Is Harry Styles Co-opting a Queer Identity?

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  • Russia’s Slide, From Gorbachev to Putin
  • How to Fill Those Empty Theater Seats

Credit…The New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Harry Styles Walks a Fine Line,” by Anna Marks (Opinion guest essay, Aug. 31), about the singer’s use of queer symbols while declining to claim a queer identity:

The fine line that Harry Styles actually walks is not between so-called “queerbaiting” and the closet, but between being his authentic self (someone who chooses to use his massive platform to celebrate and uplift gender fluidity, nonconformity and queer positivity) and being the person Ms. Marks and others wish him to be (explicitly one thing or another).

The good he has done in helping so many young people feel comfort in expressing themselves is measurable and profound — not something that, as the author suggests, we should “mourn” just because he hasn’t claimed any specific labels.

David Valdes
Arlington, Mass.

To the Editor:

I understand the impulse to ask a celebrity to come out — if they are indeed queer — so that a wider public may increase their acceptance of queer people and queer lives. However, I also believe that visibly living in the world as a queer person is in itself an important symbol to queer and non-queer people alike.

Many places have moved beyond the completely closeted world faced by Harvey Milk, who said, “Every gay person must come out.” The later-reclaimed term “queer” reflects an obscuring of identity, a reference to how one is perceived in the world, rather than a specification of one’s exact placement on the sexual orientation and gender identity rainbow.

As an attorney who represents queer people experiencing job discrimination, I see value in explicitly “coming out,” but also in simply “being out” — being one’s self moving through the world as a perceived queer person without satisfying the world’s ceaseless curiosity in “what are you?” This, too, is working toward the goal that perceived differences in gender identity and sexual orientation are irrelevant to one’s civil rights. This does not erase our identities. Rather, it recognizes and breaks down that rigidity that kept L.G.B.T. people out of civil society and forced us into categories created by older heterosexual norms.

I express my identity as a trans woman without identifying myself to the public as such. It’s not a question of privacy. It is a statement that, in the words of the immortal songwriter Jerry Herman, “I am what I am, and what I am needs no excuses.” Nor explanations, I might add.

Jillian T. Weiss

To the Editor:

I am a 54-year-old queer man who has been fully out of the closet since I was 18. The symbols of queer identity are not “ours” like a trademark litigation case. Queerness is not a sorority with strict hazing rituals to earn admission. And the price of Harry Styles’s concerts does not entitle others to make any demands on his private life, his truth or his journey. They can ignore him, not buy his concert ticket, critique his art, his costumes, his hair or whatever irks them about pop music. They have no right to appropriate his or any other human being’s truth. That’s the whole point of queerness.

Kevin Ivers

To the Editor:

I could not agree more with Anna Marks. It is absolutely true that Harry Styles has established himself as a formidable pop icon who has consistently used queer symbols in order to perform allyship with the queer community while also presenting a sanitized version of queerness that is accepted and even celebrated in the mainstream.

Corporations have been rainbow washing for years now by performing allyship during pride month and L.G.B.T.+ history month. But when it comes to critical solidarity — whether that be challenging the growing transphobia in the U.K. or the homophobic regimes that their businesses make a profit from — they remain silent.

Mr. Styles’s sexual identity is his own business and I don’t think any of us should be pushing him to “come out.” But if Mr. Styles is to continue to be a queer icon, I think it is fair that queer fans ask more of him: to be more vocal in condemning transphobia and homophobia, to be vocal about queer politics of liberation, to ask for more support for queers of color and those without Mr. Styles’s privilege and to use his celebrity voice to show critical solidarity with queer communities who have supported his rise to stardom.

Rohit K. Dasgupta
The writer is a senior lecturer in cultural industries at the University of Glasgow.

Russia’s Slide, From Gorbachev to Putin

Mikhail S. Gorbachev speaking at the Lenin monument in Vilnius, now in Lithuania, in 1990.Credit…Victor Yurchenko/Associated Press

To the Editor:

Re “Visionary Soviet Leader Who Lifted the Iron Curtain” (obituary, front page, Aug. 31):

Winston Churchill liberated Western Europe, and Mikhail Gorbachev liberated Eastern Europe. Why didn’t Mr. Gorbachev’s enlightenment period — the world of prominent reformist political figures like Andrei Sakharov, Yelena Bonner, Eduard Shevardnadze and Boris Yeltsin — last? Also, as Mr. Gorbachev bitterly asked: Why didn’t the West step up and give Russia a Marshall Plan of generous economic aid and trade terms to sustain it?

It was our shortsightedness that pushed the Russian people backward to Vladimir Putin, and to an invasion of Ukraine.

James Adler
Cambridge, Mass.

To the Editor:

Twenty years ago, Mikhail Gorbachev gave a speech at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, that foretold the current crisis in Russia. I was in the audience at the time as an exchange student, and I’ve never forgotten his message, but, sadly, it seemed to go largely unnoticed at the time outside of the local press. Although the German audience gave him a rousing ovation in honor of his role in reuniting their country, the theme of Mr. Gorbachev’s speech was somber and pointed: If Russia was excluded from active partnership with Europe, he said, it would turn inward upon itself and become very dangerous.

He said that both Russia and the United States had vested interests in Europe, and both should participate in discussions and deliberations about Europe’s future. With his death, it is time for our leaders to re-examine his message and consider ways to engage with a post-Putin generation in Russia on peaceful, mutually beneficial terms.

Robert Schechtman
San Francisco

How to Fill Those Empty Theater Seats

Credit…Charlie Rubin for The New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Stars Return to Fill the Stage, But Gaze at Many Empty Seats” (front page, Aug. 22):

As a 77-year-old passionate theatergoer, I was thrilled to return to Broadway when masks were being required. Once that mandate was dropped, I stopped going and, in fact, even requested and received a refund for tickets I purchased long ago to “The Kite Runner.” However, when I learned that show was introducing Friday night mask-required performances, I eagerly went online and purchased tickets for one of those evenings.

I have continued to enjoy Off Broadway and Lincoln Center shows during this period because many of them have continued to require audience members to wear masks.

So, here’s a hint to Broadway producers: Bring back mask requirements and watch your older audience members flock to fill those empty seats!

Carol Nadell
New York

To the Editor:

Because I have a compromised immune system and heart disease, my wife and I have not only stopped going to plays, movies and concerts — which we loved doing — but we haven’t even set foot inside a supermarket since the start of the pandemic (based on my doctor’s advice).

A possible partial solution for some venues to increase revenues: Try more streaming of performances. We have paid to stream live lectures from the 92nd Street Y, along with some staged play readings and musical performances from regional theaters. We would love to have more choices of these types of events.

Fred Cantor
Westport, Conn.

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