Fans were split on whether the song — ostensibly about accepting a trans relative — was progressive or counterproductive.
Consuming a Kendrick Lamar LP is like attending a university seminar on the current sociopolitical landscape in America, and with his latest release Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, class is in session. Today marks five years since Lamar’s fourth album DAMN hit streaming services, outselling Ed Sheeran and Drake and reassuring us that introspection and musical reflection on this country's spiritual and political struggles are indeed alive and well within him. For lovers of rap as literature, the Pulitzer Prize winner guides us through his own personal struggles in this 18-song, two-volume album — including relationships, generational trauma, money, and in the case of one hotly debated song on social media, gender, with the song “Auntie Diaries.”
In the track, Lamar weaves his poetic focus around a relative who is transgender, noting his own personal struggles as a child to understand and later accept who he’s calling the titular “Auntie.” Starting right out the gate with the lyric, “My auntie is a man now / I think I'm old enough to understand now,” Lamar challenges listeners to follow along on his journey of acceptance by beginning with an intentionally misleading grouping of words. Any confusion as to who or what he’s talking about in the song becomes pretty clear later in the song when he raps “Back when it was comedic relief to say, ‘Faggot’ / Faggot, faggot, faggot, we ain't know no better / Elementary kids with no filter, however / My auntie became a man and I took pride in it.”
While it’s great Lamar is taking pride in his trans relative, at multiple points in the song he not only misgenders this relative, but deadnames them (as well as Caitlyn Jenner for good measure,) and uses some pretty heteronormative examples of his subject to seemingly prove that they act manly enough to be considered one. Clearly, this started a lot of debate on social media on Friday morning: some people praised Kendrick for tackling such an important issue at all, and others who have problems with the song’s execution.
As to what I think as a member of the LGBTQ community, I’m waffling as much as the Kombucha Girl is in her most famous GIF. I can see the positives in a cishet rapper expressing his support for the trans community, but at this point there are countless trans, gay, and queer rappers making phenomenal music and doing it inoffensively (at least, inoffensively in the right places) so the disconnect is pretty stark when you compare the two. It’s understandable for people to be reluctant to label this song with the “ally” stamp just weeks away from Pride Month; I wonder if he played this to his relative before he released it for the world to consume. One thing you can’t fault Lamar for is that this discussion will likely last as long as his album stays on the charts.