A photograph of Lil Nas x on the L’Uomo Vogue Instagram accompanies the statement that the gay, androgynous rapper ‘is not merely having a moment. He is the moment.’
Indeed, Lil Nas X has achieved huge success in recent months, perhaps in particular with his song ‘Call me by your Name’, named after the gay romance novel by André Aciman and featuring explicit themes of queer identity. Openly a member of the LGBTQ+ community himself, Lil Nas X wears stilettos and Calvin Klein underwear in the music video, pole-dancing his way into Hell. It is perfectly brilliantly queer-coded, and a stark androgynous image, steeped in all kinds of religious imagery.
And, of course, there was backlash to such a video.
But gender identity has been the topic of significant consideration in the last few years. It is an issue that Lil Nas X, along with celebrities like Harry Styles, embodies proudly. Yet androgynous appearances are not as new a concept as people might believe.
The first mention of androgyny is found in Plato’s Symposium in 385 BC. Fashion, of course, has meant something different to each historical demographic. All Ancient Egyptians wore jewellery to indicate social position rather than gender, makeup to protect their skin, and perfume as deodorant. Ancient Egyptian fashion sense could, in our eyes, be seen as androgynous, but was it so easily classifiable to them? In other parts of history, men wore stockings, Victorian boys dressed in frocks until they were five years old, and high-heels (a variety of which Lil Nas X wears in his music video) were made in 10th Century Persia – for men. Then, in the 20th Century, performers like David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Prince, James Dean, and more embraced androgyny as part of their identities.
The boundaries of gender expression have changed so much over time. So too, then, have our perceptions of androgynous fashion. What is defined as ‘androgynous’ to one generation, is highly gendered to another. For example, trousers, which to past majorities were exclusively masculine, are now worn regardless of gender without being seen as androgynous. It is therefore difficult to class celebrity androgyny as a fad or an expression of ‘wokeness’. There have always been blurred lines between gendered expression, just as there have always been blurred lines between the socially constructed binary of masculinity and femininity.
That is not to say that men who dress androgynously in the public eye have not faced backlash. Only those who oppose an androgynous identity are missing the point. Lil Nas X is part of a longer-standing tradition than they know, responding to the likes of Bowie and Mercury, but also to an age-old question of oneself. He is not ‘the moment’ because he is doing something unheard of, but because he is highlighting the importance of the authentic self in a world where everyone has an opinion on who you are.
No one gets to decide that.