Observations / Stories

What I’ve Learned From Harry Styles About Gender Identity

I am probably pushing my metal cred into the negative zone by writing a blog about Harry Styles, but fuck it; it’s my goddamn blog and I will write what I want.

When I wrote my first authentically bare and autobiographical short story, I referred to myself as an “ungirl”: I am an ungirl. I have a concrete soul.

What I meant was, I don’t know what I am, but it’s not a “girl”. The word didn’t feel right. It still doesn’t.

Identifying past physicality is so esoteric for some people. Ungirl? You must want to be a boy! Er, no. Don’t want a dick, thanks. Don’t need to change my anatomy. Can’t bring myself to prefer balls over an arbitrary cavity. I’m not picky about pronouns, I just see myself as genderless in my mind.

I wasn’t sheltered growing up, by any means. I played guys in theatre productions and felt completely comfortable. I had a best friend who wished he were a girl. I had seen other male friends wear makeup and twirl. I didn’t question it. I only questioned myself. Like I was the exception to every rule. I’m not a girl. I’m not gay. I’m not straight or sporty or nerdy or loud. I’m not anything.

I’m not that; I’m not this; I’m not that. I am none of you.

I’m a non, the world always convinced me. An un. Something nonessential and undefined. As if I were antimatter, and the world was solid. It really shaped my (non)identity, growing up. (Ghostly.)

Recently I started listening to One Direction on a pop kick. (I have a pop kick every few years, in between the death metal and punk anthems.) I watched a lot of interviews when I first got into them. Amusing British boys.

Then a certain answer happened and it knocked me on my ass.

Before this, most of the world knew Harry Styles as the curly-haired boyband member who was said to be fucking any girl who stood within three feet of him. A typical young celebrity, really. There are probably people who still think that.

I’m not one of them.

After being asked what qualities they look for in a girl (i.e. a date), Harry responded to the quip “female” with a shrug and a quip of his own: “Not that important.”


Seemingly innocuous, really. But perfectly shameless. A member of a boy band coming out at the height of his career (!) is nearly unheard of. So young—still twenty-one.

I mean, when I was his age, I cowered in my corner tower at college like a withered creature waiting for rescue. I turned twenty-one with a six pack in my hexagonal dorm room watching longago concerts on VHS. There were boys who sat on my bed and tried to understand, treating me like something delicate, but what they saw was never the same thing. Delicacy is not me. I held it like a secret in my bones: I am no girl.

When I was fifteen I wanted to get jeans from the men’s side of the store because they were comfortable and gave me pride. I made my mum buy them but I never wore them to school because I was fucking terrified of what other people would say. I already used men’s deodorant (it smelled good, okay?) and I didn’t want to cross too many lines.

Then Harry Styles, one of the most famous fucking people in the world, puts on women’s skinny jeans and wears girly headbands and puts his hair in french braids and does not give two fucks. These are facts, social or not: pink is not a “masculine” color; pirouetting is not a “macho” thing to do; flitting around onstage like a goddamn fairy is not how a boy his age would be expected to perform.

pirouetteAnd yet the world fucking loves him.

As for me, I like to belch. I like lifting heavy things. I enjoy being dirty. I enjoy feeling strong. I like beer and football and video games and gory movies and I drag my combat boots along the ground.

Harry, as it appears, likes to feel pretty. He waggles his hips, wears tiaras, twirls like a ballerina; then cocks his head as if to say, Who, me? Yeah, that’s me. Like it? And continues on, unabashed.

campyI think the most important difference between Harry’s expression of self and the musicians I idolized in the past—especially when I was growing up—is that my teenage rockstars were always angry. They rebelled, sure, but it was in the name of “fuck you” and “fuck everything”. Which is a sentiment we all often share. But when it comes to role models, that constant attitude can be draining.

Harry is all sunshine and love and rainbows. It almost makes me envious—but mostly proud—that kids nowadays get to grow up with someone like him in the public eye. Batting his eyes and insisting that gender doesn’t matter and and using non-specific pronouns and prancing about like a unicorn. Talk about queer empowerment.

flowers2 flowers

Basically, Harry takes not-fitting-stereotypes and turns it into a positive thing. A wood block instead of the shape carved out of it. The basketball instead of the brick wall. An actual force, not resigned to negative space, but loudly and blatantly OTHER.

The bottom line is that I have no idea how Harry actually identifies, be it male, female, gay, bisexual, pansexual, or what have you (the only thing he’s made clear is that he is not straight). But his giving such public displays of gender ambiguity and alternative sexuality is one of the healthiest and most welcome examples I have seen from an A-list celeb in years. It is, in fact, one of the first times I have ever seen myself reflected in someone famous. Which, for an unlabeled former-ungirl, is a huge fucking deal.

wearemen1 wearemen2

I was never full of youthful vitriol. I sat back and looked at myself and saw nothing that existed on television. It was a kind of nonchalance, how I felt. Female? Male? Eh. “Not that important.”

I get this after years of “You’ll never get a boyfriend if you burp like that.” “Don’t you think he’s a bit out of your league?” “You’re one of the guys.” “There’s more than one way to feel like a woman.” “Yes, you have to wear a dress.”

I’m not this; I’m not that; there’s no word for what I am other than me.

Cheers, four for you, and thanks, Harry, for prancing and giggling in pink and staying adored and suggesting that I might have actually been something concrete, strangely amalgamated, and still loveable all along.

yayI am an ungirl no longer. I am a city lover. And I have never believed in soft love.


10 thoughts on “What I’ve Learned From Harry Styles About Gender Identity

  1. Pingback: Harry Styles Live on Tour was somebody’s very first show, and he made it a good one. | City Lover

  2. this post made me cry ahh it’s so wonderful, harry is wonderful and WE are all wonderful regardless of how we choose to label ourselves (or not)! thank you so much for writing this, i can so relate and i am so happy that harry has also helped you learn to love yourself ❤️

  3. This is the best text I’ve ever read about Harry. This gave me chills, I’m smiling so big writing this, you’re amazing and so is Harry

  4. Incredibly well written. I never had to deal with your issues myself, at least not to the extent you have. I mean I drink whisky, smoke the occasional cigar, won beer tasting contests as the only female in the room, take out the garbage and when there is a frog in our tent I am the one who has to go out and put it back near a lake in the middle of the night, not my husband. I understand the whole box concept though, I see it with my children. I try to raise them without the confined ideas of “what is socially exceptable”. And I am so happy that they introduced me to One Direction, because they introduced me to Harry Styles. He is such an interesting person and such a refreshing being in a world that can be incredibly restricting and angry and it frutstrates me that he is often underestimated. Thank you for sharing this quite important piece of yourself!

  5. Reading this made me smile. I’m so glad Harry Styles has given people a high profile celebrity to look up to. The world wants everyone to fit perfectly in a box of what they are supposed to be. Not everyone fits in that box. I’m female but not a typical one. I don’t like to shop or wear girly clothes or jewerly. Identified as a “tomboy” when I was little playing with my male cousins in football and I have never owned a barbie doll. The barbie doll thing blows some of my female friend’s minds. That doll didn’t seem important to me. I have a husband whom I love dearly but have struggled with not being as lovey-dovey as is expected of me. I’m not doing the cooking and cleaning exclusively. He does share in that even though he was raised where his mom did all the “woman” jobs of the house. Again not fitting in the box of an expected wife role. I’ve always felt that I have more male traits than female traits. I have always been attracted to men so that has never been an issue for me. I truly feel that a person should have the right to be happy. No matter what box people want to force you in; chose your own box. A person has but one life to live. Be extraordinarily happy in it. My motto is everyone deserves to be happy. Don’t let another person steal your happiness just because they don’t understand your joy. The world would be a much better place if people would let others be happy and not try to shame them when it’s not what they except as normal.
    I enjoyed your blog. Well written. Keep on being you and being happy!

  6. “I think the most important difference between Harry’s expression of self and the musicians I idolized in the past—especially when I was growing up—is that my teenage rockstars were always angry. They rebelled, sure, but it was in the name of “fuck you” and “fuck everything”. Which is a sentiment we all often share. But when it comes to role models, that constant attitude can be draining.”

    This paragraph really resonates with me as my music taste is mainly rooted in metal and punk as well, and I’ve never had much of an interest in pop music. There’s just something about One Direction though, and it’s so refreshing to have someone like Harry Styles that I can genuinely look up to and admire as a person. As a straight cis female, I am in no position to even IMAGINE what it’s like to have Harry help me come to terms with who I am, but I’m so glad many people such as yourself are able to have someone in the public eye that is both non-straight and constantly defies gender norms. Your words were all very beautifully written and I don’t know you, but I’m SO happy for you. Thank you for sharing ❤

  7. I was never able to express why I love Harry so much, why I look up to him so much or why he could possibly be an incredible change/understandable character for this generation. But you put it out there for me by writing about it. Amazing. This is exactly what it is, what Harry is. Wonderful job on the writing, but also a wonderful job on observing Harry Styles and putting on paper what most of us fans couldn’t do.

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