A Queer Reading Of Taylor Swift’s ‘The Tortured Poet’s Department’

Poetry? Yes, please. Torture? Relatable.

Did you stay up all night listening to Taylor Swift’s highly anticipated 11th album The Tortured Poets Department? I know I did!  I’m the kind of Swiftie who’s always looking for queer reads of Taylor’s music and without a doubt, there was a lot of subtext in TTPD…. Poetry? Yes, please. Torture? Relatable. Although Taylor has shot down gay rumors, her songs take on a life of their own and the gays can’t help but take on our own readings. Swift’s songwriting is stunning and there are so many layers to unpack– but here are my first takes on the queerest moments on her new album:

Guilty As Sin:

This song is giving huge queer energy. It is a song that reminds me so much of the feelings of not yet quite being out, of having deep queer desires. Those desires that maybe you’re acting on, or want to be acting on, but know you’ll be ostracized if you do. It is my favorite song from the album from a queer perspective:   

“I keep these longings locked

In lowercase inside a vault

Someone told me, “There’s no such thing as bad thoughts, only your actions talk.”

These fatal fantasies given way to labored breath taking all of me

We’ve already done it in my head

If it’s make believe

Why does it feel like a vow

We’ll both uphold somehow?”

And then the song comes together in a stunning way that feels like a coming out anthem. 

“What if I roll the stone away?

They’re gonna crucify me anyway

What if the way you hold me is actually what’s holy?

Any queer person can feel a connection to this song, especially those who came from fundamentalist or conservative religious families/communities.  

I Can Do It With A Broken Heart: 

I’m pretty sure that “I Can Do It With a Broken Heart” Is going to be THE dance hit of Pride 2024. This song is the ultimate queer “fuck you” to the exes who hurt us. This is a pop song, but a broken-hearted song for anyone who is faking it until they make it, when it comes to creating a new life.  

Clara Bow: 

In Clara Bow, Swift masterfully explores what it is like to be commodified, celebrated, revered all while being harshly judged and controlled all at the same time.  The song pulls references to real women, namely the song’s namesake Clara Bow, and going into third person Swift namedrops herself offering biting commentary on the way that her own existence has been commodified by others. The song isn’t explicitly queer, but the discussion of womanhood is something I think lesbian audiences will especially appreciate.

SHE DROPPED A SECOND ALBUM?! – Diving into “The Anthology” 

I was staying up late listening to The Tortured Poets Department on loop, writing this review, and replaying songs looking for embedded queer themes when I got a huge surprise. Two hours after The Tortured Poets Department released, at 2am Eastern time…Swift slipped the news that it was a SECRET DOUBLE ALBUM. She then dropped The Anthology which includes another FIFTEEN brand new songs. There is nothing I admire more in an artist than talent combined with prolificacy, and there are few contemporary artists anywhere near as prolific as Swift. Let’s take a look at how queer The Anthology is. 


“Whether I’m going to be your wife or smash up your bike I haven’t decided yet.” Another gay bar anthem for Pride? I think yes. This is Swift at her best with wordplay. Each time I play the song I catch more clever entendres.  This is also one of those heartbreak songs that is, in my opinion, giving big dyke energy.

Chloe or Sam or Sophia or Marcus:

This song has some of the most explicit edges of queerness – the idea that someone could end up with any of these (presumably) gendered names. But of course, at its core, this song is a heartbreak song and the way that we can be replaced by a lover who makes other choices.  “If you want to break my cold cold heart, just say I loved you the way that you were.” Especially if you’ve ever dated someone even briefly who loved drugs more than you, you might relate to the loss and longing in this song for the lives and experiences that could have been. 

I Hate It Here:

Heartbroken book lovers will find connection with this song. There are so many winding lyrical paths of secret garden and meanings. While it’s not overtly queer, I think that queers who feel a little bit out of place in the world, will find home in this song. This is the kind of song you’ll want to slip into and listen to on repeat. Like the rest of the album, it’s a heartbreak song, but it’s also about falling in love with yourself and the private worlds that we build out of both hope and necessity. 

thanK you alMee:

If you’re looking for THE queer song on this album, this is it. It captures the horrors and heartbreak of being tortured in high school– the way that people “beat our spirits black and blue,” something that every queer person I know can identify with. This is a song about surviving bullying and abuse from peers, and getting out.  “All those times you were throwing punches I was building something, and I couldn’t wait to show it was real.” It’s the ultimate “fuck you” to those kids who tortured us back in school. It’s also admitting the beautiful lives we have now are in some ways built out of what we lived through. “I wrote a thousand songs that you find uncool. I built a legacy that you can’t undo. But when I count the stars, there’s a moment of truth that there wouldn’t be this if there hadn’t been you.” Sometimes surviving is the best revenge.


This is a song about women who tell the truth, who stand up against men, and if that doesn’t make it a feminist lesbian anthem in the making, I don’t know what would. “They say what doesn’t kill you makes you aware. What happens if you become who you are?” This is a song about the truth tellers, and how often people don’t listen, and what happens to those truth tellers. “When the truth comes out it’s quiet.” 


I saw the name of this song and held my breath. I was not disappointed. Like many queer people, I’m a massive Peter Pan fan (I even wrote Lost Boi, a  novel that is a queer retelling of the classic ) so I completely lost it when I realized this album included Swift’s own reworking of the story. Playing the part of Wendy, Swift sings: “You said you were going to grow up and you were going to come find me…” But of course, Peter doesn’t come when he’s supposed to. Swift laments their romance is “lost to the lost boy’s chapter of your life…Forgive me Peter, please know I tried to hold onto the day that you were mine…but the woman who sits by the window has turned out the light.” For anyone who’s a fan of Peter Pan the nuances of this song are beautifully heartbreaking. 

What Do You Think?