Janelle Monáe and Tessa Thompson Were the Best Couple That Never Was
I love mess.
It simply is my duty as a child of the gay gods to begin with Janelle Monáe’s most recent Pride cover for Gayletter. If you haven’t seen it I implore you to take a deep breath and head straight to her Instagram. If you’re gay, straight or just in the alliance consider this homework.
Naturally, my first thought was [redacted] but my second was, that is NOT Tessa Thompson topless and disheveled in bed next to her. Nor is it me but that is a complaint for a different article.
Did Monáe make us *scream in gay* with that photo? Is water wet? Yes! But as a professional messy woman, I can confirm she would have really thrown us over the edge if the body behind her belonged to Tessa Thompson (or at the very least alluded to the possibility of it being her!). It is what we deserve. It’s what the girls want. (Me, I’m girls).
Tessa Thompson and Janelle Monáe’s relationship is the hardest on-again off-again relationship I have ever been in. Although neither officially confirmed their romantic relationship, wishful thinking will get us by here. This turbulent tale dates back to 2015 when Thompson starred in Monáe’s music video for “Yoga,” right before her career catapulted because of Creed. The pair also wore what I will round up to calling matching outfits at MOCA’s gala that year. They were the couple that never quite was but in a way, always will be. Most media companies have since given up speculating about their supposed relationship, but nevertheless I persist — and here’s why:
I promise I’m not just writing this because I’m horny and have too much time on my hands in quarantine. There is also something vital about seeing (specifically Black!) queer femmes in pop culture. Queer people spend so much time looking for themselves in mainstream media that even an ounce of it, through squinting and hoping you see what you think you see, is affirming and fun and exciting. Show me the last time you saw two Black queer femmes in love! Sure, I had Set It Off and Wanda Sykes’ standup as a kid, but it was so easy to see myself as Janelle or Tessa, and to see them as contemporary characters who represent my very own queer existence: young, Black, femme, fun, freaky thesbian types. That’s not to say that that archetype didn’t exist before, it’s just to acknowledge that not much reached me as a young Black queer femme from Los Angeles.
With Dirty Computer Monáe offered up the most accurate version of myself back to me. Sure, she was occasionally serving freshman at NYU with obvious allegories to the criminal industrial complex, but she still gave more to me than most women in music ever have. Fighting for this couple was also fighting to see myself, to see Black, queer love (and mess) come to fruition. So yes, I’ve constructed an entire house of cards to prove the existence of this relationship, and here it is in article form.
Let’s begin with my personal reckoning in April 2018 when Thompson returned as Monáe’s video vixen/muse. Monáe dropped an “Emotion Picture” alongside the release of her studio album, Dirty Computer. And as iconic as “Make Me Feel” was, my favorite song was Thompson being cast as Monáe’s romantic interest/partner in the longform music video.
It wasn’t even seeing Tessa’s perfect little head popping out between Monáe’s “pussy pants” that did it for me. No, that’s child’s play. The gayest thing you can actually do is skirt around allegations of your relationship for weeks/months/years while instead only alluding to it, vacationing together, and saying things like “we love each other deeply.” Us gays love intrigue, drama, yearning, chaos. Trust me. Some people watch porn, I watch Jamie Lee Curtis surprising Sarah Paulson on the Comic Con red carpet. Some people watch porn, I watch Rachel Weisz discussing performing alongside her femme co-stars. Some people watch porn, I watch Portrait of a Lady on Fire.
We didn’t just get Dirty Computer in 2018. We got Janelle Monáe coming out as pansexual in Rolling Stone in April of that year, two months before Tessa Thompson came out as bisexual in Porter. When asked about her relationship with Monáe, Thompson said, “we’re so close, we vibrate on the same frequency. If people want to speculate about what we are, that’s okay. It doesn’t bother me.” Not no! But not quite yes. Just enough straws for me to violently grasp at. That year, they were spotted at the Annihilation red carpet, The Black Panther premiere, Essence’s Black Women in Hollywood Oscar luncheon, living it up on Monáe’s Instagram live, gassing each other up on social media, and probably other places we weren’t privy to.
But by the time the 2019 Met Gala rolled around they weren’t seen anywhere near each other. This honestly spoke volumes in comparison to the music video cameo — the conspicuous distance between the two was even more indicative of a relationship (and therefore a breakup!). I wouldn’t be a queer woman if I didn’t also call attention to the symmetry of Monáe, Thompson and Danai Gurira at the Black Panther premiere in January, 2018, versus Monáe, Lupita Nyong’o and Gurira at the 2019 Met Gala. (Never forget that earlier that year in our very own InStyle Golden Globes elevator, Nyong’o also famously “kissed” Gurira!). WHAT DOES DANAI GURIRA KNOW!? Rumors then shifted from Monáe and Thompson to Monáe and Nyong’o and suddenly we were all Alice from The L Word with her infamous chart. I’d be lying if I said this broke my heart because if anything it only amplified my love for lesbian mess, love triangles, and chaos. We also would have never gotten those videos of Lupita and Janelle dancing on stage together in London.
For the record, Lupita has never come out, and neither she nor Monáe ever confirmed any kind of relationship with one-another. And further, none of these women owe anyone an explanation of their sexual orientations or relationship statuses. People will always speculate even though we don’t have much to go on. The only overlap I’ve seen from the pair these days are fighting for Black lives and fighting against voter suppression. As far as we know, Monáe is fighting for racial equality while cuddled up with whoever that was in her bed, and Thompson is petitioning to get a racist statue replaced with Marsha P. Johnson (which you can sign here!). The likelihood of them being together (or just linking up with an ex in general) is sadly low.
Although they may never confirm or outright deny their relationship, the truth is two beautiful Black queer women in what looks like love will never not be fine art. Losing their on-and-off again relationship, or whatever that was, will always be the hardest pill to swallow. But what keeps me holding on is the fact that they could be back together again tomorrow because… well... lesbians!
Breakups That Broke Us is a weekly column about the failed celebrity relationships that convinced us love is dead.