Tessa Thompson just did something extremely brave. In a new interview with Net-A-Porter, the actress came out as queer and went into greater detail about her close relationship with singer Janelle Monae.
Thompson’s relationship with the “Pynk” singer has long been the subject of speculation since the duo played a couple in Monae’s Dirty Computer music videos. Speaking on their romance, Thompson said, “It’s tricky, because Janelle and I are just really private people and we’re both trying to navigate how you reconcile wanting to have that privacy and space, and also wanting to use your platform and influence.” She added, “That was something I was conscientious of in terms of this declaration around Janelle and myself,” she said.
The Westworld actress asked about her own social responsibility, as a public-facing queer person. “I want everyone else to have that freedom and support that I have from my loved ones,” she said, “But so many people don’t. So, do I have a responsibility to talk about that? Do I have a responsibility to say in a public space that this is my person?”
The answer is, it’s tricky, and it always will be until queerness is almost totally destigmatized. On one hand, it’s easy to say that celebrities have a moral and social responsibility to use their platform and influence, as Thompson described, to normalize queerness. However, as LGBTQ people are familiar with, making generalizations can be harmful—and making assumptions that all celebrities have a wholly easy, painless lifestyle that allows them to be out and safe is a myth. The truth is, we never know what’s going on in a person’s life, what their families are like, or what their journey to coming out was like, and it’s 100 percent unfair to demand a person come out, or to drag a person out of the closet—whether they’re public-facing or not.
But we always do this—the public has an affinity for, at best, pressuring, and at worst, forcing a celebrity to come out. Last month, singer Rita Ora was unfairly dragged out of the closet. After releasing a bi-friendly song about kissing girls, which was intended to be a wink-wink-nudge-nudge coming out moment for the singer, fans lambasted Ora for exploiting queerness, which resulted in the pop star having to make an official statement and declare her bisexuality.
Demi Lovato, too, faced public criticism for playing coy about her sexuality rather than overtly declaring herself as queer (even though, like Ora, she released a song about sleeping with women, “Cool For the Summer”). Eventually, Lovato came out on her own terms in her documentary Simply Complicated, following multiple public trials by reporters who argued that troubled LGBTQ youth deserved a coming out story from Lovato. That’s a lot of pressure to put on any one person, and we certainly wouldn’t ask anything like that of a non-celebrity.
But luckily, Thompson’s family is supportive of her queerness, which definitely allayed coming out for her. “I’m attracted to men and also to women,” she told Net-A-Porter. “If I bring a woman home, [or] a man, we don’t even have to have the discussion.” She admitted that her family’s unbridled support has made her “take things for granted,” knowing that other queer people aren’t always so fortunate.
You can read the full interview with Tessa Thompson here. As they say, welcome to the gayborhood—queerborhood?