There were two phrases I never thought I’d hear: “strippers pole to hell” and “giving a lap dance to Satan.”
Yet, thanks to Lil Nas X’s “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” they are now what everyone is talking about.
Although I really like the song, it’s the music video that has grabbed everyone’s attention. It’s filled with religious imagery, beginning with Lil Nas X as Eve, giving into the temptation of the male serpent. Soon, Lil Nas X is brought to trial at the Roman Colosseum, where he is persecuted for being himself — a storyline reminiscent of Jesus. As Lil Nas X’s soul rises to heaven, he switches direction last-minute, grabbing a strippers pole to descend into hell. Then and there, he gives a lap dance to the devil before killing the devil and becoming the leader of the underworld.
The video has beautiful cinematography, with dreamy effects and a vivid color scheme. But besides the visual components the music video offered, it had a clear and important purpose: capturing the strained relationship between the LGBTQ+ community and religion.
Many queer people don’t feel truly accepted by our religions. For me, that was Christianity. In fact, religion is constantly used to challenge our identities. LGBTQ+ youth are berated with Bible verses that call us abominations worthy of death. I know some queer people who have been forced to go through religious conversion therapy to “change” who they are.
Growing up, my church shaped my idea of what an acceptable relationship was. I remember attending youth group meetings and being told that marriage is “only a union between a man and a woman.” Any divergence from that holy ideal would be a sin. As I slowly realized that I liked boys, I could hear my priest in my head, yelling at me that all gays burn in hell. Not only was I afraid of what my religious family would think of me, I was mortified by the idea of burning for eternity just for being gay.
This isn’t just my own experience, as I have many queer friends who have gone through similar ordeals. We are caught between our beliefs and identity, and usually, we choose to leave our religion for our own well-being. Being in an environment that actively undermines your identity can cause so much angst and dread that the only solution is to escape.
In his music video, Lil Nas X, an openly gay man, chooses to go to hell rather than heaven. Not only that, he does so in thigh-high pleasers and descends to the inferno via a strippers pole. If heaven is filled with people who won’t accept his sexuality, suffering eternal damnation doesn’t seem that bad in comparison.
The lap dance on the devil is just the cherry on top — an intimate connection between two men being broadcasted to the whole world. Lil Nas X is unabashedly queer in the video, as he blends acts of masculinity with femininity, doing everything in a campy way. It’s literally, for lack of better words, “so gay.”
To me, the ending of the video is the most important part. Lil Nas X snaps the neck of Satan and takes over the underworld as its new ruler. He fully accepts the phrase “gays go to hell” and becomes the devil himself. At that moment, he doesn’t care about what God or the Roman Catholic Church thinks. If he is going to be in hell for being gay, he might as well have some fun.
As someone who has struggled with reconciling faith and queerness, it’s empowering to watch a gay man fully embrace hell. After years of hell being weaponized against LGBTQ+ people, heaven has, ironically, become a place filled with intolerant people. Watching the “Montero” video was like reclaiming a slur used against me. I would rather live freely in this life and possibly burn in hellish flames forever than stay closeted and repressed for a chance at heaven.
Although I’m now a raging atheist and don’t really believe in the afterlife, being in eternal damnation wouldn’t be so bad. All of my LGBTQ+ friends might show up, and I know it’s going to be a Pride celebration 24/7 in the netherworld because sinners definitely know how to party. Heaven would be boring as hell, almost like waiting in the line at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Many Christians have called Lil Nas X’s “Montero” video “blasphemous” and “sinful.” However, for me, it’s reassuring to know that I am not the only one dealing with past religious conflict. Few people really talk about religion’s negative impact on queer people, so I’m glad Mr. X is doing it. Religious conversion therapy is still legal in many states, causing immeasurable pain and suffering for so many queer people. Many states also use “freedom of religion” to openly discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community, such as denying adoption services or firing someone based on their sexuality and gender identity.
Until the LGBTQ+ community receives lasting legal protections in the name of religion, I’ll personally be planning my own descent to the burning fires of hell as if I’m the next Persephone. Maybe, I’ll even slide down a pole.