One Direction is My Root
This piece was submitted by a member of the LGBTQ+ community at American University as part of the Rival American’s Pride Week. Their views do not necessarily represent that of The Rival American or its staff. If you’d like to submit your own work, please do so with our submission drive which will be open until Thursday, April 25th.
By Kai Walther
Suspenders, canvas shoes, blazers over t-shirts, iconic haircuts - sounds like soft butch lesbians to me. However, these fashion statements are not only reserved for bois such as myself. They also apply to the world’s greatest boyband, One Direction.
When Harry Styles, Liam Payne, Niall Horan, Louis Tomlinson, and Zayn Malik (rip) were released into the world in 2010 to hordes of screaming teens, I was one of those teens. Eighth grade me, with my repressed sexuality, set forth on a life defined by these five young men. Whereas in the past I had pointedly avoided interacting or having any sort of relationship with my male peers, I had posters of One Direction covering my walls, ran an extremely popular fan Instagram account, and was an avid reader of both second-person and Larry (Harry and Louis) fanfiction.
Why did I care so much about these men? Because they looked just like many of the butches I would swoon over and eventually become.
While the members of One Direction are all allegedly heterosexual men, during the band’s peak they had soft, non-threatening, queer-coded masculinity, very similar to the soft butches of today.
Think about the boy band members you’ve seen. They have to be desirable according to conventional European standards so they can captivate their primarily pre-adolescent female fanbase. However, they can’t be too desirable, parents need to like them enough to still buy their children the music, posters, and concert tickets. Overt sexiness is out of the question as well. To appeal to both parents and their relatively young target audience, boybands cannot portray traditional, aggressively heterosexual masculinity.
The focus isn’t necessarily on muscles or sexiness or other stereotypical qualities of heterosexual men. Boybands must represent what their fans want: thoughtful, sweet, funny, approachable. In some cases, this alternative masculinity leads to people outside the fanbase viewing boybands as representatives of gay masculinity. Now, much can be said about the similarities between twinks and soft butches, but this “gay,” “soft” masculinity sounds very similar to the masculinity of soft butches.
Young me, still shockingly unaware of my own queerness, knew something stood out about these young men of One Direction. They were ideal because of their unattainability (I would never actually meet them and have to face my questions of sexuality or figure out how to interact with men), but still had an indelible impact on both my sexuality and gender.
I learned how to have a crush through practicing with my celebrity crushes on One Direction. I spent so much time looking at and sharing their pictures (on my very popular fan Instagram) that I became intimately familiar with their boyish good looks and soft butch fashion.
It only followed that when I was ready to confront my feelings in real life about crushes and stop repressing my sexuality because I was in love with my best friend (happens to the best of us amiright folks), many of the people to whom I gravitated had the same characteristics of this boyband.
Once I eventually stopped repressing my genderqueerness as well, One Direction set the tone. Throughout junior high (less so but still fair amount in high school), the only men I actually paid attention to were the members of One Direction (I’m gay, I didn’t have time for men in my real life). So when I finally allowed myself to exist as the transmasculine, genderqueer person I knew that I was, One Direction provided my model for masculinity. I admired them for their (most likely very carefully crafted) soft masculinity, ability to play with rumors of their sexuality and not being tied to stereotypical conceptions of heterosexual masculinity. Perfect for me, a not-heterosexual masculine person.
Ellen DeGeneres crawled so One Direction could walk so I could run. I will not be taking questions at this time.
One night after looking through their old One Direction fan instagram (fanstagram) account, Kai found a post they wrote about how everyone thought they were gay but they were Definitely Not, just a Good Ally. The post inspired this half-tongue-in-cheek self-reflection about the influence of One Direction on their queerness.