In the lead-up to her new album, Dirty Computer, which drops this Friday, Janelle Monáe has more than hinted at her sexual identity. “Make Me Feel”—which channels her mentor Prince and features a synth line written by him—references both Black Mirror’s “San Junipero” episode, a queer utopian fantasy in which two women find each other in an ’80s-themed afterlife, and Sylvester’s 1978 gay anthem, “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).”
Then came her single “Pynk,” which—with its “vagina pants” and all-femme desert-getaway vibes—had explicitly queer overtones as well. Both videos starred Monáe’s long-rumored partner, actress Tessa Thompson.
Now, in an exclusive interview with Rolling Stone magazine, whose cover she graces for the May issue, Monáe has confirmed that she identifies as queer.
“Being a queer black woman in America,” Monáe told the magazine, “someone who has been in relationships with both men and women—I consider myself to be a free-ass motherfucker.”
Monáe identified as bisexual at first, she says, “but then later I read about pansexuality and was like, ‘Oh, these are things that I identify with, too.’ I’m open to learning more about who I am.”
Often, pansexuality more explicitly acknowledges a person’s interest in genders across or outside the binary.
The multifaceted artist (apart from working on her music, Monáe is the CEO of her own label, a CoverGirl model and an Oscar-winning movie star) points out that her music often referenced her sexual identity.
“If you listen to my albums, it’s there,” she says, later adding that the original title of the song “Q.U.E.E.N.” was supposed to be “Q.U.E.E.R.”
But Monáe also acknowledges that her commitment to the android persona of her previous albums, known as Cindi Mayweather, served as a sort of armor as she came to terms with her broader identity as an artist.
“It had to do with the fear of being judged,” Monáe said. “All I saw was that I was supposed to look a certain way coming into this industry, and I felt like I [didn’t] look like a stereotypical black female artist.
“What if people don’t think I’m as interesting as Cindi Mayweather?” she said. “I created her, so I got to make her be whatever I wanted her to be. I didn’t have to talk about the Janelle Monáe who was in therapy. It’s Cindi Mayweather. She is who I aspire to be.”
As for her decision to come out, Monáe understands that her platform—and her music—matter to anyone struggling with their identity or who doesn’t often see themselves represented in pop culture.
“I want young girls, young boys, nonbinary, gay, straight, queer people who are having a hard time dealing with their sexuality, dealing with feeling ostracized or bullied for just being their unique selves, to know that I see you,” she says. “This album is for you. Be proud.”