It takes only a few clicks to navigate to an LGBTQIA+ ARMY account on social media. Tributes to the diversity of gender expression, love, and community come in many forms, from accounts that edit BTS photos to include pride flags to safe spaces for non-cis ARMYs (ARMYs who identify as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth). In a 2019 Census of over 1,000 ARMYs, almost 40% of participants identified as not heterosexual. How did BTS come to be such a beacon for LGBTQIA+ fans, and why is this important for all ARMYs?
BTS as LGBTQIA+ Protectors
As a group whose purpose has always been to “speak out'' against the “bullets” of “oppression, stereotypes, and prejudice”, issues of inequality and discrimination have always remained central to BTS’ music and platform as celebrities. BTS has supported same-sex marriage since the 2013 days of Same Love by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, whose lyrics RM proclaimed on Twitter were “twice as good” after he discovered they were about marriage equality. Over the years, BTS has explicitly supported gay marriage rights and queer artists across many mediums, and the LGBTQIA+ community in their fashion choices.
Moreover, as one queer ARMY wrote, BTS “has allowed for ARMY to project queerness onto their artistry” in ways that go beyond public actions of allyship. Some of this has been explicit, most notably in the gender-neutral lyrics of the Love Yourself albums and SUGA’s queer-inclusive Cypher Pt. 3 lyrics. Meanwhile, some songs have also been claimed by the queer community; Stigma, for example, has “grown into a symbolic track for many fans about uncovering one’s suppressed sexuality,” and Jimin’s Filter performance during MOTS ON:E has been heralded as an important “representation of gender fluidity and experimentation.”
BTS also actively express their love and support towards queer fans in all aspects of their work. All of the member-designed BT21 characters are intentionally gender-neutral, as are all of the clothes in their Nordstrom line. You’ll often see multiple members smiling at a pride flag during a concert, and one particularly memorable account from a trans male fan featured j-hope asking about the fan’s chosen name at a fan sign.
Queer as in “Speak Yourself”
BTS has been criticized by both Koreans and Westerners for looking “gay” or “like girls” because of their make-up and fashion style. These terms have been used as insults rather than as indicators of personal identity and expression (BTS has never confirmed dating rumors, nor directly addressed their sexuality). In America, for example, criticizing BTS’ femininity is heavily tied into a long tradition of “feminizing” Asian male dress and appearance to enact racial oppression.
As a result, we can understand BTS as being part of a larger queer culture and movement from a social justice perspective. As the famous activist and author bell hooks once wrote, queerness isn’t only about who you're intimate with “but queer as being about the self that is at odds with everything around it and has to invent and create and find a place to speak and to thrive and to live." By advocating that you should wear “whatever you want, regardless of gender” or sexuality, BTS challenges discrimination and has remained true to their sense of expression, style, and performance (see recent Vogue covers and the 2021 Louis Vuitton fashion show).
LGBTQIA+ ARMY Culture
BTS is often referred to as a “boyband,” similar to One Direction or The Beatles. This characterization plays a large part in suggesting the band’s popularity is driven by a fanbase comprised of “fifteen-year-old girls” who hysterically worship BTS due to heterosexual attraction. Many people of all sexual and gender identities find BTS attractive; however, this narrative that has flattened so many other diversities in the fandom also serves to marginalize BTS’ vast and dedicated queer fanbase.
Through developing relationships with other fans, imbuing content such as music videos with “new life” as users create new content, and supporting artists, LGBTQIA+ ARMYs have developed a robust and affirming queer subculture that provides an important space for exploring personal identities and supporting each other. Joyous and somewhat specific sub-cultures emerged, such as self-proclaimed lesbians sharing their love for Jin through video edits, numerous signs, and Twitter polls. Additionally, ARMYs of all sexualities and genders have also raised thousands of dollars to support LGBTQIA+ youth in need.
I’ve Got You, You’ve Got Me
BTS consistently supports the LGBTQIA+ community through creating inclusive music, affirming fan expressions of identity, and using their own positionality to challenge gender and racial stereotypes. As a result, LGBTQIA+ ARMYs make up a sizable part of the fandom, often forming important and affirming community spaces based on a shared love for BTS. Like the boys, we should continue supporting and advocating for LGBTQIA+ ARMYs through education, advocacy, and allyship.
Disclaimer: This article was written by a queer and gender non-binary ARMY. These views reflect this individual's experience within the fandom and are not meant to serve as blanket statements for all members of the diverse LGBTQIA+ community.
Written by: Mariko
Edited by: Lisa
Designed by: Nico
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