In a recent clip from an episode of HBO’s The Shop — a show which features roundtable-style discussions between actors, musicians, athletes, and other public figures in barbershops around the country — Paul Rivera (the show’s creator) asked Lil Nas X to explain his recent decision to come out as gay, while “Old Town Road” was at the top of the charts: “With all that early success,” he says. “You felt it was important to make an announcement recently.”
Before Nas could respond, comedian Kevin Hart (another guest) jumped in to respond, “He said he was gay! So what?” Hart’s question is, I think, intended to display a lack of prejudice, but instead implies that coming out as gay is no longer newsworthy, because being gay is fine — especially with Hart.
Putting aside that this is coming from the guy whose homophobic tweets lost him the job as host of the Academy Awards, let’s be clear: It is huge news that Lil Nas X is gay. He has the longest-standing No. 1 hit in the entire history of the Billboard Hot 100, and chose to come out at that peak of his very young career. Like the rest of the world, rap and country music aren’t known to welcome open queerness, and Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” stands at the intersection of both. He had nothing to gain and everything to lose by coming out, and he did it anyway.
So. In his diplomatic response to Hart, Lil Nas X explained that his decision was also informed by having been raised to hate [homosexuality]. Hart’s response: “Why?”
Like many people, I found Hart’s comments dismissive, even delusional. If Hart was trying to perform his progressivism, he missed the mark. Pretending that everyone is already treated equally is not allyship, it’s ignorance. That this is obviously and painfully untrue only makes the sentiment embarrassing for the speaker, and yet! Straight people — as any privileged group — love to say shit like this. “Oh, it doesn’t matter! Love is love!” Give me a break. Only some of that love is legislated by the Supreme Court and potential grounds for firing.
On a recent visit home, my mom told me how often her acquaintances react to the news of my (lesbian) wedding with self-congratulatory comments like, “Oh, isn’t it great how easy it is to do that now?” My mom finds this very annoying, and so do I. It’s silencing, in a way — because the person is technically correct, and it is better than it used to be, I feel that the only acceptable (and certainly the desired) response is to agree. But that it’s easier now to be queer than ever before doesn’t mean it’s easy, particularly if you’re not also white, cis, able-bodied, and middle class, as I am. What Lil Nas X did was exceptional, and courageous, and he’s made it clear he thought carefully about what it would mean for him to come out when he did. There is no “so what” about it.