Jerrod Carmichael
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Dear Harry Styles: Let's Talk About Tenderness and Gay Sex Scenes

Harry Styles on a red carpet

If there's one thing Harry Styles does, it's cause discourse, and so often it's about queerness.

The "Watermelon Sugar" singer is a pop star of the international variety with a penchant for painting his nails and wearing dresses. He waves Pride flags at his concerts and helps fans come out to their families. For some, he presents a new face of masculinity. To many fans, the sum of all of these parts is that this is a queer man, though he refuses to label himself. But that's only tangential to the latest discourse. 

In a global story for Rolling Stone that dropped this week, Styles talks about his much-discussed upcoming film My Policeman. In it, he plays Tom, a gay policeman. Set in the 1950s, while homosexuality was still illegal, Tom begins a clandestine relationship with a museum curator named Patrick (David Dawson) while also pursuing marriage with a woman named Marion (Emma Corrin).

The project is also set to include sex scenes. It's previously been reported that Styles appear in two of them.  One source said "not much is going to be left to the imagination," while Styles himself said that he would show his "bum-bum" but "no peen." And according to Styles, the scenes bring something new to the gay film canon.

"So much of gay sex in film is two guys going at it, and it kind of removes the tenderness from it," he told Rolling Stone. "There will be, I would imagine, some people who watch it who were very much alive during this time when it was illegal to be gay, and [Michael Grandage] wanted to show that it's tender and loving and sensitive."

The comments set gay Twitter on fire, and rightfully so. While many criticized Styles for making the comments while refusing to speak about his own possible queerness, it also just seems plainly inaccurate and without context. While there certainly are films that might show couplings that lack the type of softness that Styles seem to be referring to, there are more than a few that include it. Critically lauded films like BPM and Moonlight do this beautifully. As do others.

One of my favorite films is undoubtedly And Then We Danced. Set in Eastern Europe's Georgia, it revolves around a gay dancer trying to make his way in the notoriously unforgiving path of the traditional Georgian ballet as well as the often-homophobic life that Georgia provides. While I don't want to spoil too much, there are two sex scenes in the film. The first is furtive, primal even, outside amongst autumn's fallen leaves. Afterward, the two retreat into themselves, one of them quite literally running away. It's likely this sort of scene that Styles is referring to.

But, before long they return to their spot in the leaves. This time is different, their bodies bathed in colored lights. they are going at it but the tenderness is palpable and cemented by the long embrace they hold one another in afterward.

The scenes are an interesting set to juxtapose against Styles' comments. Mostly because they provide context that his statement lacks: that first furtive, rushed scene was the nexus of many things. It was two men starved of sexual attention fulfilling a physical need while unsure in the safety of their surroundings. Two men, who... until it was happening, couldn't be entirely sure of the other's intent. But in the second, the comfort and familiarity allowed a relaxing that gave way to tenderness. In this way, one can't discuss the issue without examining which gay stories are told onscreen and for how long — how much tenderness is possible for films that feature one sex scene that is mostly furtive glances before a few seconds of skin and cutting away for the audience to imagine the rest.

Tenderness is an issue that God's Own Country addresses head on, in fact. Over the span of the movie, viewers watch the sex become increasingly tender, and heartfelt. It goes from "hunching," as some might call it, to lovemaking. Again, in part, a product of the auspices under which it had. 

Much like his sexuality, Harry Styles wasn't clear on what gay sex scenes he's watching. (Even on television in recent shows like Pose, P-Valley, Elite, and the Queer as Folk reboot, characters are depicted "going at it" laced with tenderness.) I'm also not exactly sure what gay men he's in community with. But if being in this space and speaking about these things is something he plans to continue doing, I hope that he will not only expand both — this is a remit that many gay men have to force upon our own selves — but think about them critically before his next press tour. 

But thank you for the additional tender gay sex scenes you have coming up this September. We look forward to adding them to the canon. 

RELATED | 15 Greatest Queer Sex Scenes in Film History

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