The irresistible queer femininity of Janelle Monáe

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      “Pink is the truth you can’t hide,” Janelle Monáe sings in the video for “Pynk,” a track from her new album Dirty Computer.

      In the clip Monáe and her dancers, clad in outfits of various shades of pink, open and close their knees to the beat of the music. Some have large ruffled pants of different shapes resembling genitalia. Some have no ruffles at all. The image is an blunt representation of the female body, marking a range of the feminine that has room for racial diversity and space for non cisgender women.

      It’s also blatantly queer. At one point in the “Pynk” video, actress Tessa Thompson—Monáe’s long-rumoured romantic paramore—thrusts her head out from between the singer's legs, an image of both birth and sex. Later, the two stare each other down across a row of undulating asses. They grind and dance in underwear bearing slogans like “sex cells” and “I grab back.” And it’s all washed in soft shades of bubblegum and bright pops of magenta. 

      Monáe will perform at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver for the second stop of her Dirty Computer tour on June 12. She brings with her a remarkable and complex set of new music with Dirty Computer.

      The 32-year-old singer, actress, producer, and model has referred to the album as "a homage to women and the spectrum of sexual identities." But for me, taking it—and the accompanying “emotion picture” short film—in was also a specific exercise in considering my own conception of queer femininity.

      Growing up Red Deer, Alberta, I would come home for lunch during high school and my mom and I would watch The Ellen Degeneres Show together. My mom would always comment on how “nice and happy” Ellen and her wife Portia de Rossi looked together. During my school years, friends and I would spend late nights getting frozen yogurt and driving around the suburbs, talking about our dating hopes and dreams. One of those nights was the first time I said out loud that I might one day date a woman.

      Much like pink is the truth you can’t hide, being queer was my truth I couldn’t hide. When I eventually came out in my second year of university, I had moved to the big city—if you count Calgary as the big city. I cut my hair short, bought a lot of flannel and found a big shiny carabiner to keep my keys on.

      My newfound masculinity fit like an oversized sweater from the men’s section at Value Village—comfortable and easy. I wore a lot of hiking boots. I fell in love with a woman. I taught myself to like drinking IPAs. I looked up to Alison Bechdel, Rachel Maddow, and k.d. lang.

      For me, embracing my masculinity was my way of embracing my queerness. It made me feel seen as queer. Walking down the street, I would see other butch women and we’d nod at each other, a mutual acknowledgement of seeing and being seen. But Janelle Monáe—and particularly Dirty Computer—reminds me that female queerness can embrace the feminine as well. 

      Monáe’s own queerness is fluid. She identifies as pansexual, saying she likes the openness and opportunity of the word. And the tracks of the album walk through different expressions of queerness—release, celebration, anger, empowerment. 

      When Monáe dropped “Make Me Feel,” the first single from Dirty Computer, the corner of Twitter full of queer femme people collectively lost their minds. The unabashed exploration of bisexuality, the smooth snyth riffs marking the musical hand of Prince, and the way she looked at Thompson in the music video—it was so good, so good, so fucking real. 

      Subsequent releases from the album, including “Pynk” and the effervescently aggressive “Django Jane” showcase different images of the queer feminine. Dirty Computer and its accompanying “emotion picture” paint a portrait of queer diversity. There is no one right way to be a queer woman. You can be hard-edged and masculine. You can be pink. You can be both. You can be neither.

      When Monae plays Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre this Tuesday, I’ll be there standing alongside a whole spectrum of queer people, and feminine people, and queer feminine people, and people everywhere in between.

      I might even try to find myself a pair of ruffled pink pants for the occasion. They’ll be pink like the paradise found.