Here’s why you need to stop accusing Harry Styles of queerbaiting

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The accusations of queerbaiting have been plentiful in our recent pop culture discourse, widely launched and dispersed against many celebrities, the most recently accused being Madonna, Billie Eilish and repeat offender Harry Styles. The allegation in brief: That apparently non-queer stars are ‘appropriating’ queer culture and aesthetics in order to gain the financial support and position of LGBT fans, without actually committing to publicly identifying as queer . He claims that this facade allows them to rub shoulders with the perceived nervousness of queer identity – without the cost of openly occupying one in a queerphobic world.

A central tenet of queerbaiting criticism targets the often evasive statements of celebrity sexuality. The comments that drew much criticism of Andrew Garfield’s queerbaiting line flatter “(I’m) a gay man right now without the physical act,” to statements that refute labels, like Ariana’s Tweeter stating that she [hasn’t labelled her sexuality] before and again [doesn’t] feel the need for]”. Then there are those who draw inspiration and maintain a playful ambiguity, like Harry Styles. proclaim “We are all a little gay”.

For critics, especially Harry and Ariana, these feelings are a way of avoid being explicitly queer; it allows celebrities to occupy that liminal, hazy space on the gender and sexuality spectrum – a plausibly deniable queerness. Another side of the charge is the “appropriation” of a so-called queer aesthetic. Harry ditched River Island, the Topmaniac trends that dominated his One Direction years, opting for more dandy and baroque tastes as a solo artist. This new style, which has evolved to make minor advancements in gender nonconformity – the nail polish, the beaded earring, the frilly blouse – has seen overwhelming and histrionic praise from heterosexual society, and one Vogue blanket in which he “revolutionary” wore a blazer over a dress.

Criticism goes that from the point of view of safety and the vantage point of his fame on the red carpet, his palatability and ostensible “righteousness”, Harry’s gender nonconformity is an easy feat, praised. and worshiped as transgressive for the same reasons visible members of our community are fiercely rebuked in the streets. The implication is that the praise and bravery he receives for services rendered to nonconformity is a stolen trophy: his robes and camp boas are uniforms and badges of honor, which he cannot to wear without having publicly declared in friendship and in favor of Dorothy.

Even James Charles, the enfant terrible eternally mired in the beauty community drama, and a gay cis man, has faced adjacent intra-community criticism: that he appropriate the trans-feminine aesthetic of the ” doll ”to simply post airbrushed pictures of himself in a dress and wig.

And yet these arguments rest on a hypocritical essentialism that must be rejected, even when directed at hyper-capitalist TikTok e-boys wearing skirts or beleaguered beauty gurus. This is not to say that adornment – the way we dress our bodies in a world that is constantly evaluating it – cannot be radical, cannot be an outward expression of inner truth, but these relationships are unique and individual. , and cannot be prescribed. In this arena of expression and becoming, queerness has no designated gaze. It may seem like our gender nonconformity is hard won, its presence and glorification in public spaces the result of our relentless struggle against the grain of normalcy. But it is not our property. The queer counterculture cannot be bottled or claimed. Gender and its manifest signifiers have no domain, no rulers or legislators, no oaths of allegiance, and certainly no price of admission.

Much of this criticism can be traced back to celebrity weirdness as only valid if it’s stated explicitly in public spaces and conversations, or if it’s executed according to expectation. Ambiguity is considered a sin. In Harry’s case, this manifests as a frustration that his alleged bisexuality continues to be inferred and criticized rather than explicitly stated by him, or that some sort of compelling evidence has not emerged proving that he also fucks people. men.

Prior to its widespread applications to those in the public eye, the critique of queerbaiting began life as an indictment leveled against the machinery of literary and cinematic storytelling; the act of paying lip service to canons and sources often more explicitly queer, but disinfecting them, so as not to alienate more conservative markets and sensibilities. Representation has often remained firmly anchored in the innuendo, looks and inference of the 20th century celluloid closet. It was not a criticism of romantic politics or an individual’s dress choices, but a criticism of intrigues and producers, cowardly directors and censored scripts.

But as the line between brand and stardom has worn away in the Kardashians and Jenners era and Stay focusThe same is true of the distinction between the authentic emanations of the agency and those in which they are simply receptacles for the merchant. It’s easy enough to see the logical leap from criticism of on-screen characterizations to applying that same criticism to the characters and expectations that celebrities play and ostensibly play with, as part of their branding. But it is also this context that betrays the fundamental instability of launching a queerbaiting critique on living people and not the fictitious contexts whose creators were designed to be held to account. Namely, it is an accusation that can only be made to the icons and idols whose pedestals give us their inner life, a great and distant fiction – more of a soap opera projection than any material fact. We can’t accuse him of queerbaiting without necessarily prescribing that he’s not queer – our estimates of his relationship to queerness are just a hit in the dark.

We yearn for superstar idols whose beatifying touch and worship motto could uplift us and our queer cause if only they had a skin in the game: proud, explicit skin.

It is no coincidence that Harry is perhaps most singularly plagued by accusations of queerbaiting. He is, after all, an idol – one of the brightest and most prized of our pantheon of stars, wielding vast and disproportionate cultural power. Its existence in popular culture is emblematic of our parasocial relationships with celebrities. Harry is, to millions of adoring fans, a proxy for dreams, a divine symbol of beauty and success who is more akin to a pin-up girl on a bedroom wall than a human being. with an agency.

This space is ripe for fantasy, and out of it was born a sentimental right to a pantomime, weirdly aligned version of Harry waiting in the headcanon for fans around the world, to sweep them off their fan-fictional feet. It’s been a decade since these shared fantasies became increasingly meticulous and manifold in the cauldrons of Wattpad and Tumblr; one who saw Harry and his setting, personalized and performed to every possible specification; traced and entangled in our desires and machinations like Sims on a screen. At the root of many accusations of queerbaiting is often a spiky response to a denial of romantic and erotic fantasy – an upheaval at the breaking of an imaginary, conditional, and distant romantic possibility with those accused of “baiting” them.

But often woven into the undercurrents of frustration is a more vulnerable kinship desire; a search for conscripts in the culture war, a greater number and a visibility by which we can resist our oppression and our erasure in the public and private spheres. We yearn for superstar idols like Harry and Billie, whose beatifying touch and worship motto could uplift us and our queer cause if only they had skin in the game: proud, explicit skin. Much like the appropriation critiques around gender nonconformity, the argument acknowledges a material injustice: on the one hand, that many queer people are fighting for their lives and livelihoods (and desperately seeking of those who will take up arms with them); on the other, the bitter double standard of the praises heaped on such stars, when those who are at the origin of this aesthetic are confronted with daily violence in the streets.

Both strands, however, fail to address the structural factors that keep gays and queers away from full participation in rights and resources – instead of confronting only the symbolic. This leaves us to guard and defend the realms of our own weird and narrow pie, rather than questioning the institutions that produce the little slices of performance that we fight royally for. So we need to stop accusing Harry Styles of queerbaiting.

Queerbaiting criticism of public figures, rather than being liberating for queer people and communities, has a deleterious function – it further essentializes queer identity, distilling it into a list of aesthetic and done tasks. This forces them to choose words to define, or in some cases confine, their experiences of gender and sexuality into forms that are pleasurable and recognizable to us, their audience. It’s a bitterly ironic reversal of the demands that a heterosexist society has spent time immemorial wrongly asking us.

This kind of queer control often has messy consequences, like forcing stars like Rita Ora to outside themselves to tone down a barrage of criticism or prevent others from being upfront about their sexuality in the first place. It may seem, at first glance, that some celebs want to have their queer cake and eat it, too, but fair queer practice requires that we grant everyone the agency talks about and self-determine their sexuality – even in the vaguest of times. terms – whether or not they have the experience, public performance, or “credentials” to underscore that identity. It is a critique which, taken to its natural conclusion, makes queerness not a site of possibility – of freedom and conspiracy – but a place of rules.

This ultimately wrongly assumes that queer desire and identity can be regulated, contained, dictated. It can’t. It iterates, restarts, finds new and different words, and sometimes none.

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