Young Thug Opens Door for Discussions on Gender and Identity
What does it mean to be a woman? Can one identify as a man and be feminine?
Discussions about gender identity and sexuality continue to be at the forefront of both mainstream and indie media outlets. Ideas about what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman have been challenged by the likes of Olympian Caitlyn Jenner and activist and Orange is the New Black star Laverne Cox, amongst others.
Filled with misogynistic lyrics and ideals, hip-hop continues to hold on to rigid gender roles. What happens when rappers challenge these ideas? Is it possible for young people to have an open and honest dialogue surrounding gender and identity as we close the doors on 2015?
In a 2015 sit down with GQ Atlanta-based rap artist Young Thug said, “Ninety percent of my clothes are women’s.” This is not the statement you’d come to expect out of the mouth of a 6’4” rapper covered in tattoos. Thug makes it clear every time he gets interviewed that he simply doesn’t care what others think of him or his appearance.
Thug’s lyrical content spans from gang activity to sex to drugs— all performed, might I add, in womenswear and sometimes even children’s wear.
Thug provides the hip-hop world with a necessary counterpart to the Alpha Male image consistently regurgitated as the standard for rappers. Thug has faced some controversy surrounding his gender expression, so much so that his fiancé Jerrika felt the need to go to address the issue on VLADTV.
“Thug is not gay, there is nothing gay about him. We both sit back and laugh at all the wild things people say online.” Jerrika also makes the point that “plenty of rock stars wear nail polish, wear tight pants— and their questioning sexuality doesn’t matter when millions are buying their records—People only have a problem when it comes to a black man doing it.”
We can all agree that hip-hop culture is pop culture. Hip-hop artists are largely responsible for cultural shifts. With the adaptation of new dances, the introduction of new lingo, or the development of streetwear, hip-hop has been a mainstream phenomenon for sometime now. When we take a look at hip hop culture, we are looking at culture as a whole as it is reflected within a genre of music. Thug forces young people of all backgrounds to have open and honest dialogues surrounding gender identity.
Some hip-hop connoisseurs would argue that Thugger’s affinity towards womenswear directly contradicts the very ethos of hip-hop culture. Hip-hop has been presented as an aggressive art form used as an outlet for people of color— especially men—to speak their versions of the truth. Thug’s lyrical content may not include in-depth social commentary and analysis but as for his appearance, he “pushes boundaries. He wears a great deal of ‘women’s’ clothing and has long hair. He seems to be a lot more free and comfortable with himself compared to his peers industry,” says Maya Stricklen, a queer woman of color whose interests range from gender to intersectional feminism.
Within the last few years, there has been an interest in genderless fashion. Some of this can be attributed to the presence of contemporaries like Thug in pop culture. There is, however, still this need to categorize fashion into rigid gendered categories.
Many simply do not understand the desire of a man to wear womenswear when menswear is available to them. Brandon Smithwrick is a straight-identified black male who is passionate about menswear says, “Why womenswear? Why not menswear” when discussing Thug’s fashion choices. Social constructs, like gender, make it easy for people to understand complex ideas like identity and sexuality. This is why sometimes holding onto these ideals makes sense.
Buzz surrounding Thug’s sexual orientation brings up an inevitable question: Is it possible to tell who someone is sexually attracted to based on their appearance? Do people make assumptions about someone’s sexuality based on what they wear?
“Young Thug is who he is and I wouldn’t want him to wear anything else. I don’t care what another man wears,” says Julian Harrison, a straight-identified young black male and consumer of hip-hop. Furthermore, there’s no need to tell someone who they are. “Whatever that man says he is, he is.”
Devan Worth, a queer woman of color who studies Philosophy and Social Cultural Analysis at NYU, recognizes how multifaceted sexuality is. “Sexuality is impulsive. Who you are sexually and romantically attracted to is out of your hands, really. Gender/gender expressing is messy.” These conversations surrounding gender and identity are uncomfortable but necessary. They’re messy. And complicated. And sometimes they lead to further conversations about race and feminism.
“To talk about gender roles in hip-hop would lead into a discussion of gender roles within the general black community,” Gamal LaFrance a queer black male who’s passionate about discussions about identity adds, “ Hyper masculinity is expected among male members of black communities.”
These ideals, Maya reaffirms, “push a very hyper-masculine and heteronormative agenda.”Thug holds a mirror to people who struggle with gender and identity—so probably everyone, on some level and force them to look within.