The only good conspiracy is a fun conspiracy. What if you were a globally famous entertainer with an army of fans from every single country – across all ages, economic strata, gender, and sexual orientation? What if every corner of that fandom wants to connect with you on their own special axis of identity? What if a stand up comedian decided to produce an entire show based on supposed hints you have been dropping in your music that you are secretly gay? This veritable QueerANON, or to use Hannah’s term, Gaylore, where the Q is a hilarious woman with a wall full of push-pinned notes with string connecting them, is an internet phenomenon.
All across Reddit and various other social platforms, a motivated group of gay sleuths attempt to unravel the clues of Ms. Swift’s supposed gayness. Like a bandana in her back pocket, or a green flower in her lapel, her coy inferences have been raising eyebrows amongst the faithful and hopes amongst the gay and faithful. Hannah Land, local RVA comedian, brings the conspiracy to Ardent Brewery’s stage on December 13th, and we are def going to be there. Her sold-out debut of the show premieres this weekend. We caught up with Hannah to get the tea spilled on the virtual pages of RVAmag.com.
The convo fades in from another one I can’t remember, but it goes a little something like this…
Christian Detres: …sweet. Haven’t had a good beat down in a while. There we go. Um, so we are, let’s, let me just start by letting you introduce yourself. Tell us about your history, how you came to this situation and a little bit about the history of the project?
Hannah Land: So my name is Hannah. It’s my first interview, so I don’t know, like, I’m gonna wing it. Yeah, I’m a stand up comedian by night. By day I work for VPM. The local NPR and PBS outlet. So comedy is kind of my way that I get to be more creative. And eventually, ummm… let me back up. I talk a lot to my friends about the things that I’m interested in. That’s what a lot of my comedy is. They’re very personal stories.
But one of the things that I’ve been most interested in in the past year or so, has been Taylor Swift – and the theories that she’s gay. And as I started to unpack it and learn that there is evidence behind it, and that it doesn’t seem to be like an outing. It seems to be like she’s sending us these Easter eggs to hint at her queerness. Started talking about that. Usually when I talk about things, they end up being a little funny. So I tried to work it into like some sets. And then I really just wanted to educate the masses.
So I made this PowerPoint that I was going to show just some of my friends and then people talk and they tell their friends etc. There’s also a big robust Gaylor community online. So it was bigger than my small friend group, I guess.
CD: You were telling me there’s a subreddit devoted to this?
HL: Yeah. Oh yeah, there’s an official one that you have to like, request to get into by writing a testimonial of your love for the subject. And then there’s a public one that is a little less exclusive. But yeah, there’s multiple places where people discuss this day at night. Every move she makes, they’ll unpack it in some kind of Easter egg way. They’ll take it from a queer lens and it’s really sometimes like a lot “what? What, do you guys do anything else?” But you know, it’s very thorough. It’s very fun to read through and contribute to.
CD: Would you consider yourself a Taylor Swift Fan? Or is this just a sleuthing project for you?
HL: Oh, for sure. I started liking her in high school. When I started taking guitar lessons. My teacher was all “What do you want to learn?” I bought this book and I’d like to learn how to play this entire album. Taylor Swift, please. Yeah, so I’ve always loved her and then I guess I kind of fell off with a lot of the world when she kind of changed from this country teenybopper into more of a pop star. I kind of fell off. But I got back on the horse when she released Folklore, which is the album that came out during the pandemic. It’s very unlike anything she’s ever done. And that’s where I really started to pick up on her, like, queer signaling that she’s putting out there and that’s where a lot of people got on board as well.
CD: Yeah, so let’s say for shits and giggles, that she comes out, yeah, she’s gay. What kind of lesbian war would ensue and who would win? Like, you know, if everyone’s like, Oh, my God, she’s gay. Who’s winning the battle towards the top of the mountain towards Taylor Swift?
HL: I just don’t know. And I think that’s a really interesting question. Like, a lot of people think, well, she should just come out. She’s the biggest lady in the world. No one could ever be against her. But I live in a very progressive queer bubble. And so I assume, “oh, yeah, everybody’s cool with it.” But then when I went to her concert, I got tickets *proud flex* and I got harassed in the women’s restroom because I was wearing shorts and – I have incredible hairy legs – and they thought it was a boy in there. So this whole group of like, heterosexual – they call them Hetlers.
CD: Hetlers?? Hahahha, oh my god I have to use that.
HL: I was just reminded that like, oh, yeah, this is not as progressive of a world as I would like to think that it is.
CD: You know, it sucks to be reminded of that.
HL: Yeah, it does. It really does.
CD: I don’t know a whole lot about Taylor Swift. I wouldn’t consider myself knowledgeable. I have nothing against her, but you know, I’m not knowledgeable about her music. Even so, the one thing I do know – the things that I have heard – is that she is insanely generous to her staff and and her fans. I’ve never really heard of a group of fans that feel like she’s offended them.
HL: Yeah, like she’s almost a billionaire, you know? But she has famously taken really good care of her staff down to her bus drivers. She gave them all a $100,000 bonus earlier this year. I think the key there is, if she did come out and say I’m queer, that would alienate a lot of people. I do think that the livelihood of her staff, the hundreds or maybe thousands of people that work for her and depend on her, they would then suffer and I do think that’s part of it.
Yeah, I don’t know who would win. I don’t know if she’ll ever come out. I think she said that she talks about these things, but she’ll never name people as like who she’s worth etc. Because that’s like the one shred of privacy she has left.
CD: It seems like the popstar “are they aren’t they?” conversation all over again. That goes back to Rudolph Valentino, Errol Flynn etc. On the female side, Katharine Hepburn…
HL: Even Eleanor Roosevelt.
CD: I mean… she was just gay out loud.
HL: You can study Emily Dickinson through a queer lens, right? Like, that’s like a reputable field of study.
CD: Especially in the Victorian era to the 1920’s. Poets and writers, especially on the women’s side. You read the books when you’re in high school – some Bronté or whatever, and like, oh, well, here’s her lifelong friend that lives with her and they love each other.
HL: Haha, yeah, “this is her bestie and they live together in an apartment in Paris. Five years as friends, just buddies!” Yeah, it’s kind of funny.
CD: It’s great to live in a time where, number one, we can look back at these things and laugh. Probably not as funny to them in real time when they are like, “oh, god dammit, fine. I’ll marry this guy. Do I really have to have a kid to prove it? Sheesh.” But now, in the 2020s, we get to have comedy.
HL: Yes we do.
CD: We get to examine the hopeful speculation, not an accusatory cudgel. Let me ask actually, the dream of Taylor Swift being gay? How much of that is about that she’s hot? Is it just a bedroom poster crush? How much of it is She’s a good human? I mean, obviously, I would imagine it’s some important portions of each. But is the fascination you think, you know, mainly physical?
HL: For some people? Yes. For me. No, I did not think she was hot until I saw her in person on the Eras tour.
CD: Did you get good seats?
HL: No, they were shitty seats. But it was incredible. She is such a force and just watching her – you can’t look away. I guess watching that star power right in front of you, ughh. I was like, oh wait, you are hot.
So for some people, it’s definitely, “oh my god, she’s so hot. I want to have sex with her.” But for me, it just makes me feel extremely validated. You know what I mean? Like the things that she writes about – and I do think she’s very lyrically brilliant. The things that she writes about are so resonant with me as a queer person and so many other queer people. These feelings of feeling othered but not really knowing how to express it. Feeling like you have something to hide but not really knowing what it is, you know? Talking about queerness in a way that it’s a secret that a bunch of people are in on together, you know what I mean? She really feels like a part of the community. It feels like she’s speaking to queer people as a queer person versus like, you know, Love, Simon. That was a gay movie, but it was made for straight people. I feel like Taylor is speaking to gay people as a gay person in ways that they only pick up on. So it feels like a fun puzzle.
CD: Now I feel left out. What the hell?
HL: Yeah, sorry! Haha. Doesn’t everyone wish they could be a lesbian? Hehehe. Yeah, so it feels like a fun community. It feels like really being seen on such a large scale by someone who has such incredible reach. Yeah, also, it’s just a lot of fun.
CD: So I want to get into the conspiracy. The first thing that I think just because of the times we’re in, my mind goes to the ratchet, terrible, republican right wing. Alt right, like Q anon bullshit. Yeah. I don’t want to compare the two directly because, yeah.
HL: There is a comparison to be made but not in that way. But yeah. Slippery slope.
CD: Is comedy a refuge for queerness? In decades past, Jews, African Americans, people that have seen their fortunes change by owning their criticisms, owning the stereotypes and making them their terms of liberation. Stealing the tools of oppression and making toys of them. Would you say that applies to this situation? This is probably a more serious question than a preview of a comedy show deserves.
HL: I take it both very seriously and I think it’s very funny. So I think that’s a great question. I definitely think comedy provides a refuge. I don’t remember what this is from honestly, might be from like a Tumblr post I saw in like eighth grade, or it might be from Hamlet, I’m not sure. Either Tumblr, or Hamlet via Tumblr, or it’s just some idiot on Tumblr – but it says “if you wear it like armor, it can never be used to hurt you.” And that really really resonated with me. Even when I was like a closeted teen. You know what I mean? When I still used the armor in a cold way where I wouldn’t let people in, but now I’m kind of using it as a way of connecting with other people and laughing about it.
CD: Was comedy a blossoming for you?
HL: I accidentally cut all my hair off a couple years ago. Before that, it was really easy for me to pass as a straight woman. And so once I cut my hair off, I was being seen in a way I wasn’t used to. My whole life, my gayness was something I was able to hide. So I think I needed to really reckon with walking into a room and having people say “oh, yep, that’s a lesbian, right there.” Letting them feel however they want to feel about it. I didn’t even realize I was hiding it until I was naked in front of everyone. So being able to put myself on the stage and tell the narrative as I want it to be. Yeah, it was really empowering. So, you can’t call me a dyke because I’m calling me a dyke. It’s kind of the same way – to go back to Gaylore – like celebrities as well. You know if you are giving them the narrative…
CD: Wait? What are we saying? Gay Lore? Like Lord of the Rings, but you know, deeper, sexier? Haha
HL: Yep. With the Gaylore community comes a lot of nuance that we can laugh about. It’s a lot of fun. Empowering in its humor and speculation.
CD: So let’s get into the real important stuff. When is the show?
HL: This show is October 28 at 2pm. This one is sold out already. But we’re going to do a second one on Wednesday, December 13. That’s Taylor Swift’s birthday! 6pm at Ardent Ale.
CD: How many people are on these subreddits? Like, what are the membership numbers like?
HL: Upwards of like, 50,000, I want to say. It’s a huge community. It’s enormous. And people are everywhere. Like when I posted about this in the subreddit, people were like, “Oh, I’m in Seattle. Can you bring it to Seattle?” “Oh, I’m in New York. Can you do live streaming?” Some people are carpooling down from Charlottesville to come to this thing. Yeah, I want to take this show everywhere. I definitely think there’s a lot of potential to take it on the road. It’s really exciting.
CD: So give me some teasers for the show. What would you say are the most compelling ones without giving away the whole thing?
HL: Um, that’s such a good question because it’s so hard to pick just one. The thing that got me into the controversy was her song “Betty” on the album Folklore. It’s a love song about a woman. The narrator’s name is James. Like it’s from the man’s perspective. This is a straight song, but a lot of the context of yearning for your friend (or being embarrassed that you have a crush on your friend) causing rumors to go around about you having a crush on your friend – is also my closeted experience.
CD: Queer or just eighth grade in general.
HL: Exactly. And both sometimes. When you peel back a layer of that, you learn that she named the characters in this album after her friend Blake Lively’s children. Their daughter’s name is James. These are things that you wouldn’t know to look more into. Because she’s already covered her ass by using a traditional male’s name in the lyrics. But if you see she said she built these characters around these people, these people are girls. That’s a little thing.
If you look at a lot of her imagery, it is very intentionally queer. Especially with 1989. It calls upon Dusty Springfield, who came out as bisexual toward the end of her career. It ruined her reputation. It was rumored for a long time that she was queer. She might have been outed, or she either came out, whichever. She lost a lot of her audience and kind of had to rebuild her strategy. And Taylor is using a lot of Dusty’s imagery, for example, these for this four color block palette, comes directly from Dusty Springfield’s album Am I the Same Girl. It’s these little things that are nods to queer culture that are too intentional to be a coincidence. You wouldn’t know unless you’re looking for it, which also makes it a lot of fun.
CD: So in my head, I’m seeing the Charlie from Always Sunny meme. The one with all the index cards on a cork board connected by string in an attempt to connect a bunch of different observations and facts to a bigger conspiracy?
HL: Haha, that’s exactly what we modeled the poster for the show after. Have you seen the poster?
CD: No, I haven’t! Haha, called it! Does Taylor Swift know about this subreddit and has she ever commented on the whole thing?
HL: Girl, yes. Yeah, yeah. Um, there was this one time. It’s called Kissgate. It’s more important to me than Watergate. All right. It’s when she and Karlie Kloss were at the 1975 concert in 2014. There’s some grainy video footage where it looks like they are kissing and like the whole world –
CD: Like Bigfoot in the woods? Real blurry like?
HL: No! But yes. Kind of. Hahaha. Like if you look at it from this, yeah, there’s room for interpretation. Anyway, that night Taylor came home from that concert and from the Taylor Swift Tumblr account, liked a bunch of posts that were tagged with like the gay couple hashtag that people used for her and Karlie Kloss, #Kaylor, for the initiated. And she liked a bunch of them and people were like, Oh, my God, what’s going on? And then the next morning, she unliked them.
So she has interacted with the community directly a little bit. She’s also invited some very prominent people in the Kaylor community to Secret Sessions when she used to do those, which is cool. I feel like it’s a very strategic way to keep our sect engaged.
CD: Do you think that there she’s ever engaged her PR team, a little more over the top, where it’s just like, wait a minute, is she punking us right now?
HL: Um, maybe this will answer your question. When she did the “You Need to Calm Down” music video, which is very, it’s just gay. It’s a gay trailer park. It’s got all of these very prominent gay celebrities. That was one of the first videos she directed herself. And in addition to it being just this like Rainbowpalooza with RuPaul, there’s also a layer of deeper meaning. There’ll be a shot of her and it’s all of the colors of a pansexual pride flag. you know, and so that’s not her screaming on gay, but she’s in this music video with all these gay people that she’s directed. They’re all – I don’t know. Um, that might not be the best example. But can you rephrase the question?
CD: Hahahhaa, so where does the humor in the situation come in? Are we really like debating whether this person is gay or not? It’s the idea of the question. It has such a long history. And not all of it is good. Thankfully, we live in a time where the question can be a fun one. Where do you feel like the heart of the comedy comes from with that?
HL: I think it comes from it’s a ridiculous quest that I feel like we’re on and that I feel like she sent us on. You know? It feels ridiculous. Like, I’m a regular degular. No, no I’m not. I’m pretty cool. But I’m still like, “oh my god, Taylor Swift is sending me signals,” you know? And I feel like I’m a reasonable person. I’m well read. I go out in the world, you know what I mean?
But it still feels like such a treasure map that she’s always sent from the beginning, and it gets more and more contrived as we go. But it also in some ways gets a lot more overt as we go. So it’s funny to me as an adult that I am on the subreddit. I’m a frequent contributor, you know what I mean? I’m so into it. That she’s had the ability to captivate so many regular people into this quest, I think is pretty funny. It’s also funny when things are so clear to the queer people as like, “come on.” But the straight people aren’t seeing it. That’s hilarious. To me. That’s hilarious to any gay person. I feel like it’s very hilarious. Yeah. So I think there’s a lot of there’s a lot of humor in the hunt. There’s a lot of humor in the outright denial of it. Yeah, I think that answers the question. Totally.
CD: Totally does. I mean, I would have assumed that. It’s a funny thing to wrap your head around. I have queer friends of all stripes. People who don’t interact that often with gay people – or they think they don’t – their depictions of “gays” are so very either over the top or fragile, scared in the closet, bullied, right? I keep referring to the history of the implication, and the question, and outing people.Thankfully it’s 2023 and not 1953. But I find that as a mostly straight man. I mean, I’ve had some adventures – just saying – it’s heartwarming. It’s just so heartwarming to see the nuance and to see that there is a sense of humor to engage in. To share with others that aren’t some wounded or angry stereotype of gayness.
HL: There’s a lot of layers to that, I think, and I’m really glad that you brought it up. You said outing specifically. I don’t see this as outing. I think that a lot of the flack that people get in this Gaylor community is that we shouldn’t speculate on people’s sexualities. You know, we shouldn’t force anyone to come out which I totally agree with. I don’t want to pull anyone…
CD: Isn’t that what comedy is about though? Saying the thing you shouldn’t say out loud? It’s risky. But if it’s funny the risk is worth it. That’s the burden of comedians. Dancing on that thin yet nebulous line between offensive and hilarious.
HL: But with Taylor, she’s sending such explicit little things that are supposed to be picked up on. It’s very Oscar Wilde, with the green carnations, right? She does that a lot in her lyrics. She does that a lot in her social media presence.
CD: When we were on the phone, you had a term for it. Um, it wasn’t code switching…
HL: Queer flagging.
CD: Yeah, I wanted to make sure I got that in here.
HL: She’ll do that in her lyrics. She’ll mention carnations in a way where you thought something was one way and it’s not. She’ll mention- one of my favorite examples is in this one song. She says you could hear a hairpin drop. But in the context, the reasonable thing to say would be you could hear a pin drop, and it’s kind of dissonant. So the way the rhythm is, the hairpin takes you out of it for a second. If you look into that, dropping hairpins is literally what this is called in the queer community. Dropping hints. Dropping hairpins is something that queer people do to signal to other people that they’re queer. So that if others are also, they can know where to feel safe. Safe to flirt? Right. People do that with green carnations. People have done it with like, bandanas, things like that. That’s called dropping hairpins.
What’s really important to me to communicate is that I am not trying to out anyone against their will. I do think that’s a really personal thing. Even now, you know, and I don’t think that even a billionaire celebrity deserves that. But I think that what I’m trying to communicate is that she’s giving us these puzzle pieces that she’s doing on purpose…
CD: Well, also done in the spirit of wishful thinking. Not in the spirit of “-and then we’re gonna get her and shame her, and burn her at the stake!”
HL: Exactly. And there’s always gonna be people that are like, “yes, you are.” But you know, if you’ve bought a ticket and you’re coming, you’re not one of those people. Yeah. But yeah, I’m going to kind of walk through a timeline of her relationships, her songs, kind of put some pieces together of, well, you hear this line could be about this could be about ‘this’, ‘this building thing’ etc. Just trying to put all the pieces together chronologically. I’m having a dress rehearsal tonight at my house, so I can put it down. Because I could talk about it for eight years. We’re going to look at some of the historical references that she’s bringing up. And then yeah, we’re gonna play bingo throughout. That’s another way to keep people engaged. The bingo cards will have little code words that you can check off. We’re gonna make friendship bracelets.
CD: Oh come on. This sounds super fun. Yeah.
HL: Yeah, it’s gonna be a whole thing with the presentation being kind of there in the middle. And I think it’s gonna be a really fun way for people to meet each other, to learn about something new. To look at a very popular artist perhaps through a new lens.
CD: How’s it playing locally? View think you’ve gotten a lot of support?
HL: You know, people like what I do on stage, so the comedy people are excited to see it. The lesbians are excited to see it. The young Taylor Swift Fans who are online like to see it because these rumors, they go through phases where they become mainstream. It’s validating. We’ve had a couple of those just this year where people are starting to ask, maybe in ways that they wouldn’t before, if she’s queer or not. It’s just like a PowerPoint party. I’m making you come to my TED talk, you know, I said on a comedy set recently, I was like, and what it’s gonna be is you’re gonna buy ticket you’re gonna pay me $5. You’re going to sit down and you’re going to shut the fuck up. And I’m going to talk to you and I’m going to put all of this shit together, and you’re going to watch and you’re going to clap, and that’s what you’re going to do. Hahahah.
And it does feel very like that. But I think that, you know, I’m a good public speaker. I think I’m really engaging not to toot my own horn. And it’s something I really, really care about. So I think that really helps. I think there’s something in it for a lot of different communities.
CD: Okay, well, is there anything else you want to add that I didn’t ask?
I don’t think so. Oh yes! We’re donating some of the proceeds both from ticket sales and from bar sales to Side by Side, their local queer nonprofit that supports youth specifically. And I think that that’s a really cool element that I want to incorporate into every show. If we do take it somewhere else.
CD: Are there any initiatives or programs that they have going on that our readers could get interested in?
HL: They have a pretty robust like mentorship program amongst many other initiatives. That would be really cool to get more people involved in things that actually matter here. It all matters.