Written by Marygrace Schumann, Staff Writer
When I was 16, in the middle of coming to terms with being a lesbian and a bout of the worst depression I’ve ever been through (a feeling akin to scrubbing at your skin until it’s bright red, praying it’ll just fall off and let you start over; a time like shallow breaths getting caught somewhere in between your lungs and your mouth, so you’re left gasping) I discovered something that would change my life. Something that would bring me unbridled happiness when that’s all I needed. Something that would connect me to people like me, and help me understand myself and my sexuality in a way that wasn’t so fucking terrifying. When I was a 16-year-old, fresh out-of-the-closet lesbian, I discovered One Direction.
Yeah. One Direction.
“What Makes You Beautiful” was playing on the radio nonstop. You couldn’t go anywhere without hearing that infamous opening (you’re insecure / don’t know what for) and eventual cowbell solo. It played at the mall, at parties, in the car. I think I was supposed to hate it but the truth is I really liked it. I tend to like catchy, bubblegum, overplayed radio pop. It’s mindless and fun, art I think is vital in a world filled with a lot of ugly, mean bullshit.
The point is “What Makes You Beautiful” was popular, I was jamming out to it on the regular and asking myself, “who the fuck are these guys?”
So like any 16-year-old in the 21st century, I googled them. They were charming and sweet, their laughter infectious, their obvious adoration for each other heartwarming. They were lovable, to say the least, and a feeling settled in my bones. I wasn’t attracted to them, swooning like the straight teenage girls who watched these videos. Instead, I was watching them like you watch a couple of puppies playing together. They were making me happy, a feeling that was foreign lately, and I loved them instantly.
I didn’t think much (or at all, really) about a connection between my sexuality and One Direction. The two seemed not only totally unrelated but almost comically contradicting. My mother joked after friends bought a cardboard cutout of Louis Tomlinson for my birthday, “I thought having a lesbian for a daughter meant I got to skip the boy band phase.” I laughed, because it was funny.
Except, it wasn’t always that funny. Instead, it confused people and even made them mad. Straight guys wanted to know how I could claim to be a lesbian and like a boy band, like those things couldn’t possibly co-exist.
Gay men, as a community, worship a whole array of female artists. Lady Gaga, Cher, Beyonce, Judy Garland just to name a few. Nobody ever questions their sexuality, confused by how they could like a celebrity they aren’t attracted to. That’s not the case for lesbians. In fact, lesbians who dare to be a fan of any man immediately have their sexuality put under a microscope. Mine certainly was.
People made so many comments about it that I started to question myself. Maybe it was impossible to like a boy band and be a lesbian. Maybe I was just looking for attention. Maybe my soft spot for a bunch of famous boys was a sign I actually liked dick.
Then I started to notice something that seemed, at the time, odd. Lesbians and bi women all around me (in real life and online) were becoming fans of One Direction at a rapid rate. “Our sons,” we called them, with unwavering fondness. We bought t-shirts. We danced to their songs. We day dreamed about being their best friends, hanging out with them at lavish parties and meeting cute girls. We weren’t attracted to them. We didn’t want to marry them. But we loved them all the same.
Why love the a bunch of boys who sing bubblegum pop when you’re a lesbian? First and maybe most obviously is that almost every member of One Direction has had their sexuality questioned, with many fans speculating several of the boys might be gay or bisexual. Regardless if you agree with it, many LGBT+ fans connected with the boys through that speculation.
For me, the connection is a little more abstract. Maybe it was the fact that their fashion sense and messy haircuts closely resembled most lesbians I knew. Maybe it was their ability to be openly, aggressively affectionate with one another. At the time, that affection was something I desperately craved and at the same time was beyond scared of. It was something that seemed so entirely wholesome and magical to me when they did it. They didn’t care what people thought. They loved each other, and they weren’t afraid to show it, snuggled up on couches.
Maybe songs like “They Don’t Know About Us” (but I wanna tell em’ / I wanna tell the world that you’re mine, girl) and later “End of The Day” (all I know at the end of the day is you love who you love / there ain’t no other way) helped solidify the connection, lyrics that seemed to speak to me specifically as a lesbian. Or maybe they were just nice boys who made me smile at a time in my life where I desperately needed something to make me smile.
It doesn’t really matter why any of us got here. Maybe there isn’t some big reason all these gay women fell in love with a boy band. Maybe we’re just human beings, who all happened to like something. What does matter is that lesbian One Direction fans got here, we stayed here, and people don’t like it.
There have been countless times over the years where somebody has gotten annoyed with or even angry at me simply for being a lesbian who likes One Direction. Just a couple weeks ago I made a harmless comment online about lesbian fans of One Direction. A stranger replied to it, confused.
“Maybe I’m overthinking it,” she said, “but surely there aren’t lesbian One Direction fans?”
I told her there were, me included, and figured the conversation would end there. It didn’t. Instead she spent the night interrogating me and my friends, sure we must be lying about our sexualities. One of her friends chimed in to say that lesbians liking a boy band was “suspect behavior” and “very heterosexual.” Eventually, she blocked me and made a twitter poll saying: I know this is a stupid question but lesbians, do any of you like boy bands like One Direction or Hanson?
The results before she deleted them? Over 100 votes, with 81% of people saying yes, I’m a lesbian and I like boy bands.
She wasn't the first person to question my sexuality or that of one of my many lesbian One Direction fan friends. It’s something that’s been happening to me (us) for years. The idea that I would like a band, not because I think they’re hot, but because I genuinely enjoy their music and personalities, seems too wild a concept for people to grasp. I’ve seen the same thing happen to my lesbian friends who like other male-centric things, like Captain America. Regardless if there’s something particular that draws gay women to these phenomenons or if they all just happen to like it for a whole set of different reasons, people (straight and gay) find it weird.
Lesbians in general have to do a lot to “prove” their sexualities. We live in a homophobic and patriarchal world, where men find the idea that women aren’t attracted to them absurd. The two most common things men have told me about my sexuality are:
1. I’m only pretending to be a lesbian because I’m too ugly to get a man, or
2. I’m only pretending to be a lesbian because I’m playing hard to get.
The common thread here? I’m lying, and I secretly like men. At a bar just a couple of months ago, a man I had considered my friend told me I couldn’t be sure I didn’t like dick if I never tried it.
These sentiments aren’t just annoying; they’re genuinely frightening because they often lead to violence and sexual assault against lesbians. Stuff like this makes most lesbians very wary of men, and very scared of what could happen when or if they give men any sort of idea that they could possibly be attracted to them. Because of this some lesbians (rightfully so) do their best to stay away from men, to not care about men or have meaningful relationships with them. I respect this, especially in a world that prioritizes men and that expects women to value men regardless of how they treat them.
Unfortunately, this also creates a standard in and outside of the LGBT+ community that is ridiculously unhealthy. It’s the idea that lesbians who genuinely enjoy the work of men, their personalities or their company, must be fake lesbians. It’s a dangerous and frankly silly notion, but one that is there nonetheless.
It’s something that lesbian fans of One Direction understand all too well. So, we started talking about it. First it was mostly this question: why is it such a radical idea that lesbians could like a boy band? We started talking about what drew us to One Direction, why it confused people and why it even mattered. But then it went deeper. We started having conversations about lesbophobia in general, compulsory heterosexuality, butchphobia and corrective rape. At the same time, we talked about how Harry Styles’ wardrobe was a femme lesbian’s dream and how “End of The Day” was clearly a lesbian anthem. We had fun, but through these discussions we also became smarter, braver, kinder and more open. We found the courage to talk about our personal struggles and the terminology to connect with one another.
Though not strictly for lesbians, things like Rainbow Direction (a fan project that unites LGBT people in the One Direction fandom) brought many lesbian One Direction fans together. People’s confusion (and sometimes hatred) united LGBT fans. In particular lesbians and bi women became a tight-knit sub-community.
Because here’s the thing: We weren’t just women who liked a band anymore. We were something more. We were something people didn’t understand, something that made people angry, something that didn’t make sense. Regardless if we became fans because of songs we related to, butch aesthetics, gay rumors or simply because One Direction made us smile, we got here. And when people want you to leave, well, it gives you all the more reason to stay. So we did. We stayed.
Who really knows what connected all of us to One Direction. Maybe it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is what we did when we got here. We created a space where lesbians could talk openly and honestly about their struggles, all while envying the wardrobes of 20-something millionaire men.
I wouldn’t trade that for the world.
Contact Marygrace by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.