Janelle Monáe has a lot going on right now, with the release of a new record winning over fans and critics alike.
In January, the iconic singer delivered a powerhouse “Time’s Up” speech at the Grammys. In April, she came out as pansexual in an interview with Rolling Stone, released a video for her latest single “Pynk,” and put out her album “Dirty Computer” towards the end of the month. And apparently, she’s still got a few surprises in store, if her recent statements about the symbolism in “Pynk” are any indication.
As many have noticed, one of the outfits Monáe and her backup dancers wear in the “Pynk” video has a certain Georgia O’Keeffe quality to it. “Sometimes I think people interpret those as vagina pants, they call them vulva pants, they call them flowers, but it just represents some parts of some women,” Monáe recently told People magazine.
As viewers of the video might notice, not all of the dancers are wearing pants — and there’s a reason for this.
“There are some women in the video that do not have on the pants, because I don’t believe that all women need to possess a vagina to be a woman,” she told People:
“I have one, I’m proud of it, but there’s a lot of policing and controlling that people are trying to have over our vaginas and when you think about female genital mutilation, when you think about all these women’s issues, I wanted to make sure we were discussing these issues but we were also celebrating each other. I wanted ‘Pynk’ to be a celebration of women who are unique, distinct, different, maybe different from one another, but when they come together they create something magical and special.”
In other words, Monáe believes transgender women are women, and that’s really awesome and very cool.
Like she said, “there’s a lot of policing and controlling” when it comes to bodies.
We live in a world where politicians are constantly trying to dictate what people should do with their own bodies, their own uteruses. We live in a world where politicians feel entitled to our medical history before we’re allowed to use the bathroom. We live in a world where the powerful try to impose their belief systems on the rest of us, working to strip away legitimacy and, at times, our very humanity.
That’s why it’s important to celebrate our differences. As a trans woman, I see my identity and legitimacy questioned on a near-daily basis.
Whether it’s politicians using fear-mongering around trans people to win votes, people who use their religious views as a shield for bigotry, or even some self-proclaimed feminists (most feminists are perfectly cool with trans people, but some aren’t) who spend their days trying to fight progress for trans people, I see it all — and it’s exhausting, frankly.
“Are trans women women?” is one of those questions that tells you a lot about the person answering it.
Let’s get one thing clear: There’s a difference between asking whether trans women count as women (a different subset of women than cisgender/non-trans women, but women, nonetheless) and asking whether trans women are the exact same as cis women — to which the answer is clearly no — and you’d be hard-pressed to find a trans woman who’d argue that we are or that we have the same exact experiences as cis women, as we obviously don’t.
Even feminist author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wasn’t very open-minded on this front. She hurt a lot of people in 2017 when she responded to this question about trans people, “So when people talk about, you know, ‘Are trans women women?’ my feeling is trans women are trans women,” suggesting that trans women are an entirely different group outside the label of “women.”
For more information on the debates over whether or not trans women are “real” women, check out trans scholar Julia Serano’s excellent essay on the subject.
But Adichie managed to encapsulate many of those conflicts in that single frustrating, disheartening answer. That’s because she conflated the question of whether trans women are women with the question of whether trans women are cis women. “Trans” is an adjective that modifies the noun, “women” — therefore, trans women are women. It’s a bit of a letdown when a feminist icon like Adichie splits hairs over who counts as a woman.
Adichie elaborated on her position after backlash, writing, “Of course trans women are part of feminism,” but the point seemed to be a bit lost on her.
Personally, seeing her remarks and those of people who agreed with her, I just… I just felt like some sort of freak, a subhuman forced into an odd third gender category that doesn’t accurately state who I am.
For an artist like Monáe to send a message affirming that trans women are real and legitimate really does mean a lot to me, and many others.
As people, we’re a lot more than just our genitals — and really, unless you’re romantically involved with someone, or you’re that person’s doctor, it’s hard to understand why those body parts are any of your business.
No two women share identical experiences in life, cis or trans. The best we can do is to try to have empathy for one another, to help one another, to listen, and to learn from one another.
I am extremely grateful that Monáe used her platform to fight back against the policing of bodies and genders. Whether or not we all have the same parts, we’re still part of the same club. Thanks for fighting back against the policing of bodies and gender, and ripping up the rulebook on who gets to join, Janelle Monáe.
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