Aunjanue Ellis Confirmed Her Queerness, Today Is For Black Bisexual Oscar Nominees ONLY

Feature image of Aunjanue Ellis, who confirmed she’s bisexual and queer to Variety magazine, Photo by David Livingston/FilmMagic

“The solitude of that is so lonely, it’s violent… It’s violent because you literally have to tuck and place so many parts of you to be acceptable, so people won’t run from you and don’t want to be around you. It was exhausting. That’s what childhood was like. That’s what adolescence was like. I knew [my sexuality], but there was no template for it; there was no example of it; there was no place for it, and certainly no forgiveness for it.”

I mean, that’s it. Isn’t it?

In today’s newly released Pride issue of Variety, Academy Award nominee — and all around phenom who rivets anyone watching to their chair the minute she steps onto the screen — Aunjanue Ellis confirmed she’s bisexual and queer in a stunning profile. She originally tried to subtly bring everyone in to her sexuality in March during Essence magazine’s annual Black Women in Hollywood luncheon, where she wore a custom red suit outfitted in crystals spelling QUEER down the sleeve. No one asked her what it meant. (Though I have to say, here at Autostraddle we did notice, we just had no way to confirm until now! Anyway!) This is what I’m supposed to be writing about. A quick, celebratory “WELCOME PARTY” for an Academy Award nominee.

And please do not get me wrong, anytime a Black person comes out as queer, I’m celebrating. A Black queer woman over 50, who’s proudly from the Bible Belt, coming out as bisexual? On June 1st? Babyyy — we throwing a whole damn Pride parade. Put her name in lights.

But I can’t stop thinking about the parts of ourselves that we’re forced to tuck away to be acceptable. The hushed “don’t tell grandma” that comes right after the “I love you” when we come out. The quiet bets we make with ourselves, “I’ll come out after I move away.” The violence of tearing ourselves into pieces that are smaller, more palatable. The waiting for permission to just be.

Aunjanue Ellis names it succinctly, “If [my family comes] to New York and they are around all my gay friends, they’re like, ‘Oh we’re cool.’ But don’t bring it to the house. Don’t be open with it.”

That part. The don’t ask, don’t tell part. That recognition of the negotiations we make, especially as Black people — and I’m sure other people make it too, but I can’t speak to an experience that isn’t mine. I’m Black and Aunjanue’s Black, so I am talking about Black people — make to be ourselves in our families. The ways we contort to make room for those people we know in our bones love us, but also love God, and haven’t yet wrapped their heads around how their God can also love us because God made us, too. The jokes and memes about Auntie who brings her “roommate” to the family reunion. It’s messy. So messy. But life isn’t neat.

I used to say that coming out stories were for white people.

That’s simplified. And I am not speaking for every Black person on the planet because Blackness is not a monolith. But I am speaking about the ways that Black queerness uniquely operates in open silence. That Queen Latifah, also Black and over 50, has still never said the words, and that doesn’t stop us from claiming her as our own. That Aunjanue Ellis literally walked a red carpet with the word QUEER going down her arm in sparkles, and no one bat an eye — that other Black actresses in her peer group have made so many openly queerphobic jokes, the norms of heteronormativity, she came out to them in a group text to get them to stop.That when Niecy Nash announced her wedding to Jessica Betts in 2020, the first question people had was if it was simply for a role. That I’m less than month from my 36th birthday, and the Editor-in-Chief of this website, but I’ve never actually come out to my mother’s very churchy sisters. That when one of them got remarried late in life, I sat in the front row of the church I grew up in and listened as my family minister talked about how my love was a sin. My mother sat next to me and squeezed my hand. I think she thought that helped. But really it only bought my quietness.

Different shades of grey across the same rhinestone. There’s protection in silence, love in half truths, family in not saying. But there’s also loneliness. I’m so grateful for Aunjanue Ellis making that plain today.

“It is imperative that we see more of that, because it is the truth of who we are,” Ellis says in the Variety interview. “It is not a blemish on who we are. It is the wonderful scope of our humanity as Black folks in this country. It is something that I am insisting on, in what I bring into the world creatively.”

More than anything for Ellis, this coming out party — and their life’s work — is for Black women. “I want to speak for them and to them in ways where they feel honored, where they feel that I’m doing and saying something that reflects their hopes, their dreams, their fears, their aspirations.”

And so here I am, Aunjanue Ellis, Black queer woman to Black queer woman, and I’m ready to do this thing! May streams of confetti fall upon your feet. May Beyoncé’s cover of “Before I Let Go” play with each step that you walk. May you have all that is good, because gahdamn this is one helluva way to kick of Pride.


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Carmen Phillips

Carmen is Autostraddle's Editor-in-Chief and a Black Puerto Rican femme/inist writer. She claims many past homes, but left the largest parts of her heart in Detroit, Brooklyn, and Buffalo, NY. There were several years in her early 20s when she earnestly slept with a copy of James Baldwin’s “Fire Next Time” under her pillow. You can find her on twitter, @carmencitaloves.

Carmen has written 515 articles for us.

12 Comments

  1. “There’s protection in silence, love in half truths, family in not saying. But there’s also loneliness.”

    So much truth here. It resonates differently for me, a white bi woman over 50, but it really does resonate.

    Thank you for sharing the news and your reaction Carmen. It feels like an honor to read this post.

  2. When she wore a suit to the Oscars I was kind of suspicious that she could be one of us but I completely missed the other outfit entirely.

    I wonder which actress she could have been referring to who seemed disgusted about having to kiss another woman on set. I have my guesses and if its who I think it is I am going to be seriously disappointed. That’s why I always say that not everybody should be playing gay.It sort of forces these women into advocacy and allyship and Stan communities full of queer people who worship them when sometimes all they are really their for is the check. Granted, not every actress is like this but it sucks that it got to the point where Aunjanue had to come out on set because people don’t know how to not be assholes. Don’t sign up for a queer role if you are not comfortable with all that entails.

    • My mom said “don’t tell grandma” but I did…and grandma didn’t really say much in response but for years until her death was probably the MOST friendly of my family members towards the person who became my spouse. She saw my partner for who they were and loved them. Miss her <3

  3. I can absolutely relate to this. I came out at 19 to my friends, but never actually came out to any of my family members (except for my gay brother, who found out I was gay when we ran into each other at a gay bar). I freaked not because I was gay, but because at the time I was drinking underage, and I thought he’d tell my mom. 😅

    I had my life, and I had my friends, and even though I never dated anyone while I lived at home, we never talked about my being queer. When I finally moved out, I accidentally left some reading material 😈 behind. My mom phoned me and asked me if I still wanted “those books” in the bottom drawer of a dresser I was planning to sell. The way she said “those books” with all the knowing and acidity she could muster makes me laugh now.

    A year ago, I reconnected with someone I knew from college. She turned out to be the great love of my life. I finally came out to my family officially in a Facebook post that I made sure my mom saw. Mom said that if I was happy, she was happy for me. I couldn’t believe it.

    Lanie was back home visiting her family, and because of the global panna cotta, I couldn’t travel to visit my mom, even though I knew she was dying. I asked my girl to meet my mom (and sisters, who don’t do anything without each other), and she went to visit my mom at her care home, and spent a couple of hours there with my family even though I wasn’t there. My mom died a week later, and while I miss her, I am so glad I finally took the step to let her know who I was, to invite her into my life while also letting her know that I was going to live my life on my terms. I hope one day you’re able to find the same bravery, Carmen.

  4. “The ways we contort to make room for those people we know in our bones love us” I have been feeling this since I came out to my mom at 19 in the middle of a Cheesecake Factory. It’s so weird how my parents can love me so hard but also not acknowledge a major part of my life. And yet I’m always the one going out of my way to make sure I don’t say or do something “too queer” to avoid the awkward silences and the looks.

    It’s just so nice to see older Black queer people living their most authentic life 💕

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