Our theme for the month of June is “Celebrities and Me.” Writers were asked to select and write about a celebrity with whom they feel some connection.
Harry Styles’ sophomore album Fine Line was playing quietly from my laptop as I signed for a sturdy envelope from a courier. I had been listening to the record consistently since its release five days before, and it became the soundtrack of this pivotal moment: gingerly slicing through layers of paper and tape, drawing out my passport, and flipping to the visa page that would permit me to settle in the United Kingdom.
Two significant circumstances followed the subsequent move: first, the forced self-reflection that accompanied lockdown isolation, and second, the shift among my closest friends from “mostly cis” to “mostly trans.” Below my radar, the hasty seams I had sewn around my low-effort identity as a woman began to fray.
I first pulled at this thread in my senior year at Calvin, when the perceptive thorns of Danny Lavery’s gc2b review “When Every Bra Size Is Wrong” nestled under my skin. I had been slightly smitten with Danny when I met him at the Festival of Faith & Writing the year prior, and at his gentle urging in the then-nascent Shondaland, I ordered my first binder.
I hid the gray half-tank—Danny’s exact recommendation—for weeks before I finally willed myself to try it on. I hated it. My chest hurt; my shirts bulged in the wrong places. I mailed the binder to a stranger from Twitter with whom I haven’t spoken since. I never told anyone about the purchase, not even my then-partner, who themself would go on to wear binders.
This experiment was intended to resolve my ambiguous attitude toward my own gender, and it seemed effective for several years. My idle wonderings about the possible effects of testosterone therapy on my body I passed off as general curiosity; I chided myself for “putting on” pangs of jealousy at my transmasculine friends’ milestones. The persistent illusion of this simplicity shattered two months ago from the impact of an unexpected conclusion: I want to be Harry Styles.
I don’t desire a literal body-swap; his international boyband superstardom, his [redacted]-eating anthem “Watermelon Sugar,” his blossoming career as an actor, and his growing status as a fashion icon merely deliver enviable glimpses of a nebulous masculinity—and, equally, an absence of masculinity—that I want to replicate.
Harry sparks contention in the queer community because of his ambiguity. He claims an apathy to the project of labelling (one that I share), which has lead to accusations of him profiting off of and appropriating queer aesthetics. I both disagree with this reproach—it hinges on narrow definitions of identity and ownership—and believe that his private life is not particularly relevant either way.
Harry’s influence on me is queer; it has allowed me to unveil aspects of my queerness that I did not know were hidden. I see myself most vividly in Harry’s indifference to categorization. His lack of concern for explicit, legible labels of sexuality and gender is a liberating example of how I want to relate my body to the world. He isn’t the first or the most significant person to forgo identity markers; he was simply the most prominent example when I needed to see it.
I should emphasize that Harry’s digestible gender-bending is nothing we haven’t seen before, and is often better, in icons of androgyny like Kurt Cobain, Prince, and David Bowie. Harry isn’t playing the same game as his openly queer contemporaries like Lil Nas X. Even my own awakening is hardly a mark of originality: history and literature are replete with boys so beautiful that they drive their admirers into a frenzy of introspection.
My contemplation has emerged less because I do not see myself as a woman and more because I do not see women in myself. I might attribute this reluctance to any number of factors: a discomfort with “girlboss” feminism, a disconnect from straight cis women, a dissonance between my concept and the reality of the breadth of womanhood. Yet these explanations force a question to which I do not need an answer.
I am happy to adopt the path of least resistance: I am a woman when it’s easiest. I am most enticed, however, by ambivalence. I have little interest in choosing identifiers or signifiers, and still less in mandating how others perceive me.
I moved to Scotland with vague notions of reordering my life from the ground up. I have reshaped, even dismantled, my sense of self; meanwhile, the happenstance of my musical tastes during a life-altering mail delivery has become pivotal to my entire aesthetic. These concurrent phenomena have informed each other so deeply that I cannot separate their outcomes. I find myself as both the subject and object of the bridge in Fine Line’s opening track:
I know that you’re scared
Because I’m so open