Satanism and Queer Liberation: An Unholy Alliance
Updated: Mar 7
By: K.V. Chandler
It didn’t take long for conservatives to respond with outrage over the Grammy performance of “Unholy” by Kim Petras and Sam Smith. Awash in red light against a backdrop of infernal flames, the two put on a fiery performance that bucked every rigid expectation placed upon us by society.
Although the reaction to the performance––ranging from concern to fury––was both predictable and somewhat amusing, it also spoke to something deeper at work in our society. Over the last few decades, mainstream pop artists have been more willing to openly embrace subversive themes that challenge the political and social status quo. Lil Nas X, Lady Gaga, and Madonna have all attracted accusations of embracing Satanism and demonic influence. Until recently, most of our response to fundamentalist pearl-clutching has been simply dismissive. But something has shifted.
Satanism and similar philosophies traditionally defined as left-handed paths have rapidly grown in popularity over the last decade. It’s no accident, either. Contrary to fundamentalists’ interpretation of this growing popularity as something sick in society, the movement is more about how mainstream Christianity and politics have largely given up on protecting Enlightenment ideals. If you aren’t familiar with them, they’re the ideals that underpin virtually every political, social, and legal protection that we as queer people have fought to gain and protect over the years. They are embedded in the founding documents of the United States, in the movements for justice for Black and Indigenous lives and lifeways, and they took Europe by storm from the late 18th century into the 20th until the specter of fascism tried to wrest them away.
If we look at the tenets of The Satanic Temple and remove any reference to Satan or Satanism, we can essentially see a condensed, updated distillation of Enlightenment principles that informed thinkers like Thomas Paine, Olympe de Gouges, Frederick Douglass, Karl Marx, and so many more.
Most queer people instinctively accept these tenets because they are fundamental to our lives and freedom in a world that has grown increasingly calcified and turned toward tired, vitriolic attacks in an apparent ongoing feud between modern Puritans and the cultural descendants of accused witches. These attacks didn’t start with Trump. However, the massive rise in membership to The Satanic Temple in the aftermath of Trump’s election spoke some power to our unspoken recognition of a simple fact: we are all the inheritors of the Enlightenment.
Although most queer people are not Satanists, the brand of Satanism promoted by The Satanic Temple and aligned movements that reject LaVeyan concepts (see here for the ultimate dragging of Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan) is explicitly aligned with our protection and liberation as marginalized people, as well as any group or individual who faces marginalization when they stand up for or embody the tenets above. We tend to recognize that there is no threat that arises from this devilish imagery people fear because we have been the imagery that people have feared. And we know ourselves and each other well enough to know that fear is a toxic lie, a declaration of shame as though we must walk around with scarlet letters apologizing for our existence and making ourselves small. Kim Petras holds the honor of being the first transgender woman to win her award (Wendy Carlos is actually the first trans person to have won a Grammy in 1970 for her work) and Sam Smith has likewise contributed to the zeitgeist as a nonbinary queer person unapologetically living their truth through art. Although it’s not clear if either artist intentionally made the connection between Satanism and queer liberation, their artistic interpretation of “Unholy” did everything but apologize. It did everything but make us small. It made us big, impactful, loud, and it showed our unrestrained passion for expression and liberation.
That is why these two movements that seemingly have little to do with each other are so inextricably linked in an age when self-professed conservatives are trying to undo the Enlightenment. We recognize the threats to our ways of life and how those threats impact anyone that doesn’t fit the straight, white Christian mold demanded of proto-fascist politicians and talking heads in both parties who gleefully defend caging children at the border, leave pregnant people deprived of any social or monetary support while also depriving them of bodily autonomy, demonize transgender people for existing with a litany of anti-trans legislation, and seek to divide and conquer to enforce their Christian dominionistic philosophy on us all.
Of course, the preceding decades likewise saw the consequences of their supposedly holy mission: bombs dropped across half a continent; drone strikes murdering entire families; ignoring antisemitism until it culminated in the Holocaust; petty distractions like freedom fries and flag-burning legislation; an anti-Muslim crusade that took the United States by storm in the early 2000s; aligning themselves with anti-Black sentiments until it was no longer convenient; suppressing Indigenous nations and committing genocide; and allying themselves with fundamentalists in ignoring the HIV/AIDS crisis, their promotion of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the Defense of Marriage Act, and gross misrepresentations of our community.
We have seen it all, and we rebuke it. Hellishly.
K.V. Chandler (he/they) is an editor and writer working toward an MFA in Creative Writing. He currently lives in Nacogdoches, TX. He is not a member of The Satanic Temple or officially aligned with any religious institution.