This AfterEllen (the lesbian sister site to the gay AfterElton) interview of R&B singer Monifah is a perfect example of how the largely white constructs of “gay” and “lesbian” don’t really fit black homosexual people.
AE: I want to talk about the past and I want to talk about now. Did you ever fear being outed back when you were 23, recording your first album?
MC: Lindsey, hell no. No! Let me tell you this: I have always lived my life authentically and exactly how I wanted to. I was dating women. People in the industry were very aware of who I was and what I was into at that point. They knew. I never hid it. I didn’t hide it.
AE: Who hid it? I mean, you weren’t out publicly.
MC: No! I was out publicly. I would be at parties with my girlfriend. It was very clear. It may be unspoken, but I didn’t feel like I needed to make an announcement. I just lived! You know what I’m saying? I just lived! Like most people I know.
AE: Absolutely. Well have you ever dated anyone that was in the closet?
MC: Um — I don’t think — no. In the closet? No. I wouldn’t say in the closet.
AE: What would you call it?
MC: Not in the closet, but not necessarily making any public statements.
AE: I guess that’s my question then.
MC: [Laughs] What’s your question?
AE: If you are a celebrity and you are gay and you are asked “Are you gay?” by press and media and you choose not to discuss it, to me and to a lot of people, that is in the closet.
MC: OK, got it, got it!
AE: So I guess that’s the divide. Do you feel that living an openly gay life or being open and honest, that there is a line drawn at press and media?
MC: Well yes because that’s still a personal thing. Your personal life is your personal life. Heterosexual couples do it all the time. Men and women that are in the business or whatever — whatever they choose to do! I am gonna say with entertainers and people in the public eye, I think that it’s a personal choice. I don’t discredit — I don’t have a problem with anyone not discussing certain aspects of their personal lives at all. It doesn’t bother me. What I chose to do was what I chose to do was because I never had an issue anyway. The show was about my life, and my life emcompasses the person I love and who I’m sharing my life with, which means my mom, my daughter, my girlfriend now, and whatever else is going on! I’m in a place where I’m walking in transparency. I’ve been through some struggles and I have nothing — you’re as sick as your secrets. I mean that in the things that can harm us — not with my sexuality; I mean drug addiction, sex addiction, things like that. I have to walk the truth. And so I was fine with sharing my personal relationship, which has uplifted me and given me a great new perspective and has given me such great support. This woman has been such a blessing to me and so I would never even think twice about celebrating that openly.
AE: You talked earlier about how everyone deserves the same rights. And I think that is something we all have to stand up for and I can tell by the way that you’re talking you believe that. So how do you feel about role models. You say it’s a personal choice but if we are fighting for equal rights —
MC: Right, I agree. Let me back up on this Lindsey, I got you. I do wish that it wasn’t such a big deal but I think that’s still, again, a private and personal thing. Because I think people are conflicted within themselves. It’s not even about what other people think; I think that’s the second door you have to open. The first door, is the acceptance of self. So if you’re still conflicted with acceptance of self, how do we expect for you to be honest and feel comfortable? I wish people really — it’s a scary thing. I get it, I’ve done it. I’m doing it. It’s an everyday process. It’s not some “Oh now it’s over.” I wish that people would take those steps and move out of the self-loathing pocket and more into the self-acceptance pocket. Once you’re not conflicted within yourself, speak out because this needs to be normalized. It has to stop. We do need to see these images of self. These children do need to see that there’s nothing wrong with them. They do need to see that so-and-so is amazing, talented and is taking over the world, handling his business and so can I. And they’re just like me! We need to see these images. Our children need to see them.
AE: Absolutely. Did anyone ever tell you, even though you were living an open life, did they say you might not want to speak publicly about your sexuality?
MC: Oh yeah, all the homophobes in the business. Yeah, oh my God, yes! Mostly everybody who was in control, who runs the industry. It’s a male-run industry, basically. And in my opinion, a gay-male run industry. That’s crazy to me. Overall! It’s Jewish gay males, right? I mean, am I crazy? [Laughs]
AE: No, I think what you’ve seen what you’ve seen, for sure! [Laughs] I think it’s really important to understand the reasons why that someone as famous as you, nobody knew until now!
MC: Yeah. I do think that Middle America, across the board, may not have known, but the people that are kind of privy and in the circle you run in – I’ve hung out at Girl Bar parties. I’ve lived my life! And I didn’t really — People would say “Oh she likes girls” especially now with blogs and stuff. It’s way more prevalent with social media and technology is more prevalent; way more in your face. In the entertainment industry, it’s become such a tool. It was definitely out there. People can believe what they like to believe and that’s depends on what they need to believe.
When Frank Ocean revealed that his first love was a man, I was most appreciative of the way he did it and the fact that, in doing so, he completely upended everything that we’ve been told it means to be a homosexual, to be honest and affirming, and how to let people into that aspect of yourself.
Monifah’s doing the same here. Monifah been out living her life and doin her thing, but to white folks her existence begins when R&B Divas airs and we see she’s in a loving relationship with a woman. That’s where Lindsey is coming from (well-meaning and cluelessly, of course).
But as Monifah says rather forcefully it seems, she’s been “out.” It just is different from what white folks consider “out.” It’s the “glass closet” that they’ve recently coined in a begrudging attempt to make room for the diversity of how people experience their sexuality (see: Cooper, Anderson).
The whole interview is really worth reading because despite the initial disconnect, both Lindsey and Monifah finally get around to having a conversation where they are both understanding one another.
The (largely white) gay movement’s language and construction of sexuality is much much more narrow than it is willing to accept. At some point, the movement is going to have to take seriously that black folks come to terms with their sexuality in different ways than what they’ve constructed as the most acceptable.