Welcome to summer 2015: Entourage, everyone’s favorite entertainment STD, is having a major motion picture outbreak, there’s nothing on TV, and Kim Kardashian still has a big fat bank account. When it comes to pop culture, we might not always get what we want, but we usually end up with exactly what we deserve. Take Miley Cyrus, the over-sexed, over-exposed starlet who has, strangely enough, turned out to be one of the most progressive celebrity activists working today—and certainly the only one who’s simultaneously advocating on behalf of the homeless, LGBT youth, marijuana legalization, and twerking.
Because the entertainment gods, unlike Entourage, have a great sense of humor.
For everyone who ever dismissed Miley as a perennially high, overly obscene, creatively manic malfunctioning Disney childbot, Cyrus’s recently cultivated image as a queer queen with an important message might make you want to re-evaluate that appraisal (or burn your Hannah Montana wig once and for all). And if you’re not Team Miley, the singer has a foam finger she can flip and an attitude that seems to suggest she doesn’t really give a shit what you think.
According to a new interview with Paper magazine (which also features a must-see, NSFW photoshoot complete with body paint and one lucky pig), Miley was crossing boundaries since before Joe Jonas lost his virginity or Selena Gomez learned about spring break.
Cyrus reveals that when she was a 14-year-old starring in the Disney hit Hannah Montana, she revealed to her mother that, “I admire women in a different way. And she asked me what that meant. And I said, I love them. I love them like I love boys.” The ensuing interaction between a Disney starlet and the woman behind the man behind “Achy Breaky Heart” was surprisingly relatable: “It was so hard for her to understand. She didn’t want me to be judged and she didn’t want me to go to hell. But she believes in me more than she believes in any god. I just asked for her to accept me. And she has.”
Cyrus isn’t the first formerly family-friendly product of the Disney industrial complex to publicly come out—that’s so Raven. But she is definitely the first friend of Mickey to declare herself as gender non-conforming—cue Walt Disney turning over in his cryogenic chamber.
In Cyrus’s own words, “I am literally open to every single thing that is consenting and doesn’t involve an animal and everyone is of age. Everything that’s legal, I’m down with. Yo, I’m down with any adult—anyone over the age of 18 who is down to love me,” she says. “I don’t relate to being boy or girl, and I don’t have to have my partner relate to boy or girl.” While Cyrus’s heteronormative relationships with the likes of celebs (Liam Hemsworth, Nick Jonas) and celeb spawn (Patrick Schwarzenegger) have been consistent tabloid fodder, Miley insists that she’s had equally serious relationships with women—the only difference was that no one really seemed to notice. Ironically, Cyrus’s queerness was less interesting (or legible) than her drug use, partying, sartorial decisions, and selfies.
While most celebrities might be content with fooling TMZ, Cyrus’s personal experiences and progressive politics have inspired her to actually do something, pushing her into the very limited pantheon of stars whose community outreach goes beyond shared tweets and sound bites. Specifically, Cyrus founded The Happy Hippie Foundation, a nonprofit organization with a mission “to rally young people to fight injustice facing homeless youth, LGBT youth, and other vulnerable populations.” The foundation uses art and animal therapy, two methods that are close to Miley’s own heart, to treat at-risk youth.
Unsurprisingly, the yearlong vegan’s sincerity can come across as naïve or uninformed. For example, in lieu of accepting her 2014 VMA for Video of the Year, Cyrus sent 22-year-old Jesse Helt, a homeless Californian, to take the stage and share his story. Cyrus, who watched with teary eyes from the sidelines, tells Paper that, “I felt like I was witnessing a modern-day ‘I Have a Dream,’ and it had nothing to do with me.”
While Cyrus’s language often lacks the subtlety or self-awareness of say, a non-child star, her growing credentials belie her inarguable privilege. Dopey name aside, Happy Hippies works with legitimate organizations to provide essential resources, like digital support groups for LGBT youth and their families. Furthermore, Cyrus is refreshingly open to learning and evolving. In a personal statement posted on the Happy Hippies website, the star wrote, “In December of last year, Leelah Alcorn, a young transgender girl, committed suicide. It hit me as hard as if I had known her...I wanted to learn more about other challenges in the LGBT community, like violence against transgender women, HIV/AIDS and family condemnation. Anything beautiful on this planet takes time, and with time comes change. That’s why I’m launching the Happy Hippie Foundation — because every life is valuable and we should make sure those who question their value feel protected.”
By just being Miley, Cyrus has taken up some of the toughest issues out there—and might be one of the only celebrities who can cite Leelah Alcorn in addition to Caitlyn Jenner. While Jenner’s transition is currently headline news, Cyrus is dedicating herself to the everyday, unglamorous problems facing homeless and LGBT youth. Seems like the girl in the butterfly pasties is truly spreading her wings.