Janelle Monáe’s ‘Pynk’ subtly acknowledges the existence of trans bodies, but we deserve more than that
There are trans and non-binary people who would benefit from these conversations as well, and yet cis people never pass the mic.
by Tauri Moton
It’s safe to say that a lot of people were excited for Janelle Monáe’s release of the “Pynk” video after the success of “Make Me Feel”, which was a visually pleasant and catchy ode to the fluidity of sexuality. Janelle seems to really be coming into her own and is choosing to share that with the world through her art, giving many Black queer folks the sort of representation we’ve all been craving.
Though “Pynk” has been celebrated for its visuals and themes, it ultimately misses the mark for me. It delivers the sort representation that, for some of us, can be exhausting to witness.
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The song and video are meant to be celebrations of womanhood and those who are sexually attracted to women, with both the lyrics and the visuals giving not-so-subtle innuendos about vaginal sex. The entire video has a filter that lays a pinkish tint over everything, including the beautiful Black women in pastel colors being carefree and frolicking in the desert.
We see quick images of fruits and flowers shaped like vulvas, lyrics about tongues “going down”, flashes of signs that say “pussy power”, and, of course, the giant pink pants Janelle and her dancers wear meant to resemble vulvas.
At first glance, it could easily become an instant classic. Black lesbianism is rarely in the spotlight. The cutesy “hush hush” vibe that this project has is undoubtedly enticing, but with it, and other conversations about Black lesbianism, we are really being forced to accept a very narrow and cisnormative view about gender and sexuality as the pinnacle of empowerment.
Womanhood should not be defined by having a vagina and neither should lesbianism. Women can and do have varying types of genitals, and yet, women with vaginas are the only ones we see truly being celebrated.
We see this exclusionary sort of rhetoric being echoed all around us—in the pink pussy hats worn by white women at the Women’s March, with the popularity of words like “wombman” meant to replace the word “woman”, and even Chimamanda’s comments about trans women having male privilege.
In any other context, reducing women to vaginas and vulvas would be considered misogynistic, right?
It seems almost impossible to expect any sort of productive and inclusive dialogue to happen in mainstream media. Some have argued that “Pynk” aims to destigmatize beliefs surrounding vaginas. This, of course, is definitely something that needs to happen. The perceived uncleanliness, anatomy, biology, and functions of the vagina are things that the general public is wildly misinformed about.
This miseducation funnels into issues like the popularity of harmful products supposedly meant to enhance the desirability of one’s vagina (i.e Summers Eve, douching etc.), ignorant congressmen passing laws that strip people of proper and just reproductive rights, and the marginalization of people with vaginas within medical spaces.
We could begin to unpack the centuries of hypersexualization and violence committed against people with vaginas, or even unpack the idea that all vulvas or vaginas are pink, leading us to assess the ways that white feminism continues to breed hatred for Black bodies and hinder our ability to be sexually liberated. But the tackling of any of these issues must include people outside of cis womanhood. Period.
There are trans and non-binary people who would benefit from these conversations as well, and yet, cis people never pass the mic.
When cis women lead this dialogue, there always seems to be a focus on the “power” of their genitals, which is to say that they have the ability to manipulate different situations using their sexual prowess, usually at the expense of a man who has been behaving badly. With “Pynk”, a big “gay” sticker has been slapped on it and that means it’s supposedly more progressive.
None of this is to say that we expect a cis woman to be a champion of transness. People need room to grow, and folks in positions of privilege have difficulty acknowledging their privilege, let alone uplifting the oppressed using their platforms. That doesn’t make the exclusion feel any less disappointing.
There are certain aspects of the video that hint at the existence of trans bodies. Like the scenes where Janelle and her dancers are wearing leotards with puffy pink vulva pants. There are two women who aren’t wearing the pants and instead are wearing only the leotards. Likewise, a little over a minute into the video, there’s a moment where a woman is swinging a pink bat between her legs.
There have also been signs that Janelle herself is aware of the need for inclusion, evidenced by her recent comments on Twitter.
These small acknowledgements are nice, and it isn’t something that we see often, but Black trans and gender non-conforming communities deserve more than these crumbs.
Too often are we reduced to afterthoughts for brownie points. Our narratives are continually neglected. This constant exclusion breeds overwhelming amounts of ignorance that leaves us with very few spaces that we can consider safe.
For Black trans folks, especially Black trans women, this is a direct threat to our livelihoods. We experience entirely too much violence at the hands of Black cis folks to accept only subtle hints at our presence.
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Trans people deserve better than what we have been given, and there needs to be deliberate efforts to create trans inclusive spaces.
Trans artists need to be highlighted and given platforms to share our experiences. Trans women need to be centered in feminist circles. The normalization of trans bodies needs to be taken seriously. Consciousness in the language we use needs to become second nature. The existence and well-being of trans children needs to be prioritized.
These things can only happen if we continuously hold cis people accountable for how they contribute to the othering of trans individuals, and that includes people like our beloved Janelle Monáe.
Tauri (he/they) is a non-binary stay at home parent. He occasionally writes, and also makes custom wigs. Like most, he is trying to survive capitalism in a way that doesn’t involve slaving away at a 9-5. He can be found on social media under the name Danny Renee.