From Jaden to EJ: Gender Nonconformity Is a Luxury Most Black Men Don't Have

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 14:  Jaden Smith attends the New York premiere of "Allegiant" at the AMC Lincoln Square Theater on March 14, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 14:  EJ Johnson poses during SheaMoisture at Laquan Smith F/W 2016 NYFW at Jack Studios on February 14, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for SheaMoisture)

From Jaden to EJ: Gender Nonconformity Is a Luxury Most Black Men Don't Have

Would these celebrities feel free to speak out if they weren't famous?

Published March 17, 2016

Let’s imagine, for a moment, how things would be different if Jaden Smith were a regular kid. If he were a 17-year-old growing up in, let’s say, West Philadelphia, as his father did, would he still be vocal about gender identity? Would he feel confident and secure enough to wear a skirt to school? Would he be accepted by his peers and lauded for his progressive thinking?

We know the answer.

While Jaden has major advertising campaigns and magazine covers highlighting his views, there are many young Black men (and women) in this country that are not able to vocalize their ideas. And for the voiceless, being misunderstood can be deadly.

The truth is that the typical young person who may be questioning their sexual and gender identity is three times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.

Jaden has the family support (and the finances) to speak freely about his thoughts. Yes, some criticize him — but not by anyone who actually has any power over him. A reporter for the New York Post can call Jaden and his sister, Willow, “uber-entitled, brainless self-adoring, twaddle-spewing little munchkins.” But that means less than nothing to Jaden’s bottom line.

In general, celebrities have a certain amount of privilege when it comes to self-expression. Rappers like Young Thug, Kanye West, Kid Cudi and A$AP Rocky can dabble in flipping traditional ideas on masculinity and gender. But, like Jaden, their celebrity protects them from the type of treatment young people are experiencing in the real world. They may catch flak. But it’s nowhere near what non-famous young people have to deal with everyday.

When Magic Johnson’s son, EJ Johnson, rocks dresses, full-on makeup and heels, he gets a mix of love and hate in social media spaces, but, either way, EJ still has freedom and the privilege to live how he wants. EJ can still present an aspirational world, complete with designer bags and weight-loss surgery, which makes seeking acceptance much easier than the young man in Brooklyn or Chicago or Compton.

We need people like Jaden and EJ to continue to use their platforms to speak out about their experiences and their ideas. We need them to continue to be true to themselves and pull the rest of society into the modern world, where there is an ever-changing view of what used to be a very black-and-white way of labeling sexual and gender-identity.

But we also have to make sure that all young people have safe spaces to explore their identity. Even if they don’t have the protection of fame, money and familial support.

You shouldn’t have to be a performer with a rabid fan base (or simply be the child of a celebrity), in order to feel comfortable enough to speak your mind and be true to who you are.

As it stands today, young men and women who can identify with Jaden and EJ are statistically more likely to struggle for acceptance. Forty percent of all LGBT teenagers report that the city they live in is not accepting of the LGBT community. These young people are not being offered magazine covers or reality shows. They are unknown. They are numbers, not faces. But they still need protection. They still need to be understood. They still need to be heard.

When we come to the defense of young people like Jaden and EJ, which we should, we have to remember the hundreds of thousands of Jadens and EJs who exist without an outlet.  

See the rude things a New York Post writer has to say about Jaden and Willow Smith, and their parents, with BET Breaks, below:

Written by Aliya King

(Photo: Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images, Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for SheaMoisture)


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