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CHRISTOPHER MUTHER

That Trump sendoff song is really about gay sexual freedom

‘Y.M.C.A.,’ a party anthem and gay disco staple of the 1970s, bizarrely found new life among a crowd cheering a president who wasn’t known for his support of LGBTQ rights

The Village People performed at Kowloon in June 2016.
The Village People performed at Kowloon in June 2016.Ben Stas for The Boston Globe/file

Rabid consumers of pop music and disco, particularly those of the LGBTQ variety, are well aware of the subtext of the Village People’s 1979 hit “Y.M.C.A.” Before it was the official song of weddings, bar mitzvahs, stadium sing-alongs, and Donald Trump rallies, it was a cheeky wink to the gay goings-on in dark corners at the Young Men’s Christian Association in the 1970s.

First, it needs to be stated that Village People “sexy cop” lead singer and “Y.M.C.A” co-writer Victor Willis vehemently denies that “Y.M.C.A.” has anything to do with the gay cruising that was widely known to take place at the YMCA of the 1970s. Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that the song is taken from an album called “Cruisin’.” For the record, Willis was the band’s sole heterosexual member. He even warned on Facebook that “I will sue the next media organization, or anyone else, that falsely suggests Y.M.C.A. is somehow about illicit gay sex,” adding “Get your mind out of the gutter, please!”

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To avoid a lawsuit, let’s clarify that “Y.M.C.A.” is not about illicit gay sex. It’s a wink and a grin about non-illicit gay sex. Even if Willis, who wrote the song with the very gay French producer Jacques Morali didn’t intend for the song to be taken as anything more than a paean to innocent and wholesome sporting activities, the gay community saw it differently. Intended or not, “Y.M.C.A.” is about the freewheeling, sex-positive, sauna-loving 1970s.

If you’ve ever suffered through the 1980 Village People movie “Can’t Stop the Music,” it’s as clear as Adam Lambert’s eyeliner that “Y.M.C.A.” should be called “Y.M.C.Gay.” Is there something not clear about the lines “You can hang out with all the boys” and “You can do whatever you feel”?

As most people know, the Village People were assembled as a band representing a mélange of 1970s gay fantasies. The Native American, construction worker, leather man, cop, cowboy, and naval officer were characters that Morali viewed as an ideal amalgamation of American masculinity (hello “Macho Man”). It wasn’t too difficult to read between the very large, rainbow-colored lines.

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“‘Y.M.C.A.’ certainly has a gay origin,” said David Hodo, the band’s construction worker, in a 2008 interview with Spin magazine. “That’s what Jacques [Morali was] thinking when he wrote it, because our first album [1977′s “Village People”] was possibly the gayest album ever. I mean, look at us. We were a gay group. So was the song written to celebrate gay men at the YMCA? Yes. Absolutely. And gay people love it.”

While most bands have objected to their song being played at Trump rallies, the Village People have not. Hence, their party anthem and gay disco staple of the 1970s has bizarrely found a new life among a crowd cheering a president who isn’t known for his support of LGBTQ rights. In 2019 Trump said gays “like the job I’m doing.”

But a quick scan of Trump’s record on queer issues shows that he barred transgender people from openly serving in the military, rolled back protections for trans students, flat-funded HIV/AIDS work globally, and pushed for exemptions that would allow health care providers to refuse care to transgender people and those with HIV/AIDS. He even barred US embassies from flying pride flags, typically done in June to mark global Pride Month.

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So to see Trump and his supporters, some of whom have organized straight pride rallies, grooving to “Y.M.C.A.” is ironic in every sense of the word. A song that had its beginnings when a gay French record producer visited a place where he saw all types of people working out, living harmoniously, and celebrating the decade’s “love the one you’re with” sensibility feels like a delicious trick. To see Trump march away from his presidency to a song that many of his followers might abhor should provoke a wink and a grin among those happy to see him go.


Christopher Muther can be reached at christopher.muther@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther.