Image: Sunni Colón, taken by @micaiahcarter.
Do y'all watch cartoons? No? Lovely. Please bear with me.
If you DO watch cartoons, you probably know of this Cartoon Network show called “Craig of the Creek.” It’s about this lil’ Black kid named Craig who basically has all these dope ass adventures in a creek near his house. We really out here in 2020 with a whole children’s cartoon show about a Black kid and his Black ass family. (There’s also a lot of queer vibes and racial diversity among secondary characters. You should definitely watch this show.) Watching this show had me hype, always. But then, I found out it was created by two cis, presumably straight white guys.
And it honestly made me feel some kind of way at first. I don’t want white people telling our stories. Period. But in an industry where Black people (especially if they’re queer and/or trans) don’t have the same opportunities to get projects and art greenlit to go mainstream… Who else is going to tell our stories? If it’s done with the intention to accurately portray our lives and succeeds, do I really need to be that pressed about it? After a long time of sitting on it, I decided that I don’t.
This of course opens a door to the discussion of how we can get our shit seen, but I brought all this up so I could swing open another door. So, we’re gonna go there instead. (Though, I personally am a firm believer in creating our own platforms to lift our art above the surface and to not rely on cis, straight, white peeps and their fake attempts at diversity.)
Most music until it gets a music video, an interview with the artist, or an obscure Instagram post about how the song COULD be talking about a queer person or a queer relationship is almost always cishet assumed. That’s partially because 9 times out of 10, the artist is a cishet person. Which, understood… I guess? Well, not really because a lot of the time, we’re just assuming someone is a cishet person simply because they haven’t said otherwise. In a society where cishet people are the majority in all of our media, of course we right off the bat assume a stranger is cis & het. I still don’t know how to stop doing that.
We have plenty of queer artists doing their thing in the mainstream right now. Chika, Tyler the Creator, Janelle Monáe, Troye Sivan (Don’t judge me.) The list goes on and unfortunately the amount of white queers in the mainstream media outnumber us. The amount of cis people unfortunately outnumbers trans and/or enby folx as well. They really out here. But so are we!
Until we can start getting the same visibility, though… I want more cishet people telling our stories. I actually think this is a crucial stepping stone that will allow us to uplift our own people. Shit doesn’t go mainstream until cishet people show it and/or steal it from us. And until non-celeb cishet people get more comfortable seeing us being represented in the media, they aren’t going to give us the time of day. Not saying I want the attention, it’s more like I wanna take advantage of it to help my sibs.
So, why don’t more cishet artists tell our stories? Well, some do. But they tell the really shitty parts. Think Logic’s 1-800. Think of any music video you’ve seen where a guy or girl tragically fall in love with their friend of the same sex and get no happy ending. It usually feels like less storytelling and more aiming for a plot twist or problematic trope. And that’s just with queer peeps. I can’t think of any positive trans stories told by a mainstream cishet artist. As I type this, I can’t even think of a negative one.
Yeah, Bad Bunny cross-dressing doesn’t count. As either.
I think the lack of storytelling comes from a place of fear. They don’t want to tell our stories in fear that they’ll get it wrong. Which, that’s valid. But that also just shows how little work cishet celebs are willing to do to actually be allies. Another place it comes from is a place of indifference. A lot of celebs just don’t care. Go figure. Some actively want to promote nothing more or less than cishet stories and narratives. Again, go figure. Cishet narratives have become a staple in rap music, in particular.
If cishet artists are really out here writing music about people they never fell in love with, places they’ve never been, and experiences that only happened to them in a dream because they watched an episode of Black Mirror before bed-- is it really necessary to use heteronormative language when talking about a romantic or sexual experience? Just because you're a guy doesn’t mean a woman had to suck your dick. As a male cishet artist, is it really necessary to write another song about how beautiful women are? You’re not even talking about anyone in particular, fam. Uplifting your brothers isn’t gay, I promise. And even if you do make it gay, what’s wrong with that?
Why can’t the actor in your music video also be visibly trans? Trans people fall in love. They experience heartbreak. They be out here in the streets. They experience joy. They experience life. Our stories as queer and/or trans people don’t always have to be depressing and filled with sorrow. While that definitely is part of our stories more often than not, it isn’t all of us. We’re more than that. We’re more than your lazy attempt at representation.
We love undescript Black masculinity and relationships!
As a nonbinary, pansexual, Black trans rapper-- I switch up pronouns in my songs just because. I use “they/them” pronouns just because. While sometimes they are authentic to the story I’m telling in a song, it’s also a way to normalize them. If you’re making up a story to sing or rap about, think about why you’re making it cis or het-assumed. Even as trans and/or enby people, we tend to fall into habits of going along with this narrative just like the rest of them.
Telling our stories doesn’t make a cishet celeb or their identity any less authentic. Somebody tell ‘em.