For most of my life, I was terrified of going to hell.
Having been raised in a conservative Christian household and attended private Christian schools, I became fixated on the idea of the afterlife. Leaving the church, and subsequently forfeiting any potential relocation to heaven, was a long and painful process, not least of all because of the people in my life constantly reminding me what they believe now awaits me when I die.
My story isn’t unique. I think a lot of former Christians could cite an unwillingness to be hateful and intolerant of others as the reason they left. Unlearning the fear and shame instilled in you from a young age, though, is something I’m still struggling with.
So, when Lil Nas X dropped his video for “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)” on March 26, I was initially entertained, and then deeply thankful. Studying the singer’s Twitter and TikTok feed also confirmed to me that Lil Nas X was reclaiming the fear-mongering tactic used by many conservative Christian groups to control things they don’t like: namely, homosexuality.
Three days after Lil Nas X premiered the music video, he released a line of blood-infused ‘Satan Shoes,’ which are somehow tied up with Nike. What’s happened in the days since has been a series of hilarious events, ranging from conservative Christian outrage and a fake apology video to Nike being forced to tell The New York Times it doesn’t endorse the evil sneakers.
The video itself, which has already surpassed 66 million views, opens on Lil Nas X playing a pink guitar in a dreamy, post-apocalyptic garden. He sits beneath a tree, which is a throw to the Garden of Eden’s Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. In Christianity, Adam and Eve eat from this tree, resulting in their own expulsion from paradise as well as the fall of man, otherwise known as the Original Sin.
As the story goes, a snake shows up in the tree to tempt Eve, or in this case, Lil Nas X. Time’s breakdown of the video’s symbology noted the snake/human hybrid in the “MONTERO” version resembles ancient depictions of Lilith—Adam’s first wife who was kicked out of Eden because she refused to be a bottom (science tells us it’s easier for women to orgasm when they’re on top, so I’ll let you do the math there).
In the “MONTERO” video, Lil Nas X doesn’t eat or otherwise take from the tree, demonstrating how Queer folks have always been outcasts from religion and society. Instead, the Lilith/snake creature seduces Lil Nas X, and we see her beginning to perform oral sex—on top of him.
The video then pans back to the tree, where a Greek excerpt from Plato’s Symposium is inscribed into the bark. The quote, often used in Queer theory, reads: “After the division the two parts of man, each desiring his other half.” Time also points out that the angelic figure waiting in the sky for Lil Nas X is actually Greek mythological figure Ganymede, a longstanding symbol of homosexuality. Yes, I had to look this up, as did many other people; Lil Nas X isn’t giving away Queer references easily, meaning people outside of the Queer community have to put in effort to understand them. By doing this, Lil Nas X reverses the onus of understanding and belonging away from Queer folks.
While conservative Christian groups are squawking about the more overt homosexual tones in the video, like pole dancing into hell and giving Satan a lap dance, Lil Nas X is quietly showing expert command of Queer culture. In front of Satan’s throne, we again see writing in a dead language, which translates to “they condemn what they do not understand.” This is similar language to Jesus Christ’s last words during his crucifixion: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
I’d be surprised if most conservative Christians and Republicans took to their Greek-English dictionaries before they took to Twitter, helpfully proving Lil Nas X’s point.
In the video, we also see Lil Nas X being “stoned” with buttplugs in a colosseum. Other than just being plain funny, I love that Lil Nas X doesn’t actually have his angry mob use stones; in the Bible, Jesus says that he who is without sin may cast the first stone. Since Christians aren’t without sin, Lil Nas X doesn’t let them throw stones. End of story.
The overall message of the video is that Lil Nas X is not afraid of going to hell. The video reads more like a celebration: there’s glitter, colour, stunning outfits, and triumphant dance numbers that clearly required training and skill. Anyone who follows Lil Nas X on Twitter and TikTok knows he has a great sense of humour, which also comes through in the video.
Undeniably, the video is over-the-top, but so are most fear-mongering tactics used by some conservative Christian groups when threatening hell as a punishment for deviance. Lil Nas X simply does what he’s always been told is going to happen to him: he goes to hell.
As a white woman, I can’t understand how much worse it might have been for Lil Nas X to be told at a young age he would go to hell for being gay. Vox does a great job of breaking down how Lil Nas X uses “MONTERO” to own his Queer Black heritage. As a survivor of conservative Christian abuse, as someone who signed purity and heterosexuality pledges at the age of 15, and as someone who’s not exclusively attracted to men, I’m just thankful Lil Nas X was both brave enough to make a video like “MONTERO” and handle the response.
i spent my entire teenage years hating myself because of the shit y’all preached would happen to me because i was gay. so i hope u are mad, stay mad, feel the same anger you teach us to have towards ourselves.
— nope (@LilNasX) March 27, 2021
By refusing to be afraid of hell, and in fact becoming its ruler by the end of the video, Lil Nas X removes the power some conservative Christian groups wield over the vulnerable in their own sanctuaries. At any rate, the next time someone tries using hell to scare me back into religion, it’s just not going to have quite the same ring to it.
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