Music

Shawn Mendes Isn’t Gay, And We Should Know Better Than To Speculate About His Sexuality

In a 'Rolling Stone' cover story, Shawn Mendes says he studies videos of himself in order to erase his 'effeminate' mannerisms.

Shawn Mendes' Rolling Stone cover

In his new Rolling Stone cover story, Shawn Mendes has revealed that the relentless speculation about his sexuality has greatly affected his behaviour.

Mendes, the 20-year old Vine celebrity-turned-pop-star, has been hounded by gay rumours throughout his career. Back in 2016, Mendes took to Snapchat to say he was straight — but two years later, the whispers have turned into vicious, thirst-based roars as fans analyse his mannerisms and make memes about him being in the closet.

In the feature, called “Confessions Of A Neurotic Teen Idol“, Mendes speaks about how he feels an urge to censor his ‘effeminate’ mannerisms, studying YouTube footage of himself to catch out vocal inflections or crossed-legs, or an urge to be papped with a girl to end speculation.

“In the back of my heart, I feel like I need to go be seen with someone — like a girl — in public, to prove to people that I’m not gay,” he tells Rolling Stone writer Patrick Doyle. “Even though in my heart I know that it’s not a bad thing. There’s still a piece of me that thinks that. And I hate that side of me.”

He also references seeing a Twitter comment about how he once crossed his legs, and as a result of that he now monitors himself in public. There’s another instance, too, where he recalls waking up in a cold sweat after giving Taylor Swift approval to post a picture of the two of them messing around backstage with eye makeup.

“I felt sick,” Mendes says. “I was like, ‘Fuck, why did I let her post that?’ I just fed the fire that I’m terrified of.”

As the memes continue, they serve as a reminder that, unfortunately, most gay men remain gross men: ready to objectify, unwilling to listen.

Across the feature, the endless speculation about his sexuality comes across as one strand of a larger habit of restraint — one which has made Mendes second guess himself in both his music and the minutiae of his life. It can be uncomfortable to read — even Mendes himself seems to have mixed feelings about the story, tweeting that “the positive side of the story doesn’t always get fully told and I wish it had here.”

This constant need to self-moderate one’s behaviour is reminiscent to any LGBTIQ person, a warped shadowing of the need to erase clues of your queerness.

It’s disappointing then that the speculation around Mendes’ sexuality mostly comes from LGBTIQ fans (well, same-sex attracted men) — and because of this, they’ve gained a particularly lecherous and lustful tone.

The memes regularly leap out from the internet, too: for example, when he was interviewed by Andy Cohen, skater Adam Rippon coyly jokes he “had a connection” with Mendes at the Met Gala. It’s a codified wink-wink that queer people know well, but it’s being used as a weapon against someone who has continually said they’re straight, which in turn only prompts more dogged rumours about being in the closet.

As John Paul Brammer wrote for Them back in May, the way the queer community fetishised Mendes is endemic of a lot of our own binary beliefs: a dogged insistence that ‘effeminate’ mannerisms make you a bottom, or that certain traits make you gay, rather than act as a cultural language that many gay men self-identify with.

It’s the same logic that determines that ‘real’ men don’t cry or carefully construct their hair: we make a mockery of anything less than rigid masculinity, then get frustrated when men are devoid of self-expression.

“Aside from Shawn Mendes being an actual human being with feelings,” wrote Brammer, “and aside from it being common courtesy to respect how someone identifies, it’s worth it to make sure we’re not replicating heterosexual narratives around gayness in our Twitter memes.”

Reaction to the Rolling Stone profile has been mixed on Twitter, where speculation about Mendes is most rampant. While many have paused for self-reflection, others are now insisting that Mendes’ self-censoring is “inherently homophobic” as he tries to weed out his own ‘gay’ traits — traits that the internet has persistently turned into a point of mockery.

In a now-deleted Tweet, singer and frequent RuPaul’s Drag Race choreographer Todrick Hall wrote that “Shawn Mendes is not gay, or at least not yet. And he may never be… but one thing is for certain, if he EVER comes out, I’ve got dibs.” He’s since apologised, but it’s indicative of how many read Mendes’ comments within their own narrative of coming out.

As the memes continue, they serve as a reminder that, unfortunately, some gay men remain gross men: ready to objectify, unwilling to listen.


Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and co-host of Sleepless In Sydney on FBi Radio. Follow him on Twitter.

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