© Copyright 2020 Vicky (Maria) di Donato, Ryerson University.
How to look at ex-Disney Star, could be an alternate title. How to look at a pop star, another. How to look at Hayley Kiyoko, icon and liberator for a generation of lgbtq+ youths who craved to have themselves seen in the media.
At 28, Kiyoko is titled as “Lesbian Jesus” by her fans for the manner in which she “resurrected” pop, in an LGBTQ+ manner. Gone was the queer-baiting, the sexual tension used to exploit the queer community for their views and money by the heterosexual norms of the music industry. In her celestial family, perhaps Cher is the Virgin Mary, Miley Cyrus is Moses, Lil Nas X is the Gay Messiah, and so forth. It isn’t uncommon that a fanbase give their icon an alternate title: Britney Spears, Princess of Pop; Micheal Jackson, King of Pop; Prince, Prince of Pop; and Beyonce, Queen of Pop. The music industry works on its own hierarchy of fan titles and popularity, and the power and symbolism behind Lesbian Jesus is not to be underestimated.
In this image, we can also take in Kiyoko’s happiness, her utmost surprise at the image of herself. We can look at the relic in her hands, the moment in history that this image represents both in pop culture history and in lgbtq+ history. The group of people who may have the hardest time interpreting the image would be Christians. That may take offence, create an obstacle for understanding in that. But the pop culture trained eye is inspired, is impressed, is enamoured.
That same eye could look at the technological meaning of the painting in her hand. The photoshop, the rendering of such a classic image of Christian saviour the Lord Jesus Christ. They see Kiyoko, who did not die on the cross for the sins of her fellows, but who fought for a voice, a platform, a path that she forged herself for her identity and her people. That path can be seen as talent, love, and hard work – a commitment to who she is and being deterrent to anyone changing that. We see humanity in the way she holds such a celestial representation of herself, as seen in the eyes of her fans. The same fans who feel like her, who are her but not yet famous. The POC, the LGBTQ+, the diverse and brave individuals she stands for.
Or, we can find out where she came from, why she is here. An ex-Disney star, a monumental sign that the times are changing. That Disney stars are gay, that Lesbian Jesus gets to perform with Taylor Swift, win Grammys, kick butt and be herself. These images, they are us, and they are Hayley Kiyoko, and they are the future. That is how to look at “Lesbian Jesus”.
Pollard, Alexandra. “How Hayley Kiyoko became pop’s ‘lesbian Jesus’”. The Guardian. Published 22 Feb 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/feb/22/hayley-kiyoko-on-her-lesbian-pop-this-is-bigger-than-i-thought-it-was. Accessed 31 Jan 2020.