2021 was the queerest year ever

First of all, I’d like to thank Montero.


There’s no denying it: 2021 has been a confusing transitional year. We had all been looking forward to a “new normal,” but the constant back and forth the new variants created made a lot of us wonder, “Are we there yet?” Finding our feet in the political landscape has also been a real humdinger. Saying goodbye to Cheeto was a real relief, but adjusting to the Biden administration has been another rollercoaster. We the people said no to neofascism, but what did we say yes to?

Popular culture and social media helped us cope (sometimes) but we’re still figuring out how to maintain a balance between entertainment and escape. As a dear friend of mine says, some years ask questions and some years give answers, and it feels safe to say that 2021 left us with more uncertainty than many of us wanted. Ultimately, there’s a lot to say about this bizarro year we’re ready to bid ciao to, but as we start tallying our wins and losses, here’s why I’m calling 2021 a pretty good year for us queers.

184 LGBTQ+ people were elected to office

The number of gay people in elected positions of power has been slowly increasing for years, but 2021 was a record year. 430 known gays ran for office in 2021, and 184 of them won. That’s a record that surpasses the 169 queer people elected in 2019. Add to that the fact that 63% of transgender women who ran for office won their races — the highest win rate of any gender — and I’m calling this a definite win. All told, 1,038 LGBTQ+ people will serve in elected positions next year.

We need this political representation now more than ever. Yes, queers are making gains all over the political map, but we’ve also suffered some major losses. Human RIghts Campaign (HRC) called 2021 “the worst year for LGBTQ state legislative attacks,” due to the harsh reality that 250 anti-LGBTQ+ laws were introduced to state lawmakers in 2021 that would do massive harm to our communities, particularly trans youth.

Having LGBTQ+ individuals in office is crucial, then, not just as a symbolic gesture, but because we need politicians who will fight to make sure that queer people have access to basic rights like employment protection and receive equal treatment under the law.

Celebrities came out in droves

It felt like every other day in 2021, another celebrity came out as queer. I’m calling Elvira’s queerness the most climactic sapphic realization in decades. It’s not because we queers needed this goth bombshell to come out, it’s because in one fell swoop, she totally destroyed the patriarchal fantasy of what it means to be a cis-het sex goddesses — at least for a moment. Frankly, I called that shit when I was 12, but I reveled in how your average Elvira fan — presumably a middle-aged white man — might have to grapple with the complexity of sexuality when this busty embodiment of bawdiness was revealed as queer.

The real winner of queer 2021 coming out stories, though, is Elliot Page. Yes, technically it was still 2020 — December 1st, to be exact — when Page used his Instagram platform to announce that he is trans and his name is Elliot, but some of us spent the whole year talking about it. Page has been a pretty private Hollywood darling for decades, and he graciously let us all in on his journey. When he posted his first shirtless post-top surgery pic, I cried. Page’s willingness to open up and be vulnerable about his gender identity journey feels like one of the most bravely offered gifts of the year.

Lil Nas X became a household name

Lil Nas X wasn’t really on my gaydar until he released Call Me By Your Name, but that feels like part of his unique ingenuity. Not only did the man make himself a lot of musical fans with an obvious banger, he made himself everywhere. I went from not really knowing who Nas was to seeing him everywhere in less than a day. His unrelenting (and genius) social media strategy ensured that this Black man was being queer and controversial in everyone’s face 24/7 on every platform.

Lil Nas X embodies the kind of unapologetic, subversive queerness that Gen Z inherently embraces and which teaches us elder queers so many important lessons. As a person who has been in the LGBTQ+ struggle through the AIDS crisis, the fight for marriage equality, and at least a million acronyms, it’s easy to feel tired and jaded. We’ve fought so hard for so long and we’re still disproportionately sick and poor?

No, one hot album is not going to erase that reality, but Lil Nas X watching him revel in his queer Black joy really reminded me why we fight and why it’s worth it. Maybe we can ask the world for more than to simply get used to us being here and queer. Now that we’ve attained a modicum of acceptance, perhaps queer joy is the next frontier.