Earlier today, Janelle Monáe broke the Internet when Rolling Stone published a profile on the activist and music icon titled “Janelle Monáe Frees Herself.” Though she had been fiercely private about her personal life up until now, Monáe officially confirmed the rumors surrounding her sexuality. Indeed, for those who keep track of which celebrities come out, it’s been quite a week. Others who recently came out include Glee star Kevin McHale and pop singer Kehlani.
Janelle Monáe told Rolling Stone, “Being a queer black woman in America, someone who has been in relationships with both men and women, I consider myself to be a free-ass motherfucker.” She says though she initially identified as bi, she also relates to what she’s read about pansexuality. “I’m open to learning more about who I am,” she added.
Sure, hardly anyone who has been following the career of Janelle Monáe was surprised by today’s admission of her sexual identity. (Despite her previous attempts at evading the question of her sexuality with the stock response, “I only date androids.”)
Monáe had been hinting at her sexuality for years, and two of her most recent music videos are aggressively queer. The first, for “Make Me Feel,” features her in a love triangle with a man and woman, played by suspected girlfriend Tessa Thompson. Her most recent video, for “Pynk,” is an ode to vaginas and the power of womanhood. It has been hailed as one of the gayest music videos of all time.
And that’s why some queer and straight people alike have taken to Twitter and the comment section of articles to metaphorically eyeroll at Monáe’s coming out. Their reasoning: “It was so obvious that she was queer. In fact, she was seemingly baiting us with her queerness, so why is this such a big deal?”
Or as one person succinctly summed up on Hornet Stories’ own Facebook page, “Girl we knew already!”
People had similar responses when Glee star McHale came out one week ago. People felt the need to take to Facebook to write, “We’re not surprised at all.”
But people don’t ‘come out’ to surprise you. The Glee star, for one, went public with his personal life in order to live his life authentically as well as be a role model.
And that’s the problem with these “We already knew!” or “Why is this considered news?” haters. They’re completely missing the point.
Yes, many of us had reason to suspect Monáe wasn’t a straight woman, but that doesn’t make her ‘coming out’ announcement any less important or valid. There’s also a marked difference between people assuming a celebrity, activist or icon is queer and that high-profile individual proudly embracing the label.
New York Times best-selling author, actor and bisexual advocate Gaby Dunn tells Hornet, “I think whenever someone explicitly says who they are — be it queer, bisexual or something else — it helps anyone who is in denial. [Those people in denial] are able to see that the people they love and admire are just like them.”
So while it might not be a big deal for the gay person who’s been out since he was 5 and whose parents always loved and supported him, a celebrity declaring his or her queer truth is a big deal for the kid who’s closeted and comes from an unaccepting community.
Not to mention the overwhelming mental and physical health disparities that affect the LGBT population, specifically bi and pansexual communities.
As renowned bisexual activist and policy attorney Heron Greensmith says to Hornet, “When a high percentage of bisexual and pansexual youth still report poor mental health, especially youth of color, we will need powerful, thriving role models. Janelle Monáe is showing us another way to be a happy, thriving, queer black woman.”
At the end of the day, maybe it wasn’t shocking news that Janelle Monáe, Kevin McHale and Kehlani identify as queer individuals. But when celebrities come out, it’s an important, commendable act.