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Taylor Swift and her sexual orientation: what does anyone know?

‘The New York Times’ published a polemic article regarding the possibility that the singer is bisexual. She has denied the theory on repeated occasions

Taylor Swift arriving at the Golden Globes
Taylor Swift arriving at the Golden GlobesAxelle/Bauer-Griffin (FilmMagic)
Paloma Rando

Qué sabe nadie lo que me gusta o no me gusta en este mundo. Qué sabe nadie lo que prefiero o no prefiero en el amor (What does anyone know what I like or don’t like in this world. No one knows what I prefer or don’t prefer in love)”. The Spanish singer Raphael recorded these Manuel Alejandro verses for the first time in 1981. More than 40 years later, another world-famous crooner could just as easily make them hers.

On January 4, The New York Times published an op-ed of more than 5,000 words in which journalist Anna Marks speculates on Taylor Swift’s sexual orientation. Through an exegesis that is extremely interested in some of the song lyrics and stage elements in her music videos and appearances, the journalist attempts to argue that Swift belongs to the LGBTQ+ community as more than an ally, something that the singer herself has denied on various occasions.

The article has made an international stir — it’s the first time that a publication on the level of The New York Times has made such suggestions about the singer — but conjectures surrounding Swift’s non-heterosexuality are nothing new.

More than friends?

The fact that closeted stars have on more than one occasion passed off their lovers and romantic interests as just friends — as it happened, for example, in the case of Whitney Houston and Robyn Crawford — has led many to read into the close friendships of their idols. The relationship between Swift and model Karlie Kloss, for example, has given rise to all kinds of speculation about the pair since almost before they met.

In the January 2012 Vogue cover story on the singer, she stated, “I love Karlie Kloss. I want to make cookies with her.” They hadn’t even met yet, but Karlie Kloss, who had just launched her own line of cookies, responded with an invitation on social media: “Your kitchen or mine?” A few months passed before they met, but it didn’t happen in one of their kitchens, but rather a Victoria’s Secret fashion show that took place in 2013, at which Swift sang and Kloss walked the runway. “We never met before but we’re BFFs now,” Kloss declared to the Hollywood Reporter. Soon after, Kloss shared a photo to Twitter along with a verse from the song Love Story: “We were both young when I first saw you.”

A year later, they returned to participate in the Victoria’s Secret fashion show, but this time, they opened the event, hand in hand. Coverage by Entertainment Online echoed a number of fans who had begun to ship the two, that is, fantasize about a romantic relationship between the pair of stars. Supporters of the fantasy coined the couple’s amalgamated name Kaylor, and began to look for signs of a possible coupling.

Just two days after that fashion show came a sign that fans considered definitive: a blurry photo in which a kiss between the singer and the model could be glimpsed, taken while they were attending a concert of the group 1975. #kissgate, as the event became known, gave rise to hours and hours of speculation, and fan fiction featuring the two proliferated. In fact, in July 2023, The New York Times published an article titled “A Celebrity Lesbian Romance Changed My Life. (Even if It Never Happened.),” in which writer Emmeline Clein told in first person what it meant for her to have participated in that fantasy.

But let’s go back to 2014. The singer’s entourage denied the kiss had occurred, and that the relationship between the two was anything more than a close friendship. But for those who want to believe that their favorite celebrity is a closeted bisexual or homosexual, those denials only underpin the hypothesis that the non-heterosexuality of their idol is something that her professional entourage tries to hide to avoid damage to her career, as, it must be remembered, has happened and continues to happen in many cases.

Swift moved to New York — her song Welcome to New York will be remembered by many — and deepened her friendship with Kloss, with whom she posed for the March 2015 cover of Vogue that was paired with an interview in which they discussed, among other topics, a long road trip through Big Sur that the two had taken together.

It was a moment in which Swift was constantly flaunting her squad, the gang of friends who accompanied her, and was mainly formed by other stars like Selena Gomez — with whom we saw her whispering at the Golden Globes — Cara Delevingne, the women of HAIM, Emma Stone, Blake Lively, Camila Cabello, Jennifer Lawrence and Lena Dunham, among others, many of whom starred alongside her in the music video for her song Bad Blood in 2015.

This, coupled with the fact that her romantic relationships were brief and multitudinous, contributed to conjectures about her sexual orientation from a more conservative position, as we must characterize one that doubts a woman’s heterosexuality because she has many girlfriends, or because her boyfriends are short-lived.

During those years (from 2013 to 2017), Swift maintained consecutive sentimental relationships with Harry Styles, Calvin Harris and Tom Hiddleston, but beginning in 2017, she began her longest relationship to date, with the actor Joe Alwyn, who she was dating until 2023. This seemed to quell the rumors.

At the same time, the intensity of the friendship between Swift and Kloss decreased until the point at which the singer did not attend the wedding of the model to Joshua Kushner in 2018 (a union which made her Ivanka Trump’s sister-in-law).

It’s worth saying that, although Kloss was the most important of Swift’s female relationships who were tagged as the singer’s supposed love interests, she wasn’t the only one. There was also speculation about a possible romance between Swift and Dianna Agron, which the Glee actress addressed in a Rolling Stone interview in May of 2023. “That is so interesting. I mean, there have been many stories about my dating life that are so wildly untrue. That’s funny.”

You need to calm down

In 2019, another event once again made a certain sector of Swift’s fandom insist that the singer is in the closet. It had to do with the song You Need to Calm Down, the second single from her seventh album, Lover. The song can be read as her own Qué sabe nadie: it begins with verses in which the singer criticizes the speculation surrounding her persona and media pressure, then goes on to become an LGBTQ+ anthem, designed to defend the community at a very specific moment in which the Trump administration — remember, her former best friend’s sister-in-law’s father — was jeopardizing recent pro-LGBTQ+ legislation in the United States.

In fact, in the same way that the music video for Bad Blood featured her friends, that of You Need to Calm Down is rife with cameos by numerous LGBTQ+ celebrities like Ellen Degeneres, Laverne Cox, RuPaul and Billy Porter, among others. It closes with a change.org petition in Swift’s name to put pressure on U.S. senators in the wake of the Equality Act, which protects LGBTQ+ people from discrimination in their places of work, schools and homes.

A certain fan furor, mixed with the confusion of those who can’t see the forest for the trees, ushered back in the speculations over the singer’s sexual orientation due to a specific detail: in some shots of the video clip (from 1:49 to 2:00), Swift appears with a wig in the colors of the bisexual flag.

A few months after the music video’s debut, Swift was on the cover of Vogue’s September issue, the publication’s most important annual edition. In the interview that went with the editorial spread, special emphasis was placed on her support for the LGBTQ+ community, which went much further — and went back much earlier — than the video clip. Swift stated, “Rights are being stripped from basically everyone who isn’t a straight white cisgender male. I didn’t realize until recently that I could advocate for a community that I’m not a part of. It’s hard to know how to do that without being so fearful of making a mistake that you just freeze. Because my mistakes are very loud. When I make a mistake, it echoes through the canyons of the world. It’s clickbait, and it’s a part of my life story, and it’s a part of my career arc.”

Swift was once again excluding herself from the LGBTQ+ community, but if there is one thing that characterizes speculation about sexual orientation, it is that it can go on forever, because it is based on the assumption that the star in question is trying to hide a reality that for some is obvious. In this case, there is also the paradox that those who assume that the singer is bisexual believe that she, while hiding the fact, is at the same time trying to leave clues about it. Any subjective interpretation of any lyrics, gesture, element of staging is susceptible to being read in support of the closeted hypothesis.

In fact, on the occasion of the release of the new recording of her album 1989, in October of 2023, Swift again tangentially addressed the issue by clarifying that if at one point in her life she went out partying only and exclusively with girls, it was to avoid something that made her uncomfortable: the fact that, every time she went out informally with a guy, the press immediately pegged him as her love interest. In trying to prevent this from happening, what she achieved, paradoxically, was to increase speculation over her sexual interest in women.

And so, we arrive at the current moment, with the usual speculations occupying space in one of the most important newspapers in the world, in a text that is extensive and prolix in details that are, lightly put, debatable. The only thing — a minor detail! — that we have to refute it is the singer’s word (given that her current relationship with NFL player Travis Kelce is compatible, as any tryst would be, with a possible bisexuality). Why shouldn’t we trust her? Or rather, why shouldn’t we trust the word of an artist who has shown broad support for the LGBTQ+ community? That unfortunately, there are artists who remain in the closet does not serve as a valid argument, because it could be applied to everyone. And to no one.

In the conjectures surrounding a celebrity’s sexual orientation, a few varied and nearly antagonistic factors come into play. First and foremost, the compelling need for LGBTQ+ youth to have positive role models and reflections that they can look up to. For a community battered by stigma and discrimination, there are never enough. But the boundary line between that urgency and the intrusion into the private lives of celebrities, or even the assumption that certain behaviors — intimate friendships, lack of a stable heterosexual partner, aesthetic preferences and so on — serve as unequivocal evidence of a non-heteronormative sexual orientation is blurry, and can be harmful.

That Taylor herself was aware back in 2019 that even her slightest move constitutes clickbait does not make her responsible for what others, anyone, wants to read into it. Because in the end, she is the only person who can know for sure what she likes or dislikes in this world. What does anyone know?

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