Imara Jones: Hi fam, it’s Imara. Welcome to the TransLash Podcast, a show where we tell trans stories to save trans lives, highlighting news, politics and culture in a way that’s deeply relevant for our community and those who care about us. With so much difficult news in the world, we are incredibly excited to present this conversation with the visionary and groundbreaking queer artist Janelle Monáe. Janelle Monáe needs no introduction, but we’re gonna do one anyway. She is an eight time Grammy nominated singer, songwriter, producer and actor with one of the most celebrated voices of our time, having been in movies like Hidden Figures, Moonlight, and The Glorias, Janelle recently wrapped production for Netflix’s Knives Out 2, alongside Daniel Craig and Kate Hudson. And next month, Janelle will publish her first book with Harper Voyager entitled The Memory Librarian: And Other Stories of Dirty Computer set against a totalitarian backdrop highly relevant for our times, the memory librarian will explore different threads of liberation queerness race, gender, plurality and love and how they become tangled when we try to unravel and weave them into freedoms. This very special episode of our podcast is presented by Martell, Blue Swift, and ACast Creative. Martell Blue Swift is the first-ever spirit drink made of cognac VSOP and finished in bourbon casks – a true innovation for the category. This is just one example of how the brand has been redefining conventions for over 300 years. They want to inspire people to create their own path. And like today’s very special guest opened the doors for others to do the same. Now we know that for many in our community, substance abuse is an ongoing issue. Therefore, we want to urge you to continue to do what you need in order to take care of yourself. I want to be totally upfront with you all that I have been a fan of Janelle’s since her 2007 album Metropolis, and have found their artistic vision, both inspiring and relevant to our time, one where we are grappling with how to maintain our humanity in an era dominated by technology. Janelle, thank you so much for joining us.
Janelle Monáe: Thank you so much.
Imara Jones: We normally start out every episode of the translation podcast with “Trans Joy,” a segment on joy. But we don’t really have to do that with you, because everything that you do in terms of your art and creativity is infused with that. So I’m wondering how, during this difficult time that we continue to be in, how you continue to infuse joy into your work.
Janelle Monáe: I am actively creating experiences wanting to curate more experiences, centering joy that has been my sermon, honestly, shoot for the last few years, and especially being in the pandemic. And if we’re not talking about vacation vibes, party vibes, laughing, experiencing, like, bliss together as a community, then I think we’re getting life wrong. You know, we’re supposed to be enjoying the present. And I know that sometimes I can, like many get caught up in fighting against something or fighting for something, which is important. But I think it’s equally important to be proactive about creating things that bring you joy. Sometimes it’s can be the smallest things in somebody else’s eyes, but the biggest thing in your eyes. And those are the things that I’m trying to do more of, not, not time travel into the future so much, but really stay present.
Imara Jones: Yeah, I think that that’s really important. You know, I’ve been to your concerts where I’ve heard you say that the world will constantly try to take away your joy, and that our job as artists, as creators, as people is not to let that happen. So I think everything that you said is going to be deeply meaningful and relevant for everyone to hear, especially now. In 2020, you told the world that you were both non-binary and pansexual. And I’m wondering what that means to you, because words mean different things to different people. And there was a lot of controversy at the time. I’m wondering if you can just talk to us about what the words mean to you personally right now. And how since you said them, has it impacted your creativity and your perspectives as a person and an artist?
Janelle Monáe: Yeah, I mean, I think as you evolve and as life reveals things and as you start to discover, you know, the nooks and crannies of who you are, what you can be what you’re into all that shifts and changes. You know, it becomes like a journey and not a destination as I’m going through my journey, I’m in real time you know, I’m growing in front of the public, which can be very stressful. But it comes with the territory. And so I try to be as honest to where I am as possible. I also don’t put any pressure on myself to reveal anything. If it’s in a casual conversation, or if I’m, you know, supporting a community, or if I feel like it, then I move, but I just think that sexuality, gender, all of that is such a personal relationship with oneself.
Imara Jones: Yeah, I think that that’s really important that we are a dynamic people, we are always learning and growing and changing. We’re not static. We don’t have to have everything figured out. Even though we get into a trap of thinking that we do. The world tells us that we have to have everything figured out. But we don’t. And a part of us being creative people, is that dynamism. And I think that as you continue to speak from your own personal experience, that’ll be really important, because it’s going to give people the courage to continue to be themselves. And it’s a part of your art that just continues to unfold.
Janelle Monáe: Yeah, I think you’re right about that. I think that there was probably a time where I did feel like, oh, I said this last year, but I feel differently this year. Oh, well, am I a hypocrite, or I think those are just questions. But I’ll tell you, I’m in the most carefree, I don’t have anything to prove space, that I feel like I’ve ever been in. Like I don’t owe anybody an explanation. For my decisions. Just because I have a platform, that does not mean that I need to say everything or talk about everything. There’s no way that I can keep everybody up to speed and up to date on what’s going on in my mind. And I’m still becoming who I am my own self. And I’m allowing myself the space and I encourage everybody else, to allow yourself the space to change to grow. Change your mind given new information, to not be embarrassed by publicly having to learn a lesson. I think that we’re all teaching each other. It’s like a play to me life, honestly. It’s like a play, the characters come in and out in and out. Some are reoccurring cast members. Some are not. But I mean, it’s just like, how do we continue to just like, in our most authentic ways, become those examples. I mean, if that happens, it happens. But you keep living life and just know that you can say and do and be what you want to do. But you have to have that “I don’t give a fuck” level of attitude about like, I actually don’t. I’m not considering the world when I’m making my decision, if that makes sense.
Imara Jones: Yes. Wow, totally. How does it feel for you to realize that you’re at the point in your life where you feel the most open and carefree that you’ve ever been? What is that like in your body?
Janelle Monáe: It feels euphoric. It feels it’s like a deep happiness. But but you know what I didn’t just get here overnight. I think even doing Dirty Computer, that album. I did like this retrospective where I was just really thinking back to who I was. And some of the old photos that I was looking at. I was like, man, I was so unhealed and like, had so many rejection, abandonment issues, I didn’t even know a vaccine. But I think being an artist amplified it, because my relationship with my father, which were close, very close now. You know, my mom had me he didn’t claim me. He didn’t know he didn’t want to be a father at that time. And then he ended up dealing with drug abuse. And he became sick and sick to the point where he couldn’t really mentally engage with me in a way that I would want to have a relationship with my father. And there were moments he said, he come you know, he’s coming to pick me up and he’s not and so people who have dealt with parents as addicts will know what I’m talking about. But that kind of feeling of coming into the world feeling rejected and abandoned, carried with me, but I didn’t know that because I had so much love around me. My mom loved me my Aunties loved me. My family loved me, like, I had a big support system. But that still bothered me. And I think I buried it and what did they say what you bury will grow, right. And I started to have this like, unhealthy relationship with being perfect so that nobody would leave me. Perfect performance. Perfect album. Perfect, perfect, perfect. Like, I can’t make a mistake I can’t afford because I don’t ever want to feel the pain of being abandoned or rejected. If people don’t like my next album, what does that mean? What does that mean to lose an audience, you know, and that was connected directly to my childhood. I didn’t know that. And now that I’ve healed from that, I was like, man, what? Oh my god. I don’t care who is around who’s not like This is life, you know what I’m saying? Like, if I considered everybody in the room while I was creating or every decision I tried to make or whatever, I literally would be embarrassed once I crossed over into the next phase of life. Like, that’s what you did when you were on Earth, who sat there and you allowed yourself to be consumed by what you thought people would think. Or the world puts so much judgment on me on you on her on him on they on all of us. People do that we do that to each other. Why would I pile on into the to myself. So I’m learning to love myself in a way, radically in a way that I just had. So a part of me needed to, like, go to therapy, have necessary conversations with friends and family. And if you’re in a relationship with somebody, what does that mean to be pansexual? What does that mean to be non-binary, they have families, their families may have questions, you have to just like, be really ready. And also know that you have people that you have to talk to that are in your life in a real way. Not people that just know you from going, you know, going to a concert, or you have a real family that knows you as one thing, and what does it mean to grow? And not be that thing? And have to tell them? Hey, take it or leave it? Or have to deal with well, what if they abandon you? All of that was I was considering and I’m so happy I’m over that stage in my life, where I’m even considering thinking about that.
Imara Jones: Hmm, yeah, what is going to come is going to be, and that’s just going to be just as interesting, if not more than everything else. In 2019, you dedicated your Grammy nominations to trans people. And I’m wondering, what led you to do that? And was there any blowback side eyes, people saying that you shouldn’t have done that? And was there any downside of you doing? So can you just talk a little bit about that, what the impact has been, if anything,
Janelle Monáe: I mean, I have trans friends, you know, who I hang out with all the time, when I look at like a community of folks would such a resilient spirit, or I look in the eyes of my friend, I’m not always like, oh, you’re trans. Like, that’s just not how I rock. We are. Human we are. Everybody’s everything, right, but I’m looking at everybody’s spirits. And I just did not love. And I still, to this day, do not love how my trans brothers and sisters and folks are treated. I don’t like how trans people are treated in the black community. I’m black, so I can talk about it. I’ve seen it. And I don’t love it. And I hate it. Honestly, I think it’s up to white people to do everything that they can in their power to reach back and protect marginalized people. If you walk around in this world, and you have privileges that some people don’t, then I think I encourage you to use your power. Don’t abuse it, but use it to help further the careers, the lives the safety of marginalized folks. And I think for me, you know, being an artist having a platform, not having to deal with the same things that my trans friends have to deal with. I felt that responsibility. And I think that came from a genuine place. And it’ll always come from a genuine place. In my book, The Memory Librarian, we have trans characters, non-binary characters, we have women, we have droids we have like this is this is the world that we live in. And I just want to see it reflected so that all of us feel safe and seen.
Imara Jones: Yeah, precisely. Well, I think that’s a great place for us to end because it’s just kind of a combination of everything that we’ve explored, and have been talking about freedom, creativity, love blackness, queerness, openness, openness on gender identity and sexuality. And I know that upon hearing this, it’s going to be a great joy for the audience. And if it’s not, it’s been a great joy for me, so they’ll just have to live with it. Just everything that we’ve spoken about. And you’ve helped us see into specifically the possibilities of freedom, mainly through freeing our mind. Janelle Monáe, thank you so much for joining us for being on our podcast for talking about all of your upcoming projects. And it’s just so exciting for me as a fan of yours to continue to see your impact and your vision unfold as you grow and learn. It’s so exciting, and I’m so grateful that you were able to join us today.
Janelle Monáe: Thank you so much.
Imara Jones: Thank you so much. That was Janelle Monáe, eight time Grammy nominated artist, actor, and creator. Thank you so much for listening. Now stick all the way through for something extra. If you like what you heard, please go to Apple podcast to rate and review us. You can listen to TransLash wherever you get your podcast, check us out on the web at trans lash.org. To sign up for our weekly newsletter, follow us on Twitter and Instagram at TransLashMedia, like us on Facebook and tell your friends. The TransLash podcast is produced by TransLash Media. The TransLash team includes but it’s not limited to Oliver-Ash Kleine and Callie Wright. Our intern is Mirana Munson-Burke. Xander Adams does the sound editing for our show. Our digital strategy is handled by Daniela Capistrano. The music you heard was composed by Ben Draghi and also courtesy of ZZK records. TTransLash podcast is made possible by the support of the Helsing-Simons Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and many others, including some of you. This very special episode of our podcast is presented by Martell, Blue Swift, and ACast Creative.
What am I looking forward to? So honestly, I think the main thing I just want to sort of give to you all in this moment, is a conversation that actually the producer for the show, Callie Wright and I were having right before we came on, which was a conversation about the impact of stress on our nervous systems, and the long term impact on our mental health of just having our nervous system has been constantly aggravated by stress, the world, so many different things. And so that’s just really present for me. And I’m trying to think about ways to incorporate things large and small that can help my nervous system be less inflamed. So I know that this is what we’re all going through right now. You know, it’s been two years. And even after two years, the world is opening up, that feels strange and crazy. And people are not necessarily acting in their best ways. So just thinking about ways of taking care of ourselves large and small, that will impact something that I don’t think we often think about which is a nervous system. You know, we think about our minds, we think about our hearts, we think about our bodies physically, but a lot of that’s connected by this nervous system that runs throughout our bodies and also needs attention and care in terms of giving it breaks from everything that’s going on. So I’m looking forward to thinking about that, as well as some other things that are coming up that you can follow me on social media, but rather than talk about something that I’m looking forward to self promotion wise, I’m just going to leave us all with the idea of taking care of our nervous systems.
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