“I thought you liked good music” is something I often hear when I tell people I am a huge fan of One Direction. I don’t get insulted because it’s true: Sometimes I have to reflect on how this happened.
Having analyzed my experience in this fandom, I can now say that the “girly-looking” boys singing about girls sucked me in, but Larry Stylinson, the name for the speculated relationship between Louis Tomlinson and Harry Styles, is what keeps me around.
Two years ago, when my high school friends and I met up after Christmas, the two of them that were obsessed with the band insisted that we watch the documentary One Direction: This Is Us. I didn’t hesitate, as I knew it was directed by Morgan Spurlock. Even though I barely knew the individual boys’ names at the time, I knew I liked Louis, “the one that looks gay like me,” and Harry, “the one everyone likes.”
I jokingly refer to this movie as the most successful piece of propaganda I’ve ever witnessed, since a few days later I bought tickets for one of their shows. Leading up to the concert and for about a year after that, I considered myself a normal fan, enraptured by their ability to make so many girls so happy, and appreciative of the fact that their music helped me get through a hard transition period in my life.
During this time, Larry was always on my radar because it is one of the most popular ships on Tumblr. Larry was officially the most reblogged ship, gay or straight, on Tumblr in 2015 afterall. But I found the idea of shipping two real people bizarre and problematic. It wasn’t until I noticed an emerging gay conspiracy taking the form of a rainbow stuffed bear counting down on a Twitter, somehow related to One Direction, that I took a closer look. But I’ll get to that later.
Larries for the most part are LGBTQA or ally fans who believe in the same narrative: Harry and Louis immediately clicked during their X Factor days (where all the band members met), and fell in love some time around that era, even moving in together. When One Direction’s fame really took off and the Larry fandom grew too large, the boys were forced to hide their love from the public by Simon Cowell and their management, and were no longer allowed to be outwardly affectionate.
Crazy? Maybe. But there was a time when they lived together, a time when they were very affectionate, often flirty, and inseparable, and inexplicably, a time when this all stopped. It was only when the band recently announced that they were going on hiatus that their public dynamic began to be reminiscent of the early days. The land of new Larry content was so barren for years that when Harry and Louis hugged at the final show and started doing interviews sitting next to each other again, the souls of thousands of Larries ascended with joy.
That brings me to two of my favorite things about the Larry fandom: its categorization and mirroring of religion. This may sound stupid and creepy, but the lengths to which Larries are self-aware make every day in the fandom a riot. Aside from the general Larry shipper, depending on your level of faith that “Larry is real,” you could be a self-described Dark Larry (believers who have some doubts), or my favorite, a Demon Larry. These are the leaders who keep the fandom together; they are the ones who write posts validating faith for the doubters, who scour the internet for receipts of the public relations lies that usually surround closeted celebrities, and who have every Larry moment compiled and ready.
Though I am not a Demon Larry, I more than respect the perspective they lend to analyzing how queerness is treated when it comes to prominent public figures. The more I became educated about the closeting of famous musicians historically and the lengths gone to keep up heterosexual narratives (for example, Elton John’s marriage to Renate Blauel and Lance Bass until after ‘N Sync), the less I viewed the fandom as “crazy” and the more I found myself becoming a part of it.
Why have Liam and Zayn in the past 6 months mentioned in interviews that the shipping makes Harry and Louis very uncomfortable, but the boys that it pertains to have remained quiet? Why is everything surrounding Louis’s fatherhood so strange? How does the relationship between One Direction’s management and how they plant stories affect how the public perceives them? Most importantly, how could the “official” narrative of the boys’ sexualities and what I am about to describe coexist? The fact that Louis has apparently named his first son Freddie Reign alone is enough to make your head spin if you are aware of a bigger picture.
Time to discuss the conspiracy that dragged me down. In early October, the band had already announced that they were going on hiatus, but they still had a few tour dates left to complete. On October 10, a Twitter for the rainbow stuffed bear I mentioned earlier appeared. It posted a few pictures of itself and its little bear partner. One image featured two drag queens. October 20th is when it started counting down to the bears’ return and when I first truly took notice of the Larry fandom.
Why were the Larries freaking out? I gathered pretty quickly that for some reason, One Direction had an unofficial mascot, that this mascot was undeniably gay, that this mascot engaged frequently with the Larry fandom specifically, and that the Twitter that everyone was talking about was the official one of the mascot. Though the Twitter was deleted on February 12 (temporally lining up with a split from management), Larries are master archivists, and the trails this mascot left are not hide to find if you followed each tweet as it happened like I did, and you know where to look.
To make a long story short, in 2014, a fan threw a rainbow Build-A-Bear on the stage. Later, that bear started being set up on the stage featuring more and more elaborate get–ups and was subsequently named Rainbow Bondage Bear, or RBB. As time went on the costumes became increasingly more gay-themed, celebrating queer icons (Freddie Mercury and Judy Garland references are frequent and varying), reading gay non-fiction, and eventually started featuring the smaller gay bear. Dubbed Sugar Baby Bear or SBB, he even got married to his larger counterpoint. The kicker? That guy in the picture frame is none other than Larry Grayson, a famous British gay entertainer. This is far from the only time the bears have made direct references to Larry.
The only Tweet that the official account has ever favorited was one that simply stated, “larry ok”, though the fave wasn’t up for longer than a few days. Apart from this, it is clear that the bears became increasingly aware of details within the Larry fandom. For instance, the colors green and blue are associated with Harry and Louis because of the color of the plastic markers on their microphones and their eye colors. It was not long before the bears started featuring mood stickers on their feet with the corresponding colors. Furthermore, RBB frequently wears a crown with multiple jewels of different colors on it, but eventually only the green and blue jewels were featured. It must also be mentioned that RBB’s last posts featured the bears eating a birthday cake for Harry’s 22nd birthday . As far as RBB, LGBT/Larry iconography, and reciprocal fandom interaction goes, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
These small gestures certainly had an impact, especially on someone like me, who was always uncomfortable with the idea of shipping two real people whose PR has expressed that the shipping makes them uncomfortable. But I gotta side with fellow Larries on this one: if these boys actually hated that kind of attention, then these bears would not exist. This truth lends itself to the real glue that holds the Larries’ relationship with RBB together.
Even more important to the Larries’ understanding of RBB’s narrative than his apparent sanctioning of their beliefs is the very loaded and yet credible notion that Louis and Harry control and manage the bears themselves. This has been backed up by many occurrences: the time RBB checked out a book from Holmes Chapel Public Library (Holmes Chapel is Harry’s hometown), the time RBB went to a drag show and one of the drag queens confirmed on Facebook that Harry and Louis brought him, the time that Harry put a smaller stuffed bear on his microphone as interest in RBB was reaching its peak, the time that Larries correctly predicted that RBB would mirror Louis’ travel patterns and subsequent Twitter updates at the start of the hiatus, and the time that Harry made sure to associate himself with the name of drag queen Divine directly after RBB posted a picture of himself watching her on Youtube, to name a few.
Much of RBB’s ability to gain and sustain such a large following (the Twitter had around 190,000 followers before deleted) rests on the fact that Larries believe Louis and Harry use RBB as a means of direct, though cryptic, communication to say things to the fandom that they would not be able to say otherwise. What’s striking is that the implications of this silent contract also hold the most logical explanation for RBB’s transition from fun secret stage prop to active gay icon and Larry defender. Whoever runs RBB has had months to do something to disassociate the entire thing from Louis and Harry, but only the opposite has happened and at a pace that only increased until the bears disappeared. But what if this is all the act of a troll?
I mentioned before that I do not have the faith of a Dark or Demon Larry. I have serious doubts that Larry is real in the fashion that Larries wish, but what has become clear to me is that there is no way that they are completely wrong. If there are truly no closeted members of One Direction, then RBB is the strangest and most elaborate form of LGBT appropriation and queerbaiting that I have ever seen.
I may not totally believe in Larry, but I refuse to believe that Harry Styles, who studies rainbows and loves to run around with pride flags, would ever allow for some of One Direction’s most passionate and vulnerable fans to be baited in that way.
My guess? It is not a coincidence that RBB becoming more and more active, Larry’s increased interaction, and the oncoming hiatus (now fully underway) all overlap. I think at least one person in One Direction found allies in the Larries, and though the connection may not be totally clear, there is something of a rebellion against harmful heteronormativity that the two share. There’s nothing Dark about that.