Why It Matters That Janelle Monae Is Owning Her Identity

The multi-talented star is lending some much needed LGBTQ+ representation

Janelle Monae is opening up an important conversation. Well into twenty-gayteen, the blooming pop culture icon is making headlines for coming out as pansexual and bringing visibility to queer women of colour in mainstream media.

After dropping her third album, Dirty Computer, the Grammy Award nominated singer, songwriter and rapper is generating a buzz beyond her musical tracks. Though she has projected much of her public identity through her alter-ego Cindi Mayweather, an android, the 32-year-old opened up to Rolling Stone and owned not only being a human being — but “being a queer black woman in America” and is bringing attention to LGBTQ+ identities — recognizing herself as pansexual, based on learned traits she shares with the label.

Pansexuality, for those wondering, is a sexual identity for folks who don’t limit their sexual choices to biological sex, gender presentation or gender identity. It’s often confused with bisexuality (a label that Monae has also used in the past).

The response from the Internet and LGBTQ+ communities has been positive, encouraging, life-changing, needed. Speaking directly about her intersections in heteronormative spaces and publications serves both marginalized communities that usually rely on niche platforms to find representation and creates entry points for the masses who are starting to understand the socially oppressed.

“Janelle and Dirty Computer made me feel seen/known as a queer woman of colour,” wrote Maya Reddy, who recently moderated a panel at ClexaCon, a convention that celebrates LGBTQ+ women and characters in TV, film, digital platforms and more, on Twitter. “[She made me feel] Included in a community, and connected to those who may not be in that community.”

Dirty Computer raises awareness to critical social issues. The album calls attention to queerphobia, racism, sexism and social oppression from the current state of normal. Through beats and strong lyrical content, she works “black girl magic”, offers queer lady loving tracks (affectionately singing to a female lover) and is empowering queer people (with a focus on women) of colour in her music.

Of course, the strong representation isn’t limited to sound — Monae, who was cast in the Academy Award-winning film Moonlight and Academy Award nominated Hidden Figures — opts for work that tells black stories. “Our stories are being erased, basically,” Monae told Rolling Stones. She aims to tell stories where she can relate to the narrative — she tells her stories.

Monae, who is embracing her personal identity and evolution as a public figure, is even shedding her signature style — introducing colour as she clads herself in fresh attire. Busting out the pussy pants earlier this year, the fashion statement showcased the singer in frilly chap-like bottoms featuring various shades of pink that come together to look like a vagina for “Pynk”, the first video off Dirty Computer. This, of course, is more of a shock to longtime fans who have been accustomed to seeing the artist with her ‘uniform’ of black and white (worn as a tribute to her working class family, she explained to Huffington Post).

As her career continues to develop and she evolves as a person, Monae is revealing more of herself, offering more depth in parts that the public has become familiar with — giving voice to those who too often go unheard through her journey. She’s stepping up and offering positive representation for queer people of colour — helping to normalize a new narrative for anyone who is not a cis-white male.

You don’t have to read between the loins to understand Monae’s message.

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