Opinion | Look What We Made Taylor Swift Do – The New York Times

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Guest Essay

Ms. Marks is an editor in Opinion.
In 2006, the year Taylor Swift released her first single, a closeted country singer named Chely Wright, then 35, held a 9-millimeter pistol to her mouth. Queer identity was still taboo enough in mainstream America that speaking about her love for another woman would have spelled the end of a country music career. But in suppressing her identity, Ms. Wright had risked her life.
In 2010, she came out to the public, releasing a confessional memoir, “Like Me,” in which she wrote that country music was characterized by culturally enforced closeting, where queer stars would be seen as unworthy of investment unless they lied about their lives. “Country music,” she wrote, “is like the military — don’t ask, don’t tell.”
The culture in which Ms. Wright picked up that gun — the same culture in which Ms. Swift first became a star — was stunningly different from today’s. It’s dizzying to think about the strides that have been made in Americans’ acceptance of the L.G.B.T.Q. community over the past decade: marriage equality, queer themes dominating teen entertainment, anti-discrimination laws in housing and, for now, in the workplace. But in recent years, a steady drip of now-out stars — Cara Delevingne, Colton Haynes, Elliot Page, Kristen Stewart, Raven-Symoné and Sam Smith among them — have disclosed that they had been encouraged to suppress their queerness in order to market projects or remain bankable.
The culture of country music hasn’t changed so much that homophobia is gone. Just this past summer, Adam Mac, an openly gay country artist, was shamed out of playing at a festival in his hometown because of his sexual orientation. In September, the singer Maren Morris stepped away from country music; she said she did so in part because of the industry’s lingering anti-queerness. If country music hasn’t changed enough, what’s to say that the larger entertainment industry — and, by extension, our broader culture — has?
Periodically, I return to a video, recorded by a shaky hand more than a decade ago, of Ms. Wright answering questions at a Borders bookstore about her coming out. She likens closeted stardom to a blender, an “insane” and “inhumane” heteronormative machine in which queer artists are chewed to bits.
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