travis scott astroworld trans controversy
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Psychedelic influences on the latest release from Travis Scott suggest that the name Astroworld refers to some kind of spiritual plane that listeners are transported to, yet the reality is that this album was actually named after a Houston theme park that closed in 2005. In truth, this explanation is far more fitting given the rollercoaster ride that Scott has endured in the days before and after the release of his third full-length record.

It all started when La Flame shared two versions of the album’s cover art, which featured the same shot of a theme park entrance. The main difference was that one depicted a family-friendly version of Astroworld by day while the other explored a more explicit interpretation of the theme park by night. However, it wasn’t long before fans spotted another far more problematic difference between the two, one which would spark controversy in both the hip-hop and LGBTQ communities alike.

ASTROWORLD 8/3/18 @david_lachapelle

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In the original nighttime version of the album’s artwork, iconic trans model Amanda Lepore appeared on the left hand side in a provocative pose, but she was then nowhere to be seen in the image that Scott subsequently shared online. RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 10 winner Aquaria was one of the first to point out this discrepancy, prompting Lepore herself to also question why she had been removed from the final photo that Scott posted.

Photographer David LaChapelle responded by explaining that “Amanda was taken out because she just upstaged everyone” and Scott himself then released a statement online too, apologizing for “the misunderstanding” while also backing up LaChapelle’s reasoning. La Flame then went on to stress that “I have nothing but respect for the LGBTQ community” and “everyone is welcome to Astroworld,” but is that really true? Is Scott really as tolerant as he claims or must you be ‘this’ cis to enter his extravagant theme park world?

A Carousel Of Controversy

It’s important to note from the get-go that Lepore herself seemed to accept the “upstaged” explanation online, sending love to both Scott and LaChapelle from her Instagram account. Because of this, it might be tempting to accept such claims and move on, but the truth is that there’s still far more twists and turns to explore in this funhouse ride.

LaChapelle later reiterated his vague reasoning, arguing that “Everybody wants to explain everything with some phobia or whatever,” but honestly, it’s hard to see how this “Ain’t nothing to do with hating.” Sure, the legendary photographer is openly gay himself and Lepore subsequently defended her old friend against the backlash, arguing that he’s “definitely not transphobic.” However, without a genuine explanation beyond the fact that she somehow “upstaged” others in the image, the model’s omission in the final artwork is still rather contentious.

After all, it’s hard to see how Lepore could have upstaged anyone given that she’s positioned so far back in the image and her pose doesn’t stand out as unusually provocative when compared to the other models featured either. Sources close to Scott claim that the edited version of this picture was the only one he received from LaChapelle, which suggests that he isn’t to blame, but that hasn’t stopped the likes of Aquaria from calling out his apology still as “an apologist mad lib.”

Whether it’s true or not that Scott was unaware of the edits that took place, this isn’t the first time that the controversial artist has upset the LGBTQ community. Back in 2015, Scott called out audience members at one of his shows for not going crazy enough, throwing a number of gay slurs their way. It didn’t take long for La Flame to apologize for his insults on Twitter, arguing that “we all ain’t perfect,” but even then, claims that he had homosexual friends of his own and mentions of the word “spazz” hardly did him any favors in this regard either.

Given that this incident happened fairly recently, it’s difficult to believe that Scott has “nothing but respect” for the LGBTQ community, and this is particularly unfortunate given that his partner’s parent is Caitlyn Jenner, one of the most famous trans people in the media today. However, even if Scott has learned the error of his ways, he still missed out on a powerful opportunity to make amends by not fighting to reinstate Lepore’s image in the picture.

Wake Up

In Scott’s apology, he hinted that Lepore will be included in a future Astroworld related project, but such a vague hint does little to undo the damage that’s already been caused. After all, nothing more than a cursory glance through the user comments posted under his apology is needed to see that transphobia is still rife in the industry and what’s even worse is that a number of these hateful fans then migrated over to Lepore’s account to troll her too.

People can argue about artistic freedom all they want, but by actively removing a trans legend from such a prominent picture, LaChapelle, Scott, or whoever else made this final call have helped silence a big voice in the trans community. Even if they’re not actively transphobic, it’s hard to understand how the person in question couldn’t have foreseen such a backlash given that Lepore was the only model removed, and the fact that they did so without even informing her first is a huge sign of disrespect.

Musicians like Big Freedia and Mykki Blanco are doing what they can to fight the waves of hyper-masculinity that dominate the industry and perpetuate the queer discrimination that still characterizes much of rap music as a whole. However, without the support of chart-topping allies, their message will only reach so far. Despite increased visibility in the media, violence against trans people continues to increase in both the U.S. and U.K., so even something that might seem arbitrary like editing a model out of a picture can have fatal consequences. With the outright support of someone as influential as Scott, there’s no telling how much the lives of transgender people in America and beyond could be improved for the better.

When asked to comment on the controversy that surrounds the Astroworld project, Ne-Yo told TMZ that whoever decides to spearhead support for trans models in hip-hop would go down in history. It’s just a shame that Scott won’t be the one to do so. The fact that he was willing to work with Lepore in the first place suggests that he may have learned from his previous mistakes and could have even become the ally that trans people so sorely need, but this only makes her final omission even more disappointing.

In his initial apology, La Flame stated that he wants to use his voice “to make it clear that everyone on this planet is equal and fucking awesome to the next.” If this were really true, then he would have fought to reinstate Lepore’s work, helping to creating a powerful message that could have created real change in the hip-hop community. By not doing this, the implication instead is that the erasure of trans identities is acceptable and therefore not everyone on this planet is equal after all. Whether it was his intention or not, Scott has made it clear that his version of Astroworld is still closed off to some people.

Can’t get enough La Flame? Read our op-ed on how Travis Scott became one of hip-hop’s most divisive artists right here.

Words by David Opie