Lil Nas X embraces his role as queer hero | Music Feature | Chicago Reader

Lil Nas X embraces his role as queer hero 

With the new video for “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” he uses his giant platform to blow assimilationism out of the water.

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  • The video for "Montero (Call Me By Your Name)," directed by Tanu Muino and Lil Nas X

I've watched Lil Nas X seduce and murder Satan probably a dozen times now. And I'm not done. In fact, I may never be done.

In the new video for "Montero (Call Me By Your Name)," Lil Nas X rides a stripper pole to hell, gives the Prince of Darkness a lapdance, and breaks his neck to usurp his crown. That's not even the whole thing! Concern-trolling Christians and other pearl clutchers have spent much of the past few days indulging in a bit of 80s nostalgia by hyperventilating about children and the devil—exactly the response Lil Nas X expected, I'd guess, given that he also released modified Nikes called "Satan Shoes" with a tiny amount of human blood in the soles. Meanwhile, I can't get enough of the video, of the drama, of Lil Nas X.

On the most superficial level, the video is a hilarious, exuberant, queer roller coaster. The Edenic garden of its opening scenes is called Montero, a nod to Lil Nas X's legal given name. In that garden, LNX makes out with a snake, for which he's chained and judged by a pantheon of denim-clad and bewigged doppelgängers and then travels to hell via that transcendent stripper pole.

But in ways that only Lil Nas X could, he peppers the song and video with powerful acknowledgments of his queerness—he rejects gender roles and presentation, donning a number of gender-bending outfits. He's visibly sexual, embracing the kind of stylized, glamorous music-video sexuality that's long been weaponized against people like him, and he simultaneously parodies the fire-and-brimstone rhetoric that's been lobbed at so many LGBTQ+ people. Because queer folks have had to placate the religious right and minimize ourselves for so long, the video is groundbreaking for us.

I remember when people would tell me they were fine with me being gay if I wasn't too over-the-top. If I was still "one of the guys," it was OK. Shows such as Modern Family and Will & Grace taught straight people that queer folks are just like everyone else. But Lil Nas X and his video have no time for that assimilationist bullshit.

The world often makes it difficult for us to stand in our queerness. Most people adhere to a strict male-female binary, and anything that runs afoul of that binary is met with ridicule, vitriol, and often deadly violence. Makeup and fashion are still nearly exclusively marketed toward women. When I get my nails done at a salon, until recently I've been the only male-presenting person there. And even still, it feels radical, like I'm interloping or that I don't belong.

Frankly, I've been waiting my entire life to see someone with Lil Nas X's platform do what he's doing—to be so unabashedly queer, to give so few fucks about what the religious right or other conservatives think, to live themselves so authentically that onslaughts of public homophobia are met with eye rolls instead of frantic pandering. There have already been many folks as provocative and unabashedly queer as Lil Nas X, of course, but to see all this from one of the country's biggest pop stars is what makes it so monumental.

And given the letter he wrote to his closeted 14-year-old self and published to accompany the video, I'd say Lil Nas X has been waiting for this too.

In the letter, he addresses feelings familiar to queer folks: internalized homophobia, shame, and the trepidation of a young, lost, gay boy who was afraid to be himself. He even admits it's scary for him to do this now, when he's about to turn 22. "People will be angry," he writes. "They will say I'm pushing an agenda." And he is pushing one, he explains: "The agenda to make people stay the fuck out of other people's lives and stop dictating who they should be."

So much of the queer experience is about responding to attacks on our very existence, so seeing Lil Nas X push the boundaries of queer acceptance so far, while also refusing to seriously engage with the bigoted backlash, is breathtaking and lifesaving. And his expert-level trolling of conservatives only adds to my admiration.

There are queer kids growing up now who'll see Lil Nas X and this video for what they are—the unashamed authenticity of a Black queer man—and they, and we, will all be better for it.  v

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