I didn’t believe Ariana Grande was coming out, and that’s OK. On the pop star’s latest song, “Monopoly,” some speculated that the singer subtly came out as bisexual with the lyrics, “I like women and men (yeah)” after months of discussion about who and when she would start dating, following a very public breakup. The song also dropped on April 1, amidst doctored pregnancy announcements and marketing gags on April Fool’s Day, so who wouldn’t be a little skeptical?
Now that the smoke has cleared and we can trust the internet slightly more than on the first of April, fans are still questioning Grande’s truthfulness. Many responding to “Monopoly” believe she’s guilty of queerbaiting, hinting at queerness to appeal to the LGBT community but not actually presenting it so that her heterosexual audience remains intact. The same critique was made when she dropped the “Break Up with Your Girlfriend, I’m Bored” music video a month ago. Grande teases us with a queer storyline, flirting with a strikingly similar-looking woman only to repackage it as a metaphor for self love later. Understandably, people were pissed.
But “Monopoly” is more direct than that. It leaves zero room for interpretation. Shortly after its release, Grande tweeted that she’d never felt the need to label herself before and still doesn’t now.
Still, many people are convinced that her implied sexuality is all marketing. According to one Twitter user, she’s stringing us along. Others say she’s pretending to be bisexual for the “attention,” a trope often used against bi women. And since her sound and aesthetic are a byproduct of outside influences, her audience is even more skeptical. Is Grande actually queer or does “Monopoly” suggest she’s stealing aspects of LGBT culture?
It's true that it would be extremely uncool for her to queerbait her fans, if that's what she's doing. But the reality is, there's no way for us to know if she's queer or not unless she tells us, and the act of speculating only perpetuates attitudes that contribute to the erasure of bisexual women. Grande does't have to date a girl in order to count as bisexual. And we shouldn't try to make her prove her sexuality anyways.
“There are a couple of parts to sexual identity,” says Christina Tesoro, a sex educator who identifies as bisexual. “There’s who you’re attracted to and want to have sex with or be in a relationship with, but I think a more important, part is the hidden or unseen aspect of it. Who do you fantasize about? Who are you attracted to in ways that aren’t necessarily obvious to others? I have friends who are biromantic, who get really shy about that identity because they can’t ‘prove’ it.”
Sexual identity is about communicating our attractions, desires, behaviors, and what those things mean to us. It’s self-defined. We can’t determine someone’s sexual identity just by looking at them. We can’t figure it out based on their current romantic partner. All we can do is trust who they say they are.
Bisexual women like myself often face the stereotype that we are immoral and greedy. It makes it difficult for others to accept our words at face value. And while this applies to how much our labels are believed, it goes deeper than that.
“Being misunderstood and fetishized within the community and outside of it is hard, invalidating, and stressful,” Luna says. “Bi/pan/queer folks are perceived as promiscuous, especially if we’re femme, making us targets for higher rates of sexual violence. There’s erasure and hypervisibility at the same time, fetishization and ostracization. It’s not surprising to me that bi/pan/queer folks have higher rates of anxiety and depression.”
Studies also show that bi+ folks are more vulnerable to substance abuse and suicidal ideation. And because our culture sees femme sexuality as something cishet men consume, often erasing or ignoring our agency, bi+ women are hypersexualized and objectified. Our identities are read as a performance even when they aren’t one. They’re transformed into something inherently attention-seeking.
And the fact that Grande has only dated men, at least publicly, lends to the belief that she’s motivated by the male gaze. This is used to suggest that while she may profess to like women and men, she will ultimately end up with the more normative romantic partner because it’s what she’s used to; and that if she’s just going to ‘choose’ straightness later on.
In this way, pansexual, bisexual, biromantic people and the like are held responsible for their own internalized oppression and regularly isolated from both their heterosexual and homosexual peers. The fact that we socialize people into heteronormative scripts that negatively impact the way these folks understand desire speaks to a larger societal problem, not a problem with them. There is so much discourse around bisexual women’s ability to access both cishet and LGBT spaces, but, in my experience, we rarely actually can. We’re stuck in the middle, between two communities that reject our existence.
Some argue that if Grande would just pick a label, her fans might be satisfied. It certainly speaks to the value we give those labels, but identity isn’t so rigid. In a ten-year study of sexually active minority women, two-thirds changed identity labels and one-third changed labels more than once. The study also found that the most commonly adopted identity was an unlabelled one. In another study, researchers found that young people are more likely to avoid sexual categorizations completely.
We’re constantly questioning and rewriting who we are and by eschewing from labels completely. Grande should be free to do so, unfettered by our desire to put her in a box. Doesn’t “I like women and men” convey enough? Or do we need her to pick a label because it somehow validates our own?
Let's stop trying to figure out if celebrities are “actually: queer. There is nobody more authorized to let you know than them. And when they’re ready, they will.
Whether Grande is straight or queer, defining her sexual identity is her choice. We can absolutely trust her to know herself. It’s time we start.