This Halloween, the rapper Lil Nas X paid tribute to his idol, Nicki Minaj, by donning her iconic look from her 2010 music video for ‘Super Bass.’
Among the Twitter replies and Instagram comments filled with compliments from fans and people in the entertainment industry Doja Cat, Tierra Whack and Lauren Jauregui, Lil Nas X has received a lot of homophobic pushback.
While many of the homophobic tweets have now been reported and deleted, I noticed a specific trend among them. Some claimed they weren’t being homophobic but were worried about how Lil Nas X’s actions could affect the young Black children who look up to him. This is because his song, ‘Old Town Road’, was very popular among kids across the country and he even visited some elementary schools to perform. But why should any of this matter?
The fears that queer representation in the entertainment industry will ‘make kids want to be gay’ is unfounded and, yes, homophobic because there is absolutely nothing wrong or abnormal with homosexuality or any sexuality. Heterosexism is so ingrained in our culture that it is not questioned or seen as an avenue to sexualize children. Telling a male child that he’ll grow up to be a ‘womanizer’ is seen as a funny joke but anything outside of the norm, such as wearing makeup or dresses, is suddenly sexualized and bad for children to experience. Children should be allowed to try out new things and be themselves without adults connecting them to sexuality.
The backlash that Lil Nas X and other queer Black folks face is hypocritical as well. In an entertainment industry where many people believe that Black men can only gain success by wearing a dress, we have to think critically about why drag or cross-dressing is humorous for heterosexual Black men but not appropriate for queer Black men.
Why are Tyler Perry, Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence able to gain success for their cross-dressing performances that degrade and make fun of fat Black women, but when Lil Nas X pays tribute to a successful Black woman it’s a problem? It further ties into deeply rooted sexism towards Black women. They can be seen as objects to mock by straight Black men but not icons to praise by gay Black men.
This entire argument is a cover to oppress LGBTQ+ people and it stems from patriarchal and white supremacist ideologies. To have a meaningful conversation about why homophobia is present in Black communities, we need to understand where the dominant idea of masculinity stems from. Some people link homosexuality to the emasculation of Black men in America as a larger goal of white America to ruin the Black family and therefore the Black race.
There are multiple reasons why this argument doesn’t hold up. Being gay does not mean you cannot be a supportive and loving parent and being straight does not mean that you will automatically be a good parent either. Sexuality does not matter, how you treat your children matters. On top of that, we cannot downplay the role of government policies that have harmed Black families such as a criminal justice system where Black men are disproportionately represented and violent economic disparities. I don’t believe any amount of individual or behavioral change can dismantle these oppressive policies that break up Black families.
While I can’t pretend to know what it is like to be a Black man in America, I do know that the social norms we’ve been taught throughout our lives are not inherent, yet social constructions of race and gender result in very real-life experiences. The oppression of Black queer folks from Black heterosexual men on the basis of ‘morals’ only furthers white supremacy.
Patricia Hill Collins’ “Black Feminist Thought” urges us to reexamine how we think about masculinity and femininity in a white supremacist society that has done everything it can to create a false dichotomy between Blackness and whiteness. If white heterosexual men have made themselves the standard to uphold, then anyone outside of those identities must be ‘othered.’ Under this way of thinking, white is good, Black is bad. Men are strong, women are weak. Heterosexuality is natural, homosexuality is deviant. The push from some Black people in the community to emulate what is seen as the ‘standard’ in the United States ultimately upholds patriarchal, white supremacist and homophobic ideologies that just aren’t true.
Lil Nas X should not be responsible for teaching children ‘morals,’ and his queerness and their possible queerness should not be seen as negative or harmful. We cannot blame Black queer people for the disrespect that white people have always directed towards Black folks. We cannot blame them for the lack of accurate Black media representation or compare the stability of Black families to the existence of queer Black men. Homophobia is distracting us from the real reason why Black men aren’t treated the same as white men: systemic racism.