Chanel West Coast has decried fake news long before it became an everyday phrase. Since 2015, the TV personality and rapper has been the subject of a bizarre urban legend that purports she’s transgender. It all stems from a clickbait ad campaign that suggested she’s actually actor Lee Norris (aka Minkus on Boy Meets World).
Her story is the perfect example of how a theory gets legs and spreads like wildfire. Let’s get to the bottom of the Chanel West Coast transgender rumors and find out why this all started in the first place.
Who Is Chanel West Coast?
Anyone who has tuned into MTV over the last decade is familiar with Chanel West Coast. The 32-year-old made her small screen debut in 2009 as the sweet secretary on Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory. She’s also been Dyrdek’s co-host for a decade on the viral comedy show Ridiculousness.
By 2017, West Coast jumped to sister network VH1 to join the cast of Love and Hip Hop: Hollywood. Even though she only appeared in one season, she was a sensation who never backed away from drama.
“It’s really cool to finally be on a show where I’m able to show more of my life and who I really am as a person,” she told InTouch Weekly. “I’ve been on TV for years, but I’ve always been kind of a side character. And it hasn’t really shown my music at all.”
Yup—she’s also a musician. The daughter of a former DJ, West Coast has a solo career as a rapper and singer. She’s released a number of singles and mixtapes since 2014 and even earned a record deal with Lil Wayne’s label Young Money. Unfortunately, her first go at fame was stalled by the rise of Iggy Azalea.
“When I first started rapping, I was, like, ‘I’m gonna be, like, the female Eminem,’” she told LA Weekly in August 2014. “So to see somebody blowing up in my position … it was the hardest. Now it looks like I’m the second, but really I’ve been doing this since I was 14 years old.”
But that didn’t stop West Coast from plowing ahead. In 2020, after four years of teasing a big project, she released her debut studio album America’s Sweetheart. Check out the music video for her most recent single, “Eazy.”
Is Chanel West Coast Transgender?
Let’s put a longtime rumor to rest: Chanel West Coast is one hundred percent a cisgender woman.
According to Snopes, the urban legend that she’s transgender can be traced back to 2015. At the time, a meme made the rounds claiming that Lee Norris, who played the nerd Stuart Minkus on the 1990s sitcom Boy Meets World, had transitioned into West Coast.
Side-by-side comparisons of the two have floated around on social media as early as 2014.
In fairness, we see the resemblance. But West Coast had the baby pics to prove that she was assigned female at birth.
Furthermore, Lee Norris is alive and well, working as a male actor. In as recently as 2017, he appeared on two episodes of The Walking Dead.
Fake News Helped Spread The Transgender Rumor Like Wildfire
So how did a false claim about Chanel West Coast’s gender take on a life of its own? Blame clickbait ads. You know them, you’ve seen them, and you’ve probably bought into them at one point or another. They’re the ads that run at the bottom of websites, disguised as legitimate news headlines or “recommended content.”
They’re entirely fake, but they’re moneymakers. According to a 2017 story by Politifact, fake news sites generate tons of revenue. For instance, the site LibertyWriters.com pulled in $40,000 a month by posting blatantly false but sensational political stories during the 2016 election season. Plenty of similar sites exist, but none are regulated, nor are the owners ever held accountable for their deceptive practices.
Even worse, clickbait ads are effective. In a 2018 online study conducted by Michelle Amazeen, a Boston University School of Communication assistant professor of advertising, more than 9 out of 10 people couldn’t differentiate between an advertisement and a legit news article.
This was bad news for West Coast. Once the meme took off, it was slapped on an ad titled, “10 Celebrities You Didn’t Know Were Transgender.” The rapper wasn’t even mentioned in the article! However, the image alone was enough to impact her reputation.
Chanel West Coast Vowed A Monster Lawsuit Against These Websites
West Coast was not someone to take this misinformation lying down. In 2016, she tweeted a warning shot to those who used her and Norris’ side-by-side photos for their monetary gain.
By 2018, she appeared to make good on that threat.
“I’m actually going through a legal situation right now to try and get all of this offline, because it’s technically defamation of character, saying that I am transgender and used to be a boy,” West Coast told InTouch Weekly.
She said that she can laugh at the situation and has “made a joke out of it so many times.” But whether or not you think the meme is funny, she also gave a painful reminder that fake news has real effects on its readers.
“Also, really, that hurts me too because I’ve had a lot of kids be like, ‘I can relate to you,’ thinking that I’m transgender—and I feel terrible,” she said. “I want to be like, ‘I’m not transgender,’ but at the same time, I want to be there for people to feel like they can confide in me.”
Her sympathy also extends to Norris. “I also feel a little bit bad for Lee Norris because that guy’s still acting in movies and stuff, and people think that he’s living inside of me now,” West Coast continued. “They think that he’s become me. He’s his own person, I’m my own person. I’m not transgender. I’m a girl. It’s like funny, but also a little bit frustrating.”
As of 2021, there’s no word on whether she ever successfully sued or settled with anyone over the ads. But we hope our verdict undoes some of the damage that West Coast and Norris have had to endure for the past six years.