When Taylor Swift released the long-awaited rerecording of her genre-leaping album 1989, fans eagerly pored over vault tracks, theories of double albums, and limited edition vinyl releases that could predict Swift’s next re-record. But for Gaylors, a dedicated Swift fanbase that’s existed for over a decade, Swift’s prologue and a mention of her feelings surrounding speculation about her love life have dampened what should have been an exciting release.
Thinking about the 24-year-old she was when 1989 was released, Swift writes, “I swore off dating and decided to only focus on myself, my music, my growth, and my female friendships. If I only hung out with my female friends, people couldn’t sensationalize or sexualize that — right? I would learn later on that people could and people would.” Many users online interpreted that line as a subtle callout to Gaylors, supporters of the niche theory that Swift is queer or leaves queer messaging in her songs. But several members of the Gaylor community tell Rolling Stone they’re actually not convinced the callout is about them — and are receiving targeted and homophobic harassment in the process.
For those not extremely online, Gaylor is an unproven theory that Swift is queer and leaves messages alluding to past relationships in her work, a fan theory that originated on the blogging site Tumblr in the mid-2010s. It is also the fan name for groups of people who believe there are queer interpretations of Swift’s songs. (While Swift has been a vocal ally and advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and representation, she has never publicly commented on Gaylor and has only been in public relationships with men.) Gabriela, a 27-year-old Gaylor, tells Rolling Stone she doesn’t believe Swift’s prologue is about the Gaylor fandom specifically, but she’s frustrated at the use of the word ‘sexualize,” which she says has long been co-opted by fans who think Gaylor is harmful or inherently rude.
“I think it’s a call-out yes, but more to the media at large, rather than just about the Gaylor subset of her fandom, which is only a small piece of her complaint. [Swift] doesn’t want to be assumed to be in a sexual, romantic relationship with anyone she is seen next to,” Gabriela says. “Hetlors [those who object to the Gaylor discourse] are cherry-picking to make it about her ‘shutting down gay rumors.’”
As an internationally beloved artist — one capable of selling more movie tickets than Martin Scorcese and convincing an entire fandom to rebuy her music her way — Swift professes an unusually close relationship with her followers. The lyricist often hides clues in her work and visuals, encouraging fans to decipher what coded messages and hints she’s leaving behind. But Swift has also verbalized how upset slut-shaming and assumptions about her love life make her. Anna, a 23-year-old Gaylor who uses they/them pronouns, agrees that the prologue wasn’t about Gaylor specifically but says they do think all Swift fans online could operate with more boundaries.
“Of course, I’m a little annoyed that people are pulling one or two lines of the prologue out of context and using it as a justification to be homophobic and send death threats to my friends, but I don’t think Taylor is at fault for people misconstruing her words and I think she has every right to call out things that make her uncomfortable,” Anna tells Rolling Stone. “’Shipping’ culture across the fandom seems to have gotten really ugly recently on all accounts. I’ve seen people speculate on her sex life, openly and graphically, track her location, insinuate that she wants/has children and just overall cross a lot of boundaries. It may be unpopular for me to say it, but I do think members on all sides needed to be put in their place a little bit.”
All of the Gaylor fans who spoke to Rolling Stone expressed that beyond the prologue, much of the reaction to them as a group has stemmed from a lack of understanding about why the fandom exists and has lasted for almost a decade. Liv, 26, says that the Gaylor community has been a large part of her life — it’s even how she met her current boyfriend. And she tells Rolling Stone the identity has allowed her to have a deeper understanding of Swift’s lyrics.
“It’s always fun for me to think about what inspired a song. So even if it’s not what happened in Taylor’s life, it’s interesting for me to think about a song through a queer lens, because I feel like it adds a lot of layers that a song about a guy might not have,” Liv says. “And I don’t really know any straight people who are that deeply obsessed with Emily Dickinson.”
The X account @gaylornews has over 12,000 followers. The admin behind the account declined to include her name but tells Rolling Stone Gaylor isn’t just a fun internet conspiracy theory, but means a lot to the community.
“Analyzing her lyrics through a queer perspective is more about defying heteronormative narratives and finding representation and not about invading Taylor’s privacy or sensationalizing her personal life,” the account owner says. “Gaylor is about queer people finding a safe space which straight people not only find but already have everywhere, is about all the things you never learned about yourself, is about feeling seen and genuinely understood.”
Regardless of what people think the prologue is about, Gaylors are worried about one thing: targeted harassment from more mainstream fans of Swift. In an April 2023 report from social media tracking firm Graphika, researchers found that Gaylors made up nine percent of active Swift fans on social media, but are often exiled and isolated from neutral fan spaces. The study also found that anti-Gaylor accounts, also referred to as Hetlors, “play a key role” in how the theory is presented to mainstream audiences and often misrepresent commonly held Gaylor beliefs, which can lead to the harassment and doxxing of neutral Gaylor accounts. Each of the Gaylors who spoke to Rolling Stone detailed targeted harassment, hate speech, and homophobia they’ve received online, something they all believe Swift would stand against.
“I think that people who are against Gaylors think we’re way more serious about it than we are. A lot of the things we say are jokes or ideas or possible theories,” Liv says. “And at the end of the day, none of us know what the truth is about her personal relationships. And we shouldn’t want to because [Taylor Swift] is entitled to her privacy.”