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Black AND White: Why Janelle Monae Is an LGTBQIA+ Icon

Her iconic color scheme, black and white, is just one of the many characteristics that deliver Janelle Monae’s message of intersectionality and freedom. Since Rolling Stone released the article “Janelle Monae Frees Herself” in April of 2018 in which her pansexuality was announced to the world, Monae has inspired millions of people in the LGBTQIA+ community to challenge the status quo and embrace their identities. In the eyes of many, she is our generation’s Prince.

Why, you may ask? For many Black communities, defying heterosexual and cisgender norms is highly taboo.  Artists like Prince were so revered and have withstood the test of time exactly for this reason. To defy such deep-rooted cultural beliefs was, and still is, a great act of courage and assertiveness. Just as generations before us have had the privilege of being graced with Prince and David Bowie, our generation been gifted with Janelle Monae. Her gender fluidity and ability to be both masculine and feminine is a direct challenge to the idea that one must choose either – a message that is translated into her art. Her black and white color scheme, although originally meant to be a homage to her working-class background, also symbolizes her refusal to choose sides. Her songs claim her sexuality and her persona defends our freedom to be whomever we want to be.

As a feminine biracial lesbian woman, I was both awed and inspired by Janelle Monae’s outness and confidence. Growing up in a predominantly white community, being “gay” was a privilege reserved to my white counterparts. I am a person who doesn’t fit comfortably within society’s categories. The last thing I wanted to do was to extend my otherness by coming out to the communities around me, none of which were places I found accepting. It took years for me to find a balance between my femininity, masculinity, cultural identities, and sexuality. I had to learn how to separate societal expectations from myself. Yet, Janelle Monae appears to do it so effortlessly.

In her music videos, Janelle pursues both men and women. For example, her song “Make Me Feel” is dedicated to her expression of her sexuality. Unlike what we often see in media, her lesbianism isn’t designed to appease a predominantly male audience, and the man she is interested in takes a back seat to her sexual identity. The lyrics “that’s just the way you make me feel” highlight the powerful message behind her song. Our sexual identities –  gay, lesbian, bisexual, asexual, pansexual, etc. – are for our personal pleasure and comfort. We don’t love for society, we love for ourselves. Monae tells us to be proud of our identities and therefore, to exist for ourselves.

Monae’s comment to iHeartRadio about her newest emotion picture “Dirty Computer” encapsulates her beliefs on self-confidence and identity. She says, “I knew that it would take a commitment from me to dig deep in vulnerability, honesty, all my bugs, and my viruses. We all come from the dirt. I also see us as computers. We’re downloading, uploading things in our brains, in our hearts, and some of the things that make us unique can be seen as these bugs, and these viruses. And for me, I see all my bugs and viruses as features, as attributes.”

Monae’s songs are intersections of feminism, celebrations of black culture, explorations of identity, and LGBTQIA+ pride. Void of stereotypes and gender roles, she encourages us to live out our own truths. She taught me how to exist comfortably with seemingly conflicting identities and more importantly, that despite all the bugs and viruses we might have, it is our ability to overcome life’s challenges and embrace ourselves that makes us beautiful.

Kaija Gisolfi-McCready is a freshman in the Wharton School. She has a love for social justice and fashion. She is from Lexington Massachusetts and loves dogs. She is also an athlete, having competed at the national level.
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