A new wave of gay stars is teaching children about homosexuality whether some parents like it or not, says the film writer Caspar Salmon
This weekend I took my kids to a community fete in our north London borough of Haringey, complete with bouncy castle, Turkish dancing, tug-of-war and free curry. After a while the younger children present began to drag their heels, so the emcee put Lil Nas Xs Old Town Road on and surrendered the microphone at which point they all, I believe the phrase is, popped off. Old Town Road was then played, sometimes in alternation with Baby Shark, a total number of 4,012 times, with children doing the shoot dance and hollering cant tell me nothing into the mic all afternoon.
Old Town Road has been in the UK charts for 14 weeks, of which two were spent at No 1. In the States the song has been top of the Billboard ranking for 12 weeks straight. Part of the songs success, as any parent knows, is due to sales earned from streaming: children love Old Town Road. For proof, enjoy this viral tweet showing children going wild to the song when Lil Nas X performed at their school.
On Monday, Lil Nas X seemed to come out as gay, in a series of amusingly casual tweets. Its hard to convey the importance of a figure like him, someone with such momentum, being seen as an out and proud artist; whats more, an out and proud black queer artist (Ill leave it to black queer writers to elucidate what this means for them). Of course, chart music now has out gay figures such as Troye Sivan, whose ability to explore sex and sexuality while remaining a powerful teen idol was the subject of a New Yorker article recently (two queer artists from a slightly different generation, Frank Ocean and Tyler, the Creator, paved the way in recent years). Lil Nas X joins or leads this new legion of visible queer figures, whose careers are forged on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, Twitter and Spotify, enabling them to address young people directly.
The absolutely hilarious irony of a figure such as Lil Nas X, whose song has now infiltrated the DNA of a generation, appearing to come out at a time when some parents have been fretting about their children learning about the existence of LGBTQ people, is delicious. I would go one step further and add that children innocently singing some of the songs fairly eye-watering lyrics marks a step change for queer representation and equality (Lil Nas X has stated that the song is merely about riding horses, but this is open to interpretation).
I belong to a generation whose parents let them sing along to Like a Virgin and Papa Dont Preach in the back of the car without particularly worrying that Madonnas lyrics would corrupt their children for all eternity. One of the heartening lessons of Lil Nas Xs success, hopefully, will be about the totally incorruptible innocence of children, including queer children themselves.
Part of the fight against the provision of LGBTQ education to children has rested, cynically, on a grotesque conception of queer people as dirty; on a public image of queer people that reduces us to sexuality only. Why else would anybody object to children finding out about the existence of queer people? Indeed, one of the contenders for the Conservative leadership, Esther McVey, recently repeated this noxious fallacy as part of her bid , saying: For young children in this multicultural, diverse, modern society that we live in, I would say for very young children as you say, four and five parents have the say over sex education.
Of course the truth is that children as young as zero are old enough to find out that queer people exist, which they can do in the same way they learn about everything else in the world, by being near them. In fact you may want to be sitting down for this children can themselves be queer. This may come as a shock to galaxy brains who can only comprehend queerness through the prism of sex. For a child to be gay doesnt mean that theyre on the prowl for action: it merely signifies that they are different in some way and have recognised this difference. Just last year, Jamel Myles killed himself at the age of nine after being bullied when he came out as gay to his classmates. Adults who used to play kiss-chase at nine, or had a boyfriend then, or were certain of their gender at that age, shouldnt be surprised about a child becoming aware of their identity.
In a roundabout way, this is why Lil Nas X himself a very young queer person at 20 is so crucial. This playful and lovable man, becoming massively popular with the very young while hiding in plain sight as a proud queer man, is important not just because of his visibility, but also because he shows there is no harm in children becoming acquainted with queerness and queer culture. Some children may be stopped from learning about LGBTQ people in some schools, but those are just about the only places left that wont tell them.
Caspar Salmon is a film writer based in London