Madonna has always been an important figure for queer people. Since the release of her debut single in 1982, Madonna has captivated the gay community. During the AIDS crisis, she was outspoken about bringing attention to our suffering.
Recently, she gained headline attention for posting on Instagram about her kiss with Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera at the 2003 VMAs. She jokingly made comparisons between this kiss and Lil Nas X’s recent lip-locking with two men at the BET Awards. Her claims that she “#diditfirst” drew lots of criticism, claiming that she was erasing LGBTQ black identity in this joke.
Black oppression is a discussion in its own right. Black LGBTQ artists need to have a space to express themselves. They need to be acknowledged. But, claiming Madonna to be a “white heterosexual woman” who “profited off a lesbian fantasy” is a problem. This claim erases Madonna’s position as being under our umbrella.
Rumors of queer profit
People have speculated about Madonna’s sexuality for many years, and it’s not new to pop culture. There have been numerous rumors about Madonna being in relationships with women. She connected without lesbian comedian Sandra Bernhard. American model Jenny Shimizu has given intimate details of their sexual relationship. Even Madonna’s brother spoke about her time with Ingrid Casares.
But, what does it mean to “queer erase” Madonna? It means that she’s not allowed to be a part of this conversation because she doesn’t want to fit into our narrative.
Madonna has done so much for our movement because she has helped advance the gay movement in many ways. We should be celebrating her legacy instead of erasing it. She helped champion same-sex marriage and donated the proceeds of countless concerts to AIDS research during the late 20th century. When society shunned homosexuality, Madonna was vocal about how gay people were facing such a terrible situation.
Issues around Madonna’s sexual orientation
There seems to be an undercurrent of homophobia present when discussing this aspect of her life. Even those who support our rights seem to laugh off Madonna’s sexuality as something that “doesn’t matter.” But, how can we discuss and analyze Madonna if we erase her identity?
These rumors have bothered some fans who claimed she wasn’t gay since she’s never used the term queer to talk about herself. Only would this make sense if we lived in a world where being lesbian was a pejorative term and people hide it because it’s shameful.
However, these accusations are usually insulting and homophobic. They want Madonna to fit into a particular box. Madonna has never labeled herself as being LGBTQ. She has never addressed these rumors directly. Why does that have to be such a bad thing?
Madonna doesn’t want a word to define her. She doesn’t want to be limited to a label. We shouldn’t be criticizing her for this but instead supporting her for it. After all, our struggle is against people looking down on us for this label.
But no one seems to want to do that. It appears that we are too afraid, or ashamed, to address Madonna’s sexuality.
Madonna is a gay icon
Madonna is someone that we’ve crowned as a gay icon. She hasn’t confirmed or denied that she is one of us, so we project our struggles on her. She doesn’t want to conform – and we fear that.
Is she heterosexual? We don’t know. Is she lesbian? We don’t know. Is she LGBTQ? We don’t know. She chooses not to address it.
Everyone knows it’s wrong to make assumptions about gender. Equally, we shouldn’t make assumptions about sexuality either.
We fear the fact that she’s independent and unique. Her claim that she “#diditfirst” isn’t just about the kiss on stage. It’s about her position as a woman who does what she wants. Madonna is unapologetically Madonna.
Instagram backlash for #Diditfirst
We celebrate Lil Nas X for this pivotal moment in gay black history. And, rightly so. Never before has there been such an out and proud display of black gay identity. Lil Nas X’s kiss is a proud display of both sexual orientation and his race. His identity on stage represents Lil Nas X himself. Likewise, any individual should express themselves in the way they choose.
As Lil Nas X continues to bask in his newfound fame, we need to remember that he can’t enjoy it without acknowledging the history behind this kiss. He doesn’t have to be grateful for what Madonna did. She did what she had to do. But, we as a culture should be thankful for how much Madonna has taught us all about ourselves and others’ sexualities.
The history of MTV’s first queer kiss
Thirty years ago, we saw Madonna embracing her own identity on TV. Now, 30 years later, we get to view the reintroduction of this identity through a young black person who expresses himself within heteronormative spaces.
Most importantly, we can recognize how far we’ve come since the early 90s MTV. We can also see what we still need to do moving forward. White gay men may have moved forward, but the black LGBTQ fight is still at a significant disadvantage.
The kiss is also incredibly personal for Lil Nas X himself. He is reclaiming his sexuality while simultaneously reclaiming his race. He kissed two men of color on stage unapologetically, which stands as a reminder that he is LGBTQ and black. It joins his identities instead of separating them. Lil Nas X isn’t letting others categorize him.
Does this remind you of anyone?
Lil Nas X and Madonna: Passing the torch
Madonna was the ground-breaking force for pop culture for the 80s, 90s, and 00s. She still is when we talk about ageism. Now, Lil Nas X has taken the torch. He’s combining sexuality with race and bringing attention to both of these.
Straight individuals fetishized Madonna’s kiss. Yes, it made headlines all over the world. But, this was for a different reason than Lil Nas X’s kiss. Madonna’s kiss was shocking, but it appealed to the straight people. Many scholars have discussed how straight males commodified lesbianism.
Being LGBT does not mean that a label needs to restrict you. It has many definitions.
Identifying this way means that you connect with others who share similar experiences and feelings. So, what’s the problem? Well – people try to limit what it means to be under our umbrella.
We should feel free to define ourselves in our way, without labels the imposition of labels. You don’t need to like or dislike brand new music or old country music. Your religion or political party preference should not stereotype you. I think we all can agree: identity politics are getting out of hand and could use some serious self-reflection.
Queer label oppression
The concept of being colorblind reduces people into “non-racial” individuals. However, race is still an issue, even if we don’t think so. We can argue this for being LGBTQ. Reducing someone down to labels reduces our community and social movement.
Just because Madonna doesn’t openly admit to being a lesbian, bisexual, or else part of our community does not mean she isn’t. She is such a relevant gay icon that Glee has an Emmy-winning episode featuring her music. Why did the episode win? Because of how the episode promoted the acceptance of gender identity to all.
The Kinsey scale of gayness
Take the Kinsey scale, for example. The Kinsey scale rates individuals from 0 to 6 based on their sexual attraction. A score of zero represents straight people. A rating of six falls under the label gay or lesbian. The remaining labels – 1, 2, 3, and 4 – can be combined to a bisexual label.
In this case, bisexual people are considered halfway between homosexual and heterosexual.
Let’s apply the example of Madonna to this. She could easily be somewhere between 1-6. She has never come out as one way or another. But, she does not let that limit herself or others. We can’t assume her sexuality.
She doesn’t want to be restricted to identity and rejects blanket terms. Madonna wants to be. Gender expressions flow, and she’s embraced this. In the video for “Express Yourself,” she conforms to both views of gender that we see in society.
Madonna was a source for queer studies
Many scholars of LGBTQ studies throughout the ’90s were fascinated by this. SAGE publications, a book of artists, feminists, and scholars, had this to say.
“Madonna’s cultural influence has been profound and pervasive, as her multiple transformations and controversies have attracted the attention of numerous scholars working in various fields, namely feminist and queer theory, cultural studies, film and media studies. Scholarly debates about Madonna encompass a broad spectrum of topics […] Critical studies of Madonna reveal her—as a symbol, image, and brand—”Stange, Mary Zeiss; Oyster, Carol K.; Sloan, Jane E. (2011). Madonna. SAGE Publishing. p. 877. ISBN 978-1412976855. Retrieved July 18, 2021 – via Google Books.
Breaking the heterosexual norms
It’s essential to consider the hypocrisy of some of the outrage, too.
The Daily Mail published articles like this kiss were something out of this world. Yet, they also “slammed” Madonna’s post #diditagain. The media loves to drag down individuals who break the mold. Their most significant target is lesbian and gender-nonconforming women.
We’ve seen it with Madonna, now we see it with Lil Nas X. A new generation of individuals have the LGBT torch. From music to TV, they’re all trying to break the heterosexual norm. Instead of erasing the past, we should celebrate it and look forward to a brighter future together. Let’s look for a sense of community by embracing both of the monumental moments.