Opinion | 'Jade Thirlwall and boyfriend Jordan Stephens set a beautiful example to straight people'

Little Mixer Jade says her boyfriend is "straight" but "loves being queer and feminine". Here's why her words are epic.


Words: Jamie Tabberer

I remember the split second I knew I was gay. I was 11, and it was all down to Lene from Aqua.

The 'Barbie Girl' singer, in a Smash Hits Biscuit Tin chat, was asked: "Have you ever been attracted to a member of the opposite sex?" 

I can't remember her exact answer. All I remember is: it changed my life. Why? It was so refreshingly different, compared to the bland answers of other stars to the same question. It was almost anti-homophobic, and my fate was sealed. A lovable eccentric from Norway - who, as far as I know, is straight - fast tracked a young gay kid's journey to self-acceptance.

Two decades on, young queers have countless LGBTQ+ stars to look up to. But never underestimate the power of a straight, public ally. Step forward Little Mix's Jade and Rizzle Kicks' Jordan Stephens.

"He loves being queer and feminine"

While interviewing RuPaul's Drag Race legend RuPaul for the new issue of Cosmo this week, noted drag superfan Jade confirmed her relationship with Jordan, saying: "It’s really important for me that whoever I find relationship-wise loves drag culture."

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@lilnasx X @christiancowan SS21 - PUNK. NYFW. 100% of proceeds from the collection go to @thelovelandfoundation in support of the Black LGBTQ+ community

A post shared by jade amelia thirlwall (@jadethirlwall) on

The 'Sweet Melody' singer added: "When I first started talking to my boyfriend, I discovered he did a movie where he played a drag queen [2018's critical hit Tucked, which just dropped on Netflix] and I was like, 'Right, that’s it. He’s perfect. Sign me up! A straight man who’s willing to dress in drag and loves being queer and feminine."

How amazing is that? Some might take issue with Jade's use of the word 'queer' to describe a straight man here, but I'm all for it.

This, by the way, is about more than Jordan's fab taste in clothes. It's about a straight guy leaning into his femininity - not least when (some) gay mens' preoccupation with manliniess, with being 'straight-acting', is playing havoc with their mental health. I'm still scarred by a 2017 survey that found 75% of gay men are 'turned off' by effeminate guys.

"Society didn’t allow me the space to understand, cry, and work through the pain"

In a rallying 2017 essay against misogyny and toxic masculinity for The Guardian, mental health campaigner Jordan wrote of "[desiring] trust and intimacy just as much and perhaps even more intensely than those I’ve shared love with.

"It’s been an incredibly painful realisation. I believe that the false power gifted to me as a man in our society didn’t allow me the space to understand, cry, and work through the pain of my past and duality of my present.

"This idea that male vulnerability is undesirable – it covers up the pain of so many troubled boys who wanted more hugs from their mum or have missed the company of their dad, or were victims of abuse or loneliness or just generally felt as though they had no time, space, company or even the words to describe how they felt."

As far as I'm concerned, this man walks the walk and talks the talk: he's amazing. If I was a teenager, I'd be in awe of him. Hell, I'm in awe as a 30-something.

And then there's Jade.

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A post shared by jade amelia thirlwall (@jadethirlwall) on

To be fair, all the Little Mix girls are all fierce LGBTQ+ allies, from their support of queer charities to the lesbian mermaids in their music videos. They were thus deserving winners of the 2018 Attitude Honourary Gay award.

But Jade's brand of advocacy and love of queer culture is next level. It seems to come as naturally to her as breathing.

She's written a trans empowerment anthem. She's helped fans come out over Twitter. She has a drag-themed MTV cooking show called Served! With Jade Thirlwall (!). She modelled for Lil Nas X and Christian Cowan's collab. ("100% of proceeds from the collection go to @thelovelandfoundation in support of the Black LGBTQ+ community," she said on Insta.)

Truly, this woman gets it. And is self-aware to boot.

In July, she told Attitude: "I don't think there is such thing as a ‘perfect ally.’ I'm still very much learning, and I don't want to put myself on a pedestal, for then maybe to say the wrong thing one day and slip up and be like ‘Oh god, I'm so sorry, I've done the wrong thing.’ 

"I'm just constantly trying to learn and not speak for other people, but speak with them. [...] I would never want to look like I was just using that audience for my own benefit."

But Jade is authentic, and her words about her boyfriend speak volumes. Not just about him, but about her; about who she is and what she values.

Sure, they're not the perfect allies. But, in my book, Jade and Jordan are damn near close. And so is Lene from Aqua.

The Attitude November issue is out now to download and to order globally.

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