This past weekend, I finally had a chance to listen to Lil Nas X’s new album, “MONTERO” and I can’t even front … my head was bumping to it the entire time. As someone who isn’t the biggest fan of much of today’s music, especially in hip-hop, I was highly impressed with the diversity, authenticity, and overall eclectic sound of this album. “MONTERO” is the perfect example of what it means for art to imitate life.
Regardless of what your personal views are about Lil Nas X and how he decides to show up in the world, you, at the very least, have to acknowledge that his art is revolutionary and unapologetically ratchet. He’s openly living his truth and inspiring a generation of queer folx who may not have had the courage to be their most authentic selves before he came onto the scene.
As human beings, our identities are intersectional by nature and, as a result, one component of our identity can consequently impact the other components. In Lil Nas X’s case, we are all witnessing, before our very eyes, an openly gay Black man living out his truth in a world where homophobia and hypermasculinity are still pervading the Black community. Additionally, his presence is pivotal in a time where Black transgender women are still being murdered at significantly higher rates than any other group within the LGBTQ+ community and the bullying and harassment of LGBTQ+ students in schools is still on the rise nationwide.
As a cis heteronormative Black man, I will never be able to understand how it feels to live a “double life” and constantly deal with the fear of judgment by the homophobic folx of the dominant culture. I won’t even attempt to intellectualize that fear because doing that will potentially place the down-low culture and internalized harm of queer folx on a platter for academic researchers to feast on. We already have too many folx engaging in intellectual discourse but not going beyond that step to push for the legislative change necessary to center the humanity of queer folx.
Politics aside, Lil Nas X is providing us with a blueprint, through his art, for what it means to challenge dominant cultural norms and, more importantly, control our narratives. Granted, the manner in which he has chosen to deliver his message may be debatable in the public realm — but I’m personally not mad at it. I 100% stand by him and approve his message. When we think about the power of the counternarrative, Lil Nas X masterfully demonstrates that throughout the album by artistically capturing the internalized trauma and impostor syndrome that queer students experience in school and beyond. This mastery is especially evident in the tracks “Sun Goes Down” and “Dead Right Now”.
When Chris Emdin talks about taking a ratchedemic approach towards our work as educators, he emphasizes the dire need for us to pursue our work “toward freedom from the constraints of institutional structures and model this pursuit for students”. In order for our students to be brave enough to show in the school community as their authentic selves, we have to model that bravery for them in the way that we create space for them to be seen, heard, and affirmed in the classroom. In a time where COVID-19 is still very much present in our environment, we must express vulnerability so that our students know that it’s safe for them to be vulnerable too.
With all the harmful cis heteronormative policies and the anti-trans bills that have been pushed through state legislatures within the United States, we need to be just as ratchet and unapologetic about our advocacy for LGBTQ+ students as Lil Nas X is with his art. Love him or hate him … he has not only managed to put homophobia and hypermasculinity in a chokehold, but he is also unveiling the inhumane and unfortunately ugly side of the world we live in. These things alone should be enough for us to respect his work and be inspired to fight for the humanity of our LGBTQ+ students.