Janelle Monáe is clarifying her gender identity.
On an episode of Red Table Talk, the singer declared that she is nonbinary. The 36-year-old previously came out as pansexual, meaning that she's attracted to people regardless of their sex or gender identity, in 2018 when she was on the cover of Rolling Stone. In 2020, she seemed to identify as nonbinary when she retweeted a meme with the hashtag #IAmNonbinary before telling Variety that she was "exploring." On Wednesday, she explained just how she's come to terms with who she is.
"I’m nonbinary, so I just don’t see myself as a woman ... solely. I feel all of my energy. I feel like God is so much bigger than the 'he' or the 'she,'" she said. "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."
The Memory Librarian author, who did not declare her preferred pronouns, went on to say that she sees other people for their "energy" rather than their gender. Most importantly, identifying as nonbinary has allowed her to explore relationships in different ways.
"I feel like that opens you up to fall in love … with any beautiful spirit," she said.
Despite the joy that she feels in where she is today and the pride that she has in sharing it, the process of coming out is one that Monáe described as very personal.
"Somebody said, 'If you don’t work out the things that you need to work out first before you share with the world, then you’ll be working it out with the world,'" she recalled. "That’s what I didn’t want to do. So I thought I needed to have all my answers correct, I don’t want to say the wrong thing. And also I hadn’t had the necessary conversations with my family. I wasn’t ready to have my family question my personal life or get calls from people who still look at me as Little Pumpkin — that’s what they call me back home."
Monáe explained that she grew up "Baptist, super religious and super conservative," in Kansas City, Kansas. "I didn't love that," she said. "I didn't feel like I could really dream big, I had to kind of create my own world."
But once she started exploring who she was and diving into the process of coming to terms with it, it was important to confront where and who she came from.
"My whole family is church, church, church and I’m just like, ‘Well what does it meant to go against your whole family on this thing?’ But I was ready," she said. "I needed to have those conversations. I didn’t want to work that out with the world."
While she said it "took me some time" to have the conversation with her mom and other family members, she explained that they've all been understanding.
"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 polyamorous relationships," she said. "But I knew that I couldn’t be Little Pumpkin. I couldn’t be little Janelle."
In owning all of herself, Monáe had also confronted other traumas from her past.
"I’ve been doing a lot of healing. I’m sure most of us have since we’ve been in the pandemic. When you have to stay in, you go in," she said. "I was thinking back to when I first started and I was like, man, as free as I was onstage, when I came off stage, I was still that scared little girl. Like, 'I’m not good enough.' That was always in the back of my mind. 'Will they love me?'"
Ultimately, she even worked to heal her relationship with her father, who had been a drug addict throughout parts of her life.
"He had gotten on crack cocaine and that changed his life, that changed our relationship. Now he’s completely sober, he’s doing incredible, he’s like my best friend. But this was when he was sick at this time," she said. "I was dealing with real rejection abandonment issues. 'What if people leave me?' was a direct correlation to my dad. And always feeling like if I wasn’t perfect, will they leave me? Or if I … I don’t want to feel the pain of anybody leaving me."
Monáe admitted that the process of healing "can be a lonely road." In the long run, it's helped her to become the confident person and performer that she is today.
"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," she said. "I had to own all of me to really be able to talk about it publicly."
Monáe's Red Table Talk's first guest following the show's hiatus. This is also the first episode to come out since the Oscars when Will Smith slapped Chris Rock. Jada Pinkett Smith opened the episode with a written message:
Considering all that has happened in the last few weeks, the Smith family has been focusing on deep healing. Some of the discoveries around our healing will be shared at the table when the time calls. Until then… the table will continue offering itself to powerful, inspiring and healing testimonies like that of our incredibly impressive first guest. Thanks for joining us, Jada.
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