Capitalizing on queerness

By Grace Hamilton, Staff Writer

Every generation looks to celebrities to represent what they feel and who they are. Seeing yourself reflected in the people whose music you listen to, whose movies and shows you watch, whose media you consume, is incredibly important. We know true representation matters, but we don’t always practice what we preach. 

Harry Styles and Taylor Swift are perfect examples of that. 

We are obsessed with attaching queerness to our idols, even if they won’t claim us. Styles has never labeled his sexuality, but he also claims he’s never “publicly dated anyone,” which is so untrue it’s laughable. Styles recently dated Olivia Wilde and has very publicly dated women in the past, Swift included.  

To be clear, celebrities do not owe their fans an explanation or clarification of their sexualities. However, the line is crossed when they capitalize on the prospect of their queerness to make a profit without ever claiming the community as their own. 

During her Lover era, Swift co-opted queerness to sell more albums. To this day, her fans analyze everything she releases or says to look for subtle hints of her sexuality. They theorize that her relationship with Joe Alwyn is purely for PR, and that she is actually only interested in women, despite the fact that they have been together for six years and are rarely actually seen together  — meaning that if it’s PR, it’s not very good PR. 

We could also talk about the credit we are desperate to give Swift and Styles for breaking gender norms or making leaps for queer culture. Styles wore a dress on the cover of Vogue, and people acted like he was the first person to ever do something like that. Billy Porter did it before Styles, and transgender people of color did it before him. All Swift did was release a song, “You Need to Calm Down,” and people made it seem like she personally ended the fight against homophobia — all because she dyed her hair blue, pink and purple and made a statement that really isn’t that controversial to a fan base made up of young girls who would find a way to defend her if she kicked a puppy. 

An article from Vox in 2020 about Folklore has the headline “How Taylor Swift became a gay icon.” An article from Rolling Stone from September of this year asks if her album Midnights is Swift’s coming out.  

I feel like it’s important for me to mention that I am a massive fan of Swift and Styles. I listened to Midnights as soon as it came out, and there are songs from Folklore and Evermore that I listen to almost everyday. I saw Styles in concert just last year. I have lyrics from “Fine Line” tattooed on my body in his handwriting. 

But despite all this, I do not consider either artist to be any kind of queer icon. I will not give them credit for waving a pride flag when it was transgender people of color who died for the movement, who turned Stonewall into a riot and who broke gender norms way before cis, straight, White boys did it for views on TikTok.  

Styles and Swift, for all their allyship, have never claimed you. They capitalize on fan theories about their own sexualities to turn a profit, and it has worked very well for both of them. 

Again, neither of them have to come out if they actually are queer. If they want their own sexualities to be private and personal, that makes perfect sense to me, but co-opting, appropriating and commodifying queer culture while at the same time refusing to claim the community is not okay. 

We do not exist asa dollar signs in the eyes of White, straight-presenting celebrities. And this obsession with making White artists the faces of the queer community is a slap in the face to the people who did the most for it.  

We do not exist to turn a profit for people richer than we will ever be. They are opportunists, banking on the creativity and inventiveness of queer culture to bolster their own careers. Not all of it is their fault. Some of their diehard fans are desperate to put labels on them that they won’t even put on themselves. 

Queer artists like Frank Ocean, Hayley Kiyoko, Lil Nas X, Janelle Monáe, Rina Sawayama and Tyler, the Creator all exist. They create amazing music and are all openly a part of the queer community. Let them represent you — they actually want to. 

Styles and Swift are iconic pop artists, but they are not queer icons until the day they say they are queer. 

Until that day comes, let them do what they do best — just don’t fall for it anymore.