Some people are very confused when I tell them that I love One Direction. It doesn't quite fit my persona: the radical trans-feminist-anarchist-vegan-activist persona. I was completely shocked by it myself in the beginning, and at times it still feels a bit out of character. I resisted for four years, during my screw-pop-culture phase, a time throughout which I was the sort of person who insisted upon critiquing the cis-heteronormativity in One Direction's famous song, "What Makes You Beautiful." But one day you get tired, and hating everything that isn't perfect is a fruitless pursuit.
I'd probably be able to write a full essay on what I love about this group of boys. I'll start by rattling off a few reasons, but keep in mind that that is not the focus of this piece. I love that they are goofy and ridiculous, just a group of dumb kids mucking about and trying to have fun. I love that they are all from humble backgrounds, and have not lost those roots. I've watched plenty of interviews and videos since my induction into the 1D universe, and I can confidently say that they seem to have remained down-to-earth. I love that they are all such great friends and that there's very little inter-band drama. I love that they have the voices of angels and can pull off a five-part harmony like no one else. These are all wonderful things that make me happy, but I think what makes me happiest of all about One Direction is one of the boys in particular: Harry Styles.
A-ha, you saw it coming, did you? But wait! Let me explain. I don't love Harry because he is beautiful (which is, nonetheless, very, very true and does not hurt his cause), nor is it because he has a beautiful singing voice (which is also a valid reason). Harry is the youngest, and easily the most publicized of the five band members. People have sold his vomit on ebay. That is a level of fame that few people will ever achieve at such a tender age (he's only 20 years old). By being the most fetishized of the group, he is under the most scrutiny by the media. Harry is at the same time the most eccentric of the crew, growing his hair ever longer and wearing coats in deserts and being generally very kooky. People that fit Harry's general description (teenage-ish white male) usually fall into one of my least favorite categories of human. But Harry is an anomaly, and the explanation as to why that is can be summed up with one of the most iconic quotes to be uttered in this century: "Not that important."
If decontextualized, that phrase means nothing. What isn't important, Harry? Why are you so nonchalant about it? But I re-read that phrase and my heart is set alight. When asked what four traits they look for in a lady, his bandmate, Liam Payne, said, "Female, that's a good trait," to which Harry laughed and replied, "Not that important." Go to this video, and skip to 2:20. Watch the following 15 seconds. There are a lot of theories floating around the Internet, on Tumblr in particular, about what exactly happens during those 15 seconds.
Many people think it was staged (in addition to the onslaught of unapologetic media "shipping" of Louis Tomlinson and Harry Styles a few days before), because who would really say "female" in response to that question? That's not a very natural response. While Liam is talking, watch Harry's body language. He's tense, he's playing with the rings on his fingers, he's focusing really hard on something off-screen. If you watch the video from the beginning, it also becomes apparent that Harry is visibly uncomfortable (I suppose you might have to know a bit about how he usually acts in order to reach this conclusion, but he is generally a very charismatic and charming person), isn't really reacting to Liam's jokes, and is overall more serious than one would expect him to be.
When the interviewer finishes reading the question, Harry takes a sharp inhale and then clears his throat, presumably steeling himself for the coming moment. It's hard to tell, but when Liam is saying "female," his right hand looks as though he's giving Harry a thumbs-up. After he says those three magical words, Liam emits what can best be described as a loving chuckle. He and Harry both look off camera in the same direction (what are they looking at? The world may never know), then Harry chuckles nervously (yet triumphantly, with relief) and continues on. Notice how the interviewer doesn't say a word, but rather giggles uncomfortably. His comment is never addressed. It is completely glossed over.
I swear my heart almost stopped when he said those three words. I'm sitting here trying to adequately express what it is that is so perfect about that phrase, but my mind keeps tripping over itself. The closest I can get is to say that "not that important" perfectly explains what it is to be queer (I use "queer" as an umbrella term to denote unspecified LGBTQ+ identities). It doesn't mean that queerness as an identity is unimportant. It means that someone can look at a concept like gender -- to which most people kowtow day and night -- and say, "Eh, not that important." Gender and the subsequent sexual orientations created around these genders have caused so many problems (this is the best word I can think of to describe the atrocities such as gender-based violence, the Westboro Baptist Church and the Hobby Lobby debacle) in our society that to say, in essence, "Eh, screw it," is massive. But when you're Harry Styles, it is MASSIVE.
Queerness is nothing new. As a queer person myself, I can tell you, it doesn't set me apart from others by giving me a tingly feeling in my feet at all times or allowing me the ability to hold my breath underwater. I'm not particularly fond of cisgendered males and prefer people that do not fit that description -- whoopdeedoo *twirls index fingers in a half-hearted manner to allude to a lack of excitement*. For some people, though, it's a sinful "problem" that needs to be rectified using violence, imprisonment, torture, bullying... an endless militia of horrible, horrible things. There are many places within this "progressive" country alone in which being openly LGBTQ+ will get you stabbed and thrown in prison.
Having amazing figures like Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, Ellen Page and many others representing the celebrity LGBTQ+ community is huge. No offense intended to Laverne, Janet or Ellen, but Harry Styles' fame surpasses all of theirs. He is an international phenomenon. I lack the words to describe how vastly influential he is upon global society. So, now, I finally reach my point: if Harry Styles can shrug and say that female is not a trait he finds important in a partner, then what else can happen? In other words, if Harry Styles can be queer, anyone can be queer. The floodgates have sprung open. The LGBTQ+ community has taken an enormous step forward with those three little words.
On behalf of myself and at least four other people I've spoken to about this, I want to thank you, Harry, for your bravery. What you have done is so inexplicably amazing, not only as Harry Styles, but as an individual human being. For what it's worth, I am so proud of you.