Shipping Larry: The Queering of One Direction

By Gretchen Kast

“You mean, ironically, right? Please don’t tell me you actually like them?”

Sitting in a diner in Williamsburg, a befuddled friend looked up at me from across the table. I scoffed, asserting that I actually liked them. My other friend looked over, equally puzzled.

“But you mean, like, from a sociological standpoint, right?”

You know, I thought, it’s probably a pretty even split: 50% genuine appreciation and 50% sociologically intrigue. Though that ratio is subject to skew one way or the other on any given day, mostly depending on how good Harry Styles’ hair is looking.

Because the truth of the matter is that, a few months ago, I sort of accidentally became a genuine and un-ironic fan of One Direction. 

Since their founding on the UK X Factor a few years ago, One Direction has released two albums, promoted a multitude of hit singles, embarked on worldwide tours, and charmed the pants off of millions. Following the standard boyband structure of yore, there are five crush-worthy members—Louis, Liam, Niall, Zayn, and Harry—and they sing perfectly crafted pop music that I listen to regularly. There may or may not be a poster of them on my wall.

One Direction

So, yes, on the one hand, I genuinely like One Direction. But I can’t deny a sort of sociological fascination as well. Their overwhelming popularity is not unexpected (because, duh—cute boys, British accents, catchy tunes that tell me how much they love me), but the nuances of such popularity if you spend a moment to look beneath the surface–now that’s intriguing. Because without much effort, a little digging will unearth a really unique aspect to their widespread appeal, a seemingly distinct departure from the boy bands of yesteryear: the heralded possibility that they’re all secretly gay.

Teenage girls have always obsessed over boy bands—they kiss the posters on the walls, scream like banshees at the concerts, burst into tears at the mere sighting of a perfectly-coiffed quiff from afar. Because each member tends to be categorized into a specific role (the cute one, sensitive one, the bad boy, the joker, the flirt), they offer a plethora of personality options to choose from. You get to pick your favorite, put his poster on your wall, make him the lock screen on your iPhone. This is a welcomed opportunity when you consider that, from a young age, girls are told that they need to watch out for boys, that they need to protect themselves from getting hurt or, worse, being perceived as a slut. But by picking a favorite band, a favorite member, girls (and boys) have a chance to figure out what they like, to explore their sexuality, away from the perils of making a solid decision or mistake and then being stuck with the consequences.But what does it mean when these fans remove themselves entirely from the fantasy? When they think of the boys not as their own potential suitors, but for each other instead?

One Direction

However light-heartedly, this “One Direction is the gayest boyband” phenomenon has spread from the very esoteric world of the 1D “fandom” and into more mainstream media. Even a flippant perusal of these articles will reveal a pretty undeniable sort of homoeroticism. Essentially, they interact with one another like most of the boys I know (they’re often kind to one another, sometimes joke around, occasionally smack each other in the balls)—but also in a way that does not strictly follow the established rules of masculinity. It’s all quite cute—refreshing, even—to see objectively beautiful boys, marketed as (straight) heartthrobs to teenage girls, act so unguarded, so unconcerned about their manufactured image.

As such, it’s not surprising that, like so much of popular culture today, One Direction has been immortalized in the form of online fanfiction.

          Summary:

“Have a good time?” Louis mumbles into his pillow, deadpan, as Harry strips down to his boxers behind him.

“Mmnn,” Harry hums, climbing into the bed and fitting himself around Louis, skin a little tacky where his sweat hasn’t completely dried. He kisses the back of Louis’ neck, soft and lazy. “Won’t be able to walk right for a week.”

You can find stories about the boys in romantic and sexual situations in whatever pairing suits your fancy: you and Harry, Niall and popstar Demi Lovato, but more often than not, it’s Liam and Zayn or Louis and Liam or Zayn and Harry. The most ubiquitous? Noted lothario Harry Styles and the unofficial group leader Louis Tomlinson, also known (following standard celebrity-couple naming practice) as Larry . 

The world of One Direction fanfic feels a bit strange upon first introduction. Unlike those inspired by the fictional characters of Twilight or Harry Potter, these are about real people. And when you realize that the majority of these stories are categorized as slash-fic (meaning, about gay relationships), it feels even more bizarre, considering all of the boys seemingly identify as straight IRL. But, as many of the readers and writers are quick to point out, how is that any different than writing a detailed fictionalized story about how one of them got it on with a girl? All of it is inherently strange, but, in a world that is rightfully becoming more accepting of non-heterosexual relationships, why would writing the love interest as a man feel more slanderous than one as a woman if both stories are entirely made up?

When I spoke with Tricia (a devoted One Direction fan, who also happens to be a college-educated 23 year old) about this, she agreed that there are both positive and negative aspects to the fanfic that’s available. It is, she explained, a creative outlet; the stories are not all laughable smut—some are thoughtfully written and carefully edited. And further, it allows for girls to, potentially for the first time, to take sexuality into their own hands, to write their own story. But, she continued, because most of the One Direction fanfic is about relationships between the five members, it’s all about the male sexual experience. It’s important to note that girls are more openly talking and thinking about sex in whichever way they want, but there is still trepidation in regards to really focusing on female sexuality. 

She went on to explain that one of more inherent issues with bandom fic “is that there aren’t any clear lines drawn. People talk about it and it creeps from fanfiction sites to tumblr to twitter to news outlets and eventually to the people it’s being written about…For some fans it is also hard to separate fiction from reality and these characterizations are imposed upon them by fans and it eventually turns into straight up tabloid gossip.” The lines get blurry and fans start to believe they know the boys most intimate secrets. And, really, fanfic is just the tip of the iceberg. For a number of devoted fans, it’s not simply enough to acknowledge that perhaps certain members of the band like each other more than the rest or even write or read a dirty short story about them; you must also pick your favorite couple and avidly “ship” them (verb: to advocate or encourage a relationship between two people). And once you decide on which relationship you favor, you become their shipper, they your OTP (noun: “one true pairing”)

Larry Stylinson One DirectionOnline, fans are able to put the boys in whatever scenario they want to see. There’s an entire subset of fanfic called “AU” (meaning, alternate universe) in which Harry, Louis, Zayn, Niall, and Liam are not members of a world famous boyband but instead exist in an entirely different world, however banal (normal highschoolers) or grandiose (spies!). Twitter fans write “imagines”—a short description of a very specific moment of tenderness. On Tumblr, fans edit photos of the boys in seemingly innocuous ways: changing Zayn’s eye color, adding more tattoos to Louis’ body, superimposing flowers on Harry’s head, or, in the case of certain Larry shippers, photoshopping pictures of Harry and Louis together to make it appear as if they’re kissing (or holding hands, or getting married). In the bizarro world of the Internet, the boys of One Direction are playthings that fans can adjust to their liking. They can dress them up like paper dolls, move them around and make them do whatever they please.

This is not unique to One Direction. Justin Bieber fans do much of the same, but while he has made it very clear as of late that he will do whatever he feels like doing in real life, One Direction indulges the friendly coercion. During their concerts, there is a “Twitter Questions” section, in which they wield questions from the fans on-stage. Most of the tweets are less question than command. Do this, sing that, say XYZ. And the boys oblige. Because they’re your pals!

This level of personal connection has become almost required in today’s celebrity culture. The private lives of the rich and famous have always been as much  form of entertainment as  their actual art. But with phenomena like Keeping Up With The Kardashians and personal Twitter accounts, fans expect to be given an unfiltered look into their private lives at all times. We’re no longer interested in holding celebrities on a pedestal; we need our stars to be “just like us!” And since their tender beginnings on The X Factor, One Direction has been positioned as “normal lads”. When they are asked in interviews why they believe they have created such pandemonium, their answers rarely have anything to do with their music. They credit the proliferation of Twitter, their candor, their lack of coordinated outfits or dance moves, their constant readiness to “have a laugh”. They are seemingly quite self-aware about their place in the music industry: good singers who make cookie-cutter pop songs for teen girls. If their self-effacing music video for “Kiss You” is any indication (which places them in goofy traditional boyband imagery)—they’re acutely aware that they’re not reinventing the wheel. They’re in on the joke. 

And, what I found when talking to some of their dedicated fans, the One Direction obsession has little to do with the music, but it does play a bigger role than people want to give them credit for. Because, let’s be honest, you’re lying if you say you don’t like at least one of their songs. It’s pop music gold and they’ve clearly perfected the genre. Claiming otherwise not only unfairly discredits the band’s legitimacy (if they weren’t talented, this pandemonium wouldn’t have lasted) but young girls’—their predominant fan base—ability to have viable, well-formed opinions. You don’t buy an album or go to a concert if the music’s no good. 

I reached out to one of these devoted fans on Tumblr—a 17 year old, avid Larry Shipper who asked to go by her Tumblr URL “Hazfuckedlou”. With a blog name as explicit as that (“Haz” and “Lou” are nicknames for Harry and Louis…), I thought it might be an interesting example of NSFW extremity. And, well, some of it isBut it also revealed a much deeper connection to the band than I was expecting: less fetish, more filial. When I asked her what it was about the band that appealed to her so much, she acknowledged them as “really pretty boys”—but really emphasized how approachable they are: “the way they interact and bring the best out in one another.” They can act as weird as they can and it will all be part of the charm. “It’s like if they do something really stupid or funny, I say it’s because they are actual goofballs…I would compare it with having five little boy cousins all around the same age and messing everything up, but you love it.” As much as they’re positioned as sex objects, their silliness is what resonates; they’re more seen as peers. And the fans treat them as such, sharing unattractive photos, poking fun of their weirdness. With each new merchandising reveal, the fans groan, laughing at how stupid it is that they’re releasing a fragrance or endorsing Nabisco cookies. 

Harry Styles

And perhaps part of this is a general self-consciousness that surrounds being being a fan of anything these days. “I think there is an embarrassment factor when it comes to being a hardcore fan of something,” Tricia explained. “Dave Grohl said once that we have this “residual punk rock guilt” where it’s uncool to like or be excited about anything.” This age group has grown out of the 90’s, when it was uncool to like or be excited about anything really, and into the irony-filled 2000’s, when it’s ok to like anything, but only as long as you don’t actually like it. Tricia went on to explain that this especially affects older fans. Maybe it’s because it’s not enough to simply like One Direction on a surface level–too embarrassing to admit that your tastes line up with those of 13-year-old girls–that people search for something deeper. A reason to like them. (Isn’t that why I’m writing this? To validate my appreciation of something others have unfairly deemed childish or silly?) 

With this sort of logic in the back of my mind, it started to make sense why so many fans want to believe that they really know more about the band than the image that’s projected. Hazfuckedlou told me that there’s certainly more to the boys than meets the eye, explaining that “their music taste is a bit better than the music that’s written for them (excluding the ones they helped write).” Part of that may align with a need to know everything (including, but not limited to, middle names, exact time of birth, blood type, and other increasingly specific information) but maybe some of it is just a way to prove to oneself and to others that, “No, no, there’s actually a lot more going on here!

And, for a certain legion of fans, what’s really going on is a secret relationship between Harry and Louis. The popularity of Larry fanfic is staggering, but for many fans, there’s no part of the relationship that’s fiction. These girls truly believe that these boys are in a relationship. Reading through the blogs devoted to them as a couple, it becomes clear that shipping Larry goes so far beyond the fanfic; it’s not just an opinion or a creative outlet: it’s a mission.

Larry shippers are conspiracy theorists, working tirelessly to collect the data, the sightings, the proof that these boys are in a secret relationship. And frankly, their work is pretty convincing. In the name of writing this article—and, ok, because I was curious—I watched “Larry Stylinson Won’t Stop ‘Til We Surrender”, a 15 minute video chronicling the relationship.  

I will admit, when it was over, my first thought was, “Oh my god, they’re right. There is something going on!” (my second thought being, “What am I doing with my life? Did I really just watch all of that?”) If you really care to spend the time scrolling through masterposts on ReasonsWhyLarryStylinsonIsReal or watching the multi-part “You Just Have to Pay Attention” videos on YouTube, it’s almost impossible to not believe it, even if you really don’t care either way.

Larry Stylinson

These fans are essentially “outing” the One Direction boys (either rightfully, or not) but there is no malice whatsoever behind these claims; this is not a witch-hunt. It feels different than say, the recent tabloid cover story suggesting that Kanye West was gay simply because he hangs out with gay men. That was written with a tone akin to “Oh my god, did you hear? He’s totally a homo!” The majority of Tumblrs that ship Larry take a decidedly less accusatory tone—it doesn’t feel as much like defamation, but an earnest celebration. They are supportive, if not unrelenting. When you look at it, these fans are celebrating a love they wholly believe to be true. They are encouraging of them to just be themselves, be honest. I’m sure there are trolls out there, fanatics hoping to get attention by whatever outlandish means possible, but, for the most part, I found a lot of blogs that felt very genuine.

Watching all of this unfold is a fascinating reflection of the understanding of homosexuality today. On the one hand, these fans are utterly supportive, which is great to see, but on the other, they seem to be missing some major points.

Larry Stylinson

Queer theorist Lee Edelman said male homosexuality has always been understood as being written on the body. Larry shippers have internalized (and subsequently externalized) this to the most obvious degree. There are masterposts on Tumblr analyzing Harry and Louis’ tattoos, pointing out the ways in which they could possibly line up like puzzle pieces. A romantic secret shared between lovers. I saw one person go as far as to take a shirtless photo Harry and circle disparate etchings of his extensive collage of body art, highlighting a G, an A, and a shape that maybe looked like a Y, to come to the glib conclusion that perhaps this was a hidden message–G. A. Y–emblazoned on his skin like a symbol, as if that was how homosexuality was to be identified. Things like that are written with a healthy amount of satire (I think, at least—it’s hard to tell on Tumblr sometimes…), but it is not so different from what they’re doing when they analyze the placement of a hand on the other’s shoulder, the way one leans in close to whisper. They not only point to the moments of tenderness (of which there are plenty) but also the moments of avoidance. Look, he was about to put his hand on his shoulder and then he turned away! Look, he purposefully acted nonchalant here so no one would make assumptions! 

These fans seemingly (albeit possibly unknowingly) understand Judith Butler’s idea of gender as performance, but only obliquely. Fans know that they are entertainers. They stand on a stage or sit for an interview and act a certain way because that is what is required of them. But the fun part about One Direction is that they seem to break through this façade—they goof off in interviews; they have inside jokes and only the most committed fans will be on them. This generation is keenly aware of this distance between media-trained “performance” and the truth.But what I don’t think they quite understand yet is that the personal, who you are when no one is watching, is also performance. Sexuality is a deeply personal decision that only you get to define, regardless of how others interpret what you do or say. So, on the one hand, progress!, but on the other, clearly as a society, we’re still not totally there yet. We are still relying on outdated signifiers of homosexuality (even if, at first glance, these boys don’t immediately fit the stereotype); because someone acts a certain way, we can assume them to be a certain kind of person.

Larry Stylinson

The boys handle all of this with a marked level of maturity. As far as I can tell, they have never outright stated that they were straight—but then again, our society does not require that. Being straight is still the default, whereas being gay is the announcement, the straying from the path. Straight until proven gay. And that’s what the fans are doing: proving them gay, because they believe they are not allowed to do so themselves.

But why do they do this? Why can’t they accept, given both Harry and Louis’ respective relationships with women or polite denials of a romance with each other, that maybe they’re not gay? Or, even, that they are gay and would like to keep it to themselves, thankyouverymuch?  

For fans outside the Larry subset, there are a number of possible explanations. Jealousy, for one, seems plausible. “If the fans themselves can’t be with one of the boys,” Tricia hypothesized, “then the only other safe option that wouldn’t cause jealousy would be for the members to be in relationships with one another.” It seems like a simple act of containment—then they don’t have to worry about interlocutors making their way in and messing it all up for everyone (let’s call it the Yoko Ono effect). Or, similarly, maybe it’s the age-old excuse, rashly thrown out by scorned women: if he doesn’t like me, then he must be gay. These girls are too smart to think that they’ll ever get a true chance of being with Harry or Louis, but why not assuage the sting of this fact by concluding that they’re just not interested in girls at all? When I asked Hazfuckedlou, though, why she chooses to actively ship Harry and Louis as a couple, as opposed to just liking them, she told me simply: “I think Harry and Louis share a love some people die searching the world for; they are perfect for each other and will fight for as long as they have to.” For her, it’s a fight that is bigger than just these two boys, one that is somehow related to a larger understanding of what everyone is searching for, and it’s one that, despite anyone else’s input or opinion, she feels emotionally connected to.

To boil it down to just a few bullet points, this, from what I have gleaned, is what (most) Larry shippers believe:

  • Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson are in a romantic and, in turn, sexual relationship with one another and have been since shortly after meeting.
  • Louis is gay, whereas Harry’s sexuality is less defined (some have claimed him to be bisexual or pansexual).
  • The two boys are forced by their management to keep their relationship a secret for fear of ostracizing their young, female fans that are naively hoping that one day they will marry either one of them. As Hazfuckedlou explained it: “Little girls everywhere will get this thought of one day marrying the boys if they get their parents to pay for concert tickets, merchandise, etc. It’s to keep their image clean and make them seem available.”
  • Because they are madly in love, Harry and Louis are often unable to successfully hide their relationship. When their affection for one another, in whatever form, is made clear to the fans, the management team swoops in with diversion tactics.
  • These tactics include contracting a young model named Eleanor to act as Louis’ girlfriend (or “beard”) and positioning Harry as a womanizer in the media (which include his high-profile, though short-lived, relationships with a myriad of beautiful women, including Taylor Swift).
  • Any outright denial of the relationship is orchestrated by the management. This includes a tweet sent from Louis’ account last year, which stated “Larry is the biggest load of bullshit I’ve ever heard.” They believe this was not, in fact, written by him, but by the management instead.
  • Furthering this idea, many photos of Louis and Eleanor are actually photoshopped. The true photos of the two of them are the ones in which they are in the public eye (fashion shows, or other areas well-trafficked by paparazzi). Because he is being forced to do this for publicity reasons, Louis never looks happy in these photos, whereas he always looks happy and loving in photos with Harry.
  • Harry and Louis do not hide their relationship on their own accord; they are tired to being put up to such a task and often act out in purposeful defiance.
  • Their contract will eventually be up and when it is, Harry and Louis will come forward with their relationship.

It really is an ironclad argument, with an answer or rationalization to each counter-point. Any denial, any “proof” of heterosexuality will merely further their belief system in one way or another. Louis’ “bullshit” tweet has become a heartbreaking symbol of the measures the management takes to control them. Even if Harry and Louis never saw each other ever again, their relationship would probably be elevated to a state of martyrdom, a tragic end to what was once beautiful. Established as such, it seems impossible and improbable that these fans will ever be convinced otherwise. It’s a bit unsettling, the unwillingness open up to differences of opinion; if you truly believe this to be the reality, then it doesn’t matter what the boys “say” (it’s not what they really mean); it doesn’t really matter if you write commentary on their girlfriends’ Instagram accounts (because she’s merely a hired beard). 

As an outsider, it seems like an especially peculiar cause to devote oneself to. And, on the surface, it may be. It does not matter, in the grand scheme of the world, if these boys are actually gay or if they are actually in a relationship. But, in the same vein, it does not matter if Jennifer Aniston will ever have a baby. Or if George Clooney will ever get married. Or if Housewife Y really badmouthed Housewife Z. And yet, there are adults whose job it is to write such stories and adults who pay to read them. And for what? Mindless entertainment at the expense of a stranger?

We live in an invasive world, be it for supposedly necessary reasons (the safety of our country, according to our government) or purely trivial ones (because I need something light-hearted to read on a beach, according to UsWeekly). And, when you really get down to it, there’s a lot more at play with the world of Larry shipping that what meets the eye at first glance.

As a generation, we’re cynical. We believe ourselves to be above advertising trickery or coercion. We know better. You can’t fool us. Directioners believe themselves to be too clever to think the band’s management is ever telling them the truth. They’ve grown up on E! True Hollywood Stories, on tell-all books, on celebrity body-language experts—they know that the magazine spreads and the canned interview responses are all a façade, obscuring a wildly more interesting reality. They accuse the management of trying to hide the truth about Larry, of forcing them back into the closet in the name of upholding the band’s popularity. They believe that the management thinks the world is not ready for gay boy-banders. And, you know, that may actually be true. I don’t really have an opinion either way about the supposed relationship, but the idea that, despite all of the advances towards equality our society has made, certain people might not like members of one of the most prolific musical acts to be openly gay—well, that seems plausible (especially if you consider that, though 72% of Americans believe the legalization of gay marriage is “inevitable, 45% still believe that homosexuality is a sin).

In practice, shipping Larry seems to be equal parts proving that the two boys really love each other and blasting the management for not letting them be together. It’s as if these fans are begging the older generation (the middle-aged management, who, in turn, can assume the role of parents or teachers) to be better. Begging them to quit being so backwards, so tyrannically unhip to the ways of the changing world. Begging for some freedom, for the ability to make their own decisions, for some recognition that those decisions may not be wrong or unfounded or childish or part of a “phase”. Begging to be taken seriously. Basically, they’re teenage girls (or boys, or mothers, or students, or just people), empathizing with their peers and bristling against an out-dated sense of ideals.

And if you look a bit deeper into a lot of these blogs, they’re not purely 1D all day every day craziness. Hazfuckedlou told me that, though she doesn’t consider herself a feminist (she deemed that too political), she is “passionate about having the same rights as men and not being seen as objects just used as to please other people.” Slipped between the reblogged photos of Louis’ bum and Harry’s smile is some really careful commentary about feminism, about LGTBQ rights, about gender roles, about the pressures of being a teenager or a girl or a boy or simply a person and managing the outside world. 

What I learned from trying to take a closer look at this world is this: it is one made up of overlapping communities, structured like Matryoshka dolls within one another, getting smaller and smaller and more specified. Being a teenager is a community. Tumblr is a community. The One Direction fandom is a community. Shipping Larry is a community. And it goes on and on, in many different directions. There is a palpable sense of solidarity along these lines, a devotion to the object of affection and to each other.

Tumblr is a truly unique microcosm of the Internet. Whereas other social media sites like Facebook or Twitter often feel like a treacherous land of self-promotion and voyeurism, Tumblr has a real sense of camaraderie to it. Perhaps because its such a collaborative platform (reblogging the work of others to curate your own space), or perhaps because it easily allows for a calculated anonymity by putting content at the forefront and making personal information completely optional, but whatever the case, it has created almost a safe-haven. For anyone looking for like-minded cohorts, Tumblr offers a world that revels in its weirdness and lauds its eccentricities, even if animosity does ensue from time to time. (Hazfuckedlou blamed this on the crop of newer users, who “don’t understand that there should be no judging, negative comments.”)

What I found was that this sense of togetherness is only heightened as you make your way into the more specific groups within. Larry shippers are wickedly protective of one another. This level of community makes complete sense: they have a common interest (One Direction), a common goal (standing up for Harry and Louis’ relationship), and a common enemy (Modest Management). Hazfuckedlou told me that “I’ve had tumblr since 2010 and since then tumblr has taught me more valuable life lessons than school has taught me in a life time. Larry shippers are the most supportive fans I have ever met.” Other Larry blogs mention the defacto “family” they’ve created around this idea, thanking the others for being there for them in times of need. They oftentimes clash with the “Elounor” (Louis and Eleanor) shippers of the site, but that only makes them band together closer. 

These days, teenage girls are no longer just individual fans–liking a band or a singer means joining a “fandom”, being assigned a title. While, of course, this idea of aligning yourself with a group of like-minded music fans is not new (see: Deadheads, or Juggalos—I was even a card-carrying member of the Hanson fanclub, back in the day), the popularity of social media has heightened it. With Twitter and Tumblr, being a fan means actually carving out a space, however intangible, to express your love openly and widely; it means actually forging direct communication with the objects of your love and thousands of others who think exactly like you do. And all of this can be done from the safety of your own bedroom, hidden away from prying eyes of real-life peers who may pass judgement or parents that may disapprove. Hazfuckedlou told me that her obsession is certainly shaped by the other people she interacts with on the Internet, “I think that if it weren’t for the rest of the fans in tumblr/twitter, I wouldn’t know as much about each boy than by looking at them myself. Because I’m not much of an observer, other people point out the facts and actions that reflect on their personalities.” This can be dangerous if, like Tricia, you think that it’s perpetuating troubling opinions: “It’s hard because the fanfiction and social media can enable this behavior because people can find communities with others who think the same way.” But at the same time, it can also create a personalized world in which certain people feel comfortable.

In his essay “The Construction of Identity”, the Hungarian academic George Schopflin explains that in today’s “post-material age”, the deepest threats to our existence are no longer the concrete (war, or disease, or the like). Instead, we fear “non-material factors”.

Here we encounter new phenomena, a mounting complexity, the unknown, the different, for which we have no solutions, which we have no way of decoding. These phenomena impact on our world of meanings and devalue our existing forms of knowledge, with the result that we are beset by post-modern fears, a new set of unknowns. We take refuge in what we have, our collective identities, and look to them to resolve our individual fears.

Our world today is fraught with everyday unknowns. Physical danger can be hidden anywhere, completely invisible, completely non-material; the “enemy” that our country is fighting is undefined, widespread, both far away and right behind you. Basically, shit’s pretty fucked up, and fucked up in ways that are difficult for anyone to understand. And, on top of all that, being young (well, being anyone, I guess–but being young especially) means a whole other set of undefined fears about who you are as a person, where you ultimately fit in. Structures of morality are constantly shifting and, even if it is for the unquestionable betterment of society, it can create rifts between older and younger generations or those who adhere to different belief systems. It makes the world a bit messier, as we try our hardest to stand up for what we believe is right, to pull those lagging behind us into our convictions.

And maybe that’s why conspiracy theories are so prolific.  When you look passed the “nutcase in a tinfoil hat” stereotype, conspiracy theorists are searching for the same things we all are: a greater truth within a complicated world. For certain fans, shipping Larry appears to be an empowering act. By voicing their support of the boys as a couple, and in turn their defiance against the “management”, they are granted some semblance of control over a shadowy unknown–a faceless puppet-master that, for whatever reason, thinks it gets to decide how people should act and who they should love. Many conspiracy theories (like the one that 9/11 was, in fact, orchestrated by our government) seem to be rooted in the need for there to be a bigger plan at hand (it’s scary to think that violence can be so random, so far out of our control. So, instead, maybe it feels more palatable to think that there’s someone out there calling all of the shots; it makes the world more ordered.) Larry shipping seems to be the opposite of this–it’s a recognition that there is in fact some vague force of morality (or expectation or tradition or capitalistic pursuit) that controls how people can act. Opposing this force is to attempt to dismantle it not merely from this isolated situation, but from others, either more widespread or more personal, as well. 

This is not to say that neither I nor anybody else should be behind the “Larry” cause, or even that it should be elevated to such a grand scale as I just outlined. What I do mean to say is that I think their actions are laden with the complexities of our current social climate. These fans have formed a community, a “collective identity” with which they look to resolve their individual fears alongside those for the world around them. And when you strip away the celebrity, the speculation or fetish, Larry shippers are, however naively, trying to help people be who they really are—a luxury that many are often not granted.

So while I can’t say I totally get it—I do get where they’re coming from. Because really what it comes down to is that we’re all just looking for something to believe in, something that can maybe make the world better or at least a bit more tolerable. Searching for truths and for others who will rally for them along with us. And maybe that means a community of people to commiserate with.  Or a specific relationship. Or maybe, for right now, it can just mean five cute British boys.