Lil Nas X and Media's Depiction of Sexuality
Since our society made its first steps in the media, sexuality norms have been predominantly influenced by heterosexuality. In other words, the classic romantic attraction, sexual attraction, or sexual behavior is between people of the opposite sex or gender. (Abrams, 2022) The systematic norm of society's sexuality is traditionally a textbook relationship between a woman and a man, and those who are attracted to the same sex are portrayed in a consistently negative way. Throughout history, gay individuals or homosexuals (people who are attracted to the same gender as them) were seen as physically and mentally abnormal, or even spiritually deemed as sinners through depictions of the media. (Societeanonymeinc, 2022) Although, since the 1990s, there has been a surge in the positive awareness surrounding the portrayal of the LGBTQ community. (Societeanonymeinc, 2022) Queer people have taken a cultural stand by fighting for societal acceptance through media inclusiveness and creating a more heartening portrayal of those who identify with a different sexuality other than being straight. Even today, the depiction of sexuality is still evolving from the classic negative stereotypes, especially in the media’s depictions.
One of the most influential artists in the media today is Montero Lamar Hill, more commonly known as Lil Nas X. He came out as fully gay on the last day of June 2019, after making history as having the longest No. 1 hit on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart for a whopping 19 weeks. (Peay, 2021) At this peak of his career, he came out on Twitter as gay, despite his fear of how homophobia would affect his fame. But, he claims he did this in order to prove to his audience that you can be a queer black man, and still be successful. (Cannibal, 2022) Since the declaration of his sexuality, Lil Nas X continuously made history in other aspects than just the music industry. He has become a gay visionary in the media's depictions of sexuality by breaking barriers in toxic masculinity, gender constructs, and disregarding a heteronormative society. One of the best examples of how Lil Nas X has broken heteronormative barriers is in his debut rap/pop album titled, Montero, especially in the hit music video, Call Me By Your Name. This music video was released after he came out as gay, and focuses on the slander he received regarding Christian’s belief that all homosexuals go to Hell in the afterlife.
The video depicts Lil Nas X in the Garden of Eden, and just when the audience thinks he is about to atone for his sin of homosexuality and enter Heaven, he willingly (and fabulously I may add) slides down to Hell on a stripper pole. From there, he seduces Satan and becomes the new ruler of Hell. This was a huge clapback at homophobic Christians and proved to show that the punishment of going to Hell wasn't a bad thing in his world. This very mindset displayed in the video’s climax goes against the traditional depiction of sexuality in the media in which gayness is perceived negatively in religion. He also displays this by presenting a free, original mindset and positive portrayal of queerness, in contrast to the usual heterosexual norm shown in classic media.
Additionally, in this video, Lil Nas X shatters gender constructs by switching between extreme feminine and masculine fashion, which is deemed abnormal in society. (Cannibal, 2022) This norm being that only women should wear girly things like dresses, flamboyant nails, and have long hair, while men wear their hair short and dress manly.
Throughout the video, Lil Nas X balances his looks between long hair, nails, and corsets, but also shows an additional masculine image by dressing in Greek mythology hero-like attire, which is the epitome of masculinity. This exact style portrays the depiction of his queerness proudly and defines his identity as one that does not conform to gender constructs, thus bestowing the message that he does not conform to the media’s sexuality stereotypes either. Cross-dressing is commonly seen as taboo and unacceptable in society’s eyes just as gayness is, especially in the rap music industry. (Felton, 2019)
A common theme in the rap music industry is toxic masculinity and homophobia. These topics are often sho
wn throughout lyrics, and interviews with mostly straight and predominantly Black male rappers, who dominate the rap industry. (Gaudette, 2019) According to CloudedMentalities, the factors of Black toxic masculinity consist of homophobia, defining emotions as feminine, disregarding mental health, and materializing and objectifying women. Being gay is viewed as the opposite of masculinity and perceived as weak, especially in Black manhood. (Felton, 2019) In an interview, Lil Nas X states that he had hoped his sexuality was a “phase” and shares that he was often bullied in the Black community for being gay. (Peay, 2021)
Lil Nas X breaks away from the societal expectation of being a stereotypical rapper, or one whose image is rooted in toxic masculinity by embracing his sexuality and character as a gay Black artist. He does this by being open to sharing his emotions and mental health as seen in several songs in the Montero album, which is not a trait of toxic masculinity. He additionally claims his sexuality through his songs as he uses pronouns like, he and him, while a large variety of rap music is only portrayed as sex with women in the straight, male view. The majority of rap music is centered around shallow, materialistic topics such as sex, ego, money, and having little to no feelings. (Gaudette, 2019) Lil Nas X shows a contrast in the media's depiction of rap artists who are stereotypically straight Black men who are toxically masculine, due to being a hit male rapper who is open to adding his own experiences as a gay man in his music. He accomplishes this image by providing depth about his emotions, relationships, and original mindset in the first-person view of an openly queer rapper.
The media’s depiction of sexuality is rooted in heterosexuality, which has since caused a negative portrayal of those who do not identify or openly portray themselves as straight. Gay men are often perceived as feminine, and therefore weak. They are displayed as lesser than the toxic masculine who is attracted to women, closed off from their emotions, and conforms to gender constructs. We can see the norm of social acceptance in only straight men in the media, through Lil Nas X’s rare contrast with this stereotype and the success of his career. The impact he has had on the music industry and mass media is due to him openly breaking free of heteronormative factors, and representing those who identify differently from the media’s strict set of expectations in sexuality. Lil Nas X is indeed a rare icon; he defies whatever expected depiction society commands of him, uses his authentic character to build success off of their depictions, and makes history as a queer visionary.
Felton, T. (2019, January 6). Toxic masculinity in black culture - clouded mentalities %. Clouded Mentalities. Retrieved October 19, 2022, from https://cloudedmentalities.org/toxic/toxic-masculinity-in-black-culture/
Peay, M. (2021, July 19). Lil Nas X is a gay visionary that the world needs. Essence. Retrieved October 19, 2022, from https://www.essence.com/entertainment/only-essence/lil-nas-x-lgbtq-legacy/
Societeanonymeinc. (2022, October 9). Depiction of sexuality: Getting to know "others". Societe Anonyme Inc. Retrieved October 19, 2022, from https://societeanonymeinc.wordpress.com/2020/09/28/depiction-of-sexuality-getting-to-know-others/
Gaudette, M. (2019, October 25). Materialism, misogyny, and masculinity in hip hop and rap. GCMLP. Retrieved October 19, 2022, from https://gcml.org/materialism-misogyny-masculinity-hip-hop-rap/
Cannibal, N. (2022). Lil Nas X: Redefining Masculinity in the Industry . YouTube. YouTube. Retrieved October 19, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vfkIxhjel5c.
Abrams, M. (2022, March 25). 46 terms that describe sexual attraction, behavior & orientation. Healthline. Retrieved October 19, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health/different-types-of-sexuality