Bisexual singer-songrwriter Halsey in a photo promoting her latest album Badlands
Recently, Buzzfeed News’ LGBT Editor, Shannon Keating, posted an article discussing what a queer pop star is allowed to look like in 2016, focusing on a singer-songwriter named Halsey. While I think the idea of the article was well-intentioned, it was much longer than it needed to be, and took too many tangents that invalidated Halsey’s bisexual identity because of how she dresses and the percentage of men she seems to publicly be romantically/sexually involved with versus women. The fact that such an article came from an editor of LGBT content might seem shocking, but it mostly just proves to me that no one is free from being problematic, or having thoughts and ideas that may disrespect others. When I say no one is free from being problematic, that includes me, you, your favorite musician, your feminist icon, your family, even your friends and partners. No one is perfect, and it is much easier when we stop pretending that even the most well-intentioned and progressive people can’t make mistakes or have views that need checked. The latter of this is most important, that when our problematic faves share views that seem askew, we must challenge these views so our favorite people can grow and hopefully improve, which is exactly why I am writing this piece. I do not want to simply call out Keating and say that she is biphobic or hateful because that would be far too simple, as no one is good or evil entirely. Keating clearly has fallen into traps of judgment towards bisexual women that are not okay, and left Halsey at the brunt of this. As someone who is representing the LGBT community for as large of a company as Buzzfeed, Keating especially needs to check the way that she talks about queer people.
Halsey during her Badlands tour stop in Orlando in July 2016 after the Pulse shooting, where she sold t-shirts with the same logo as the image behind her. 100% of the proceeds from the Send Love shirts went to help the queer community in Orlando. This is currently her Twitter profile picture as well. (source: Bren @scarletnerd24 on Twitter)
While Halsey should be upset about the way she was dissected – which she indeed was, a tweet she later deleted said ““well @buzzfeed sorry I’m not gay enough for you” in response to the article – this is an issue in the way that all bi women are viewed. More generally, for queer women who still are romantically and/or sexually interested in men, the pressure to look and act queer enough is constant. The pressure can be direct, as in someone saying that a queer woman doesn’t really look queer, to more indirect pressure, such as someone assuming that a queer woman is straight because she has or had a boyfriend. A lot of these issues stem from the fact that many people still think that those who are attracted to more than one gender must just be confused, and because romantic and sexual relationships between women are often not taken seriously, exemplified by situations where a famous women and their female partners are frequently referred to as gal pals, as well as the unwarranted sexualization of women kissing.
Halsey at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards, still bisexual.
Some people feel it is their duty to analyze women who identify as bi to determine if they really are, by analyzing various aspects of their lives and minds: their previous relationships, their crushes, and where they might place themselves on an outdated sexuality rating system like the Kinsey Scale. People even try to judge how queer people are by their gender expression, which is a completely separate aspect from sexuality. It is true that for some people do use their gender expression in part to express their sexuality, however, that is not true for anyone and there is no singular way to look queer.
Criticism like Keating’s makes it so hard for women to come out as queer, or to even accept themselves for who they are. It’s terrifying to know that people will constantly doubt you, or invalidate your identity and feelings. Overall, I never want to hear that someone who identifies as queer or another label under that umbrella does not look queer enough. Halsey, and all queer women, deserve better than for other people to decide for them is their chosen label is appropriate or not. Other people should accept the labels people are comfortable using for themselves. If you do not understand why someone has chosen their label, you should ask them for clarification rather than just using a different label that seems more correct to you. However, the person you ask is not obliged to explain their label to you, or to even tell you the label they use in the first place unless they want to. People’s personal experiences and sexuality are just that – personal – and if they are willing to share that part of their life with you, that should be enough.
The Buzzfeed article in question: https://www.buzzfeed.com/shannonkeating/what-does-a-queer-pop-star-look-like-in-2016?utm_term=.twep5Aa4z#.fo5b7EpdB