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In the first sixty seconds of the music video for “Montero” by Lil Nas X, dense creative eroticism unfolds, brimming with color and intensity as Nas is chased and then seduced by a hypnotic man-snake in front of a magnificent tree.
The imagery is biblical. Gay sex is new.
For “Adam and Steve” by Dorian Electra, the symbolism is stained glass and angels, associated with an even more homoerotic intensity.
Both Lil Nas X and Dorian Electra leverage the Bible story of Genesis to reclaim Christian ideology. For many gay adults, these stories provided the framework around childhood religious trauma. Now they are being reinvented and co-opted in the name of gay love.
To try to understand this phenomenon, I spoke to queer members of my community about how homosexuality was introduced to them during their religious upbringing. In some cases, homosexuality was specifically mocked or condemned. But I also learned that it was often not named or mentioned at all: instead, religious leaders emphasized the importance of gender roles for men and women. The superiority of heterosexuality was tacit but clearly implied.
Except when it was shouted loud and clear.
Allison, a lesbian who was raised as a Mormon, noted that General Conference speeches (where leaders at the heart of the Mormon church spoke directly to its members) “specifically condemned ‘same-sex attraction’. ‘ and assigned ‘SGA’-related transgressions the same severity as premarital sex: equivalent to murder. However, his earliest memory of homosexuality is of a framed copy of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” that hung in his childhood kitchen: “He would dance around the subject, but make his point seen by saying things like “marriage between a man and woman is ordained by God” or “gender is an essential characteristic of premortal, mortal, and eternal individual identity and purpose.”
Tabitha, a bisexual woman who was raised Pentecostal and is married to a woman (that would be me – Tabitha is my wife), noted that she had not experienced any trauma or discrimination for her homosexuality because she could still “pass” for straight. women. “As long as I could fulfill my requirements as a woman, as a Pentecostal woman, it didn’t matter,” she explained.
In some cases, religious leaders did not need to punish or explicitly denounce homosexuality: this work was subcontracted to other children. Paul, who went to Catholic school, and Lilith, a bisexual trans woman who attended a Guatemalan Protestant church, were called “the F-slur” by other children (Paul, in a classroom – he was later punished for giving the caller’s name a ‘dirty look’ in response; Lilith before transition, to Sunday school, because she sat in the girls’ section of the hall then that there was no space available on the boys’ side).
Homophobes love to use the phrase “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” to claim that the Bible only tolerates heterosexual relationships and forbids same-sex relationships. But is the story of Adam and Eve really about relationships? My interviewees of all faiths largely agreed: this is a story of gender power, control and hierarchy, and decidedly not a love story.
Consider this summary of Tabitha’s Pentecostal education:
The way the story was taught is that Adam was the first human, he was created by God and he was given the Garden of Eden. He was given whatever was there and told not to eat from any of the trees. Then Eve was made of his body, and Eve was given to him to educate. Adam was to be Eve’s protector, and Eve trusted Adam.
One day the serpent offered Eve the fruit of the tree which Adam could not eat, and by all accounts Adam was just there. And he also ate fruit. What happened was that he immediately became the biggest pussy in the history of the world… It all fell on Eve’s shoulders.
Whenever I asked my grandfather the preacher about it, he constantly told me that I was a girl and it was just my job to listen to the men in my life and they would explain it to me.
I don’t know how anyone gets an Adam and Eve love story. It’s been an abusive relationship since the opening scene of the Bible.
This interpretation of history is not unique to women. Paul, who was raised by his mother and sisters and says he was “always sickened by the rib thing”, credits Genesis with making him a feminist from an early age. Lilith chose a name inspired by an alternate version of Genesis when she transitioned because, in her own words, “I’m not from nobody’s coast. No man can be higher in the social hierarchy than me because I am whole and valid as myself.
Elaine, a bisexual woman raised as an evangelical, was aware from a young age that the story “seemed to demonize you as a woman. They used it to make you hate yourself for not being as perfect as a man. There would be nothing we could do to compare ourselves to the man, so we must respect everything that ever came out of a man’s mouth.The message was that you all must submit to us.
Queering Genesis with their music, pop artists Dorian Electra and Lil Nas X repurposed the dynamic of Adam and Eve, turning it into a love story that’s arguably far more romantic than the biblical original.
In Lil Nas X’s “Montero” video, which begins in Eden, the romance is between the protagonist and the snake. “If Eve is not in your gardenhe sings, noting that Eden wouldn’t be heaven for everyone as it is. There is nothing inherently sinful about the sexuality of the snake and the protagonists in the video, but it still leads to the protagonist being stoned to death in Rome and then beginning to ascend to heaven before being redirected to heaven. hell, where he dances for the devil.
Lil Nas X has referenced his religious trauma in other songs (in “Sun Goes Down” he sings about how, at a younger age, he prayed to God to take his homosexuality away from him) and in interviews. Brought up to believe that homosexuality was unacceptable and that homosexuals were doomed to go to hell, the outcome of the video claims this fate: if homosexuals cannot live on Earth or ascend to heaven, they will just be homosexuals in hell, thank you very much.
Dorian Electra’s “Adam & Steve” also subverts the idea that gay people are inherently damned by reimagining it without the hierarchical, toxic heterosexuality present in Genesis. As Tabitha reflected, “Adam asks for help, and then Eve gets ripped from her body. They have never been equalled. They weren’t helpers. It’s not equally hitched, or two people paired. From this idea, it should have been Adam and Steve!
“Adam & Steve” explores this very concept: it presents the story as a love story, in which the two male protagonists begin as “equals”:
Made in his image, We were born two of a kind, beginning of time
Dorian Electra clarifies that there is nothing sinful or shameful about this existence – Adam and Steve’s love is pure innocence, while homophobia is a sin introduced when they eat the fruit:
And in the garden, they were both there Smiling like children, without a care And in the garden, up on the tree They saw the fruit, for you and me And in the garden, they took a bite Ashamed of the truth, ashamed of the light Cast into darkness They would be damned for being a man holding hands
Like Lil Nas X kissing and dancing in hell, this statement is balm for queer people raised to feel like something was wrong with them.
“It took me out of a lot of shame,” Elaine said of Dorian Electra’s song.
Lucio, a gay man who was raised evangelical and struggled with his sexuality in his thirties, told me about the level of shame he felt in his religious upbringing. His church brought in speakers to teach that homosexuality was a sin and invited a homosexual “reformed” member of the church to speak about renouncing his homosexuality. The degree of alarmism and shame was so intense that when, at the age of 12 or 13, a youth pastor detected something in Lucio and “laid his hand on him” to “cast the demon out of him.” ‘homosexuality’ of him, Lucio did not even consider that it was an assault. “All I could think was now everyone knew and I was going to hell,” he recalled. “If I ever act on it, it’s eternal damnation for me.”
My interviewees spoke of the lasting damage done by homosexuality and definitions of gender roles in their religious upbringing, and that feeling of being wrong or inherently “evil” – of being queer, of being s ‘dressing badly or not playing a gender role as the church has defined it – lingered even as they tried to untangle it into adulthood. Dorian Electra, who took a cautionary tale that emphasizes hierarchical gender roles and turned it into a tragic love story, repeats messages throughout “Adam & Steve” that insist the opposite: that queer people are meant to be exactly the way they are.
God made me, and he loves me
Say I’m an abomination, but I’m God’s creation
god made me gay
I hope that one day the people I have spoken to in my community will all be able to fully believe this.
Queer religious trauma is only partially driven by real and explicit homophobic rhetoric. What hurts children brought up with strict Christian beliefs at root is gender roles: the idea that as a boy or a girl they have to behave in a certain way and that romantic relationships would be inherently hierarchical, based on the exercise of a societal role rather than on love and mutual respect.
From a non-Christian perspective, I have always viewed Christianity as a religion of love at its core. See gay pop icons reframe Christian stories to transform them in loving stories is a kind of cathartic irony.