQ while still an adolescent,” Gilig said.
There’s less consensus, though, about children who come out. Kids who know they’re LGBTQ when they’re young aren’t always believed by the adults in their lives, and their experiences are often discounted, said Lori Duron, an advocate for LGBTQ youth and the mother of a gay, nonbinary child.
When asked how long she’s known she’s LGBTQ, JoJo said she’s probably known her entire life.
“I always believed my person would be my person,” she said on Instagram Live. “If that person happened to be a boy, great! If that person happened to be a girl, great!”
Duron said she thinks JoJo’s example may force parents to take their children seriously when they come out at a young age.
“For her coming out, keeping it super positive — I think it can change some minds and change some hearts,” she said. “Because she’s still exactly who she was two days ago or two weeks ago, and they’re seeing that. It’s that visibility that softens people’s minds and hearts over time.”
It’s impactful, too, Duron said, for parents to see the support JoJo’s parents have shown her publicly.
In her follow-up video, JoJo ends with something her dad told her earlier: “‘Hey man, love is universal!'”
“That’s so important to see, that adults can be safe and loving and supportive,” Duron said. “I think it’s very important for her audience to see, as well — that she’s loved and accepted at home.”
She’s got no time for haters
Still, Gillig said, “the long-term impact of her coming out will be undoubtedly positive for LGBTQ people.”
It has been already, in just the last week, for Duron’s son. He giddily sends her TikToks from JoJo and rushes into her bedroom to show her new videos from the bow-clad star.
“It just makes him so happy,” she said. “He still doesn’t sometimes feel totally safe and doesn’t see that visibility out in the world, so to see that and to see it from someone — he sees her picture when we’re out shopping — it’s just meaning so much.”
On Instagram Live, JoJo’s joy bubbled over. She giggled, she grinned, she used “awesome” in every other sentence. She joked that her face started to cramp up from smiling so much.
Not even the haters could dim her glow.
“Why would she, with the platform and power she has, want to hide a huge part of herself just to make a few hateful people comfortable, when her whole message is to be loudly, proudly yourself?” Gutowitz said. “It doesn’t make sense for her, and she doesn’t have to do it. And that’s a powerful message.”
Shortly after her buoyant Instagram Live address, JoJo took off to Canada, where she’ll stay for months to film a secret project. When and if she’s ready, she’ll tell more of her story to her largely adoring public. But for now, she’s said enough.
Her happiness speaks for itself.