Cognitive Dissonance

Nikkie Comes Out: Cognitive Dissonance vs. Anti-Trans Attitudes

YouTuber Nikkie Tutorials came out as trans woman. Can she change attitudes?

Posted Jan 13, 2020

In her eleventh year of posting makeup tutorial videos, the YouTube star Nikkie Tutorials has shared a personal part of her life and history that, by all rights, has always been hers to keep private as she might choose. In her "I'm Coming Out" video, Nikkie explained that she is a fully-transitioned trans woman. In this day and age, it's more than a little surprising that a web celeb with 12 million subscribers could keep something like this private. 

Does this matter? Not to everyone, of course. To plenty of people seeking representation or to fans who have been concealing important aspects of their own lives, this can be inspiring or empowering. This can extend far beyond those individuals who are transgender or who belong to the LGBTQ+ community. People have many important reasons for withholding personal information, information that may not be anyone's business but their own, information that should be safe to discuss freely and yet some others might unfairly endanger them over it. 

Thanks to cognitive dissonance, this might also be good for some of the individuals who bought into the attitudes which put trans or other persons at risk. Leon Festinger (1957) first proposed his theory of cognitive dissonance which holds that inconsistency stresses us, especially inconsistency within ourselves, and people will, therefore, go to great lengths to reduce such inconsistencies when they cannot ignore them. Because the idea of acknowledging personal hypocrisy also feels stressful, individuals more easily change internal attitudes to match their external actions than change actions to match attitudes. People may creatively interpret our own histories to justify, change, and downplay the fact that change has happened at all, but people do change. Festinger's theory is one of the most studied and cited theories in all of psychology, one of the two best-known theories in social psychology though people have debated over it for years (Cooper, 2019; Greenwald & Ronis, 1978).

While some fans who have held anti-trans attitudes may react negatively by declaring that they feel betrayed as though Nikkie has been lying (when she has not), cognitive dissonance theory suggests that quite a number will double down on their support for her if they have openly expressed their appreciation of her in the past (the action dissonant with those past attitudes). Doing so will require adjusting their anti-trans attitudes. While they might not fully flipflop those views just yet, change starts somewhere and hopefully, Nikkie coming out publicly will have a positive impact.

References

Cooper, J. (2019). Cognitive dissonance: Where we’ve been and where we’re going. International Review of Social Psychology, 32(1), ArtID.

Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Greenwald, A. G., & Ronis, D. L. (1978). Twenty years of cognitive dissonance: Case study of the evolution of a theory. Psychological Review, 85(1), 53-57.