Is this Sufjan Stevens essay gay or about God?

The answer is, definitely both.

June 13, 2019
Is this Sufjan Stevens essay gay or about God? Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images

A couple weeks back, Sufjan Stevens quietly emerged with two new tracks, "Love Yourself" and "With My Whole Heart." The double-single arrived as a prelude to Pride Month, an affirmation punctuated by its rainbow-tinted cover art. Our boy Sufjan has never been expressly open about his sexuality outside of his lyrics (here's looking at you, "Predatory Wasp of the Palisades"), leading fans to often lovingly speculate whether his songs are gay or about God.

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This morning, he doubled down on the intention of "Love Yourself" in an essay posted to his Tumblr, which reads like his most open declaration yet. In the first two sentences of the blog, he quotes both RuPaul and Jesus Christ. "To love yourself, you must know yourself. And to know yourself, you must love yourself," he writes. "Love... must endure, it must evolve, it must expand, it must be born-again."

Sufjan's theory is that "failure to love is a failure to be oneself, a failure to be human," and that the concept of self-loathing stems from when Adam and Eve initially gave into temptation. "It’s astounding how much of our world still continues to teach us to feel shame," he writes. "For the color of our skin. For our poverty. For our wealth. For our education. For our religion. For our privilege. For our special need. For our sexuality. For being naked in a garden."

The remedy for it all, according to Sufjan, is love. "This is our duty at every moment. To love without compromise and without equivocation. To give it our all, to the end, until we have nothing left to give," he writes, adding that "the message here isn’t very deep." And he's absolutely correct. It isn't that deep. But it is easier said than done.

The main takeaway from all of this is that Sufjan seems like he's finally in a place in his life where he feels comfortable embracing himself for who he is, and that's something worth celebrating. The fact that a man's undisclosed sexuality has evoked so much intrigue that it's been memed about (however affectionate the intent) is slightly unsettling, to say the least. As a queer man who grew up ten minutes away from where Sufjan went to college, I can attest that the chains of Midwestern heteronormativity are a heavy burden.

But that's exactly why Sufjan's willingness to bridge queer pride and religion is inherently important. If "Love Yourself" can convince just one kid that it's okay for them to embrace the duality of God and gayness out of respect for themselves, that's some immense power.

Is this Sufjan Stevens essay gay or about God?