Sometimes, randomly, I raise a clenched fist and curse at the sky when I am overcome by the memory of Harry Styles wearing a dress for his November 2020 solo American Vogue cover

In the fight for everything good in modern culture after the agony of the pandemic and the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, that Vogue cover felt like another battle lost at a defining moment within our social conscience. As a statement, it felt and looked like consent for the reduction of Queerness to aesthetic, lifestyle, or artistic choice. It was like Stonewall for queerbaiting men and the babygirl movement; groundbreaking, door-opening, table-shaking.

There is a common, odd fascination in modern society with masculine, mostly straight men who are widely accepted as desirable and seem comfortable enough in their own skin to play with the rules of gender and its presentation through fashion choices and public personas. We have seen these men walk red carpets in bright colours, lace, and sequins, brandishing hints of makeup and glinting manicures. They have been spotted wielding Bottega Veneta purses, Vivienne Westwood necklaces, and other conventional women’s clothing. They are not afraid to smile or act shy before the camera, and they reek of a sensitivity and tenderness as crisp and tailored as the designer clothes they wear. These are our babygirls.

It was like Stonewall for queerbaiting men and the babygirl movement; groundbreaking, door-opening, table-shaking.

Harry Styles, Jacob Elordi, Timothée Chalamet, Omar Apollo, Manu Rios, a wealth of K-pop idols, Henry Cavill, and even, apparently, Drake. We somehow perceive them as openly vulnerable and submissive, and we applaud them for it.

I wonder why we love these men. Maybe they are simply hot, leading men in their fields of work; role models who signal security within their masculinity by inhabiting a feminine flair. Perhaps we are attracted to some real depth and complexity in their public personas or to the simple spectacle of straight-passing men performing a farce of feminine sensibilities; a fascination akin to watching a six-foot clown playing with a balloon animal or an enchanting zoo creature prowling around its cage.

What irks me the most about our culture’s obsession with babygirl men is that this fascinated desire is not extended to overtly feminine men: the gay men who came before A$AP Rocky wore a skirt and Drake put colourful clips in his hair, or the men who have suffered alongside trans women and other Queer bodies throughout history for their presentations of femininity and flamboyance.  

I came to the realization that our obsession with the ‘babygirl’ man seems to have nothing to do with their tender embrace of femininity and everything to do with their maintenance of masculinity and muscularity despite this effeminacy. The way I see it, it is not that these babygirl men are in touch with their feminine side — but that they have mastered control over it, dominated it, and now wield it as another tool for social dominance, whether intentionally or as innocent, well-meaning objects of mass heteronormative desire. The babygirl man and his success at getting us to worship, coddle, and infantilize him have itched my brain for far too long. 

For example, in 2022, Johnny Depp was seen cuddling a badger at a rescue centre after winning the defamation case against his ex-wife Amber Heard. During the court proceedings, he was captured doodling on pieces of paper with colourful markers and showing them to his attorney like a child who expected a little treat in return. A few times, he also displayed a pile of gummy bears at his court desk too. For this, Johnny Depp was so, so babygirl. 

Depp was so babygirl that his fans camped outside the courthouse to show their support. People brought live alpacas to the courthouse to ‘brighten’ Depp’s day; they tweeted about how cute he looked behind his designer sunglasses, how they wanted to hug him and tell him everything would be okay. They laughed at Depp’s fantasies of Heard’s death as punishment for calling their babygirl an abuser, and savoured her demise like good soup. They called her a gold-digger; a smug, manipulative con artist; a fake crier; a crazy bitch; a bad wife; and a turd who got what she asked for in the end. Depp’s fans stood beside him and celebrated when their babygirl emerged victorious against the witch who tried to devour him. 

In turning these men into babygirls, I believe we run the risk of enabling bad behaviour, terrible behaviour, and worse — all because we think these men are adorable, harmless projections of charm. The more we uplift this image, the more we risk erasing the stories of the people upon whose lived experience this fantasy of masculinity was constructed. 

Harry Styles makes nice-enough music, has a nice-enough face, and looked nice enough in that Gucci dress on the cover of Vogue. But what did that say about the Queer people who broke down the doors of gender conformity so that a seemingly straight, white man — and an alleged ally at that — could wear their skin and walk in their shoes?

Divine Angubua is a third-year student at UTM studying history, political science, and creative writing. He is the editor-in-chief of With Caffeine and Careful Thought and a staff writer at The Medium. He is an associate comment editor at The Varsity.