When YouTuber Nikkie de Jager came out as a transgender woman this week, it was on her own terms but not quite on her preferred timeline.
De Jager, better known as NikkieTutorials, came out in a video posted Monday titled "I'm Coming Out." In it, she announced that not only is she trans, but that someone who knew was attempting to blackmail her and threatening to out her.
"I have been blackmailed by people that wanted to leak my story to the press," she said in the video. "At first it was frightening. It was frightening to know that there are people out there that are so evil that they can’t respect someone’s true identity. It is vile and it is gross. And I know that you are watching this."
She said she decided to come out due to the threats, although she hadn't imagined that this would be the time when she'd share it with her nearly 13 million subscribers.
Sadly, de Jager is not the first trans person to face the threat of outing. Both the intimidation and the act can be incredibly harmful to trans people, endangering their careers and lives.
"As a society, we’ve all learned especially over the last few decades that it’s not appropriate to out someone who is lesbian, gay, or bisexual. The same holds true for trans people, but there is less understanding of the harmful and violent consequences of outing a trans person," Nick Adams, a trans man and GLAAD's director of transgender media and representation, told BuzzFeed News. "Historically, we know that when our gender history is revealed to others, it can result in loss of job, loss of friends, and often loss of life."
Take, for example, Tracey Norman, a model who was the first black trans woman to be on a box of Clairol. She lost her career after she was outed in 1980. It was a similar story for April Ashley, a trans model who was outed in the press in 1961, and Caroline Cossey, who once appeared in a James Bond film before being outed in 1981. Cossey said her career was "destroyed overnight."
The 1999 movie Boys Don't Cry told the real-life story of Brandon Teena. Teena was a trans man in Nebraska who was assaulted, raped, and murdered in 1993 after his assailers found out he was trans.
Even now, there are states where the so-called trans panic defense is still allowed in murder cases. In those, the defendant claims their shock upon finding out someone is trans is what led them to kill.
Adams said even when there's no immediate violence or loss of work, having one's private medical information made public without their consent is traumatizing.
In 2017, Survivor contestant Zeke Smith was outed as a trans man against his will on his second season on the show. The episode explored why that was a problem; for Smith, it became a mission to not let the moment harm other trans people.
"My deepest fear became that some young trans person might look at my Survivor turn as reason not to attack the world with joyfully reckless abandon. So, I resolved that I would change the search result. I would write a new narrative," he wrote in a column for the Hollywood Reporter.
In de Jager's story, as in those of other trans people, she faced accusations that not being out is a kind of lying — an omission.
"They said they wanted to leak it because I’m lying or that I don’t want to tell my truth or because they feel like I’m too scared for people to know who I truly am," she said in her video.
That's how it was framed by Dani California, the sister of Too Faced Cosmetics' cofounder Jerrod Blandino. The brand and de Jager have had their own fraught history; after de Jager came out, California changed her Instagram bio to say "Transgender, huh? That’s not the only thing she’s been LYING about." California has since been fired.
But not being out is not itself a lie, said Adams.
"Transgender people are absolutely entitled to keep their gender history private," he said. "People who have transitioned are living as their authentic self. They are showing you their authentic self every minute of every day."
Yana Calou is the director of communications for Trans Lifeline, a support hotline for trans people run by trans people. They told BuzzFeed News that framing trans people who aren't out as liars is just a way of attacking and disparaging them.
"Only Nikkie is able to assess her safety in revealing intimate parts of her identity," they said. "Not sharing that information can’t tell us a single thing about how someone might feel about being trans, but more about their perceived risk."
De Jager's video was met with a tidal wave of support, both from other beauty gurus and her many fans, many of whom expressed anger at de Jager's blackmailers.
Both Adams and Calou said de Jager's coming-out is important, considering that most Americans don't think they know a trans person.
"So when people like Nikkie and other trans people are able to talk about their experiences, it helps the world understand their experiences and it makes it easier for trans people to live their true and authentic lives," said Adams.
Calou cautioned, however, that representation isn't everything — education is needed to truly make an impact. For trans youth, though, seeing de Jager come out could be a big deal.
"I think that for trans people, being able to see trans people thriving and making their own decisions in the world, that’s incredible," they said.
As for de Jager, she had a very pointed message for her would-be blackmailers.
"So, to the people who tried to blackmail me and thought they could really mess up my life with that, this one’s for you," she said.
"I hope you can sit nice on it."
Peer-support services are available at the Trans Lifeline. You can call the hotline at (877) 565-8860.