Tessa Thompson Is Queer, Confirms Vibrating on the Same Frequency as Janelle Monáe

On screen or off, it always feels like Tessa Thompson wants to let you in. Genuine authenticity is part of her brand. She’s vocal about her feminist politics and speaks out against racial injustice; her roles on screen are carefully curated to read like a “Strong Female Lead” Netflix algorithm; she even finds time to joke about her epic love of goats with fans on Twitter. As open as Tessa feels to us, she considers herself to be fiercely private. She doesn’t talk about her family or personal life in interviews, and she doesn’t address the growing, swirling speculation about her sexuality. That is, until now.

In her cover feature for the digital luxury fashion magazine Net-a-Porter, Thompson quietly comes out to her interviewer over an avocado toast breakfast. True to form, her coming out moment is also thoughtful about her relative privilege. She reflects, “I can take things for granted because of my family – it’s so free and you can be anything that you want to be. I’m attracted to men and also to women. If I bring a woman home, [or] a man, we don’t even have to have the discussion.”

It’s 20GayTeen and Tessa’s potentially romantic relationship with musician Janelle Monáe has been hot gossip all year (it’s definitely something that we’ve gleefully theorized about a few times). Thompson hears us, and she’s been thinking a lot about it. Earlier this week she changed her Instagram bio to a Pride flag with all capitalized word “YES” next to it, a playful winking nod to us all. Choosing to come out now was something she felt conscientious of “in terms of this declaration around Janelle and myself. I want everyone else to have that freedom and support that I have from my loved ones… but so many people don’t. So, do I have a responsibility to talk about that? Do I have a responsibility to say in a public space that this is my person?”

It’s still rare to see a celebrity be this introspective and caring in their coming out, to lead with their heart and be purposeful about the responsibility of their fame, recognizing the huge impact their openness can have on their queer fans. (Also, excuse me while I fangirl squee over the prospect of Tessa Thompson indirectly calling Janelle Monáe “her person.”) She goes on, “It’s tricky, because Janelle and I are just really private people and we’re both trying to navigate how you reconcile wanting to have that privacy and space, and also wanting to use your platform and influence.”

Janelle Monáe came out as pansexual just a few months ago, so does that mean the two are ready to become the Ellen and Portia of my queer black girl dreams? Thompson doesn’t directly answer the question, but is reportedly “tickled” and “unfazed” by our collective love for the possible couple. When speaking of Monáe, she shares, “We love each other deeply. 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.”

She’s also very proud of the effect that the R&B star’s coming out has had on her fandroids this year, “I get text messages from friends that are like, ‘Would you please let Janelle know I came out to my family because of her?’… I think that work is really helping people and probably saving some lives.”

As for Tessa Thompson on her own, I don’t know where we are going from here. But, I know that we are in good hands. From respected television player, to indie movie darling, to Marvel Superhero Badass — she’s building her career out of sturdy Hollywood stock. At every turn there is pressure to hide yourself, to be smaller, to shut part of yourself down for gain and opportunity. Particularly as a queer mixed race black Latina, the world is not kind. In spite of all that, Tessa Thompson keeps making the much harder choice. She tells her interviewer, “This is not just a job, this is my life… So, I’m like, how do I want to spend it? What do I want my story to be?”

What do I want my story to be? Well, damn. That’s the kind question we can all ask ourselves as we close out Pride this weekend.

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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 715 articles for us.


  1. This is the happiest news I’ve seen in a long time. I love it when your big female celebrity crushes come out. <3

    • Can I just have all three of these garments? Ok, maybe also their wearers, but considering how hard it can be sometimes for designers to still design things right for black women, and how badass all of these are, I really just want these garments.

      In other news, I’m glad that Tessa doesn’t mind that I’m their third in my head. :p.

      More seriously though, I’m happy to know that these two bi/pan black women are happy together and I know they’ve helped me feel awesome as someone who’s also a bi/pan black woman. Even though my family sitch is closer to Janelle’s (hence why I’m using an alias here), I’m happy to know we weren’t all crazy as we saw them together on multiple occasions.

      Carmen, another great one, thank you!

  2. I officially started doubting my atheism in favour of belief in the pansexual goddess ruling the world who’s just decided to slowly reveal herself in 20GayTeen

  3. “At every turn there is pressure to hide yourself, to be smaller, to shut part of yourself down for gain and opportunity. Particularly as a queer mixed race black Latina, the world is not kind. In spite of all that, Tessa Thompson keeps making the much harder choice.”


  4. Carmen!!! I have been vibrating since I read this news this morning. #20Gayteen is truly the gift that keeps on giving. Great piece!

  5. “what do I want my story to be?”
    an aspiring actor, who’s queer and nonbinary this really hit hard.

  6. Love love love this piece! You interjected your excitement and glee without putting words into Tessa’s mouth that she never actually said! Thank you!

  7. Carmen Carmen CARMEN you are so loving and gentle and fantastic about your reporting and I love you for it because I’m just trying not to pass out from this news and you are giving little nuggets that make me fall in love eveN MORE the affirmation that this isn’t just a job, she knows how this affects her fans? that she’s like this work is probably saving lives (casual) and “What do I want my story to be?” !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I just love this and your work and AHHHHH

    • LEX!!!!! I just wanna say “!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”, right back at cha! Sometimes there are no words! Just over excited punctuation marks!!!!!

  8. This article is so tasteful and well crafted, and it brought me so much joy (in addition to the Queer Tears I was Already Happily Crying)

    All this 12 hours after seeing Janelle in Los Angeles?God bless this pride month, God bless 20gayteen, God bless the dirty computers, I am gay and overwhelmed lawd

    • Laneia! Your writing made me cry twice this weekend! So I think that makes us even-

  9. i looooved her interview. it was so queer and focused on what it’s like to live fluidity. and her relationship with Janelle screams that to me, too. i’m still on the polyamory vibe they were serving in the emotion picture, partly because i stand by my assertion that it’s almost impossible to depict polyamory in such a nuanced, complex, emotional way without practicing it in your real life. i felt that here too–that their relationship just can’t be described in bounds of monogamy or partnership, but that it’s clearly intimate and real and deep and multifaceted. that feels like polyamory to me, not that the relationship needs a label but that polyamory can be a non-label, an experience of relationships unbounded and beyond category.

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