What It Means To Come Out As A Gay Rapper In Trump’s America

ILoveMakonnen and Taylor Bennett both made big statements during a particularly trying week in America.

Photographer Graham Walzer
January 20, 2017
What It Means To Come Out As A Gay Rapper In Trump’s America

ILoveMakonnen has always been a mirror of sorts, beaming life back at us — no filter required. His music, even at its most buoyant points, is unable to shake huge notes of anxiety. His rapping voice is pretty straightforward, but his singing voice drifts between operatic and warbly. In 2015, Makonnen told The FADER that he defines himself as “a reflection of all that's happening and living.” He added, “I'm just out here living. Doing what humans can do.” Over the past few months, it’s seemed like Makonnen is a little weary of the world, as a lot of us currently are. His Instagram uploads have been almost exclusively shots of him doubled over in various places: looking like a zombie next to a huge cruise ship in Mexico, slumped down next to dirty snowbanks in Manhattan, and standing hunched on top of his bed with shoes on.

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But on Friday morning, Makonnen seemingly wiped his clouds away and did what many Americans are fortunate to be able to do — he came out as a gay man. “As a fashion icon, I can't tell you about everybody else's closet, I can only tell you about mine, and it's time I've come out,” he said. “And since y'all love breaking news, here's some old news to break, I'm gay. And now I've told you about my life, maybe you can go life [sic] yours.”

Questions about his sexuality have followed the brainy hip-hop outsider since the dawn of his mainstream career in 2014, despite the fact that the subjects of his songs have always been women. He addressed the rumors to The New York Times in 2015, adding a heavy layer of ambiguity. “The rap world thinks I’m gay,” he said. “A lot of people out there do. They think I’m a homosexual, which is not a problem. I don’t want to say I’m gay, I’m straight, I’m bisexual or any of that, because that’s just…Who cares? All that’s doing is dividing us.” But he seemed to give a more definitive answer to XXL in 2016, implying he was straight: “I may not personally be gay but I got gay friends and people on earth that do what the fuck they do and they need to be accepted as well.”

Makonnen finally came out just hours before the inauguration of Donald Trump, who has aligned himself with some of the most outspoken LGBTQ opponents in America. While Makonnen’s tweet was greeted with lots of warmth, there was also plenty of eye-rolls — perhaps from people who have been lulled into a false sense of security by eight years of progress by the Obama administration — and some lame jokes. TMZ’s headline for the news story was “RAPPER ILOVEMAKONNEN I'M GAY ... Big Whoop.”

Although no two coming-outs are the same, Chicago rapper Taylor Bennett announced that he is bisexual earlier in the week. “My birthday is tomorrow and moving into next year I'd like to be more open about myself to help others that struggle with the same issues,” he said. “Growing up I've always felt indifferent about my sexuality and being attracted to one sex and today I would like to openly come out to my fans. I do recognize myself as a bisexual male and do and have always openly supported the gay community and will keep doing so in 2017.” People responded to Bennett's news with a wealth of love, including Bennett’s brother and friend of the Obamas, Chance The Rapper, who posted a video to his Twitter account hugging Bennett.

During the Obama presidency, America reached new levels of LGBTQ acceptance as marriage equality was finally, after a long fight, affirmed by the supreme court. At the same time, it seemed like every celebrity — even the straightest of the bunch — was trying to add a bit of mystique to their orientations or genders to appeal to the public's increasingly liberal desires. “Love is Love is Love,” they all cried. During this new conservative dawn, I am curious to see if people ever really believed that. In an ideal world, people shouldn't have to come out — we all should just be able to live openly without announcements and rigidity — but right now, with a new administration looking to roll back some of Obama's positive changes, Makonnen and Bennett's honest tweets are still a radical act worth praising.

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What It Means To Come Out As A Gay Rapper In Trump’s America