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.