Artist Shares Their Queer Identity Journey on The Red Table Talk
Electrifying multi-hyphenate singer, songwriter and actress Janelle Monáe has come out as nonbinary. On the internet’s newest obsession “The Red Table Talk,” an online talk show hosted by Jada Pinkett Smith, Willow Smith and Andrienne Norris, Monáe opened up about her gender identity being “beyond the binary.”
Known for their classic black and white suit and songs about everything from authenticity to self autonomy, Janelle Monáe has always captured the hearts of many through their willingness to boldly be themselves and take up space through her music. Hailing from sunny Kansas City, Kansas, Monáe grew up in a large family and reflected fondly on their community and humble beginnings. “I grew up in a really big family, my mom was like one of twelve kids and she’s the baby. My grandmother had 14 brothers and sisters and she was a sharecropper in Aberdeen Mississippi and they would share one pair of shoes and so I have 49 first cousins,” shared Monáe on The Red Table Talk.
Even while surrounded by their large family, due to religion, growing up wasn’t always the easiest for Monáe. “I grew up Baptist, super religious and super conservative,” said Monáe. “I didn’t love that. I didn’t feel like I could really dream big. I had to kinda create my own world,” voiced Monáe. And create their world they did.
Monáe got started in music as a child, joining the local Coterie Theatre’s Young Playwrights’ Round Table and continued to follow their dream of music through young adulthood. From attending The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York to selling their own debut CD to performing at local Black colleges, Monáe continued on with their passion to inspire the world with their music, and continues to do so. A Grammy nominated, GLAAD award recipient and two time Billboard Women in Music award winner, Monáe has been a face known to succeed just by being their most authentic self. With their coming out, they continue in this tradition.
“I’m nonbinary, so I just don’t see myself as a woman solely,” shared Monáe with The Red Table. Continuing on, Monáe stated “I feel all 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.” With previously identifying as a cisgendered Black woman, Monáe while identifying now as nonbinary still commits to standing with not only Black women but all people. “I will always stand with women. I will always stand with Black women, but I just see everything that I am, beyond the binary.”
Monáe has long been apart of the LGBQT+ community as openly pansexual and has long been an inspiration for many. Monáe spoke to their sexual identity on the show stating the ways in which their love crosses the barriers of gender and sex. “When I see people, I see your energy first. I don’t see how you identify. And I feel like that opens you up to fall in love with any beautiful spirit.” shared Monáe with the Table.
While coming out is a lot easier today than years prior, gaining the courage to be openly and authentically queer or gender expansive 100% of the time can still be difficult. Monáe explained, “as free as I was on stage, when I came off stage I was still that scared little girl. Like I’m not good enough…Will they love me?… My dad, he had gotten on crack cocaine… [and] this is when he was sick sick. [So] I was dealing with real abandonment-rejection-abandonment issues. ‘What if people leave me’ was a direct correlation to my dad. Always feeling like if I wasn’t perfect, they would leave me?”
But Monáe, even through experiencing these family issues and dealing with fear of rejection, still managed to push through and tell family first before the public. “Somebody said ‘If you don’t work out the things you need to work out first, before you share it with the world, then you’ll be working it out with the world;’ and that’s what I didn’t want to do…I wasn’t ready to have my family question my personal life or get calls from people who still look at me as ‘punkin,’ (that’s what they call me back home). So it took me some time.”
After some time, Monáe gained the clarity and space to come out to their family. “She had a lot of questions at first. She was like ‘well okay, so what does this mean?’ … My grandmother, rest her soul I love her, but she was super religious… my whole family is church… [so] what does it mean to go against your whole family. But I was ready.” The time Monáe spent alone with their own identity and coming into self-acceptance gave them the confidence needed to get through their family’s lack of understanding. “I needed to have those conversations. I didn’t want to work that out yet with the world. I needed to talk to my dad, who was just great. My sister knew already because I’ve been in monogamous relationships. I’ve been in polyamours relationships. But I knew I couldn’t be lil punkin, I couldn’t be lil’ Janelle. I had to be where I was,” shared Monáe.
With time and patience Monáe was able to shed their fear and their family was able to shed their lack of understanding. Amongst one of her biggest supporters is her mother, Janet Monáe. “I’m very proud of her. I love her unconditionally. Nobody will take that away from me.”
Firecracker and mama bear Janet, even amongst criticism from voices abroad and their hometown, has still stood firmly and supportively by her child. “I get a lot of backlash about Janelle. [But] I tell them back at home… who are you to judge?”
Throughout Janelle Monáe’s entire journey, from the dreaming child to the scared young adult, to the powerful person they’ve now become, they have managed to still continue her pact of authenticity. Through their artistic expression, sexual candor, and now public gender identity of nonbinary, Monáe continues to inspire the hearts of many to boldly and beautifully be themselves.
“I know who I am. I’ve been playing a version of some parts of me, but now I’m owning all of me,” stated Monáe.