“I consider myself to be a free-ass motherf*cker.” That was Janelle Monáe’s searing statement to Rolling Stone magazine – and the rest of the world, watching – yesterday. In her much-celebrated interview, Monáe addressed her sexuality (referring to herself as a “queer black woman… someone who has been in relationships with both men and women”) and told queer fans that her new album, out today, is for them. “Be proud,” she said.
It’s a significant feat for Monáe to use her powerful and growing platform in such a positive, meaningful way – and her display of openness shouldn’t be taken lightly. Although strict labels are avoided, she makes a nod towards identifying with pansexuality: the attraction to individuals regardless of their sex or gender identity. Despite Monáe not being the only celebrity to highlight this – to name a few, Courtney Act, Sia and Miley Cyrus all identify as pansexual – I know from personal experience that representation is invaluable.
Monáe’s words in Rolling Stone are incredibly impactful for millions of us – as is the the invitation to be taken under her wing. "I want young girls, young boys, nonbinary, gay, straight, queer people who are having a hard time dealing with their sexuality, dealing with feeling ostracized or bullied for just being their unique selves, to know that I see you," she said. By not only acknowledging the scope of sexual preference and identity, but also personally rejecting sex and gender norms, entire communities have gained another unapologetic, influential ally in Monáe. And the truth is that there can simply never be too many.
By not only acknowledging the scope of sexual preference and identity, but also personally rejecting sex and gender norms, entire communities have gained another unapologetic, influential ally in Monáe
And Monáe doesn’t stop there. As soon as the overtly feminist music video for “PYNK”, a single from her album Dirty Computer, begins to play, those of us who were willing a more inclusive space to exist are gratified. All of the women in Monáe’s music video are women of colour. This is a direct celebration of the beauty possessed by black and brown bodies everywhere, but there is still more representation to be found in her soft-hued work of art. PYNK celebrates body positivity. PYNK celebrates sexual fluidity (Monáe and Tessa Thompson appear as an enviable power couple, while the words “pynk like the tongue that goes down, maybe / Pynk like the paradise found” is sung). PYNK celebrates the fascinating nature of the female form with those loud-and-proud vagina pants. It celebrates choice and bodily autonomy (note the representation of pubic hair, underwear emblazoned with the words “I GRAB BACK”, and the versatility of the hairstyles worn by Monáe and her dancers).
PYNK’s video fits in perfectly with the attractive, trendy feminism of today’s social-media bubble – but it has a much-needed edge, in that it exists on a different plane to what we’re so used to seeing. It informs the audience of her progressive personal view – the underrepresented deserve to share the spotlight with white, straight women. Monáe has actively sought to make this happen with her frank discussion of identity, the delivery of PYNK and its representation of a more inclusive feminism – one that is worlds apart from the ever-present “white feminism”.
More of a trend than a movement, and one that has led slogans such as “pussy power” and “girls support girls” to become gimmicky, white feminism glosses over or entirely erases the oppression and difficulties faced by marginalised women, including women of colour and the LGBTQ+ community, replacing the need for universal understanding, acceptance and equality with motifs about freeing the (always pink) nipple. And, if your feminism isn’t intersectional, it’s not good enough.
Monáe puts inclusivity at the fore of her work, always. You can celebrate women while being mindful not to exclude those who identify as women without vaginas from your feminism. Monáe’s PYNK opened a dialogue that her Rolling Stone interview and digital assertions could smoothly follow. Since the release of PYNK, Monáe has tweeted, “no matter if you have a vagina or not […] We see you. We celebrate you.” Monáe’s output proves this to be more than just words. Monáe is a queer black woman, an intersectional feminist and an ally. And we are proud.