There’s a great interview in the Guardian about Harry Styles that came out in December which asks the question that a lot of people have been asking, especially since his SNL show – what is his sexuality? I really don’t know what to do with this question. I also don’t really know how I feel about his somewhat new transition into sort-of identifying, but also not, but also giving hints, as somewhat maybe LGBTQ+.
No one should have to actively answer how they identify. It’s a private thing, it should be an irrelevant thing, and most importantly in this situation, not everyone knows. He is very clear that he doesn’t want to put a label on anything, or bother trying to explain to anyone what his sexuality is. “I just think sexuality’s something that’s fun. Honestly? I can’t say I’ve given it any more thought than that” – this is in many ways a very enlightened approach to sexuality, in my opinion. We should all hopefully just be letting go, identifying however we want to identify, or better, not bothering to identify at all.
Here’s the problem. First of all, he’s in the public eye, so that always becomes a little bit complicated. Celebrity culture in the modern day is hard work, and the rules when it comes to interacting with them seem to completely bypass and form of normality. And, as the interviewer pointed out, he regularly hints at some sexual ambiguity in not only his music, but in, for example, particularly graphic SNL sketches. So, here is the problem. What if he is just using our community, and providing these hints, to make himself interesting and appropriate things that could make him more popular. In this brilliant interview, Lamont asks him pretty straight up:
‘I suppose my only question, then, is about the stuff that looks like clue dropping. Because if you don’t want people to care, why hint? Take the album sleeve for Fine Line. With its horizontal pink and blue stripes, a splash of magenta, the design seems to gesture at the trans and bisexual pride flags. Which is great – unless the person behind it happens to be a straight dude, sprinkling LGBTQ crumbs that lead nowhere. Does that make sense?
Styles nods. “Am I sprinkling in nuggets of sexual ambiguity to try and be more interesting? No.” As for the rest, he says, “in terms of how I wanna dress, and what the album sleeve’s gonna be, I tend to make decisions in terms of collaborators I want to work with. I want things to look a certain way. Not because it makes me look gay, or it makes me look straight, or it makes me look bisexual, but because I think it looks cool.’
Isn’t that exactly what he’s doing though? Sprinkling nuggets of LGBT and gender-bending qualities every now and again, to keep his 50 million followers and innumerable fan on the edge? If you are using our community, if you are using tropes associated with our community, and if you are benefiting off those tropes, shouldn’t you have to bear the rest of it also? The homophobia, the endless questions trying to enforce a gender-binary upon you, the countless comments about your clothing choices etc. being womanly – why does he get to choose ‘what looks cool’ but not partake in the rest of it?
As I said early, this is the future that we hope for in many ways. We want to be free from having to explain our sexuality, we want to be free of thinking about it even, and just be allowed to express ourselves in any way that we see fit. Is that what he’s achieving?
Sadly, that future is not now. We are not there yet. We have to keep fighting to reach that point, so is Styles’ willingness to reach that point now appropriate? He shouldn’t be forced out the closet, celebrity or not, and maybe he just genuinely doesn’t know what he thinks about these things. Nevertheless, it is neither fair, nor even necessarily, supportive, to constantly hint at our community, cherry-pick that which is of interest to you, but refuse to take on everything else that comes with all of that.
I love that he is embracing all these parts of himself in his own way. Also, perhaps it is good that some semblance of the future is being hinted at on a platform as large as his. However, a cis white male, who is potentially straight, is not the person that should be potentially appropriating the LGBTQ+ community, without having any willingness to take on everything else that we are faced with daily.
“A community is like a ship; everyone ought to be prepared to take the helm.” – Henrik Ibsen