Home Industry When Shapes Become Language – Louis Tomlinson and Queercoding

When Shapes Become Language – Louis Tomlinson and Queercoding

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Article by: Andrea Ariza Art by: nerdy_girl_art33

Contrary to popular belief, queercoding—unlike queerbaiting—is not uniquely linked to pieces of art, but actually started as a way for queer people to recognise each other during unsafe times. Unfortunately, we live in a world where queercoding for your own safety is still a needed and used practice to this very day. It is a way to tell those who belong to the community you are like them while keeping it a secret for everyone else.

Of course, queercoding belongs to every queer person, and someone can also simply queercode with the aim of expressing their true selves, but artists have a deep history with it, and they have been using these codes in their art and also on themselves in order to signal queerness for centuries. Nowadays, closeted artists often queercode to make the public aware of the situation or simply because they want to share this part of themselves. For example, a rather famous confirmation of recent queercoding in the music industry happened when Lil Nas came out and tweeted two pictures of one music video of his where a building was covered in rainbow, and he accompanied them with the words “deadass thought I made it obvious.”

Like many before, Louis has let us know he is part of the community on multiple occasions. Thus, in celebration of pride month, there could not possibly be a better time than the present to translate his intensive coding to those of you who may need a reminder or maybe even a starting point. Some of the loudest queercoding Louis has done has been in his lyrics and music videos, in his own clothing and merch, through the display of pride flags and rainbows, and in gay bars and Rainbow Bondage Bear, which this article will cover. 

Lyrics & Music Videos:

Louis’ lyrics tend to be very queercoded, he uses deep queer imagery and metaphors when talking about a long-term relationship—most of the time in gender-neutral pronouns. From One Direction, we have songs like Strong, Home, Through The Dark or End Of The Day very blatantly about a gay relationship. In fact, his lyrics were partially responsible for an ongoing joke among One Direction fans on how the band wrote the gayest song possible and then added “girl” hoping nobody would notice.

As expected, Louis has gifted us with many queer songs since then. My personal favourites during his solo career, if I had to choose, would be Copy Of A Copy Of A Copy, Too Young, Face The Music, All This Time, She is Beauty We Are World Class, Paradise and, of course, our dearest Only The Brave. If you want to know more, all of these are explained in depth in the articles When Art Contradicts the Headlines – Louis Tomlinson part 1 and part 2.

Moving on to his music videos, it is important to clarify there is enough content to do an in depth analysis, frame to frame. Obviously, we can’t possibly do that now, and that’s why this is a recap of some of the most important parts. For starters, Louis has been queercoding in them since the beginning of his solo career. His first two singles, Just Hold on with Steve Aoki and Back to You featuring Bebe Rexha and Digital Farm Animals, weren’t as blatantly queercoded as his third single (and first as a solo artist), Just Like You. The song, announced in 2017 during national coming out day, has a very loud lyrics video consisting of newspaper cuts reflecting social causes Louis cares about.

For instance, in the bottom left corner of the first picture you can see queer artist St. Vincent and there is a quote mentioning same-sex marriage reading “composer on—same-sex—glad to be.” We can also find the nautical star towards the end, which has been used by homosexuals to indicate their sexual preference since the 1940s and 1950s. Just like @quietasides points out in their tumblr master post, we can find very telling quotes from these article cuts like the one in 2:08 [the mythical 28] saying “open secret—for years that—is a sexual—epic scale but—the horrific—the public.” 

Like it was previously said, LGBT causes are only one of many others in this music video, and we can actually find articles, mentions and references calling out abuse and sexual abuse in the industry and in support of feminism and Black Lives Matter. 

Moving on, a music video with a quite loud queercoding was Miss You, where, in one scene, you can read “style” spelled out and see two pink triangles in the background. The pink triangle is a symbol used by gay men which, like many other terms and symbols in the community, was born out of hatred and bigotry and later reclaimed. The inversed triangle was first used by Nazis during the Second World War to mark homosexuals (pink for gays and black for lesbians), and today, it has become one of the most well-known codes for these groups, and a very popular tattoo as well (just like the one Louis has on his ankle).

Years later, in We Made It, just like Lil Nas, Louis would include his own rainbow building and, in case it wasn’t clear enough, he even stood in front of a giant rainbow wheel!

The most recent music video-related queercoding happened on last year’s national coming out day, when Louis announced the upcoming music video for Out Of My System with this photo of his silhouette accompanied by a very subtle rainbow.

Clothing & Merch:

Louis often queercodes in his clothes. During the band, for example, we saw him wear a pride flag-motif Apple logo shirt after the Apple CEO came out as gay.

Other interesting fashion choices were the celebrated rainbow shirt we saw him in on stage and his All Out hoodie he publicly wore when One Direction visited Melbourne in 2013.

For reference, All Out is an universal organisation which fights for LGBT rights. According to their page web allout.org, “All Out is a global movement for love and equality. We’re mobilising thousands of people to build a world where no person will have to sacrifice their family or freedom, safety or dignity, because of who they are or who they love.”

Years later, in 2017, one of the outfits Louis wore during the X Factor season he was a judge in consisted of a shirt with the sentence Eyes Wide Open. This title happens to be one of an LGBT film released in 2009 where an orthodox jew family man falls in love with a homeless young man to whom he offers a place to stay.

Also in 2017, Louis became the image of LGBT British brand Polari. He did a photoshoot with them (part of which you can see below) and showed he knew perfectly well what the brand was named after when he wrote the caption of his own Instagram post in Polari.

The mentioned brand’s slogan is “Polari, the language of the subversive.” This makes a lot of sense, as it confirms it is named in honour of Polari, a British slang invented and used by some gay communities whose first trace dates back to the 19th century and which became very popular in the 1960s thanks to the radio show Round the Home. “Alreeeeet chavvy,” the expression you can find in Louis’ post, is the Polari version of “alright babe.” It tells us we are seeing a very conscious and well-studied queercoding, and Louis is someone very knowledgeable on queer history, far more than the average person—and even among other queer people.

Another interesting fact is the huge support Louis shows for queer artists. I have no doubt that, where LGBT artists are concerned, Basquiat is definitely one of Louis’ favourites. The bisexual artist’s designs can be found in many of his shirts such as this one he has worn repeatedly, for example during his first world tour:

The second most recent queercoded clothing item Louis has worn is a cardigan he chose for a radio interview in New York last November. As you can see, the back says “What happened to you? / What happened to me? / Pleasure is pain,” and, when a fan (@nicoarletta on Twitter) bought it, they realised the tag had the sentence “I want the one I can’t have.”

The last queercoded (and Larry-coded) clothing item we’ve seen on Louis are this pair of Lacoste pants he chose for his first show of the Faith In The Future tour, in Uncasville, last 26th May.

Blue, green, checkers… What else could we possibly ask for, right?! However, this doesn’t have to be only a Larry thing—even if, at the end of the day, Larry-coding is essentially queercoding as well, given that he is signalling his love for Harry and their gay relationship—it could also be queer flagging. Flagging in the LGBT community is a practice consisting in using queer flags to identify yourself as queer (or whatever label the flag may represent). Curiously, there are other ways of flagging. For example, we have the hanky code, which we’ve seen in Liam and Zayn.

In this case, the colours of the pants, along with the blue-green lights constantly present in Louis’ show would correspond to the gay men pride flag.

Naturally, we couldn’t skip his merch, as Louis was actually asked about his involvement on Twitter, and he answered “I’m across everything.” Taking this into account, two designs which stood out to me were the following ones:

Both of them are from the Away From Home Festival celebrated in Málaga (Spain) last August and, while in the first one the eye is trapped, locked behind bars, in the second one it is free and its rainbow shines in all its colours. The eye, of course, could be a reference to Eyes Wide Open and/or to Dalí, famous Spanish surrealist painter, and one of his most well known motifs, the eye. Dalí, who spent most of his life playing the faithful and regime believer good citizen to protect himself from persecution during Franco’s dictatorial regime (1939-1975) and fall into his good graces, had his sexuality questioned many times and was for years rumoured to have had an intense affair with the gay leftist writer from southern Spain Federico García Lorca, who he met in a celebrated student accommodation in Madrid.

Lorca, murdered by the regime’s nationalist army at the beginning of the war due to his sexuality and political alliances, exchanged some very sentimental and romantic letters with Dalí during their youth and, although Dalí would deny such relationship and renegade of him for the rest of his life, in his deathbed, shortly before passing away due to old age in his natal town Figueras, he repeatedly murmured (as it was declared by his caretakers) “Federico, Federico, Federico…,” calling out for Lorca, whose body is yet to be found.

Just so you can compare, here are some of Dalí’s eyes:

Now, let’s have a look at some more Louis’ eye designs:

And he even has an eye tattooed on his finger now!

Pride Flags & Rainbows:

First of all, we ought to give the recognition it deserves to the epic Walls mural we got for Louis’ debut album (he made us watch a livestream of it for hours) and the rainbow colours around painted-Louis.

Secondly, Louis keeps a mini pride flag with his smile symbol (often represented on his merch) out and about in his tour bus for everyone to see.

And how could we forget the rainbow lights? Not the ones we, as fans, bring, no, but those ones the artist usually choses. Most of the lights we could see in his Pryzm concert last December happened during Bigger Than Me and they created beautiful images such as the following ones:

As we know, rainbow is an usual colour in any Louis Tomlinson concert, particularly during Only The Brave, and, while this was our initiative as fans, Louis was particularly keen on expressing how safe we made him feel straight after that song on one occasion and often points at pride flags. That is to say, his first world tour and his shows until now in general have also been quite queer.

When it comes to his film, something very noticeable in All Of Those Voices was the lack of romantic stunt mentions or talk on his sentimental life and the many, many pride flags. They were everywhere, the amount of shots of the crowd holding little pride flags was incredibly high, definitely high enough for people who have never heard of Louis Tomlinson to recognise his queerness instantly.

Finally, it looks like his second world tour with Faith In The Future will be even louder. Louis’ first show on the 26th of May wasn’t queercoded just because of his clothing. No, it was far more than that: there were bright rainbow lights in She Is Beauty We Are World-Class, a song with deep, queer imagery, and blue and green lights present in almost every song.

Pictures from: jentakesshots

During All This Time in particular, the stage was filled with screens and lights of different tones of green and blue. Like with the pants, this is queercoding because he is signalling his and Harry’s relationship, but it is also flagging, as those varieties of green and blue are pretty much the same ones used in the gay pride flag. It is entirely possible there was a double intention behind this and Louis meant both.

Lastly, during Back To You, Louis had something on the screens behind which, rather than a mention, deserves a monument. “Wohh, I’m coming back to you,” the song says, and yet, for a long while, all you could read in the background was a big “HIM.” Louis is coming back to him

It can be the case, if you are straight, that you don’t realise how big a deal this is, but it was, it is huge, and it must have taken a lot of courage to ask for that pronoun to be put there, and not even in a flash, but for a long span of time. Overall, these new shows feel like a celebration, as if, with Juno approaching, we were about to enter the Pride Month festivities, Louis Tomlinson’s version.

Louis in Gay Bars & The Rainbow Bondage Bears:

In order for something to be considered queercoding, it has to be a piece of information in any form (spoken, written, in pictures, objects of any type, music or whatever may be) emitted consciously and willingly by the person in question. Thus, Louis going to gay bars is not and will never be queercoding. However, when someone takes pictures with fans and even offers to do it without the fans asking, that is a conscious decision. Louis then has made a choice, the choice of sharing that moment with us, and in that context, those specific pictures are indeed queercoding.

There are especially two instances where Louis has been seen in gay bars at very significant times. A very memorable one was that of 2017, as this trip inspired his song Always You. As you can see below, Louis is in an outdoor place with rainbow lights and a pride of gigantic dimensions in the background. The gay bar in question is situated in Reguliersdwarsstraat (Amsterdam), popularly known as the “gay street.”

Officially, Louis was there with his now ex beard to celebrate her birthday. Such a lovely place to take your beard to for her birthday! I’m sure you get the joke. Regardless, it is a very loud chain of events, the ones which happened that night in Amsterdam. Months later, with the leak of the first verse of Always You he shared himself and the mythical first like “I went to Amsterdam without you / All I could do was think about you,” Louis not only reminded us of these pictures of him in a queer scene—pictures he willingly took with fans, may I add—but also denied once more the relationship Syco tried to sell to the public since he was nineteen, just like he had already repeatedly done in his lyrics, and would not hesitate to do again.

Lastly, going even further back in time, the next event is so widely celebrated in the fandom, that I have no doubts I’d only need to say the words “bears” and “gay bar” for you to catch on. 

The bar you are seeing in the background of Louis’ picture with fans is a gay bar situated in Newcastle’s gay neighbourhood. The second photo is one taken that same night inside the bar. And the stuffed rainbow bear the guy (Jonathan Harvey, who happens to be Harry’s friend from childhood) is holding—more commonly known as Rainbow Bondage Bear or RBB for short, and found alongside its companion Sugar Baby Bear or SBB—is the biggest queercoding we have ever seen in Louis without a doubt, and possibly some of the most significant acts of protest against the industry coming from artists in this century.

Of course, Newcastle was not the only gay neighbourhood Louis (and Harry) visited: we actually saw the bears hanging out with two drag queens in a gay bar in Birmingham.

And because stuffed animals have not achieved bodily autonomy just yet and these were actually thrown into stage and became the protagonists of many One Direction shows around 2015/16, it is safe to say that Louis was partially responsible—not to mention that one time he appeared in the reflection of RBB’s sunglasses in one of their pictures.

The Rainbow Bondage Bears made countless references to queer icons such as Judy Garland or, evidently, Freddie Mercury, to queer history and the love between Louis and Harry (with that epic “Love Larry” autograph, the blue and green stickers on their shoes and other items). They also sent a message of hope and strength at a time where, thanks to baby gate, all kinds of talk about their closeting would have been gone forever otherwise, and we could even see them holding pregnancy tests and other baby items which told us none of what we were seeing was what it looked like. 

If you want to know more about the topic, I encourage you to dive into @tpwknr’s series explanation on TikTok and our own Rainbow Bondage Bears timeline in No Stunts Magazine.

Final Thoughts:

Hopefully, one day no matter how long it takes, we, as a society, will look back at events like these and give them the recognition they deserve. Until then, we shall spread the word and fight for LGBTQ rights. This month, more than ever, is about remembering queer history and rebelling against the pre-established system, but also about acceptance and love for ourselves and those around us, and it is because of acts like these that Louis, for queer people in the fandom, will always be a major role model.

Happy Pride.

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