Content Warning: homophobia, mention of sexual assault and suicidal ideation
Unless you live under a rock or are avoiding the internet for very healthy self-care reasons, you have heard of music artist, and author of children’s book C is for Country, Lil Nas X. On March 26, 2021, Lil Nas X released the song “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” (and accompanying video). Additionally, the singer-rapper shared a touching letter to his 14-year-old self on social media.
Lil Nas X is the queer hero we need and deserve. His new video gave us Black queer expression in all its glory. On top of that, he gave us an unapologetic critique of Christianity’s treatment of queerness. In a world where the pope just double downed on past foolishness by asserting that homosexuality is a sin and a choice, Lil Nas X is clapping back for all of us.
I am not going to spend any time talking about the outraged parents and the backlash after the video. You’ve either heard about it or you can google it. I’ll just reiterate what Lil Nas X said about the angry Christians: “I hope u are mad, stay mad, feel the same anger you teach us to have towards ourselves.”
I grew up Black, Christian, and a closeted bisexual. Lil Nas X’s story is one I can relate to. I remember feeling ashamed of my attraction to girls. Like so many queer kids, I wondered if there was something wrong with me. I thought maybe my same-sex attraction was because I’d been sexually abused.
I remember telling my mother after my best friend kissed me in 4th grade. Naturally, I made sure to put the responsibility on the friend. It was a test. Reader, she did not pass. Unfortunately, her failure only hurt me.
Over the years I heard so many harmful narratives. So-and-so was “funny.” Another person supposedly didn’t know “if they want to be a man or a woman,” because why would bigotry distinguish between sexuality and gender identity? Those, of course, are some of the less offensive statements that were a part of everyday conversation.
These things made me feel small. They made me shrink myself to be more palatable — as if I didn’t have to do that enough as a Black girl. I became anxious and insecure.
None of this improved as I grew older. At 16 I was a mess of suicidal ideation, rebellious sexual activity, and rage-induced panic attacks. Fed up, my mom sent me to church with one of her coworkers. We didn’t practice religion much in our household; it was a thing I did when with my grandmother during the summer. Thus, this sudden mandated churchgoing was pretty dramatic.
I joined a Seventh-day Adventist church with a vibrant youth group. Surprisingly, I found love and joy there, even though I had to be an even smaller version of myself. Eventually, however, the rhetoric around sin started to wear on me. With so little self-esteem already, I didn’t need constant reminders that I would never be good enough.
Lil Nas X’s letter to his younger self reminded me of all the things I’d like to say to that 16-year-old Mikkaka. There’s so much she didn’t know, so much she couldn’t imagine. If I could, I’d tell her this:
You won’t believe it, but one day you are going to be so safe and loved. You’re going to have plenty of food, a job you love, a beautiful home, and so much more. You’ll still be writing and you’ll get paid for it! So many of your dreams are going to come true.
One day, you’ll post openly about being queer. I know, I know. You haven’t owned that word yet, but you will. You’ll have TWO big ol’ bi pride flags. (Yes, there’s a bi pride flag.) Writing about queerness will be a part of your job. That’s right, you will be PAID to talk about the thing you can’t even whisper about right now.
You will work to be sure that queer kids and all kids see LGBTQ people as valid and worthy. How? Oh, well there will be tons of children’s books featuring queer characters. You’ll work to get teachers to include them in their curriculum so that people like 4th grade Mikkaka will know it’s perfectly normal for girls to like girls.
I know how much you love to read. Oh how I wish you could read You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson right now. It’s about a poor, Black, queer girl being her full self in high school! There will be queer characters in all sorts of books, even books that aren’t about how hard it is to be queer. You’ll read Dread Nation by Justina Ireland and fall in love with a zombie-killing bisexual badass and an anxious asexual zombie killer who are both Black girls! YES. You’ll open the book for the zombie killing, but you’ll stay for the surprise queerness.
Sweet girl, there will be so many books for girls like you in the future. You will finally get to see yourself. You will realize that after everything the world has done to make you feel small, that you are not. Darling, you are huge. You contain multitudes. Your soul is full of magic and the world is so very lucky to have you. And God loves you. Don’t you dare believe otherwise.
With All My Love,