Last week, Kehlani came under fire for a series of tweets about her sexuality and labels. The singer, who was already out, reiterated that she identifies as “queer,” which engendered a firestorm of fan interactions that led her to delete the tweets. The negative attention Kehlani received from such fans wasn’t necessarily deserved, and though she handled it like a pro, resolving the issue with grace and open communication, she was treated rather unfairly for a stringent champion of the LGBTQ community. So, LEAVE KEHLANI ALONE.
The 23-year old first said she was queer in an interview with Complex in 2015.
“Regardless of whether or not you accept it, I am not afraid to tell you how it is,” she told the magazine. “I think it’s important that there is a voice for that right now. I wouldn’t even necessarily say I’m bisexualI like who I like. I’ve dated both men and women. Sex is biological, but gender is mental. I’ve been with people who aren’t what they’re born into. You fall in love with a person’s mind, you fall in love with a person’s soul, not with whatever’s down there.”
In the last year, she’s brought her now ex-girlfriend to red carpets and award shows, and released a Sapphic-themed music video to accompany her WLW love song “Honey” in 2017. That song, she wrote on Instagram, were “inspired by an androgynous woman,” which is why she cast a masculine-of-center love interest for the video.
She doesn’t shy away from sexual identity, but rather chooses to center it, both in her art and in her online presence. Her tour with Demi Lovato recently concluded with Kehlani surprising Demi on stage where the two shared an impromptu kiss.
Kehlani has garnered almost half a million followers on Twitter, and over five million fans on Instagram. Since becoming a public-facing musician, she has decided to use her platform for good, making a habit of speaking her mind on social media. The Oakland native constantly chooses standing up and speaking out for what’s right, so why the heat?
Kehlani wrote in a now-deleted thread of tweets, “cuz I keep geddin asked, I’m queer,” she said, elaborating, “Not bi, not straight. I’m attracted to women, men, REALLY attracted to queer men, non binary people, intersex people, trans people. lil poly pansexual papa hello good morning. Does that answer your questions?”
She followed up with a caustic dig at straight men, adding, “and since we on that I’m the LEAST attracted to straight men, y’all really adorable sometimes tho. Bisexual men really are little gifts from god tho.” Then, the backlash sparked. First, a fan asked why she considers herself queer instead of gay, to which the “Honey” singer responded, “I felt gay always insisted there was still a line drawn as to which ‘label’ of human I was attracted when I really jus be walking around thinking ERRYBODY FINE.”
Afterward, she deleted the series of tweets, explaining that she wants to be careful about offending people, proclaiming, “I retracted my queer tweet because i am being corrected about the way in which i listed the gender spectrum and i’m super super sensitive to being offensive especially when i’m only trying to appreciate. point is, i love love, and that love lies in every gender there is.”
(repetitive so it’s suuuper clear) my indentifying as queer wasn’t the issue, it was the singling out of trans & intersex which sounded transphobic, ignorant and to some, sounding like fetishization. which is completely wrong, not my intention, and something to say sorry about. https://t.co/gRX01Ce5lG
— Kehlani (@Kehlani) April 23, 2018
so many blogs reported it as my coming out i am dead. 😂😂😂😂😂
— Kehlani (@Kehlani) April 23, 2018
Upon further digging on why she deleted the tweets, the singer added that she “always [wants] to be corrected & educated when [she] is wrong,” because she has a “massive responsibility by having a platform,” which is true. But Kehlani uses social media responsibly as compared to most celebrities and musicianscough cough, Kanye West. She actively has open and honest conversations with her fans, as displayed here. Unfortunately, some thought it wasn’t enough, and accused the artist of being transphobic and ignorant.
“my indentifying [sic] as queer wasn’t the issue, it was the singling out of trans & intersex which sounded transphobic, ignorant and to some, sounding like fetishization. which is completely wrong, not my intention, and something to say sorry about,” she wrote.
“u can identify however u want ofc but when you say things like “not bi” then describe exactly the attraction a bi person feels it can make people who don’t really kno wht bi means think that nb and intersex people arent included in tht attraction,” Twitter user @Linawilso said. The fan also corrected Kehlani’s language in describing LGBTQ folk, writing, “also the addition of attraction to trans people sugggests that they’re in a separate category than their gender (same problem w intersex ppl) and that…. leaves a bad taste even tho i know that was not your point i think the wording in this comes off poorly.”
Kehlani responded, “ahhhh that makes HELLA SENSE!!!! i totally get it. wasn’t my intention at all but it’s so important! thank you for this!”
This is why we stan Kehlani. We live in an age where people are lambasted on Twitter every day for something that’s usually deserved. Many who come under fire respond with red-faced, indignant, defensive fury, rather than being open to criticism and apologizing. Kehlani has brought representation to the pop and R landscapes for QWOC, and chooses to advocate for the LGBTQ community time and time again. For that reason, I believe Twitter was a little harsh.
Of course, it’s important to correct and enlighten people when they’re wrong in order to push the conversation forward in a positive and progressive way. But sometimes, we treat people who are consistently good and make daily efforts to raise up marginalized folk, like they’re some Mike Pence-looking homophobic trash monsters. I think it’s pretty clear that it was not Kehlani’s intention to be transphobic or exclusive in her tweets, in fact, it seems like she was trying to make a point about quite the opposite. And to be frank, someone as pure and good-intentioned as Kehlani deserves some leeway.
The singer-songwriter moved on to the next fight for justice and chose to stand up for victims of abuse. The same day, Kelis came forward with allegations of physical and mental abuse against her ex, Nas. Obviously, Nas’s fans were shocked. Kehlani took to Twitter and wrote, “to deny a victim of her abuse is the continuation of the abuse and it’s the worst thing you could possibly ever do. it’s not even salt in the wound it’s a new wound in the wound.” She added, “& for the ‘why speak up way later’ mufuckas in the back… i pray you never have to experience your power, choices, body, control over your body being stripped away from you to empathize and understand. shit not no walk in the park. smh.”
So, let’s cut the singer some slack. She uses more inclusive language than any other major pop, R or rap artist in the spotlight. She just shared a track on lesbian pop star Hayley Kiyoko’s album, as well as Cardi B’s. She stands up for victims of abuse, women of color, and the LGBTQ community every day, and opens her heart and ears to her fans, ready to listen and learn rather than fight back. Nobody’s perfect, but we stan a legend. Leave Kehlani alone.
Photo by Natt Lim/Getty Images for Coachella