As a queer woman who dates men, Miley Cyrus makes me feel seen—but she’s wrong about one important thing


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Photo: Getty Images/Dia Dipasupil/Staff

Miley Cyrus is queer—and her recent Vanity Fair cover story makes clear that she wants to everyone to know her recent marriage to Liam Hemsworth doesn’t change that. “A big part of my pride and identity is being a queer person,” says the artist, who came out as pansexual and then genderqueer several years ago. I, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, applaud Cyrus for the reminder—but she still has some work to do as a public ally.

After identifying as a lesbian for the first quarter-century of my life, I fell for a cisgender man. From the outside looking in, we didn’t seem all that different from any other hetero duo. And as our relationship grew more serious, I felt like my previous experiences as a queer-identifying woman were getting erased. I wondered whether it possible to continue identifying as queer, even within my relationship, which felt very heterosexual in nature. At the time, the answer seemed like a clear, hard no. And as such, I felt an incredible sense of loss.

But what Cyrus (rightfully) contends in the Vanity Fair piece is that your queerness doesn’t disintegrate just because your relationship looks heterosexual. Your sexual identity is not a reflection of your partner’s gender, but rather a reflection of how you define yourself. For both queer women like me (who do, have, or will date cisgender men) and a general society that glosses over the intricacies of desire and identity, that’s a powerful notion.

I wish bold stances like Cyrus’ had existed when I started dating my (now ex-) male partner. And I’m grateful to her for helping queer women dating cisgender men feel seen. But I can’t stand behind every single thing she says: One statement in particular, is about as woke as a softboy (read: not woke at all): “The reason that people get married sometimes can be old-fashioned, but I think the reason we got married isn’t old-fashioned—I actually think it’s kind of New Age,” she says of marriage to Hemsworth. “We’re redefining, to be f*cking frank, what it looks like for someone that’s a queer person like myself to be in a hetero relationship.” Full stop. “Re-defining”? Cyrus: Could you be more self-righteous or less-aware of how much privilege you have?

While Cyrus says despite marrying Hemsworth, she’s not some “polite hetero lady,” the reality is when she’s with Hemsworth, they look like a polite hetero couple. And with that comes a tremendous amount of straight-passing privilege.

Cyrus’s relationship with Hemsworth is digestible to the public, just as my relationship with my boyfriend was. And I cannot overstate how much easier and less scary my life felt while dating a cisgender man compared to when I’ve dated women or gender-nonconforming folks. When we’d walk to dinner holding hands, nobody questioned it. There was no suspicion, no hate, no name calling. No one mistook us for sisters. No one accused either of us of using the wrong bathroom. No one policed anything about our relationship.

While Cyrus says despite marrying Hemsworth, she’s not some “polite hetero lady,” the reality is when she’s with Hemsworth, they look like a polite hetero couple. And with that comes a tremendous amount of straight-passing privilege.

Cyrus says “she’s tried to be more aware of where she comes from relative to others,” the VF piece reports, but her claims that she’s redefining queerness is a failure on that exact front. It shows shockingly little awareness of queer and LGBTQ+ history, not to mention the folks who put themselves in harm’s way every day on behalf of the queer community.

Indeed there is power in Cyrus owning and celebrating her queer identity—and working to make queerness visible in a straight-seeming relationships. Still, she’s not a revolutionary. While I hope she continues to be outspoken on the topic, understanding how her queer experience is one of great privilege is the first step she’ll have to take before doing anything revolutionary in relation to queerness.

Just because you’re a minority doesn’t mean you don’t harbor your own biases. Here’s how to override them. And if you’re thinking about coming out at work, this guide can help.

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