Kendrick Lamar’s newest album Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers’ has sparked controversy in the LGBTQ+ community. The track “Auntie Diaries,” is a well-meaning but problematic narrative about transgender issues—a topic not often represented in hip-hop.
“Auntie Diaries” is a song of young Kendrick Lamar’s perspective in supporting the transition of his transgender uncle and cousin and choosing them over the church’s contradictory beliefs. The song shows Kendrick from elementary school to his young adult life, learning the correct name, gendered language, and word choices for his transgender relatives. The song summarizes the characteristics of transitioning gender, such as distancing from non-supporting family, changing names, getting surgery, and losing faith in the church.
This song shows Kendrick support, however is done this while using the f slur and the wrong names and pronouns for his trans relatives. This has sparked a lot of controversy in Kendrick Lamar’s fanbase and the LGBTQ+ community in whether this was an important addition to the song or made it harmful.
Deadnaming is when people will use the old name of a transgender person in place of their preferred one, which makes transgender people feel disrespected and ignored. This is seen in the line “Demetrius is Mary-Ann now,” where Kendrick describes his trans cousin using their old name, and is also shown in Kendrick’s use of Caitlyn Jenner’s deadname.
Misgendering is when someone uses the wrong gendered language for a transgender person, and Kendrick does this on and off when referring to his trans relatives. In the song, this shows Kendrick’s process of learning and using the correct gendered language while still occasionally messing up – something that is realistic to relatives of those who just started their transition. This is seen in the line “My auntie is a man now,” using the wrong gendered language for his trans uncle, but reflecting the thought process of young Kendrick as he encounters this new information.
In terms of the song’s misgendering and deadnaming, it can be seen as a glimpse of reality even though it’s not considered to be politically correct. One trans woman who spoke to 8forty recognizes that misgendering and deadnaming is something that trans people have to deal with every day. “The reality is that, as a trans woman, I’m often misgendered and deadnamed. It isn’t the way it should be, but it’s the way it is,” the hip-hop fan says. “‘Auntie Diaries’ brutally shows the reality of being trans, even if it’s more shocking or seemingly rude than it could’ve been.”
However, many people see the misgendering and deadnaming as hateful and unnecessary. Aria, another trans woman, believes that Kendrick could’ve presented his perspective better. “It feels somewhat insensitive to have kept those [word choices] in as a conscious present-day choice.” She also discussed the use of impact or shock with these controversial choices in the song. “Though [misgendering and deadnaming] gave the song more impact, I don’t believe that necessarily connotes something positive… I do believe that if Kendrick had our best intentions in mind when writing this song, he would have been more mindful of what he’d engaged in.”
A second issue in the song is his choice to use the f slur. In the modern day, most communities of the world have learned the stigma of slurs and to never use them, but this is not the case in “Auntie Diaries.” Kendrick uses the f slur while narrating the communities that Kendrick was part of as he was growing up, in which the f slur was a common word that didn’t have the same stigma or attitude as it does today. This is shown in the line “Back when it was comedic relief to say ‘f*ggot.’”
However, this shows some hypocrisy. The song ends by narrating a conversation Kendrick had with his trans cousin Mary Ann which deals directly with the issue of a straight, cis-gendered person such as Kendrick using the f slur. Kendrick, describing his initial point of view says, “I was taught words was nothing more than a sound / if everything was pronounced without any intentions.” His cousin challenges him on this point, referring to a widely publicized incident that occurred during one of Kendrick’s concerts. In 2018, Kendrick invited a white woman on stage to rap one of his songs, but he and the crowd objected when she repeatedly pronounced the n word. “You gotta bleep one single word,” he told her.
His cousin uses this incident to make a point to Kendrick about his use of the f word, even pronounced, as this white woman pronounced the n word, “without any [harmful] intention.”
“’F*ggot, f*ggot, f*ggot,’ we can say it together” the cousin says. “But only if you let a white girl say ‘N*gga.'”
During the song, Kendrick uses the f slur in perspectives of other people or a younger version of himself, however in saying this line, Kendrick – a cisgender, straight man – is using the slur the song says he shouldn’t be able to use. It’s hypocritical, or at the very least ironic.
“Auntie Diaries” could be seen by some as a way of explaining transgender issues to a largely cisgender and heterosexual audience. Kendrick is putting into words the way he has learned to accept and support his transgender relatives from a young age, in a way that can be easy for his average listener to get a grasp of. In these communities, misgendering and deadnaming does not hold the same negative impact as it may do in other communities that are more focused on LGBTQ+ issues. From this perspective, you might say that Kendrick isn’t explaining it the correct or proper way, but in a way that lets him understand what is happening and what to do.
The song is controversial and for good reason, but it’s one of the largest songs about transgender issues to hit the mainstream hip-hop audience and has brought up some interesting discussions. The transgender people who are affected daily by the things Kendrick portrays in “Auntie Diaries” are those who can decide if it’s hurtful to them, and isn’t one-sided.
However, one thing that is unanimous is that Kendrick is showing his support and self-stated growth, even if it’s delivered in a way that not all are happy with. “I believe this song is the closest to supportive trans representation in truly large-scale music by someone who isn’t themself trans, and for that I appreciate the intent of the song, “ Aria says. “But those particular decisions outweighed any sense of “enjoyment” I personally could get out of it.”
Photo Illustrated by Devon Fender / Music Media News