When Lil Nas X unveiled his new “Satan Shoes”, outrage within the evangelical community was almost certain. Already rifled with a renewed satanic panic, QAnon, the right-wing conspiracy organization that claims to uncover secret cabals of evil elite pedophiles, is but the beginning to understanding the evangelical panic against the “Old Town Road” singer. For evangelical leaders, such as Pastor Greg Locke, Lil Nas X is only one of the millions of Hollywood and Democratic elites participating in America’s moral decay, joining the ranks of Bill Gates, Oprah, and Beyoncé, among others.
However, the “Satan Shoes” hysteria can help us understand the history and relationship between queerness and the Dark Lord himself, Satan.
Lil Nas X’s “Satan Shoes” were used as a promotion for his new single “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”. In this accompanying music video, Lil Nas X explicitly subverts the association of queerness and satanic imageries. The music video starts with the singer reciting a quote. “In life, we hide the parts of ourselves we don’t want the world to see” Lil Nas X tells us, “but here, we don’t. Welcome to Montero.”
Starting at the foot of a tree in the garden of Eden, he is tempted by a serpent. As he sings “call me by your name, I’ll be on the way” him and the serpent lock lips and presumably, gets banish from the Garden of Eden. The singer is then transported to a Roman-esque stadium, chained up, and literally stoned in a literal reading of Leviticus 20:13 (“If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them”).
On his way down to Hell, the “Montero” singer is seen poll dancing as he prepares to meet the Devil. In a now controversial scene, Lil Nas X is seen performing a strip tease for a masculine Devil (played by himself). The music video finishes with the singer snapping the Devil’s neck, defeating him and taking his crown. Lil Nas X is now the Devil and king of Hell.
What evangelicals have failed to understand is that “Montero” speaks to Lil Nas X’s experience as a gay man raised in a culture that associates him with satanic imagery. As the singer explains in a tweet: “i spent my entire teenage years hating myself becuase of the shit y’all preached would happen to me because i was gay.”
The relationship between the satanic and queerness have long been associated and reinforced, especially in popular media of the not-so-distant past. On TV Tropes, a wiki that catalogues popular tropes in media, we find the “Flaming Devil Trope“. Described as the portrayal of the Devil in media as campy, effeminate, and villainous, the trope has been widely used by some of the most powerful and popular media conglomerates, such as Disney and the Cartoon Network.
Disney’s animated Hercules (Clements, 1977) features the flamboyantly sassy villain, Hades, the God of the Underworld. Similarly, HIM, the satanic-looking gender transgressing villain of McCraken’s 1998 animated TV series, The Powerpuff Girls, is now a reclaimed drag icon, appearing in drag queen MAYDAY’s Project Drag performance.”
While far from flamboyant but still extremely gay, South Park’s buffed yet sensitive Satan is infamous for his sexual relationship with Saddam Hussein in Trey Parker’s 1999 film, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut.
These harmful portrayals of Satan as a villainous, campy, and queer-coded character only serves to reinforce the link between queerness and the figure of Satan. Furthermore, their juxtaposition to our frightened heterosexual protagonists often conveys to the supposed heterosexual male viewer that being queer is somehow predatory in nature, mimicking the ridiculous 1950s and 1960s anti-gay ads by organizations such as Campaign for America PAC.
While the figure of Satan has always been understood as an enemy, his queerness depiction in America is a relatively new phenomenon introduced by evangelicals during the satanic panic of the ’80s and ’90s. During this time, some Americans thought the country was at war with a satanic figure that was camouflaged among them. Popular media that featured violence, satanic imageries, and yes, homosexuality, were heavily criticized by evangelicals for their role in welcoming the great enemy with open arms. Those actively consuming “satanic” media, such as playing Dungeons and Dragons, were shunned and marginalized as traitors to their nation.
At the-turn-of-the-millennium, the threat was no longer only domestic as President George W. Bush set his sight on the Middle East as the home of the Devil. As Erin Runions states in her book, The Babylon Complex, in this era, Muslim terrorists became both satanic figures and homosexuals in the cultural narrative, explaining: “If sexual and civic desire must line up with the apocalyptic narrative of the nation and humanity, those considered to be outside of the narrative are represented through nonnormative sexual desire” (197).
The lines were drawn. The satanic and homosexuality were not only interlinked but in the Bush era, this mythos reached into foreign affairs. Meanwhile, Evangelicals helped further this prevailing relationship in the Hell Houses, conservative Christian Halloween haunted houses, and Chick tracts, religious comic book-tract hybrids created by Jack T. Chick, as warnings of satanic dangers of same-sex relationships. Through these various warnings, Evangelicals portrayed “sins”, such as homosexuality, as explicitly tied to demons, satanic creatures, and the Devil.
Hell Houses, such as the one in George Ratliff’s 2001 documentary, Hell House, features a section where a gay man refuses to “accept Jesus” as he dies of AIDS in the company of a giddy and excited Devil. Publisher Chick’s cartoon tracts, such as “The Gay Blade” have also amplified these narratives by drawing stereotypical and offensive queer people and writing about “Satan’s shadowy world of homosexuality.”
What started out as a fringe idea eventually found itself in several popular TV shows, movies, video games, and comic books. It seems that queerness, Satan, and hysteria have long co-existed in the popular imagination.
However, Lil Nas X’s “Montero” is different. This is a reclamation of the “queer Satan” as an empowering and positive figure for queer individuals who, like the singer, may have been harmed by such rhetoric and depictions. In a recently renewed satanic panic climate, the frenzy exhibited by evangelicals will no doubt only continue to solidify their claims of satanic cabals and moral corruption in America.
Subversion of evangelical rhetoric may be our only push back against the burgeoning narrative. Unlike in the 1980s, may we openly embrace the Evangelicals’ nefarious “Satanic agenda” and its now new leader, Lil Nas X. Hail Satan!
Haberman, Clyde. “When Dungeons & Dragons Set Off a ‘Moral Panic’”. New York Times. 17 April 2016.
Lil Nas X. Twitter.
Right-Wing Watch. Twitter.
Romano, Aja. “Lil Nas X’s evil gay Satanic agenda, explained”. Vox. 29 March 2021.
Runions, Erin. The Babylon Complex: Theopolitical Fantasies of War, Sex, and Sovereignty. Fordham University Press. 2014 (paperback).
“Flaming Devil“. TVTropes.org.
Wong, Julia Carrie. “QAnon explained: the antisemitic conspiracy theory gaining traction around the world”. The Guardian. 25 August 2020.