For about 18 months there was incredibly disruptive construction going on next door to me. It drove me mad. Like verging-on-a-nervous-breakdown mad. I became obsessed with the history of construction-related legislation in Philadelphia and pitched one of my editors a 10,000-word piece on planning permission and party walls. They looked at me kindly and said “no”.

All of which to say: sometimes you need an editor to rein you in. Sometimes you need an editor to tell you that while it’s OK for you to be weirdly obsessed about something, it might be best if you didn’t go down a rabbit hole on the opinion pages of a national newspaper.

So I mean this in the nicest possible way when I say that perhaps Anna Marks’s editor at the New York Times should have done her a similar favour. Perhaps someone should have told her that it might not be advisable to write a 5,000-word opinion piece advancing the theory that Taylor Swift – who is currently in a relationship with the NFL player Travis Kelce – is secretly a lesbian or bisexual and communicating this fact to the LGBTQ+ community via coded messages in her music. These codes range from the in-your-face (rainbow artwork on albums) to rather more esoteric references to midcentury lesbian magazines in the Eras Tour visuals.

Anyway, it’s too late for warnings now, isn’t it? The piece (titled Look What We Made Taylor Swift Do) has come out and it’s causing all the backlash and uproar and clicks and conversation that I imagine whoever greenlit it anticipated it would.

To be clear: the uproar isn’t because this is the first time in history that someone has suggested that Swift might be gay. On the contrary: theories that the pop star might not be 100% straight have been circulating for years, and there are Reddit forums where people obsess over the idea, scrutinizing every song lyric and social media post for shades of gay. (These Swifties are called “Gaylors”, because of course they are.)

Last year there was even a festival, Camp Gaylor, dedicated to all things Swiftie and queer. Still, while the theory isn’t new, this is the first time – as far as I can tell – that it has been advanced to such a detailed degree in a serious newspaper.

Swift, for her part, has said she isn’t part of the LGBTQ+ community and asked people not to sexualise her female friendships. Was the Times unethical to gloss over all of this and give rumours about her sexuality so much airtime? Swift’s inner circle reportedly thinks so. According to CNN, Swift’s associates (a vague term which could mean anyone from Swift’s PR person to someone who once sat in the same restaurant as her) were disgusted by the article, and accused the Times of sexism.

“Because of her massive success, in this moment there is a Taylor-shaped hole in people’s ethics,” a source told the outlet in response to the Times piece. “This article wouldn’t have been allowed to be written about Shawn Mendes or any male artist whose sexuality has been questioned by fans.”

Let’s not go overboard here, eh? Yes, much of the discourse surrounding Swift is steeped in sexism and double standards. But I’m not sure that charge can be levelled at this particular piece. Marks has, after all, written a similar sort of article (albeit much shorter) about Harry Styles – who has been accused of queerbaiting and whose sexuality is constantly being questioned by fans.

Further, while I think Marks’s piece was highly inadvisable, I wouldn’t go as far as to say it was unethical. Outing someone against their wishes is clearly morally wrong, but that’s very different from overanalysing a bunch of song lyrics. Particularly when those lyrics are set up to be overanalysed in the first place. As Marks notes in her piece, “Swift has explicitly encouraged her fans to read into the coded messages (which she calls ‘Easter eggs’) she leaves in music videos, social media posts and interviews with traditional media outlets.”

It’s a genius marketing move, encouraging fans to engage deeply with her content and get them speculating about what deeper meaning the megastar might be weaving into her songs. Is it any wonder that some fans go down rabbit holes?

Speculating about a celebrity’s sexuality on online forums is one thing, but there’s a case that speculation in serious media outlets is completely different. Certainly, Chely Wright, a queer country singer whose struggles to come out in the early 2000s kicked off Marks’s piece, thinks so. “I think it was awful of [the New York Times] to publish,” she wrote. “Triggering for me to read – not because the writer mentioned my nearly ending my life – but seeing a public person’s sexuality being discussed is upsetting.”

I can understand why Wright would feel upset about the article, but – and I say this as a gay woman – I take umbrage with the idea that it is upsetting to see a public person’s sexuality being discussed in 2024. I mean, come on now: celebrities have their sexuality discussed all the time. Newsflash: talking about a celebrity dating someone of the opposite sex is discussing a public person’s sexuality.

It is unfortunate, I think, that Wright’s criticism accidentally plays into homophobic ideas that only queer people have sexualities while heterosexual love lives are just the default. And quite a lot of the outrage over the Times piece, I should note, does seem to be tinged with homophobia. Certainly all the outraged op-eds in the likes of the New York Post seem disgusted with the very idea that anyone might suspect Swift to be gay. “What’s so wrong about her being a straight white woman who makes great music?” an irate Post article demanded.

I’m not entirely sure what Marks set out to achieve with her piece (which, again, was ill-advised), but I do think she has achieved something. She has shown us that the entertainment industry is perfectly fine with its biggest stars flirting with LGBTQ+ imagery. It’s fine with its biggest stars draping themselves in rainbow flags and making statements about allyship. Dare to suggest that those stars might actually be gay, though, and you’ll see quite a lot of old-fashioned homophobia coming out.

Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian US columnist

QOSHE - Is it OK to speculate about Taylor Swift’s sexuality? - Arwa Mahdawi
menu_open
Columnists Actual . Favourites . Archive
We use cookies to provide some features and experiences in QOSHE

More information  .  Close
Aa Aa Aa
- A +

Is it OK to speculate about Taylor Swift’s sexuality?

8 0
10.01.2024

For about 18 months there was incredibly disruptive construction going on next door to me. It drove me mad. Like verging-on-a-nervous-breakdown mad. I became obsessed with the history of construction-related legislation in Philadelphia and pitched one of my editors a 10,000-word piece on planning permission and party walls. They looked at me kindly and said “no”.

All of which to say: sometimes you need an editor to rein you in. Sometimes you need an editor to tell you that while it’s OK for you to be weirdly obsessed about something, it might be best if you didn’t go down a rabbit hole on the opinion pages of a national newspaper.

So I mean this in the nicest possible way when I say that perhaps Anna Marks’s editor at the New York Times should have done her a similar favour. Perhaps someone should have told her that it might not be advisable to write a 5,000-word opinion piece advancing the theory that Taylor Swift – who is currently in a relationship with the NFL player Travis Kelce – is secretly a lesbian or bisexual and communicating this fact to the LGBTQ community via coded messages in her music. These codes range from the in-your-face (rainbow artwork on albums) to rather more esoteric references to midcentury lesbian magazines in the Eras Tour visuals.

Anyway, it’s too late for warnings now, isn’t it? The piece (titled Look What We Made Taylor Swift Do) has come out and it’s causing all the backlash and uproar and clicks and conversation that I imagine whoever greenlit it anticipated it would.

To be........

© The Guardian


Get it on Google Play