Taylor Swift’s “betty” Is Exactly the Anthem I Needed as a 16-Year-Old Repressed Lesbian

One time when I was 16 years old and in love with my best friend, I tried to run over her boyfriend in the parking lot of a car wash. I mean, okay I didn’t actually try mow him down, but I pretended that I was going to smash into him to scare him — because he’d just pulled a prank that physically hurt her — and also I wanted to actually gravely injure him. In fact, instead of thinking about kissing my best friend, I spent a lot of time imagining ways to destroy her boyfriend, verbally eviscerating him in conversations with myself and lifting weights at basketball practice imagining I might get strong enough to punch him through the wall. I didn’t know I was a lesbian. I just drove around in my truck — my truck! — scream-singing the Indigo Girls’ cover of “Romeo and Juliet” and thinking of ways Tad Jefferson could be obliterated.

YOU PROMISED ME EVERYTHING, YOU PROMISED ME THICK AND THIN, AND NOW YOU JUST TURN AWAY AND SAY, “ROMEO? I THINK I USED TO HAVE A SCENE WITH HIM!!!!!” 

I’m telling you this because, with the luxury of hindsight, I can look back and say it’s the most repressed gay shit anyone has ever done in their life. In fact, as professional lesbian for over a decade, I would now say that I am a qualified expert in gay shit. Which is why I am comfortable proclaiming that Taylor Swift’s new song, “betty,” track 14 from her surprise Folklore album that dropped last night, is extremely gay shit. 

It goes like this: Betty left Taylor Swift’s homeroom, and Taylor knows it’s because of her some true rumors that broke Inez’s heart, but listen, Taylor’s only 17 and it was only a summer fling, and then Taylor saw Betty dancing with a boy — a boy! — and she was heartbroken too. But what if Taylor came to Betty’s party anyway? Would Betty tell her to go fuck herself? Or would Betty, and I quote, “kiss me on the porch in front of her stupid friends”? They already kissed before, and Taylor was wearing Betty’s cardigan. So.

Oh, wait, one more thing: In this song, Taylor Swift skateboards. COME ON. 

According to the album’s liner notes, this song is written from the perspective of James, and there are two other songs on Folklore written from the perspective of Inez and Betty (“Cardigan” and “August,” respectively). But, as Gaylor Twitter was quick to point out, Taylor Swift is named after James Taylor.

ADVERTISEMENT

Look, I know. Come out or stop it. Stop teasing us with your pansexual flag dress. Stop making these queer music videos if you’re gonna keep not say out loud that you’re queer. It’s good that you finally got political, that you supported the Equality Act so vocally, that you donated lots of money to the Tennessee Equality Project, and et cetera. But also dang, come out if you’re going to!

On the other hand, this would have been an excellent song to add to my 16-year-old repressed lesbian repertoire. It’s an aching, lonely, pining, sorrowful, huge queer mess of emotions that sounds gay and feels gay and, no, it wouldn’t have stopped me from trying to maim Tad Jefferson, but it would have definitely been a nice soundtrack to accompany my sobbing because my BEST FRIEND was hanging out with her boyfriend instead of me.

Related:

Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle senior writer who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 1059 articles for us.

54 Comments

  1. Listen, listen, I know Betty is gay, but seven is even gayer!!!! It’s clearly about two girls (one of them being her) falling in love without any of the ambiguity of the “from a man’s perspective” thing.

    Like what is the heterosexual explanation for this

    “I still got love for you
    Your braids like a pattern
    Love you to the Moon and to Saturn
    Passed down like folk songs
    The love lasts so long”

    “I still got love for you
    Pack your dolls and a sweater”

    Braids???? Dolls???? My god, I don’t know how much longer I can take this 😭

  2. This was exactly what I hoped I’d see when I opened AS this morning post-listening to folklore. Thank you for your service <3 and yes, I don't understand why she hasn't just come out!?!?! I would never pressure someone into doing so but like – it doesn't make sense?

    • I know it’s all in good fun, but I don’t feel good about “come out or stop it”. A lot of us have been in the place of being forced to come out and it’s not great!

      I get that the “stop it” part could also be meaning “stop queerbaiting”, which is of course entirely valid.

  3. Well, there’s no universe in which anyone who’s ever met me would not know who’s behind the below ~analysis~…

    Upon learning Taylor Swift considers James a unisex name I yielded to a queer reading. (Apparently James and Inez are Blake Lively’s daughters which I find more relevant to “James is not a boy,” but then I hope Inez is supposed to be a third party and not the second girl’s name because weird to make them lovers. Anyway.)

    But unless people are positing TSwift was embroiled in a never-revealed lesbian love triangle during her partial high school experience, I’m confused by all the attempts to read this literally or from her actual perspective. Particularly because she presented the album as fiction and not autobiography, which is bolstered by the choice to write from all three perspectives. If anything, it’s pretty reminiscent of what she did with The Other Side of the Door when she was an actual teenager.

    It’s also super valid and good and not really queer baity or anything to just write a story about teenagers and love and have those teenagers be gay and it’s not a big deal! Even if the writer isn’t queer! Young people now get so much of that in media compared to what we did! (Caveat: it appears she carefully avoided outright gendering the characters, though perhaps hints are dropped that give plausible deniability James is a dude, so that’s weird as far as purposefully giving us a gay narrative.)

    I say this as like, an original tumblr Kaylor truther back in the day. It would be very confusing if she knows she’s queer and after deciding to burn all conservative political bridges and celebrating representation she still won’t come out. Also, can you tell I used to write papers about Taylor Swift in grad school?

  4. From Elle “…And others pointed out that there’s a teenage love triangle vignette in the album, something Swift confirmed in a YouTube comment. The three songs “betty,” “cardigan,” and “august” tell that story, each sung from different perspectives (the boy James, his girlfriend Betty, and the girl he cheated with) at different times.”

  5. I love Taylor Swift. I like the song Betty. And, I thoroughly enjoyed this article and the comments.

    But, I am also deeply sad that there is so little queer representation in mainstream media. I don’t want to have to comb through a Taylor Swift song to find pieces that look like me. I want a Dirty Computer-level of celebration. I am tired of living off of breadcrumbs.

    • Agreed!! I got really stoked about something or other queer-looking in one of the Star Wars movies a few years ago and my best friend told me to stop getting so excited about some queerbaiting when we deserve actual representation and that has stuck with me HARD ever since.

  6. I am not a Taylor Swift fan admittedly and as a Bi/queer woman I have always been a little annoyed at how her antics including this recent album release have played into the further fetishization of bisexual women. I haven’t listened but I have read the lyrics and I find myself oscillating between feeling annoyed and hurt and happy a queer teen will get a song like this in the mainstream. I feel like Taylor perpetuates the fantasy of “I like kissing girls but I know it’s not serious, don’t worry I would only ever marry a man!” This narrative hurts our community. It’s not OK.

  7. I don’t know if Taylor is queer but I will say that, as fun as the Kaylor fandom was for a while, it needs to stop now. The idea that there is this grand bearding conspiracy in 2020 and that these people’s relationships and MARRIAGES are fake is harmful, especially when one of the people in question has married into a transnational crime syndicate. Like, c’mon.

    HOWEVER, one thing that has consistently annoyed me about the divide between Kaylors and Swifties (which is not to say that one cannot be both) is that the idea that Taylor must be either straight or gay! Like, it’s 2020! Bi/pansexuality is a thing, please, I’m begging people to consider it from this angle. Like, do I sense chemistry when I watch videos of Karlie Kloss and Taylor together? Of course! Does that mean that they are deeply closeted and were in a relationship for six years? NO! Not even a little bit!

    To me, the most likely explanation of all this is that Taylor is bi/pansexual and had a crush on Karlie that may or may not have been reciprocated. But I think at this point it’s really mean to maintain that her relationship with Joe Alwyn is fake. Like, one can be bi and in a relationship with a man??? That is very much a thing???

    It’s also very possible that Taylor is straight and just really into being an ally, which is cool. Or… and I will admit that this is probably the least likely explanation… maybe she hasn’t even fully admitted to herself that she is queer? I know that this seems unlikely given that she is 30, but there’s no timeline on coming out, even to oneself. And given and how her relationships have always been scrutinized from every possible angle, I totally buy that she would be afraid to even explore it. The mainstream media is still not particularly kind to bi/pan women. Which brings me to my last point –

    Thank you so much for writing this article! I enjoyed it immensely. I love that there’s an outlet for me to put my dumb thoughts about Taylor Swift’s possible queerness on the Internet in a place where I know I won’t get judged for them. (I also know that Karlie Kloss was not mentioned anywhere above but I feel like that’s the subtext of every “is Taylor queer” conversation and I hope no one will resent me for bringing it up.) Anyway, thanks for thus, Heather. Hope you’re doing okay.

    • “I know that this seems unlikely given that she is 30” Not at all. I was older than that. Plus, given how bi/pan women are treated (If that’s how she identifies and at least in my experience) can’t say I’d blame her for being hesitant.

    • “I also know that Karlie Kloss was not mentioned anywhere above but I feel like that’s the subtext of every “is Taylor queer” conversation”

      Almost as if “all along there was some invisible string tying you to me”
      connecting Karlie and Taylor… “one single thread of gold tying me to you”

      well well well.

  8. I was thinking “holy shit this bitch finally did it” while listening to this song until … “James.” What a LET DOWN.

    Can’t you just write from the perspective of teens and have them actually be gay? Like, no “this is a gender-neutral name YOU GUYS so …” type poetic license … how hard is it???

    Anyway this album is good. I am NOT a Taylor Swift fan but 1989 and this one are pretty much modern classics.

  9. I also believe that Taylor is queer, but she won’t ever admit it (she kind of reminds me of Ricky Martin, all of his life denying gay rumors but coming out late in his life)

    I always have a good time reading about Kaylor theories (although I think Taylor despises her nowadays, I mean all of the things Karlie does against her… come on, just let it go, for both of you). We’ll never know if they actually were together, but I think they dated and it ended terribly.

    That Karlie inspired this album? I don’t think so. This album is really queer, you can find something in every song, especially betty, illicit affairs, seven, exile (the part she sings is about HER and not HIM). I also believe Taylor is the only one pop singer you could say writes about girls liking/pining other girls. And that’s what I love about her, you can always especulate if she’s writing to a girl or to a boy. No one can deny that.

    But I also think this album could be about fictional characters and not only about her past experiences in relationships. Anyways, it’s a really great album, let’s just enjoy it.

  10. The great thing about these songs (Betty, seven, and others) is that, regardless of how the audience or the artist define it, we have a female vocalist singing romantically about female characters. Just to have that entering in our ears so beautifully. Especially for Taylor’s younger generation of fans, like my nieces, these songs can help to normalize that for them. I really hope that they get to grow up in a world where the back story and liner notes just don’t matter all that much.

  11. Naturally there’s an article about this here! By none other than HH, too =)!
    Well, all speculation aside … she’s an awesome artist, singer, songwriter, ally…. i’m happy with that.

  12. Honestly I choose to wholeheartedly see this song as gay just because it’s so much more interesting and emotionally compelling that way. If James is a boy, he’s just some asshole who cheated on his girlfriend and is now harassing her trying to get her to forgive him. If James is a girl, this whole other beautiful heartbreaking narrative blossoms out of that. This is how I see it:

    James is a young girl who’s been exploring sexuality with a close girl friend, and it’s never really been clear if they’re “together” and they’ve never talked openly about it with each other or anyone else, and they both have their jealousies and fears about how real it is. James goes away for the summer and does something with another girl, and when she gets back, Betty hears about it and is really hurt and miserable, and the singer realizes she never should have done it and she wishes she could have committed to Betty in the first place. Good lines for this interpretation:

    “I won’t make assumptions about why you switched your homeroom” — that vibe of never talking openly about anything because it’s all a secret even kind of from themselves

    “plus I saw you dance with him” — the singer felt jealous and insecure too because what if this is just a casual experimentation and Betty ends up getting a boyfriend?

    “will you kiss me on the porch in front of all your stupid friends?” — UGH the YEARNING FOR OPENNESS of it all

    “if you kiss me will it be just like I dreamed it, will it patch your broken wings?” — can our love be transformative and healing if we let ourselves admit it and express it?

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!