Steve Grand Is a Role Model that Speaks to White Gay Youth
The gay publication The Advocate published an article by James Duke Mason titled, “Steve Grand Is The Role Model That Gay Youth Need”. In it, Mason argues, “Steve’s song and music video have challenged the status quo.” The music video, titled, “All-American Boy”, has received over two million views on YouTube, and has been praised by mainstream gay activists such as Mason for being bold, fresh, and confident.
Upon closer inspection, however, the music video, while innovatively incorporating country music with homosexuality—two ideas that have very rarely meshed historically—reinforces American exceptionalism and white supremacy through nationalist imagery and rhetoric.
Grand, the singer, is a cisgender man who I read as being white. His romantic crush is similarly white, cisgender, and male. Additionally, both Grand and the man he is crushing on are both muscular and conventionally attractive. The supporting characters are similarly white, cisgender, and thin. The erasure of people of color speaks clearly to the type of inclusion gay men such as Grand and Mason believe in and advocate.
The video itself is edited to have a vintage filter, perhaps meant to bring nostalgia to an all-American premodernity in which people of color do not exist. The video also relies on the role of nature and primitive “back to the land” imagery to equate “the country” geographically with a premodern Lockean “state of nature”, in which all individuals are free to pursue their self-interests as they see fit, free of restrictions and regulations.
At one point, Grand stands in a car waving an American flag, with grassland around the car and trees in the distance.
Does Grand mean to imply that being “all-American” means being white, muscular, and cismasculine in a libertarian state of nature? Furthermore, does Grand seek to argue that being able to fall under the label “all-American” is superior to being unable to do so?
"All-American Boy" is a recent manifestation of what scholar Jasbir Puar terms "homonationalism". Simply put, homonationalism is an inclusion of normative gay politics into a nation-state and its ideologies. Rather than being pushed to the margins, normative gay activists have gained acceptance into the fabric of American society. Last month, the Human Rights Campaign released a press statement regarding Pvt. Chelsea Manning that attempted to distance the LGBT movement from Manning and her actions. Pim Fortuyn in the Netherlands was a widely popular gay politician who gained support by calling for Dutch nationalism while discouraging multiculturalism and Muslim immigration.
"All-American Boy" continues this homonationalist discourse as the gay rights movement finds itself marching toward full inclusion into American society, including its white supremacy, settler colonialism, and neoliberal imperialism. Through portraying only white protagonists, the video renders invisible the very people who are descendants of the people whose lands were stolen and colonized. In fetishizing "all-Americanness", Grand—wittingly or not—glorifies white European American bodies and erases non-normative bodies, excusing the violence perpetrated by white European settlers in the Americas.
Perhaps Steve Grand is a hero to white gay America. While it is commendable that Steve Grand is telling his story openly, for queer people of color such as myself, Steve Grand’s narrative is not our narrative. We experience our lives at the intersection of being queer and of color. Our bodies are erased from gay America, unless we are called to be a token or an exotic fetish.
Steve Grand does not speak for us. He cannot speak for us.