Former members of the popular boy band One Direction Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson have been intertwined in a romantic conspiracy since the band’s inception in 2010. Fans of “Larry Stylinson,” otherwise known as Larries, continuously analyze every move of both Styles and Tomlinson in an attempt to prove that a relationship exists between them, and moreover, they are being forcibly closeted by an allegedly homophobic management agency.
Colloquially, these fans call their actions “shipping,” which can be defined as the desire of fans for fictional or real people (sometimes more than two) to enter a romantic relationship. In contrast to many other “shippers” who simply desire for two people to be in a romantic relationship, Larries stand firm in the belief that Styles and Tomlinson are actually in love with each other.
In keeping with this belief, Larries have created elaborate theories that regard both Styles’ and Tomlinson’s multiple girlfriends as “beards” who are used to hide their queerness and some even deny the existence of the latter’s baby with Brianna Jungwirth.
Larries who hope for the possible relationship have become more numerous during One Direction’s journey as a boy band and have persisted even as the members have split off to become solo artists. Perhaps the zenith of all romantic celebrity conspiracy theories, Larry Stylinson is so popular within and even beyond the One Direction fandom that it led to a tweet from Tomlinson that expressed his affection for Styles being retweeted by 2.6 million Twitter accounts — currently ranking as the sixth most popular tweet of all time.
Always in my heart @Harry_Styles . Yours sincerely, Louis
— Louis Tomlinson (@Louis_Tomlinson) October 2, 2011
However, this surge in popularity has also increased the number of cis female women who fetishize the pairing and deny Tomlinson’s explicitly stated sexual preference. While many followers of Larry Stylinson believe their intentions and actions are innocuous and lighthearted (which for some does reign true), there are many harmful implications that surround heavy investment in this pairing.
I would like to preface the rest of this article with a disclaimer that not every fan of Larry Stylinson is fetishizing the possible relationship, and neither is “shipping” a male homosexual relationship inherently problematic (especially if you are queer). There are fans who casually believe and even relish in the possibility that Larry is real but prefer to keep their opinions away from the internet and the eyes of both Styles and Tomlinson. However, when the belief in the hypothetical relationship becomes so intense that it manifests itself into graphic gay smut in fan fiction and hate toward the girlfriends of the two men and anyone who denies the existence of the ship, following the conspiracy theory becomes problematic.
M/M Relationships in Fanfiction
The popularity of gay relationships in Hollywood and fan culture is not just found in the 21st century but has actually prevailed since the late 1960s. The world-famous science fiction television series “Star Trek” bolstered its very own male ship with James T. Kirk and Spock, which is considered to be the first gay male pairing to take hold in fan fiction and pop culture. It is important to note that the show was particularly progressive with subtle commentary on the Vietnam War, interracial relationships and sexism, although the show was still limited by the conservative media and social culture of the ‘60s.
While neither the writers of “Star Trek” nor the actors of the characters, Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner, ever confirmed (or denied) the pairing as romantic, many fans interpreted the scenes between the two to be homoerotic. The first Kirk/Spock fan fiction emerged with Diane Marchant’s 1974 story, “A Fragment Out of Time.” Never referring to either character by name, the 500-word story intentionally made the characters who were engaged in the sexual endeavors vague, despite the audience evidently knowing that the narrator was meant to be Spock and his partner was meant to be Kirk; the aftermath would set off a firestorm in which art, merchandise and more fan fiction (sexual and nonsexual) would be produced.
The more the Kirk/Spock pairing was able to fester and grow in the “Star Trek” fandom with the passive acceptance (and sometimes encouragement) of cast members, the more fan fiction was written about the pairing. Instead of allowing shows to remain exclusive, empowered queer consumers took charge and wrote their own representation into popular art.
Fetishization of Larry Stylinson
The main difference between the shipping of Kirk and Spock and the shipping of Styles and Tomlinson is that the latter are real people who do not exist for mere entertainment value. Kirk and Spock will never live the real-life implications of being queer in our society. Neither will Kirk and Spock ever live with the real-life implications of being fetishized as queer.
Shipping Larry Stylinson to an extreme extent is troublesome because Styles and Tomlinson do have to live in a reality that is inherently anti-queer; even if they are not actually gay, violence against them can still occur because of the mere perception that they could be. The obsessive interest in Larry Stylinson begins to translate into real-life fetishization, which only dehumanizes gay people and their own fantasies and desires. Unlike the fan fiction written for Kirk and Spock, Larry Stylinson fan fiction writers, often heterosexual cis-gendered teenage girls, oversexualize real moments between Tomlinson and Styles and create elaborate narratives that could likely make anyone blush.
When researching this phenomenon, I often wondered why straight cis-gendered women would want to write about gay male relationships in such a sexual manner.
The answer, while crude, is rather simple. Often, these female writers and readers sexualize the idea of a gay male relationship because these men are considered to be less threatening and intimidating to be around. These men are seen to be more malleable with less socioeconomic power than women and many women are attracted to this seeming lack of power. These women can thus live out their fantasies and desires through men they find more appealing in the written word (which is evidently much less threatening than something more visual). It fosters a safe space for them, which unfortunately only forces queer people to face more violence as stereotypes and fantasies are projected onto them.
In the specific case of Larry Stylinson, I was even more perplexed on why straight teenage girls would be so attracted to the idea that their famous idols would be queer. Evidently, it is understandable that queer teenagers would want to see themselves in their favorite artists. In hindsight, one would assume though that straight girls would not want their idols to be in love with one another.
However, in examining the response that many Larries have to the girlfriends of Tomlinson and Styles, it is quite clear that some Larries (not all) are quite romantically possessive over both singers. Many of them state that they would rather Styles be with Tomlinson than any woman. In perhaps a desperate attempt to not see their idols with other women, they push a Larry Stylinson narrative that disregards any romantic relationship either men are in as a publicity stunt. While this may not be true for all Larries, there seems to be a large Venn diagram connecting girls who hate any girlfriend of Tomlinson or Styles and those who believe they should end up with each other.
Many Larries do bring up the argument that they are fighting against the apparent closeting of Tomlinson and Styles by their management. It could be possible that their management team has coerced both singers to deny their queerness. However, this has not been explicitly proven and the assumption that someone does not have the authority to label themselves is one that should not be made irresponsibly. If one does make this assumption carelessly, they run the risk of outing someone who does not wish to be outed.
It could also be very possible that Styles and/or Tomlinson are indeed gay and simply do not wish to tell the entire world of this fact. Their love life is not meant to be a spectator sport, and they have every right to privacy as anyone else. As previously stated, this society is still violently anti-queer. It is completely understandable for someone to stay in the closet to shield themselves and their mental and physical health from slurs, broken relationships and even threats of violence.
Outing anyone is incredibly immoral and could lead them into serious danger. While Tomlinson and Styles have enough privilege because of their race and their class, they are still allowed to define their sexuality on their own terms. This is especially true in Tomlinson’s case who has explicitly stated that he is straight.
It is not wrong to root for a gay couple or even hope that your idol is queer. However, denying someone’s sexuality, and pushing a queer narrative on someone is entirely problematic. In order to foster a safe space for LGBTQIA+, we must fight against this fetishization.