Three words, consisting of four syllables, plagued my youth. Whenever these words were uttered, they elicited a euphoric reaction, causing the hairs on my skin to stand straight up. The statement felt as if it could be the Eleventh Commandment.
“It’s Britney, bitch.”
These three words not only changed pop culture as we know it but also little gay Nicholas, too.
Britney Spears was everything to me as a child. I vividly remember watching Britney’s music videos before school and listening to “… Baby One More Time” as though my life depended on it. Her dancing was fluid and technical with a stage presence to rival Michael Jackson and Madonna. The girl had it all, and I was enamored.
Entering into my adolescence, I evolved into a full-blown Britney expert and enthusiast. I connected with other fans in Britney forums online, downloaded all of her songs on iTunes and watched every documentary about her. I even dressed as her for Halloween, making sure every detail was historically accurate.
My Britney fanaticism got to the point where everyone knew I loved her. Whenever her songs played on the car’s radio, my parents would turn it up for me. My friends would always send Britney memes my way, and I ate them up. Whenever any Britney news arose, someone would immediately tell me about it.
One day, as I blasted “Oops! … I Did It Again” on my phone while doing some homework, my parents decided to ask me why I liked Britney so much.
Fourteen-year-old me froze, struggling to give a coherent answer. Britney’s fans were predominately gay men, and I had no intention of coming out at that moment, so I tried to piece together a vague response a straight boy might have said.
“Uhhh, her music is really good and fun,” I said, sure that the answer would suffice. It wasn’t a good enough answer for myself, but my parents went along with it.
Looking back years later, I’ve reflected on that question, and I finally have a good answer for my parents: Britney was everything I couldn’t be.
As a boy, I wasn’t able to express my femininity without others judging me. The fact that I was gay made my situation even worse. A feminine gay man is like a train wreck inside a dumpster fire covered in puke to “traditional” heteronormal society: a deadly combination that was bound to get me bullied.
Living in a small, conservative town didn’t help either. I felt isolated because there were no other boys like me. In an effort to prevent speculation of my being gay, I made multiple attempts to blend in with other boys: I dressed sloppily, befriended more men, deepened my voice. Even then, someone could still tell I was gay from a mile away. It was difficult to be the obvious queer while trying my best to camouflage my queerness. In a pond of macho, hetero men, I was the standout sissy.
But through all of this, I found constant solace in my girl, Britney.
Although she suffered much media scrutiny and hatred, Britney’s discography was fun and pop-y. Surprisingly, I could relate to her.
I was stuck in my cowtown hometown and was so far in the closet that I was practically in Narnia. I was isolated to the point where “my loneliness was killing me,” as Britney would say. But when I listened to Britney, it was as if she was the only one who could understand me.
Knowing she was in the darkest time of her life in 2007 and then had a major comeback the next year was inspiring to me. It showed me that if I was having a hard time now, I could get through it, too. I channeled all of my frustrations with my identity through Britney’s music, and the more I listened, the more I let go of this idea of trying to be “one of the boys.” Britney’s songs were unapologetically girly with her signature baby voice, lovestruck lyrics and upbeat tempos. It all showed me that being feminine was OK because Britney could do it. I felt just like her — only with two left feet and an ear-bleeding singing voice.
Throughout the years, I’ve talked to other queer men about the reasons we love female pop stars such as Lady Gaga and Beyoncé and Britney. Of course we love the music, but the consensus has been that we live vicariously through female singers’ flamboyance and femininity — things that society shames gay men for embracing. The second a gay man wears a dress, the universe explodes. So instead, queer men often focus our energy on these pop divas — the only acceptable way to express our femininity. We stream their music, attend their concerts, interact with other fans online and find a community of queer men through these singers.
If there’s one person who I have to thank for getting me through everything and changing my life, it’s Britney, b—.
Nicholas Clark writes the Monday column on LGBTQ+ issues in media and politics. Contact him at [email protected]