Janelle Monáe on Coming Out: "I Was Terrified"
In a cover story for 'them,' Janelle Monáe opens up about coming out and how 'Dirty Computer' set her free in an interview with Lizzo.
Photo by Mike Coppola/Wire Image
It's been almost a year since Janelle Monáe released her magnum opus Dirty Computer, an album as equally pop as it is R&B. The album appeared at the top of countless year-end lists, including ours, and was nominated for Album of the Year at this year's Grammys. Much of the conversation around the album, however, was centered around Monáe's sexuality—a topic she kept at a distance with aliases and love stories about cyborgs in albums like Metropolis: The Chase Suite and The Archandroid. In an interview with Rolling Stone ahead of Dirty Computer's release, Monáe addressed her sexuality explicitly for the first time, revealing that she identifies as a pansexual although she considers herself a "free-ass motherfucker."
Now, Monáe is ready to let us in some more. "I was terrified. [...] I thought people were gonna say, 'Oh, she's doing this as a publicity stunt,'" she tells the body-positive rapper, Lizzo. In the debut cover story for them, a new LBTQ community-driven magazine, the singer reveals how she felt coming out, the liberation of Dirty Computer, and how it feels to be young, black, wild, and free in conversation with Lizzo.
Throughout much of the interview, Monáe explores the intersections of her identities, not afraid to highlight the ways society has at times made her feel unwelcome. "I mean, to be young, queer, and black in America means that you can be misunderstood," she says. "You can be hated. It also means that you can be celebrated and loved." This is the foundation Dirty Computer was made on, and a theme on which the film that accompanies the album rests. She is cast out from a world that rejected her, but she eventually finds the community that embraces her. "I just hope we can get to a point where black women who don’t identify as strictly heterosexual are normalized."
For Monáe, creating the album was a step in being the fullest version of herself. She says:
With Dirty Computer, I made a bigger declaration to myself—that I'm not putting out an album if I can't be all of me. You're gonna take the blackness, you're gonna take the fact that I love science fiction. You're gonna take the fact that I am a free-ass motherfucker. You're gonna take that all in and because that is what you're gonna get.
Before Monáe was able to find the liberation she displayed to the world, she needed to be able to express her sexuality to her family. "I grew up [...], in a very small town, and I went to a Baptist church; to be anything other than heterosexual is a sin in that community, and growing up, I was always told I'd go to hell if I was," she tells Lizzo. "There was a part of me that had to deal with what that meant." She continues:
After I had those conversations with myself and I saw a therapist, I had to be able to talk about what it meant to identify as bisexual. What does that mean? How would discovering that impact the relationship I was in at the time? How do I talk about it with my family? How do I go back to my church? [...] I leaned into the idea that if my own church won't accept me, I'm gonna create my own church.
The interview between Janelle Monáe and Lizzo is probably the best thing you'll read all morning. The two speak candidly and without judgment to each other, and the rest of the world could probably take notes. Monáe might be doing the work within herself, along with her grassroots group Fem the Future, but she's not necessarily counting on the rest of the entertainment industry.
"I think the entertainment industry has not caught up," she says. "[...]It’s about normalizing and telling more stories, and inviting more LGBTQIA+ folks into the conversation on the front end, and giving us a seat at the table early on. Because we can’t afford to see things in a binary way. That’s not how the world works."
Kristin Corry is a staff writer for Noisey. Follow her on Twitter.