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OPINION - Why Harry Styles is definitely a gay icon (even if you think he's queerbaiting)

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Harry Styles is, to the gays, a lot like feather boas. Loads love them, just as many prefer to keep a wider berth.

A section of the latter group have slammed the pop star as a queerbaiter. They accuse him of borrowing typically queer characteristics (see: wearing feather boas) while at the same time keeping mum on his own sexuality.

But that is a tricky case to make. To do so, it’s inevitable you will insinuate everyone must declare their sexual preferences — and publicly. As those in the community know best of all, that is an outrageous idea to push.

Still, a section of LGBTQ+ people have been left feeling uneasy. For others, it’s not all that deep — they just aren’t keen on the sugar-sweet, Hollywood polish that comes with 2024 brand Styles.

Harry Styles performs on stage during the 65th Annual Grammy Awards, February 5, 2023 (AFP/Getty Images)
Harry Styles performs on stage during the 65th Annual Grammy Awards, February 5, 2023 (AFP/Getty Images)

And that is all well and good, however there does come a time Harry Styles deserves some respect. We know he wasn’t the first man to ever wear a dress. Still, his appearance on the cover of American Vogue in December 2020 felt like a moment. Yes ok, he has pinched a few styling tips and lyrical flourishes from the great male frontmen of our times (David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Mick Jagger, George Michael, et al). But like Bowie caused a scandal by wearing a Mr Fish dress on his album cover in 1971, Styles does too every time he flaunts another disco coloured, nipple-grazing jumpsuit. At least someone is still trying to push the boundaries.

More than that, though, Styles’ persistent drip feeding of all things “flamboyant” — on the fashion front, credit must go to his longtime stylist Harry Lambert — is exactly the antidote a world in a toxic masculinity choke-hold needs. His own range of unisex nail varnishes? Great. Pictures of him stomping about in little heeled booties and a pearl necklace? It really is delightful to see.

Harry Styles wears S.S.Daley in his 2020 Golden music video (Harry Styles)
Harry Styles wears S.S.Daley in his 2020 Golden music video (Harry Styles)

His relationships with queer creatives are a convincing testament to him as a person, too. He launched gender fluid designer Harris Reed’s career when he wore a selection of his blouses on tour in 2018. He did too for S.S.Daley, another queer-centric label, which the singer gave a leg-up to stardom by spotlighting it in his 2020 Golden music video. Taking his support a step further, this month it was announced Styles bought a minority share in the brand.

And on set, the stories that come back are similar. Pat Boguslawski, the movement director best known for his current role at Martin Margiela under John Galliano, worked with Styles on his viral 2020 Beauty Papers cover shoot. Yes, the one where he is naked save for fishnets and loafers.

“He was just incredible,” Boguslawski told me in a recent interview. “It was fascinating to work with someone who is a male but at the same time so open minded and willing to do anything.” First hand testimonies are a good place to start when it comes to reading mega-stars who have their image so tightly controlled (often it’s near impossible to get any sense of true character).

Harry Styles attends the My Policeman Premiere on September 11, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario (Getty Images)
Harry Styles attends the My Policeman Premiere on September 11, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario (Getty Images)

While Styles has not spelled out his queerness in black and white, every plumed, pink ostrich feather coat he normalises makes it a little bit easier for those wanting to express themselves in peace and safety.

It shouldn’t be like that. In fact, it’s sickening. But that’s not Styles’ fault — and by putting it to the forefront of pop culture, he is doing the LGBTQ+ community a solid. To my mind, that is something worth applauding, not tearing down.