Harry’s queer politics have been consistent and coherent. From, March 2012, when
he wore a t-shirt celebrating the court case that legalised same sex marriage in New York that a fan gave him (for more info see bulletproofhalo’s excellent timeline):
To the two rainbows he posted after the Orlando shooting last month.
He has supported marriage equality, opposed homophobia and celebrated Pride regularly. I’m sure everyone reading this post already knows Harry’s history openly supporting queer struggle. Fandom knows this, it’s well documented, that’s not the point of this post. What I realised, while I was putting this together, was that Harry has done all that without ever using the words: ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’, ‘queer’ or any variation of the LGBTQIA acronym.
As far as I can tell the only time Harry has used the word ‘gay’ in public is this incredible interview from December 2011:
In 2013, of course, Harry answered a GQ interviewer who asked if he was bisexual: “
Bisexual? Me? I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure I’m not.” (I know everyone hates that interview - and the interviewer is a horrible misogynist. But I love Harry’s response so much. More than anything else I want him to have been telling the truth - both about not being bisexual and having slept with two people. But the interviewer was so convinced he understood far more than anyone else, that he didn’t even notice).
And that’s it - every expression of queer liberation, queer equality and pride from Harry has been through symbols and euphemisms.
The symbols are mostly rainbows - there’s a lot of rainbow Harry. In 2015, he draped himself in a rainbow flag again and again and again (those were good days)
Quietasides has each of those beautiful moments in one post (which is where I got this .gif from). He first posted a rainbow on instagram after the Irish marriage equality referendum succeeded. Then there’s this instagram picture, that I find desperately sad:
Here the symbol is the lack of rainbows. The other main symbolic statement Harry has made was wearing Michael Sam’s jersey at their 2014 St Louis concert.
As the t-shirt he wore in 2012 and this instagram picture suggest, Harry has mainly talked about love and equality as a way of communicating his support for LGBTQI people and struggles, without direct mentioning sexuality. In 2013, he tweeted “ Despite the company outside, I believe in equal rights for everyone. I think God loves all. Thanks for coming to the show though” when the Westboro baptist church picketed a One Direction gig. A clear statement, but a very indirect one.
When Harry wished Happy Birthday to the London Lesbian and Gay Switchboard, he called it by it’s colloquial name - the switchboard.
(Now that’s it’s official name, but it wasn’t in 2014)
Even in the wild days of Europe OTRA in Helsinki, the day of Pride and the day after the Supreme Court decision he said: “This place looks very colourful tonight, and for a lot of you I know why. And it’s great.” Again relying on the symbols to communicate what he can’t.
The obvious explanation for this is that it’s part of the deal he made with 1DHQ - that he can express himself in symbols and euphemisms, but cannot be direct.
Perhaps that’s what’s going on - I want to suggest another possibility. Some words are really powerful - and some of the most powerful words are can be parts of us we’re not allowed to express or acknowledge, identities that are denied to us.
I can imagine it would be very hard for Harry to say ‘gay’ as if it was a normal word in spaces where he can’t be out. Particularly in a political sense where he would have to use it in way that implied that he was an ally - that he was not that name. That the way he has expressed himself is more ambiguous and doesn’t require him to pretend to be an ally. One of the advantage of indirect communication is it allows lots of possibilities for where you stand.
I imagine the language of euphemism and symbols that Harry has developed is a result of both the external restrictions put on him and also a way that he can express himself that allows space for both who he needs to be seen as and who he is.
There is a whole language of symbols and euphemisms, because generations of queer people have faced exactly the issue Harry does. Ambiguous expression is at the heart of queer coding - it has to be invisible for those who are not looking. Harry is doing something slightly different, for slightly different times, when it’s acceptable for celebrities to support marriage equality - but not really acceptable to be queer - closeted celebrities have to use symbols in new and complicated ways.
I think again of the bears - and that the queer culture of the 1970s and 1980s of the bear’s tableaus was not the angry visibility of queer liberation, but the language of closted celebrities who managed to speak their queerness loudly even though they were limited to symbols and euphemisms.
Maybe one day Harry will be able to speak more freely and directly. I hope so. But that shouldn’t devalue what he’s saying now. His ability to use queer culture to express himself despite his closet is impressive and beautiful.