Thursday, April 08, 2021

JoJo Siwa Opens Up About Coming Out as LGBTQ

JoJo Siwa says that she’s in love and now identifies as pansexual. "My human is my human," the YouTube star and Nickelodeon mogul told PEOPLE for their cover story this week.

JoJo Siwa Opens Up About Coming Out as LGBTQ: 'The First Time That I've Felt So Personally Happy'. Credit: Michelle Groskopf

If you don't know JoJo Siwa, if you haven't seen any of her videos — now with 3.6 billion views on YouTube — or read about her recent coming out as LGBTQ, ask any preteen or tween. They'll know her story.

They've probably secured their ponytails with a great big, sparkling, rainbow-striped bow, too. The superstar with Elton John's style, Miley Cyrus' voice, and SpongeBob's outlook describes herself in this week's cover story of PEOPLE as "an entertainer" and "the happiest human alive."


Siwa not only sells out international arenas - even becoming the youngest headline act to play at the O2 arena in Greenwich in London, but is a burgeoning mogul, inking deals that have ensured her face grins from a staggering amount of merch at Target, Walmart, and JCPenney from dolls, clothes and candy to watches, shoes and bean bag chairs. She embraces it all — she has two convertible Mercedes parked outside her house emblazoned with her face. 

"I work a lot," Siwa says.

After earning her GED two years ago, her work life consists of rehearsing, filming — right now, her new summer movie The J Team — editing videos, TikTok-ing and signing off on products bearing her name and image.

"But I do normal things!" Siwa insists.

She likes Kraft macaroni and cheese. She FaceTimes with her girlfriend, Kylie Prew, 18, constantly. And she loves Ariana Grande and Grey's Anatomy. "I go to the bathroom on my toilet with my face on it," she says before unleashing an echoing cackle. "That's normal. Right?"

But the world's happiest human does have bad days. "My struggles deal with being overworked and not getting any sleep," Siwa says. "Do I ever have breakdowns? Yes, of course I do. I'm a teenager. There are a lot of times where I just will throw my phone down and lay on my bed and look at the ceiling and cry for a second."


Born just before the advent of Facebook, JoJo doesn't know a world without emojis. She sees her phone as more solution than problem: "My phone keeps me connected to the world!"

It's also became a gateway to community and support. In January, Siwa came out as LGBTQ, over a series of posts on TikTok and Instagram. When she lipsynched Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" following a day with TikTok collective Pride House LA, fans wondered if she was revealing something about her sexuality. And with a very direct t-shirt — BEST GAY COUSIN EVER — she confirmed it.

Siwa also declared her love for girlfriend Kylie Prew, 18. "She never cares what the internet said about us," she says. "It's nice to have somebody in my life like that." 


Siwa says the announcement was the last thing she hadn't shared with the world. And was inspired by her love for Prew, which began as friendship and turned romantic in late 2020. At first, JoJo didn't want to put a "label" on her sexuality.

"I still don't know what I am. It's like, I want to figure it out. And I have this joke. Her name is Kylie. And so I say that I'm Ky-sexual," she says. "But like, I don't know, bisexual, pansexual, queer, lesbian, gay, straight. I always just say gay because it just kind of covers it or queer because I think the keyword is cool."

"I like queer," she adds. "Technically I would say that I am pansexual because that's how I have always been my whole life is just like, my human is my human."

Credit: Michelle Groskopf

Siwa and Prew met on a cruise ship. "I told her my whole spiel that I tell everyone when they ask me my life story," Siwa remembers. "She goes, 'I could have Googled that. I want to know your life story. You just told me about your career. I want to know about you.' And I was like, No one's ever asked me that before." 

"I never wanted [my coming out] to be a big deal," she adds. But it was: Never before has someone with such a young fan base identified publicly as LGBTQ.  

"I've known since I was little," Siwa says. ("I did too," her mom Jessalynn adds. "A mother knows.") They both also knew it was a risk to tell the world. "I have a lot that could have gone away because of my love life," Siwa says.

Ever connected to her fans, she Googled herself. Then she read the thousands of comments. "I never should have done that. I was thinking that all the comments were going to be nice and supportive, and they weren't," she says. "A lot of them were, 'I'm never buying your merch again. My daughter's never watching you again.' I couldn't sleep for three days."

But Siwa found clarity: "My thing is, I don't want people to watch my videos or buy my merchandise if they aren't going to support not only me, but the LGBTQ community." 

And new fans Elton John, Meghan Trainor, Kerry Washington and more applauded her openness. "I've never gotten this much support from the world," she says. "I think this is the first time that I've felt so personally happy."

"Performing has always made me super happy," she adds. "But for the first time, personally, I am like, whoa, happiness. I am so proud to be me."


For more from JoJo Siwa, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, April 9.

From People:

Inside JoJo Siwa’s 'Normal' World: 'Of Course I Have Breakdowns — I'm a Teenager'

The 17-year-old megastar has a multi-million-dollar deal with Nickelodeon and says she's never done homework. But she tells PEOPLE in this week's cover story that she has good days and bad days like other people her age.

If Jojo Siwa hadn't been on Dance Moms, she'd be a senior in high school back in Omaha. She'd be doing homework and playing softball. Maybe, she thinks, she would be preparing to graduate and applying to pre-med programs.

"To this day, I would love to be a surgeon," JoJo tells PEOPLE in one of this week's cover stories, sitting in the foyer of her house in front of a rainbow unicorn the stature of a racehorse. She lingers in the past. "Being surrounded by kids, high school would have been fun."

If Jojo Siwa hadn't been on Dance Moms, she'd be a senior in high school back in Omaha. She'd be doing homework and playing softball. Maybe, she thinks, she would be preparing to graduate and applying to pre-med programs.

"To this day, I would love to be a surgeon," JoJo tells PEOPLE in one of this week's cover stories, sitting in the foyer of her house in front of a rainbow unicorn the stature of a racehorse. She lingers in the past. "Being surrounded by kids, high school would have been fun."

Then — snap! — the singer and dancer whose YouTube videos have been viewed more than 3.6 billion times is back. "I love being a pop star so much more! I mean, it's the coolest life in the world!" she says as her fizzy enthusiasm sends her trademark bow and blonde ponytail vibrating. "I wouldn't trade it for anything." 

Every inch of her two-story mansion, with a pool and concert stage out back, reflects JoJo's rhinestoned ethos. (Green slime trompe l'oeil detail on the dining room's crown molding reflects her multi-million-dollar deal with Nickelodeon.) Just as Superman has his Fortress of Solitude, this Greek-columned suburban lair is where JoJo retreats to recharge her own superpowers.

There are portraits of JoJo on the walls bearing JoJo maxims ("Hold the DRAMA"). There is a bar stocked with candy — every type you can imagine from Swedish Fish to Mike and Ikes to JoJo's Gummy Bows. ("They're just decoration," JoJo tells me later. "No one in this house eats sugar!")

One dog, Buddy, trots around in a JoJo hoodie. But her mom Jessalyn says the home is not a set — because that would make her daughter a character.  

"This isn't Miley/Hannah Montana," Jessalynn says, whose describes her own job as "momager" and "creative director" of JoJo. (Back in Omaha, they called her Jess Jenner, after Kim Kardashian's mom.) "There is no split. What you see is what you get. She's always like this." 

The minute she heard about Dance Moms in 2012, Jessalynn recalls thinking, "Why are we not on this?!" She sent an audition tape without ever telling her daughter, and JoJo was selected for a spin-off series in 2013.

Two years later, they moved to Dance Moms, and, as they started filming, the pair became the show's interloping villains. (In one memorable scene, infamous teacher Abby Lee Miller wanted JoJo to wear a smaller bow. "Beyoncé," JoJo whispers to her mom, employing their code word for "go harder." An even bigger bow was worn. "You're a greedy little monster!" Miller screamed to Jojo.) 

"We were blinded," Jessalynn remembers. "We were just so happy to be a part of that world. I never thought about the consequences, what bad effects could this have on our mental well-being."

They took the hits — the characterizations on the show, nasty comments on social media — but persevered.

"I was like, 'No, I want her to do this,'" Jessalynn says. "She wants to be famous." 

When she hears JoJo say she wants to be a doctor, "I'm like 'JoJo, please don't tell me we did all this, and you want to go to med school.' If she did, we would a million percent support her. But I would be like, 'Oh my god, we spent so many years doing this,'" she adds.

You could say the entire empire started with bows. JoJo and Jessalyn would make them with hot glue guns and rhinestones at home in Omaha in between dance competitions and sell them in salons.

In JoJo's platinum-selling single "Boomerang," her iconographic bow became a symbol of standing up to bullies. Since then, the accessory has been copied, parodied, and, in some school districts, banned. It has also sparked rumors about her hairline.

"Every single day I will be like, 'Got to pull that down a little bit. Can we fill it in a little bit?' People were saying that the bow was causing it," she says. "This bow is not doing anything. It's just my hair." She rips the iridescent bow from her head. Like a matryoshka doll, a smaller rhinestoned bow sits beneath. JoJo's real hair, seen rarely on videos, is darker and wavier than her ponytail extension.

For more from JoJo Siwa, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

"I used to hate my hair down," she says. "But one day, I was like, 'I can't wait to take my hair out and leave it down.' I was like, 'Did I just say that?'" She explains: "I have two humans that live inside this body—rockstar JoJo, which is the crazy costumes. And then I have the most chill, you-would-never-know-it's-me, black pants, black hoodie, hair in a ponytail or two braids or down. I love them both equally."

"I don't like the word 'normal' but I'm a normal teenager," JoJo adds. "Of course I have breakdowns. I throw myself on my bed and cry."

JoJo turns 18 next month, and will have all the freedom to decide what to wear and do next. One thing she's planning is a trip to the bank to withdraw some of her fortune that's been held in trust.

"I cannot wait for that day! My parents are terrified I'm going to move out." She's not, she clarifies. "I'm excited to grow up, but I don't think there's ever going to be a day where I'm like, 'It's time to be an adult.'"

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