I Don’t Care that Harry Styles Wears Skirts

I Care That he Wears Ugly Skirts

That’s right, dear readers – I’m back and with more complaints. I have something of a mild personal vendetta against Harry Styles and today you’re all going to find out why. Unfortunately, similarly to Taylor Swift, Harry Styles gets a lot of criticism for really stupid things, which makes it hard to actually criticize him without immediately sounding like someone who, once again, just hates things that teenage girls are into. So let me be clear – I love that women love Harry Styles.

I think I relate to it less than I do with Taylor Swift because I was never into One Direction and never developed any sort of affection for his solo music, but I understand from afar. His music isn’t my thing, but I love that it’s so many other people’s thing. That’s awesome. I don’t think it’s bad, it’s just not for me.

The problem I have with Harry Styles actually has almost nothing to do with his music. What it has to do with is the way that he aligns himself with queerness and uses queerness as an aesthetic to profit from without actually being queer. Now I know that just because someone hasn’t come out publicly doesn’t mean they aren’t queer, but I am working with the information I have here.

As far as I know, Harry Styles is cisgender and heterosexual, and I can’t find any actual evidence otherwise. For the moment, I am going by what he himself has said about his own identity, and that makes him a cishet man. But he markets himself as some sort of gay icon, and it does genuine harm to the queer community. 

Last year, an NBC News article described Styles as “know for his gender-fluid fashion,” and went on to quote his response to accusations of using the queer community for profit – which was that it isn’t any of our business what his sexuality is. This is totally true, and I in no way think people should be forced to come out. But when his whole brand is waving rainbow flags onstage and dressing as if David Bowie had tragically bad taste, it’s less about forcing someone to label themself and more about looking at how they interact with the queer community.

I don’t care if Harry Styles is queer or not, and I don’t think he owes it to anyone to make that information public. I do, however, think he owes it to queer people to do better, whether he’s a member of the community or an ally. When your job is to be a public icon, the things you say matter. And it matters that he makes allusions to being queer (“We’re all a little bit gay,” comes to mind) just enough to align himself with the profitable aspects of it without taking the actual risk of coming out or – as far as Google tells me – making an actual dedicated effort to fight for gay rights. 

Harry Styles has built a brand and aesthetic around performing queerness in a way that is sanitized and palatable to conservative America, presenting himself as a sort of Model Queer, and has made millions of dollars from it. He performs a sanitized version of queerness that is reduced to ugly-ass pantsuits and skirts on the cover of Vogue (I have more to say about his fashion specifically, but I digress), and comments about how most gay sex in movies is “just two guys going at it,” and “not tender and loving.” I’m not a sexpert and I don’t know what kind of life Harry Styles leads, but it makes me pretty mad that a straight man is going to try to tell me how gay people can or cannot have sex in a way that’s “tender and loving.”

I get that this could also be seen as him making a statement about filmmakers portraying gay sex as less romantic and personal than the way they portray straight sex, but he didn’t say that. He stated his own personal opinion on how gay sex in movies looks to him, and it doesn’t look the way he thinks it should. Respectfully, who the hell is he to decide what is or isn’t good queer representation? And the fact that he said this to talk about how much better his performance as a gay man was (his character had sex the right way, apparently) just kind of makes it more offensive.

Harry Styles doesn’t care about real queer people. I think he would have an aneurysm if he ever interacted with a real-life queer community. We contain multitudes, okay? And some of those multitudes are weird and messy and “two guys going at it,” and that doesn’t make our experience or identity any less valid. Harry Styles likes queerness when the idea of it is making him famous but when it gets to the real stuff, he balks.

He likes it as an outfit he can put on to profit from and nothing else. His implicit alignment with queerness makes milquetoast white cishet liberals feel like they’re good allies for listening to his music without actually doing any of the work required to be a good ally or support the community. 

I’ve had people tell me that I’m wrong because of all the criticism he got for wearing dresses in Vogue, but here’s the thing. He was wearing a skirt on the cover of Vogue. He got paid obscene amounts to model designer clothes in a little studio where a team of people spent the day taking the prettiest pictures of him possible, and then he put his pants back on and went home. The backlash he received was people saying mean things on the internet after seeing the photos. A man wearing a skirt once to be photographed for – and I cannot emphasize this enough – Vogue magazine, and a man wearing a skirt to the convenience store, because that’s the way he wants to dress, are totally different.

Harry Styles didn’t do anything new or brave, and he acts like a martyr when his entire life has never involved any action half as transgressive as the daily life of a fourteen-year-old trans kid going to public school. This man trying on an outfit for work is worlds away from a real-life queer person risking their life just to be who they are. He won his third Grammy earlier this year and in his speech, said that awards like that don’t often go to “people like me.” What kind of people, pray to tell? Hideously wealthy white British guys? Because, if so, I have terrible news for him. 

There’s also a racial element to this that I’ve seen very few people talking about. Harry Styles has somehow managed to make people think he’s the first person to do a whole bunch of things that a whole bunch of people of color did way before him. At the Grammy’s specifically, this was a pretty bold move for him given that he beat Beyonce’s Renaissance for Album of the Year in a total upset. No Black woman has won Album of the Year for over two decades.

 Also, the Vogue thing is somehow the cross-dressing event of the century, but you know who did all that first? Men of color and actual queer men, for decades and decades before Harry Styles. Jaden Smith, Andre 3000 of Outkast, Kid Cudi, and Young Thug are the first names that come to mind in my most recent memory, but just off the top of my head, I know queer male artists were doing this way before I was born, too. David Bowie, for example – and if I were a lesser journalist

I would make a snide comment here about how his music is better than Harry Styles’s, but I shall restrain myself. That is simply my subjective opinion, and my whole point here is that I’m not trying to judge whether his art is “good” or “bad.” My issue is that he does things to further his career while profiting off of queer people in a way that is directly harmful to us. Harry Styles should not be the gay icon of modern media – mostly because he isn’t gay.

And even if he is, he’s doing a shit job using his platform to support his own community. What good does it do me to have a millionaire wear a skirt when it’s illegal for me to wear drag in public? Even if I assume the best intentions about all of his actions, they still lack any sort of genuine support for the real-life LGBTQ+ community. It’s awesome that Harry Styles says he loves his gay fans. This does not help with me being kicked out of an apartment for being gay.

Dear reader, I now beg your one last indulgence. Because I have one more point I’d like to make about Harry Styles, and it’s not very consequential. It’s actually pretty petty. It’s nowhere near as important as the harm he is doing to real marginalized groups, and I recognize this, but I’ve been dying to say this somewhere. And is it not my right as a gay person to complain about fashion? If Harry Styles is going to stereotype me, then a stereotype I shall be. 

Here’s the thing: his clothes are ugly as sin. To be clear, this is my subjective opinion. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and, unlike the other things I discussed here, this has no moral component and is simply a matter of taste. But holy shit, dude. Maybe I’d care less that he was making such a big deal out of wearing a dress if he were capable of matching two garments together, but he’s not. And don’t even get me started on his weird little boob-window lederhosen sequined pantsuits that he seems so fond of. 

They’re just…ugly. It looks bad. Honestly, if there’s any indication to me that this man is straight, it’s the way he dresses. He chooses clothes like someone who has done a whole bunch of reading on camp and can recite whole paragraphs but still hasn’t grasped the fundamental idea of camp in a way that he can enact. He lacks imagination, maybe. I don’t know. Whatever it is, he knows how to be queer on paper only, and when he brings his studies out into the real world, it looks tacky and performative. 

Perhaps because it is, and perhaps the missing ingredient in his performance of queerness is, in fact, queerness, but I can’t say for sure. All I know is that Harry Styles and his career based on singing songs about boys liking girls has no business telling the world that there’s a right or wrong way to be gay, and I’m sick of people treating him like some kind of martyr for taking the immense risk of – let me check my notes – being on the cover of Vogue. 

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