Commentary

Beyoncé’s “Formation” is unabashedly queer

At the song’s 1:10 minute mark, Big Freedia, in a her thick N’awlins accent, shouts out authoritatively, “I came to slay, bitch.” “Slay” is a term coined by the African-American LGBTQ community, meaning to dominate, conquer, or take care of business.

In “Formation,” Beyoncé unquestionably honors the inimitable black queer culture of New Orleans — a singular look and feeling that’s often either misunderstood or underrepresented in popular art. And Bounce music, in particular, has been around since the early 1990s but only recently celebrated.

While a lot of NOLA’s gay bars and enclaves escaped devastation by Katrina, many of the city’s African-American queers are not patrons of its white gay bars or residents in those gilded communities. But the race and class segregation between New Orleans’s African-American and white LGBTQ residents cannot take away from their rich contributions and expressions.

The city has a long musical tradition of gay and cross-dressing performers that have been an integral part of the musical culture, from the inception of Mardi Gras balls and krewes to its infamous annual Southern Decadence festival.

Openly gay African American cross-dressing male rappers might sound dissonant and come across as an oxymoron, but they’re merely part and parcel of a long New Orleans tradition.

“As far back as the ’40s and ’50s, it was a really popular thing,” NOLA musician Alison Fensterstock told The New York Times.

“Gay performers have been celebrated forever in New Orleans black culture. Not to mention that in New Orleans there’s the tradition of masking, mummers, carnival, all the weird identity inversion. There’s just something in the culture that’s a lot more lax about gender identity and fanciness. I don’t want to say that the black community in New Orleans is much more accepting of the average, run-of-the-mill gay Joe. But they’re definitely much more accepting of gay people who get up and perform their gayness on a stage.”

That’s why their inclusion in Beyoncé’s “Formation” was not a stretch, but a shout-out.

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