Mo’Nique Grapples With Her Queer Desires, Fear, and Coming Out In New Netflix Special

It happens in the last minutes of her special, My Name Is Mo’Nique. The 55 minute mark out of an hour and 12 minutes, to be exact. At the end of a raunchy tale that involves blowjobs, the misinformation that elders tell children in the name of purity culture, and being held in a hospital on a 5150 for 72 hours (don’t ask), there’s a punchline. Mo’Nique’s Uncle Tina walks past the family kitchen and declares: “That’s why I’m a dyke.”

Up to this point — in a comedy special over five years in the making, a journey that began with the Academy Award winner asking her fans to boycott Netflix on the basis of racial and gender bias after the streaming company only offered $500,000 to make her comedy hour compared to the literal millions offered to Amy Schumer, Chris Rock, and Dave Chapelle — the theme of her concert has been an explanation of all the reasons Mo’Nique has had to fight.

She means “fight” as in fight for equality, not physical blows, though she spends a bit of time self-interrogating her quickness to anger and defensiveness. It starts in 7th grade, when Mo’Nique is sent to special education after struggles with literacy. It winds through experiences of poverty and racism growing up in Baltimore, having to relearn power dynamics in her intimate relationships as an adult, stories about Hollywood producer Lee Daniels — all pretty expected beats for anyone already familiar with icons of Black stand-up comedy or Mo’Nique’s career specifically. But it ends with Uncle Tina.

Growing up, Mo’Nique’s grandmother was a staple of joy in her life, despite any other hardship. She tells the audience, “this woman treated me like the sun did not come up till I woke up. And it didn’t go down until I went the fuck to sleep… In her eyes, I was everything.” As Mo’Nique grew up to become famous, her grandmother would stop people in the grocery store to show off her granddaughter on magazine covers at checkout. In Mo’s words, “I was her prize.”

But also:

“My grandmother has a daughter. But we call her daughter Uncle Tina… My Uncle Tina, if she walked in here right now, you would think you were looking at a whole man. She has a full beard. She wears something to smash her breasts down. She puts something in her pants to make it look like she could possibly have a dick. And she wears men’s clothes and men’s shoes. Everything about my Uncle Tina is a man. So for you babies in the LGBTQ community, I want y’all to hear me. I respect every-motherfuckin’-body in here free enough to be their goddamn selves.

See, my grandmother could not come to grips that she had a gay daughter. She could only love her privately. She couldn’t love her publicly. Because the Church had my grandmother fucked up. That goddamn Church, baby, in our communities will do some shit to us and rip apart motherfuckin’ families, just like it’s going out of goddamn style. And they’ll put “In the name of Jesus” in front of it. And I watched that shit happen to my sweet grandmother.

And I watched those two women struggle. I watched them struggle in a way that my grandmother left this earth. And they just couldn’t come together. Because she thought she was a failure. Because she brought a gay child into the world. The church had fucked her up to believe that her daughter was a sin, right? And that’s how she treated her.

And I felt, I felt cowardly when my grandmother left. Because I couldn’t tell my grandmother who her granddaughter really was. ‘Cause I didn’t want to be loved privately. I adored how she adored me… So I couldn’t tell my grandmother my secret thoughts. And my fantasies. ‘Cause I didn’t want her to love me privately, and I did not want her to leave this earth thinking she was a failure. ‘Cause had I told her, my secret thoughts, she would’ve left thinking, that she failed.”

I’m purposeful in leaving an incredibly long quote here, because after 55 minutes of jokes that barrel at you in triplicate for every minute, it’s startling and breathtaking to hear the room become as quiet as a pin drop. To listen as Mo’Nique’s trademark husk breaks as she fights back tears, red rimming her eyes, before she finally lets them fall. A master conductor, the audience’s laughter her orchestra to manipulate.

Mo’Nique describes how her Uncle Tina eventually experiences alcoholism and homelessness, unable to reconcile not having her mother’s love and support. She’s shameful in her own fear to not come out while her grandmother was alive. It’s not clear in the special if she’s yet forgiven herself, but my God I hope she has or will. And — absolutely none of it — is funny.

Just as the pressure of it crushes, she pivots. The audience’s laughter hers to control once more: “Now I know y’all are looking at me, saying, ‘Wait a minute, bitch. Are you a motherfuckin’ dyke??’ No, I’m not!… all the way.”

The audience bursts, perhaps more grateful for the reprieve than anything else. “But when your born with that, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. Nothing. And please understand that I tried.”

Mo’Nique recounts that much of her sexual explorations with men came from a running away from her queer desires, a fear that if she gave into them that she would be shunned from her family like Uncle Tina, whom Mo was close with as a child. She ends the special detailing what it was like to come out to her husband as an adult, another serious monologue that ends in jokes — some of which in full honesty, could be read as biphobic and I wish hadn’t come so quickly, but I also believe were placed to mask pain.

Mo’Nique never names her bisexuality as such directly. This is not a clear, neat, or easily cheerful celebrity coming out story. In my years working for this website, I’ve found that coming out stories about queer Black women over 50 rarely are. In fact, I spent all day wrestling with how to write about this, as the more crude jokes that sit between these serious beats are already picking up steam in Black gossip blogs.

That’s the thing about being one of the funniest women alive, you always know where to land the joke so that people will look exactly where you want them to.

And away from where you don’t.

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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 714 articles for us.

13 Comments

  1. I don’t know whether this makes me want to watch it more or want to watch it less. Like, obviously, there’s something beautiful and heartbreaking about it but trying to square this revelation about Monique and Uncle Tina with “Charm School” Monique…it’s going to take me a minute.

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