A few years ago I wrote a blog post about, among other things, why white folks such as myself should amplify the voices of people of color when they talk about matters of concern to their communities: Queer Plus, or Intersectionality Isn’t Just a Noun — more adventures in dictionaries. So, when Lil Nas X released his new single, "Montero (Call Me By Your Name)" along with its even more creative/compelling music video, I figured that since the them was about coming out as a gay man within the African-American community and reconciling the teachings of his childhood church with his lived reality, my job was not to pontificate, but share links. So a couple of weeks ago I linked to the video and to two articles about it in the Friday Five.
I thought the video spoke for itself, though the two articles did offer some context.
I thought my work here was done. Until this week when a news site I read just about every day posted an op-ed about how brilliantly Lil Nas X used the conservative outrage machine to make the video go viral before the single was available to stream or buy.
It started out with a fair assessment, but then things went pear-shaped. Nas and his fans and supporters crossed a line, you see. They (or rather we – I’m an unabashed fan) betrayed our religious neighbors because we failed to understand that those religious people sincerely believe that the devil is literally the source of evil in the world.
When I read that bit, I said "What the f–!" out loud, then re-read the entire paragraph to make sure I was following the guy’s point correctly. On the second reading I noticed another bit that had slipped past me. He notes that recently polling finds that 47% of Americans say that they belong to a church, synagoge, or mosque, and then later he asserts that those 47% of all Americans are the people offended by Lil Nas X’s latest video. But also, yes, he definitely said we were all being insensitive to the sincerely held beliefs of the most conservative religious people who took offense at the video.
Before I explain how bass-ackwards this i, in case you you haven’t seen the video, here is a summary. Young Lil Nas is portrayed in an idyllic field playing a guitar, when a huge sinister serpent whispers in his ear and leads Nas away. A group f blue-heaired drag queens admonish and scold Nas, and eventually he hops on a stipper pole, slides down into into Hell. Where he gives the Devil a lap dance, before stealing the devil’s horns, causing the devil to explode, and then Nas sits on the throne.
Nas, by the way, plays almost every character in the video.
So it’s one way of describing the journey of a queer man raised in a conservative religion. You start out just innocently being yourself. You become aware of desires you have that you have been told are wrong. You get bullied and or rejected by the community of faith. Eventually you realize your truth is stronger than the lies you were told. You embrace your true self. Unfortunately there will always be those who continue to believe the lies, and now they see you as the evil one.
The entire point of that metaphor in the video is that many of the haters believe that the devil is literal and the source of all evil. The entire point is that they tell us – again and again – that we are tools of that literal source of evil. It is part of the dehumanizing process. Queer people, in their minds, don’t deserve rights or respect or even the chance to live because we aren’t actually people, we are merely tools of the devil.
At no point in the writing of the song, the recording of the song, the filming of the video, nor in the writing of the poignant letter to his younger self that accompanies it, did Lil Nas X ever forgot that those bigot sincerely believe in the devil.
It’s not betrayal; it’s holding up a mirror and saying, "This is what you believe? Own it!"
And while we’re on the subject, not all of the Americans who belong to a church or another house of worship are anti-gay bigots and Biblical literalists. A whole lot of progressive, pro-queer straight people belong to and regularly attend church in this country. Not only that, a lot of out and proud queer people do, too.
Once again, a concern troll has looked at an act of self-defense from a bullied, oppressed survival of an abusive religion, and construed it as an unprovoked attack.
I’ve said many times that I’m not an ex-Christian because I just decided one day to give the church the finger. I’m an ex-Christian because the church I was raised in rejected me and actively drove me away. Long before I understood what was different about me, the church told me again and again that queers were abominations to the loathed and punished, spurned and ostracized. While out of the other side of their mouth, they claimed god’s love was unconditional and insisted that they were instruments of that love.
Then, as soon as they see us for who we are, the bullying and abuse begins. Unconditional love is only for people who conform to their beliefs. Now that is betrayal.
Calling their betrayal out, particularly of our childhood selves, is not a betrayal. It is a reckoning.