“I know who I am. I’ve been playing a version of some parts of me. But now I’m owning all of me”
BY NIC CROSARA, IMAGE VIA INSTAGRAM
Fearless is often a word I see people use when talking about Janelle Monáe. But last night, on The Red Table Talk, they held space to be vulnerable and open when talking about their hidden struggles and how they got to where they are right now.
I know what you’re thinking. Wait, this was on the Red Table Talk? Isn’t that the show hosted by Jada Pinkett Smith? Yes, it is indeed. If you’re wondering whether they address what happened at this year’s Academy Awards, the episode opens with text explaining that the family is “focusing on deep healing” and that some of what comes out from that will be shared at the table “when the time calls.” The message from Jada clarifies that the show will go on continuing on its mission of offering “powerful, inspiring and healing testimonies”.
Within minutes of the episode, Willow asks Janelle about the journey of realising who they are. “I’m non-binary,” Janelle says. “I just don’t see myself as a woman or solely, or, I feel all of my energy. I feel like God is so much bigger than the he, or the she. And if I am from God, I am everything. I am everything. But I will always, always, stand with women. I will always stand with Black women. But I just see everything that I am beyond the binary.”
Near the start of 2020, Janelle tweeted: “#IAmNonBinary” along with a meme from Steven Universe reading “Are you a boy or a girl? I’m an experience”. People immediately assumed Janelle now went by they/them pronouns and headlines read “Janelle Monáe just came out as non-binary”. But there was also speculation on whether they had in fact come out, or whether Janelle was just showing solidarity with the community on International Non-Binary Day. It was powerful to see Janelle open up about their gender identity, and seeming so calm in doing so in their own way.
Throughout the episode Janelle addresses being from Kansas and growing up in a conservative and religious environment where they were referred to as “Pumpkin”. When asked what got them ready to come out publicly Janelle shares that: “Somebody said, ‘if you don’t work out the things that you need to work out first before you share it with the world. You’ll be working it out with the world, and you don’t want that.’” Janelle opens up about how they felt they needed to have all the correct answers and to not say the wrong thing. They also needed to have the necessary conversations with their family. “What does it mean to go against your whole family?” Janelle asked themself when preparing to open up this dialogue with their church-loving relatives. Janelle offers a moment of confident humour: “I was like, ‘you know what, if they don’t love me, don’t call me asking for money. You will not get my LGBTQIA+ money!”
The musician goes on to open up about their different experiences with relationships. “I’d been in monogamous relationships, I’d been in polyamorous relationships. But I knew I couldn’t be little Pumpkin. I had to be where I was.”
“I know who I am. I’ve been playing a version of some parts of me. But now I’m owning all of me. I had to own all of me to be able to talk about it publicly.”
I love that Janelle chose to share their story this way. On a table full of Black people of different generations. With Janelle having embraced their pansexuality and gender, Willow her bisexuality and Jada having previously talked about being attracted to women.
“Were you always this unapologetic about yourself?” Willow asks.
“No. Absolutely not,” Janelle replies. “I’ve been doing a lot of healing.” They go on to reflect that, like many, they looked inward during the pandemic. Janelle thought back to the beginning of their career. “As free as I was on stage, when I came off stage I was this scared little girl.” The star opens up about insecurities they had from their hair, to seeking validation from others and struggles with rejection and abandonment that stem from childhood.
“It can be a lonely road. The moments when I felt most disappointed was when I was afraid. Because I was afraid of failing.” Janelle says and then gives a powerful analogy when addressing their fear of people leaving. “It’s like a play. There are going to be recurring characters. Folks that don’t make it back for the second act. And we just have to be fine with letting go.”
Before the episode ends, Janelle’s mother joins the table and the pair talk about their journey together. It’s full of love. Janelle also answers questions from their loyal supporters, AKA the Fandroids, and gets to surprise super fan, Ose, who shares how they found empowerment as a queer non-binary person through Janelle. They talk about how watching Janelle wear iconic dapper suits and sing about the importance of their own self confidence. “I saw a proud Black person, wearing the clothing that I wanted to wear and having the confidence that I wanted to have.” Yes I did shed tears when Ose found out they would get to meet and hug their hero. Janelle takes their hand, addressing the video message and says: “Hearing you talk, made me wanna just do my absolute best to make people like you feel a part of a community. In a community, seen, heard, loved, cared for. This is exactly the reason I do what I do.”
Even before coming out as pansexual in Rolling Stone, for queer Black and brown people, Janelle has allowed us to see that we can exist on our terms.
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