My Big Sister, Fearless
I still remember exactly where I was when I heard “Love Story” for the first time. It was September 2008, I had just moved to Minnesota from Sweden and was starting fourth grade. Sitting in the back of my mom’s minivan, excited to get new school clothes at Justice, I heard those iconic opening notes and instantly, I was in love. I felt swept up in a world of fairytales, dramatic romance and princess dresses. Very much in opposition to Karlie Kloss’ ability to look camp right in the eye, Taylor Swift took a good hard look at the sincerity and earnestness that she would be criticized for years to come and embraced it wholeheartedly. To watch another girl embrace these aspects of herself just as I was coming to the age where I was suddenly becoming aware of sexism and the tendency boys my age had to target and mock “girly” things is exactly what I imagine having a cool older sister to look up to is like. (Sadly, I am the cool older sister, so I can only guess what this is like).
Now, the album Fearless evokes nostalgia. Fearless sounds the way that my elementary school playground smelled. At the time of its release, however, it felt totally groundbreaking. Taylor Swift, just 18 years old at the time of its release, created a song that was unflinchingly for girls. On “Fifteen,” she encouraged us to “take a deep breath, girl” as we prepare for what she promised would be a tumultuous freshman year of high school. On “White Horse” and “You’re Not Sorry” she showed us what it was like to fight for your own happiness in a relationship, and feel strong enough to say goodbye. I, and I am sure many other girls, watched my mom cry when listening to “The Best Day.” And on “Love Story,” she changed the ending.
As a kid, I remember how much of being a girl playing with other girls was just acting out TV shows or movies we had seen, but in a way that we personally liked better. I would spend hours in my backyard with my neighbor, pretending to be the characters from The Princess and the Pauper, but instead pretending that they were actually sisters. Other times, we were playing The Little Mermaid, but we could actually change back and forth between mermaid and human at will and didn’t need to make any deals with any witches. If we had been aware of what goes on in Romeo and Juliet, surely we would have also created a world where the plot could be solved with the characters simply talking to one another rather than double suicide.
While many people — mostly men — talked about the convenience of this, or the fact that Taylor didn’t seem to understand the plot of Romeo and Juliet, what I see so clearly is the confidence of girlhood injected into every bit of this song. Why shouldn’t Romeo and Juliet be together? Why couldn’t it be solved with a simple conversation between Romeo and Juliet’s dad? In girl space, everything works out simply because it can. What is misconceived as an inability to understand is more often than not an entire reconstruction of reality, a way to make life work for you rather than allow the rules of narrative to block your path. Taylor brought the imaginary world of girlhood to art, then made it win a fucking Grammy.
But even though Fearless is art, objectively, it has never been something that can be pinned down like that. Fearless has grown up beside me, paving the way in front of me as I attempt to heed its advice. Fearless existed in the speakers of my mom’s car on the way to and from school, but it also existed in the backyard the first time we set up a Slip’n’Slide with the neighbors. It existed in the dorm room of my future roommate in my first apartment, us bonding through her wavelengths. It existed in the warm, summer air my freshman year of college as me and my first new best friend of my adult life screamed “White Horse” as we walked down the hill to campus. Fearless has been personified since the moment I heard it, the third person in all of these encounters. She slides in-between all of my relationships, allowing us to learn from her mistakes and encouraging us as we learn from our own.
I truly felt the presence that Fearless had as my support system in the summer of 2018. I was finally really coming out to people and coming to terms with my own attraction to women. It was scary and raw and the most honest I had been with myself in years, and all I wanted in that moment was Fearless. When I put all of my Taylor Swift music on shuffle in the car, I suddenly had to pull into a bank parking lot and sob as she sang, “I don’t know how it gets better than this / you take my hand and drag me head first fearless / and I don’t know why but with you I’d dance / in a storm in my best dress fearless.” Lyrics I had heard thousands of times over the last ten years suddenly evoked a feeling of freedom I hadn’t allowed myself to access before coming out. I understood the not knowing, I understood the sudden feeling of freedom and I understood that being fearless meant not living without any fears, but living with those fears. The same way Taylor guided me towards in the foreword of her album.
Through my fearless queer revelations, I suddenly felt as though Taylor was able to guide me through a new aspect of my life. I was ten years old again, looking up to Taylor Swift, whipping her hair to the side on the cover, and begging for guidance and reassurance. And she gave it.
Re-listening to “The Way I Loved You’ after coming out suddenly shifted the entire song in my brain. No longer did it feel like a slightly toxic breakup song, but exactly the way I was attempted to wrap my brain around my relationship with men. Even the best ones in the bunch, the ones I should have liked, I did not for some reason. For so long, it had felt like something wrong with me. Commitment issues or something similar, but I was suddenly understanding through Fearless what I was missing. It wasn’t enough for him to be sensible and so incredible, I wanted the emotional rollercoaster and I wanted it with a woman. It didn’t matter if Taylor was not writing from that perspective, what mattered was that she was there as I listened through it.
Even in my adulthood, Fearless is the album I go to for advice. Fearless is the album that comes up in my new friendship, forming bonds between us before we can understand why we click so well. When any song from that album comes on again, I am suddenly ten years old and I am looking to Taylor and asking her to promise that things will get better. She is a mirror wearing a ballgown that I look into and see myself reflected back in, hopelessly romantic a dreamer who has been let down, and someone who believes that these things will change. She is the big sister I have never had, and she has reassured me through every first day of anything I have ever had. She has been there through heartbreaks and crushes and fights and she will be there again and again as my life continues to circle the guidance she has always been able to provide.
Fearless comes out again, and we are both thirteen years wiser, and I have her name tattooed on my skin. I cannot wait to love her again.