A few weeks ago, Lil NasX released the song “MONTERO''. It’s a beautiful song, about his summer romance with a boy who was too ashamed to do anything but hide their relationship. The accompanying music video seems to hit on the themes of shame in the song in different ways. It depicts Lil NasX being condemned to hell and when he arrives, romancing the devil. The effects, costuming, choreography, and cinematography are all phenomenal. The song is well produced and lyrically masterful. Needless to say, “MONTERO” is art.
Unfortunately, whenever religion is involved, there are a lot of very strong feelings to be considered as well. Despite the fact that pop stars have been toying with religious imagery for years (see “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC, “Like a Prayer” by Madonna, “I would Die 4 U” by Prince, “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones etc.), people seem to especially take offense to the “MONTERO” music video. Whether be from activists (Kaitlin Bennett), politicians (Governor Kristi Noem), pastors (Greg Locke), a lot of people want to make their angry voices heard. While they have every right to be offended (no one is telling them not to feel things), here’s a hot take: Lil NasX did not write “MONTERO” for them.
As stated earlier, both the song and the music video heavily revolve around shame. Whether it be a lover’s shame causing them to treat you like a dirty secret or the shame a religion puts on you for something beyond your control, it is an ugly thing that results in guilt, suppression, self-loathing, and emotional trauma. Shame can be debilitating. Shame is also a given part of being queer. Straight people will never understand what is to have to justify your entire existence, working to reclaim what God never condemned in the first place. Straight people will never understand the complex nature of going to church and loving a God that has been rumored to hate you. They will never understand why our reactions to the phrase “burn in hell” are never moderate, why “hate the sin, love the sinner” makes us tense up. “MONTERO” is addressing the complicated feelings a queer person may feel towards the church. This is, after all, why so many religious images are used in the music video. too has been hurt by the church and seems to be making sense of his feelings throughout the video.
Because a straight person will never fully understand the queer experience, they similarly will never fully understand “MONTERO”. This is, of course, not an accident. Lil NasX is writing about a personal experience. Whoever gets it, gets it. With that in mind, it begs the question of whose opinions are relevant when concerning the song/music video? Sure it has religious imagery, but unless its a gay Christian who had to work through homophobic lies to get back to God, does it matter whether they thought the imagery was too much? A gay man may be dismayed about the overtly sexual tone of the video perhaps furthering stereotypes, but a pearl clutching conservative upset for slightly similar reasons shouldn’t be treated as if they have any valuable insight. Harder to accept still, is the idea that a well meaning LGBTQ ally doesn’t need to be yet another voice on the subject, rather amplifying when LGBTQ people want to weigh in.
When art is speaking to a certain experience, those who haven’t had similar experiences will never quite have the grounds to make commentary about said art. Whether it be art concerning race, gender, ability, or in this case, sexuality; everyone should have at least one opportunity to shut up and learn something. All this said, though, people who want to rage and rant are going to do so. No one who doesn’t care about the significance of art is certainly not going to stop to think about their qualification to speak. Perhaps though, those who do want to be the best and most supportive ally they can be will think twice and listen as much as they talk.