Celebrity advocates and the right to speak out

Blog / Thursday, July 7th, 2016

So let me get this straight: when a celebrity, usually a rich (white) cis person, comes out with their mental illness or other disability, that doesn’t give them a free pass. It doesn’t mean that this person is now immune to criticism or that they should be considered The Face of Said Disability. It doesn’t mean that most of the other sufferers aren’t likely less privileged than this person speaking out – the fact that they are indeed speaking out in itself indicates the opposite.

But here’s the thing. Even if you don’t care about their illness on a personal level, if it doesn’t make you feel emotionally connected in any shape or form, it can still have an effect on a variety of levels and to a variety of groups of people.

It might not make me feel particularly moved on an emotional level to hear that Olly Alexander from Years & Years suffers from depression, but if you’re a young fan in a minority group that happens to read what he had to say about gay communities and mental illness, you might find a sense of allyship in that. Maybe something like that will help you feel that despite of your mental illness you can still create beautiful things and find recognition for that.

But not only that: representation doesn’t just matter so that people suffering from these illnesses find people to relate to. It also creates visibility and brings the topic down to day to day discussion. People are more likely to speak against what they fear, and more likely to fear what they don’t know of. Therefore in order to remove stigma around, in this case, mental illness, it’s important to promote an open and tolerant media environment.

In the same way we might be against people such as Caitlyn Jenner as a public face for trans people and still defend her right to use her privilege to create conversation around transness and bringing the topic into everyday conversation. These people’s privilege must make us wary, but it mustn’t make us spiteful just for the sake of it. There’s a whole bunch of reasons to criticise most people, but speaking out about stigmatised phenomena isn’t one of them. Hell, it’s probably one of the few things celebrity privilege can be used in a way that might actually truly help someone, apart from direct transfers of economic goods.

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