Lil Nas X and how homophobia has affected mainstream media

Graphic+by+Samantha+Esparza

Graphic by Samantha Esparza

Sofia Hara, A&E Editor

On March 26, 2021, American songwriter Lil Nas X released his song, “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)”. The music video released on YouTube at the time of the song’s release has stirred controversy among audiences due to the video’s content. In the video, Lil Nas X shows depictions of being unable to reach a Heaven-like place and falls into a Hell-like place, where he performs lewd acts with the devil and eventually kills him. Many complained that his video is “not suitable for children” and that its depictions of religious iconography paint Christianity in a poor light. Lil Nas X has since combatted these comments explaining that “I made the decision to create the music video. I am an adult. I am not going to spend my entire career trying to cater to your children. That is your job.” More notably, he combatted his homophobic comments saying, “I spent my entire teenage years hating myself because of the [things] y’all preached would happen to me because I was gay. So I hope you are mad, stay mad, feel the same anger you teach us to have towards ourselves.” This opened up the conversation of an aging issue: the blatant homophobia with queer representation in the media. 

As a general rule of thumb for characters, storytellers would give the protagonist traits that they wanted to portray as “good” and give the antagonist traits that they wanted to portray as “bad”. While some of these traits are universally good or bad like having good or bad morals, many traits are rooted in homophobia. For example, Disney is infamous for having queer-coded villains. This means that these characters will have subtextual coding of queer stereotypes, most notably being vain and feminine. Disney villains like Ursula (The Little Mermaid, 1989) and Captain Hook (Peter Pan, 1953) do not have explicit queer traits, such as showing attraction to the same sex, but are queer-coded by their vanity and flamboyant nature. The character Ursula is an extremely obvious example of queer coding, especially since her character was based on the drag queen Divine, a popular queer icon at the time of the film’s release. Even as of today Disney continues to give their villains flamboyant traits like King Candy (Wreck-It-Ralph, 2012) and Tamatoa (Moana, 2016). While it may not be an explicit message saying that “Queer people are bad”, audiences see these traits as negative and register them as something to be avoided.

“This is one of my most hated tropes [in media]. I think it’s harmful, not in the sense that they’re being queer coded but more so that it’s sending the wrong message. Villains should not have to dress or act in a [queer] way to show that a character is evil. Villains can dress any way they want to but their actions should be what defines them as a villain. If a writer wants to make a villain gay, it should be explicit in their actions like kissing someone and not through stereotypes. It doesn’t make sense to me that these [storytellers] portray these characters in this way when they don’t need to,” said junior Nolan Guarneros.

As times change, filmmakers cannot get away with this not-so-subtle homophobia in their narratives. In more modern shows and movies, writers have started creating queer characters that are restricted as the comedic relief side characters. While they are no longer being demonized, they are still being reduced down to stereotypes, whether that be a gay man who gives the protagonist a makeover or a lesbian who is overtly masculine. This new portrayal of the LGBTQ community remains harmful even if it’s not directly antagonizing them. 

“I feel like most queer representation nowadays definitely serves as a way for the company producing the show to say they’re inclusive. They don’t really see the benefit of adding queer characters to the storylines beyond the good image they can provide for them, so as a result these characters are usually either side characters, very underdeveloped, or their main purpose is to flaunt their queer identity… It just ends up coming across comical as queer people in real life, just like nonqueer people, are normal people that have many layers to who they are and, more likely than not, flaunt those aspects more than their identity. It just doesn’t portray us how we are in real life and only negatively contributes to our acceptance in society,” said senior Katarina Fruge.

Lil Nas X has gotten a large amount of backlash from the content in his music video for his song, “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)”, but not all of it seems homophobic. In 2014, the Irish singer-songwriter Hozier released his song, “Take Me To Church”, which dealt with similar themes of rejecting religion’s hypocrisy and homophobia. The music video for his song included sexual themes in a queer relationship and ended with the couple being hate-crimed. However, Hozier’s widely popular song did not receive nearly as much negative reception as Lil Nas X did. 

This brings back the issue of LGBTQ representation in the media. Even though queer characters are not being antagonized, the media’s representation of them remains shallow and overwhelmingly one-dimensional. Audiences’ impression of how the LGBTQ community interacts with society is limited to vanilla implications and stereotypes. Consequently, when something in the real world does not fit within that impression, audiences become upset. Lil Nas X being comfortable with his sexuality has little to no difference from other songwriters, except for his queerness. 

The media still has a long way to go to properly represent people of all backgrounds, especially with the intersection of race and sexual/gender identity. With proper representation, audiences are likely to become more accepting of the people around them.