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Queerbaiting: "Style"ish Self-Promotion?

By Linda Cheung

In recent months, queerbaiting accusations against Harry Styles have circulated on social media amidst his most recent concert tour, titled “Love on Tour.”

Wearing feminine outfits and waving pride flags on stage lead critics to believe that Styles co-opts a queer identity, or at least demonstrates performative allyship. However, those from the LGBTQ community argue that there is no right or wrong way to be queer, and that these displays are simply acts of personal expression.

“To some extent I do think it is performative allyship,” junior Julia Tews said. “At almost every concert, at some point he runs around the stage with an LGBTQ flag of some kind, so one can only wonder if such acts are genuine. However, from a quick google search, one can find that his brand has donated to various LGBTQ charities and foundations which is an obvious act of support. At the same time, I do feel that he plays this ally or vaguely queer persona up, at the end of the day he knows his target audience. Most fans are young queer people who are in search of a role model or simply a person and fan base that accepts them and Harry is most likely aware of this so he knows exactly how to market himself in order to keep his fans.”

Reproduced with permission from Wikimedia Commons

Harry Styles waves a pride flag on stage during his recent tour.

Although some fans feel entitled to Styles’ sexual identity due to his exorbitant ticket prices and frequent use of queer symbols, asserting this claim to his identity would be vastly inappropriate. Through the purchase of a concert ticket, fans are entitled to many things such as a good performance and a safe venue. Styles’ sexuality is a private matter that does not concern fans, even if he may adopt a queer identity as a marketing ploy.

“Just like with any famous and/or popular musician, ticket prices will increase as the demand for them increases,” Tews said. “Harry is no exception to this principle, therefore, the tickets to his events will continue to be expensive as he continues to grow more popular, knowing his sexuality won’t change that.”

While queerbaiting can be seen as an overall positive sign of queer relationships in modern society, it tokenizes the queer community. Compared to openly queer cultural icons such as Billy Porter, Styles’ ambiguity is celebrated by mainstream media in many ways.

“The issue is when [Harry Styles] weaponizes and monetizes the public’s perception of him being queer which is living proof that people would rather support a vaguely queer white man than a person of color who is explicitly gay or bisexual,” junior Guranaad Kaur said. “Explicit queerness in media and celebrities is a genuine turn off in most people in western society even though people pretend to be allies.”

“Styles' sexuality is a private matter that does not concern fans, even if he may adopt a queer identity as a marketing ploy.”

Thanks to his privilege and celebrity status, Styles has influence over a large audience. As a result, many fans demand that he ally himself with the LGBTQ community when they are in need of critical solidarity.

“He has such a vast platform that reaches so many aspects of media and that could be used for so much good,” Tews said. “Fans are definitely entitled to ask him to do more. He can easily spread a message of solidarity and/or share resources that help/educate the community but he doesn’t. There are so many dedicated fans of his that show vocal and public support, but why should they continue to vocalize this if he doesn’t show his open support for them?”

Given his consistent use of LGBTQ symbols while presenting a sanitized version of queerness that is accepted in the mainstream, fans are entitled to expect more from Styles: to be more vocal in condemning rising homophobia and transphobia and to assert support for LGBTQ people of color. Due to his privilege and status as an important cultural icon, Styles is obligated to demonstrate solidarity with the LGBTQ community when it is needed most.

Editor's Note: For more information on this subject, please visit the article "The Queerbaiting Quarrel" in the Features Section.


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