Harry Styles is right — disclosing your sexuality is an outdated idea
t’s an extraordinarily rare occasion that Harry Styles attracts criticism. He is almost at the level of untouchable, among the ranks of Adele and Beyoncé, where to utter a word against him is akin to blasphemy.
However, the singer has come under fire for a recent interview in which he said “it doesn’t matter” what his sexuality is, and that the expectation to disclose it is “outdated”, renewing criticisms that he is “queerbaiting”.
Speaking to Better Homes & Gardens, Styles was quoted saying: “the whole point of where we should be heading, which is toward accepting everybody and being more open, is that it doesn’t matter, and it’s about not having to label everything, not having to clarify what boxes you’re checking.”
For those not familiar, queerbaiting is an accusation levelled at straight celebrities who “appropriate” queer culture and aesthetics for profit and the support of the LGBTQ+ community, without publicly coming out. The allegation is that this rainbow veneer allows them to cherry pick aspects of queer identity perceived as edgy and cool, without the discrimination that comes with being openly queer.
The charge of queerbaiting has become a frequent one in our recent pop cultural discourse, with many a celebrity, most recently Ariana Grande and Madonna, finding themselves in the firing line.
There is a frustration among some that these celebrities occupy a nebulous space on the sexuality spectrum. In the case of Styles, his new post-One Direction style — the painted nails, frilly dresses and feather boas — are seen as a wink and a nod to queerness, but still plausibly deniable.
Here’s the thing: I understand the impulse to criticise him. It comes from a place of frustration, rather than animosity, at a perceived double standard: that a multimillionaire is cheered for wearing a dress on the cover of Vogue, while visibily queer people face violence and ostracisation everyday.
But ultimately, gatekeeping queerness in this way is a counterproductive, harmful and illogical endeavour. Rather than actually having any liberating effect for the LGBTQ+ community, queerbaiting critiques levelled at figures like Styles only serve to further reify stifling categories of identification, forcing people to confine their experiences of gender and sexuality into forms that are satisfying and recognisable to us. It is, in fact, the very antithesis of what queerness should and does mean. No one owes us a label, or any insight into their personal life. Equally, no one needs a specific experience, or credentials to underscore their queer identity.
As a twenty-something-year-old progressive with lots of twenty-something-year-old progressive friends, it’s not an exaggeration to say that I know very few people my age who would say they are heterosexual. A niche sample size, I know, but we are, as a nation, becoming increasingly sexually fluid. Between 2016 and 2020 the number of British people defining themselves as lesbian, gay or bisexual rose by a third. As people start to feel more comfortable in questioning their sexuality, is it really helpful, or progressive, to force them to tick a pre-prescribed box before their queerness is validated?
Harry Styles may well comfortably identify with queerness in private. Or perhaps he is unsure, and content with experimenting. But at the end of the day, he has expressed a boundary: that he is not comfortable disclosing this publicly. And good for him: it’s none of our business.
In other news…
Asked what is potentially the complete antithesis to the chic and sexy king of 21st century pop, the legislative progress of the Online Safety Bill might spring to mind. But, far from unsexy, quite a lot of this bill is actually about sex.
You might be familiar with the Bill, which is currently making its way through the Commons, as the law which is trying to ban us all from watching porn in peaceful anonymity. The proposal within the Bill to require internet users to verify their age before watching pornographic material has faced fierce criticism from privacy rights campaigners, and, often, progressives.
While I am usually loathe to take the side of Nadine Dorries in an argument, the proposal to regulate access to porn is not an act of prudish conservative censorship. Anyone who has ever watched porn (which, in Ofcom’s latest estimate, is half of the UK adult population), will know that, in its current form, it is deeply misogynistic and harmful, particularly to young, impressionable minds. It’s not an infringement on our liberties to regulate it, it’s a duty of care.