i don’t have enough time to dive deeply into the things i want to write about, as i’m writing other things, but i want to just publicly say thank you to beyoncé and janelle monáe.
i got to experience beyoncé’s renaissance three times this summer, and then began this week with janelle monáe’s age of pleasure tour.
both of these artists know the dangerous moment we are in, and they are making a way for something beyond now. the basic freedom to exist and craft a life worth living is at the center of so much strife. these two artists are bright lights in a field of creators choosing to use their/our platforms to open portals of safety for queer and trans and femme and fluid people. i risk the ‘our’ here because however vast or narrow the portal, we are up to the same work: to cosign the reality that queerness and the full realization of the self is irresistible, is all around, is gorgeous, is bright and unapologetic.
they are making this subversive work mainstream and accessible in such delicious, joyful ways. neither artist is satisfied by a merely inclusive space that still plays within the norms and rules of a regressive political moment; they blast open portals through which audience after audience travels into a future in which loving ourselves and our bodies and our distinctions and whatever fantastic pleasures we can claim becomes the center of our lives, our songs, our fashions, and our communities.
the portals are all overt odes to cosmic cunt — we see wide open thighs, we see twerking asses, we see bouncing breasts. we see cellulite and fat in motion, we see infinite knees that can vogue and drop and crawl. we feel aliveness. depending on our ages, we feel completely inspired, awestruck, blown away by the effort.
grown folks? we feel well-fucked and tantric as we pour out of these stadiums.
beyoncé does this love work as an ally. a straight woman with a queer uncle and a huge queer fanbase, she offers her care and dynamism as a power mother, the ultimate top, the king of the ball. i saw her in amsterdam (night 1), minneapolis (with my nibblings), and atlanta (night 2, a mute contender).
her capacity to receive massive amounts of love, projection, expectation and pressure with a smile, an adaptation, a giggle, and then a perfect vocal, a benevolent gaze, clear choreographic reminders of her embodied excellence, and repeated invitations into the portal of her divine femininity…while we know she has directed and manifested every aspect of all we see?!?! holy.
she is peerless, but not without community. i love how many people are part of a beyoncé experience – family, friends, dancers, musicians, production, security, hive, special guest performers, special guests in the audience. i loved seeing how people from every location on the spectrum of visibility still get the pleasure of worshiping her outstanding standards. and it gives me a pleasurable peace to know how many people are alive who went through that threshold and were captivated by brilliant queer Black art at the level of music, looks, tone, and my god the dancers.
we live at a moment when people read a bible that says “thou shalt not kill, covet, steal, lie” etc, and decide not to protest any of the fatal violence and thievery of our times, but instead choose to protest people who dress up in drag for entertainment.
beyoncé creates a queer ballroom runway and sends her oldest child dancing down it. blue ivy dancing to my power and black parade is a ritual, her claiming her place in our love, protected and celebrated by all the queer auncles and uncties while we scream at the levels of MESSAGE.
janelle’s portal is different, intimate and lush. they make music as family, from within the community, as a queer nonbinary artist who is throwing the dream summer pool party, in which the pool is shaped like a vulva and we are all diving in. we have gotten to watch janelle monáe transform in front of our eyes, from rigorous to ripe, robotic to river. they were always queer, but we have gotten to watch the coming out, the intentional transformation and the shaking (and twerking and jiggling and shimmying) off of other people’s preconceived notions and limitations on their existence.
since janelle monáe started talking explicitly about pleasure, i’ve been getting dms, tags, forwards. people want to know if i know if she knows about pleasure activism. i have no idea, but what is much more exciting to me is that she is living pleasure activism on so many levels. watching janelle command the stage, revel in their beautiful body, hold the fluidity of their identity, hear them talk about being who they are and wanting all that they want, sing their songs, reference their creative lineages, observe the bodies offered up in sensual surrender — the album and the show both feel like that delightful foreplay that happens on the dance floor, glances and grinding and the surprise that yes, other humans are so delicious.
to look at this world in its chaos, crises and decline, and to declare it a time for pleasure, for chrome covered crowds creating a disco ball of survival, for getting deeper into body and relationship, for dancing, for releasing the constructs that keep us from aliveness, and fundamentally knowing we are each worthy of love and protection…this is a strategic cultural intervention. it requires vulnerable artists who are willing to write song after song saying here, look at me, i will love you, feel yourself, borrow some swag and bravado from me, i will be the web tonight, this season, this era.
we who attended the concerts, or will see them as documentation — we are a part of their plans. these portals make us into seeds. we go out into the world capable of different interventions.
in amsterdam after a near stampede at the train station after the show, someone started singing “to the left, to the left” from Beyoncé’s hit Irreplaceable, and we sang together to dissipate the combative energy of too many people heading the same way in too little space.
in atlanta people liberated the bathrooms from gender binaries, twerking in wheelchairs. in minneapolis, shoot at every show, the sense of competing for the best look fell away, it was much more fun to just love each look and see how much life we could pour into each other.
in every space, people wore their own skin with not just more ease, but a celebratory sense of erotic aliveness: let’s really see each other, let’s feel each other, let’s shine.
in charlotte, after Janelle Monáe’s generous encores, as we waited for rides by the accessible entrance, the crowd slipped into the electric slide to Lipstick Lover, with her 10 Commandments of Pleasure in hand, giving each other looks of queer invitation. standing in a queer pocket of safety in the South always feels like a miracle.
queer is the future, and loving ourselves whole is the practice. these two artists are committed to loving themselves out loud, ferociously, professionally — and creating from that place, as north stars for our journeys into self love and acceptance. i am so glad the stars lined up for our lifetimes to overlap.