Cowering in the corner of the shower, shivering as ice-cold water beat down on her sandy brown hair, a thirteen-year-old girl slowly dispensed soap into her quivering hand. Her teeth chattered as she raised her hand to her mouth and began licking it. The soap covered her taste buds and she began foaming at the mouth. She sat in solace on the floor, reprimanding herself for actions she performed just moments earlier, for actions shunned by some, yet routine for others.
“I started pushing my sexuality to the furthest corners, where it could only come out in the shower, when I would masturbate. I was shivering in the cold, hoping God would forgive me,” she recalls. “When I felt like I had done my penitence I would get out.”
Now, almost a decade later, that young woman is an explicitly sexual rapper who goes by the stage name Boyfriend. She stripteases, gyrates and makes love to inanimate objects on stages around the country while wearing vintage granny dresses and throwing out rhymes.
Naturally soft-spoken, she transforms into a commanding performer as she rhythmically spits out lyrics like:
“Baby, baby open up, baby open up. Show me, tell me, get to know me, baby show me all your stuff. What you want, what you need, got me down on my knees. Baby be easy, please. Spread ‘em wide, baby please.”
As her musical career starts to take off, Boyfriend, now twenty-five years old and living in New Orleans, insists on using only her stage name in interviews. She shields her identity because of the dual existence she maintains, teaching five- to twelve-year-olds by day and transforming into a pansexual cabaret performer by night. Despite social media, the Internet and word of mouth, none of her coworkers know about the Boyfriend side of her existence, and within her own family only immediate members and select cousins, aunts and uncles know about the persona.
“My grandfather would probably have a heart attack if he found out,” explains her sister Rebekah. “Boyfriend doesn’t want to hurt people with her art, especially people she loves, but it must be frustrating to not be able to share completely who she is and what she’s doing.”
Despite Boyfriend’s straightforward lyrics, even fewer family members know of her sexuality, which she refers to as “pansexuality” — meaning she is attracted to both men and women, regardless of their sexual identity.
“I have not yet encountered a trans person that I’ve been intimate with to support that thesis, but I’m not saying that I wouldn’t,” she says. “Some of the queens in Baton Rouge, they’re hot. They’re fire.”
With a songwriter father and singer-songwriter younger sister, it was perhaps natural that music became her emotional outlet, yet given her conservative Christian upbringing, this particular brand of music is somewhat unexpected.
Boyfriend’s mother comes from rural Alabama, near Birmingham; her dad’s side of the family hails from rural Georgia. Both sides conjoined in Nashville, where they raised their family in the Church of Christ with a steadfast belief in a literal interpretation of the Bible. From kindergarten through her sophomore year of high school, while she attended a private Christian school with the same sixty students for eleven years, Boyfriend shared many of her church’s beliefs.
“In the Church of Christ, you can’t have instruments in worship and women aren’t allowed to speak,” she says. “On more than one occasion I had an elder kindly ask that I not wear that top to church again — I had some tig ol’ bitties in middle school.”
Sexual discrimination and the moral codes taught in school compounded the scrutiny she received at church. “We had true-or-false questions on quizzes that were definitely not true or false,” she explains, remembering one question that simply stated: Accepting Jesus into your heart is the only way into heaven. “I knew if I circled false, I would get a lower grade.”
Once, a teacher led a group prayer against legislation that would require the school to hire a gay teacher if he or she applied. Boyfriend says these beliefs were instilled deep within her mind, and she repressed any ability to recognize her own desires.
“I loved to look at pictures of famous girls and swimsuit editions, but I thought, and kept telling myself, that that was just because I looked at what I wanted to be,” she remembers. “I wouldn’t let myself believe I wanted to touch it. I remember saying to myself, ‘I don’t want to touch it. That’s just not what I’m supposed to do.’”
At church camp, a mystical time of devotion in the rolling hills of Tennessee, she was surrounded by woods, waterfalls and other young Christians. The camp served as the culmination of yearlong weekly youth group meetings, sermons and volunteering. Children there often played Romans and Christians, a game similar to hide-and-seek, but with an added element of intimidation. “It was a way to test resolve, to understand what people who don’t have the luxury of living in a Christian nation might feel,” she explains. If a Roman (seeker) caught a Christian (hider) while running from his or her hiding place to home base, the Roman was entitled to yell at or force the Christian to recite Bible verses.