I've never really been a bandwagon kind of person. Matter of fact, my mom said that after the standard "da-da" and "mama", my first words were made up a complete (broken) sentence—"I do myself, Mommy." She also said that, as a toddler, instead of toys, my preference was to shake newspaper (and here I am, a writer). One other pearl is she had planned to name me "Ryan" but when I was born, she said God told her to name me "Shellie" instead. In my 30s, I found out that Shellie is Hebrew for "Mine; Belonging to Me"—to being in a covenant with the Most High. That's why, I've always accepted that my path was going to be different; that following the masses wasn't going to move me and, even though I work in media, I totally agree with the Jim Morrison quote, "Whoever controls the media, controls the mind." Sometimes those "whoevers" are shady as all get out with very cryptic agendas. And that's putting it nicely.
So yeah, when it comes to this particular topic that I am broaching today, I already know some folks are gonna be pissed. Some are gonna definitely disagree. Others may end up being more than a little triggered. I'm fine with all of that because, while I definitely do wholeheartedly believe that toxic masculinity exists (toxic femininity does too; see, there goes a trigger), I also think one of my all-time favorite quotes very much so applies to this subject matter—"The excess of a virtue is a vice." Aristotle once said that. What it means is, even when something is good, when there is no balance applied, it can become, well, not so good. So yes, we do need to address toxic masculinity. Full stop. At the same time, to get to the point where thinking that masculinity, period, is wrong or to feel like unless men think just like women do, they are problematic—that is problematic. That is "vice" thinking.
So yes, I think I have a responsibility to speak on this particular topic. Because as a woman who loves men—especially Black men—I want to be certain that in the process of making sure that I support women who have been subjected to men who abuse their masculinity (I'm actually one of those women, by the way), I don't disparage, berate or condemn men overall…simply for being men. Not only that but, I hope you won't just throw the phrase "toxic masculinity" around either. That before you use it, you'll first ponder some of the points that I'm about to make below. Ultimately, for everyone's sake.
Are You Sure You Hate All Things Patriarchy? YOU REALLY SURE?
A few months ago, I got into a conversation with a woman who was talking about how ridiculous it is for women to pay for dates, open doors for themselves—you know, chivalrous stuff. At the same time, she was also venting about how toxic patriarchy is and that it needed to end. I said, "OK, so if you hate patriarchy so much, you should ask men out, propose marriage and not expect a man to provide for or protect you." Her response was comedy to me. She said, "That's not patriarchy. That's masculinity." Umm, yeah. OK.
A patriarch, by definition, is the male head of a family. If you look up the definitions on Dictionary.com, you'll also see a lot of biblical references to the word (just for the record). Yep, patriarchy is about a father having supreme authority and men being in power. Now while that last definition has definitely been abused within our culture and I'm in full support of balance being brought to the forefront in that area, those other definitions? What's the problem with a father leading the home? So long as he isn't abusing his authority, why is that such an issue? Why does the mere thought of that piss so many women off? Well, unless you didn't have a father in your life and/or your father was a poor example of one. Since our fathers are our first introduction to how we process men, in general—well, I'm sure you can see where I'm going with that.
However, on a deeper level, since patriarchy is about authority and authority is oftentimes seen as power only, another definition that I'd like you to consider for the word is "an accepted source of information, advice, etc." Some synonyms to keep in mind would include "influence" and "strength".
Typically, when someone is in an authoritative role, they are leading, right? OK, so expecting a man to pay for dates or propose marriage to you—that means they are leading, correct? How did that not all come out of patriarchy? And if that's what you expect, how can you be 100 percent anti-patriarchy? Seems like an extreme contradiction to me.
That's why I think a good place to begin with all of this, is to not just be yelling you hate patriarchy because you hear so many other people say it. Spend some time really understanding what the word consists of, why it is so esteemed in the Bible (and other holy books) and if you actually hate it—or do you pushback on how it is oftentimes misused and manipulated (and it is). Because again, a father being an accepted source of information and advice while taking care of his home and influencing his daughters to want a man of strength who will do the same for her and her own family someday—I'm not sure what is exactly "toxic" about that. Do you?
What’s So Wrong with Being Masculine?
Remember how the woman I was talking to said that she had no problem with masculinity? Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of women don't agree with her which is interesting because, a very basic definition of the word is, "pertaining to or characteristic of a man or men". There's not enough time to cover everything that would fit that definition; however—men having more testosterone, men having more physical strength, men being better at motor skills and being analytical (while we're better with intuitive thinking and being empathetic), men being larger in size and men being more assertive (while we're warmer and more friendly)—you know who came to these conclusions? Science. Lawd. While we're out here tripping that so many GOPs don't respect science (like when it comes to COVID-19), there are more and more people who act like science shouldn't apply to male and female differences too. Not only that but some folks are taking it to the extreme, as if masculinity and femininity are now some sort of character flaws. Whew.
And when it comes to masculinity, something that I've been paying attention to, more and more as of late, is what the internet calls the "manosphere". As it relates to Black men in particular, some YouTube channels within the demographic that immediately come to mind are Poor Man's Podcast, Aba & Preach and Oshay Duke Jackson (yes, I've also checked out Kevin Samuels; that's another article for another time. So much to unpack there!). And here's the thing.
Do I agree with everything they say? No. They are individuals. They are also men. I am a woman. There are differences. Science says so. At the same time, I am intentional about hearing where they are coming from because, as a Black woman who professes to be pro-Black, I can't be that if I'm on a mission to dismantle Black men at every turn while shutting their own voices out. It's ridiculous when men do it to us. It's no less ridiculous when we do it to them.
That's why I've written articles for the platform like "We Asked 10 Men What Makes A Woman 'Wife Material'", "10 Husbands Speak On What Made Them Choose Their 'One'", "10 Men Told Me How They Feel About 'Marriage Pressure'", "10 Single Men Shared Some Thoughts They Wish Women Would Take At Face Value", "10 Men Told Me How They Like To Be (Emotionally) Pampered" and "10 Things Husbands Wish Their Wives Truly Understood". It's because there are a whole lot of women who are out here speaking for men, translating for men, thinking that they should be mouthpieces for men when there are plenty of men who can speak for themselves. As someone who embraces my femininity more and more by the day, I don't feel threatened or triggered by the fact that sometimes, men are extremely different than I am. That's because I believe that male/female dynamics can bring about a beautiful balance. I also think that it's arrogant to feel that if someone isn't like me, they are wrong. And there is A LOT of that energy going on out here right now. And pride comes before a mighty fall. Again, the Bible says so.
So yeah, when it comes to the term "toxic masculinity", something else that should be thought about is what is wrong with masculinity, in general, before jumping to generalized conclusions. If it's simply that it isn't everything that we can immediately understand or relate to, honestly y'all, that's just not good enough. We need to do better. Much better.
The Media Shouldn’t Override Your Own Standards and Beliefs
You probably heard something along the lines of, "If you keep repeating a lie, people will eventually believe it" before. It's true. Know what's crazy? The root of that resolve actually comes from a racist individual who pushed some dangerous Nazi propaganda once upon a time. I don't want to credit him by mentioning the exact quote or by mentioning his name. Still, I thought it was fitting here because there are a lot of things—dangerous things, some things that are also flat-out lies—that are funneled through the media and are repeated over and over…and over and over that, shoot, even 10 years ago, we didn't believe. And it seems like, more than ever, making men obsolete is on the top of the media's list.
If you're a religious person, there is nothing even remotely Scriptural that supports that way of thinking. If you've got a father, brother, other male relatives, a husband, a son and/or some good male friends, how could you even consider getting on board with that kind of platform? At the end of the day, how can you allow the media—something that always has an agenda and oftentimes, it's not for the greater good (look at how much media backed and even celebrated our former president)—to distract and deceive you so. I love men. I enjoy men. I know some really awesome and amazing men. And I don't care how much I hear or read the phrase "toxic masculinity" in a day, that isn't going to change my mind about those facts. That term isn't going to brainwash me into believing that they are bad, simply because they aren't women.
Watch Out for Those Double Standards
One day, we'll have to get into how baffling it is that we as Black people will constantly discuss how racism has affected us as a culture and community and yet, for some reason, white feminism gets a pass on all of that. Why should any of us think that white feminists would be about uniting the Black family in any way, shape or form? That's why I almost cringe whenever I see Black women on social media talking about how trash or unnecessary Black men are. It's because, in my mind, I'm picturing an entire network of white people sitting back and eating popcorn while they scroll Twitter and IG to see us tearing one another to shreds. And here's the thing—when Black men dog out Black women, we all agree that it's counterproductive to doo; that it's also disrespectful as hell. OK, so why is it alright when we do it to our men? It's not. To think otherwise? That is a huge double standard.
Case in point. How come y'all didn't tell me about "foodie calls"? Apparently, there are women out here who know they aren't even remotely interested in men who like them and yet, they will accept the date—and even demand where they want to go—just to get a free meal. And yes, the phrase is a take off of "booty call" which we know is a call that is for sex only. When I was discussing how "SMDH" I thought that foodie calls were with a few women, they were like, "What's wrong with it? My time is valuable." Umm, so not the point, sis. You are using that man for his resources. Oh, but let a man hit a woman up for sex and never call again, and he's an ass. The double standards run rampant around here.
That's why I definitely believe that there is such a thing as toxic masculinity and toxic femininity. When something is toxic, it's poisonous and when either gender abuses/misuses/manipulates the other in order to accomplish a self-consumed goal, especially when it's at the expense of harming/hurting/offending another individual, that is all kinds of toxic. It's not just men who are capable of doing that either—like the fact that it's criminal for a man to hit a woman and yet I see women hit men all of the time in movies, on television shows as well as on YouTube and in TikTok skits…shoot, I've witnessed some women in my family do it too.
Double standards are entitled and hypocritical as all get out. Please make sure that you don't subscribe to them. Because doing so? That is toxic.
Men (Especially Black Men) Are Beautiful. Full Stop.
Recently, while writing an article on what Black men value about Black women, I smiled at something one of my Black male friends said that he loved about us. "You all are strong and sexy. The fact that you're so capable to help us deal with all that we're dealt with, especially in this country, makes you extremely valuable to us. Your strength is a part of what makes you so sexy." Yeah, I know how a lot of the toxic masculinity crew will take that. We don't need to be carrying you men. That's what's wrong with y'all now. Lawd. Please stop it. A wise person once said that if you constantly look at things through a keyhole, everything will be keyhole-shaped. That isn't what my friend said. He said that the fact that we are able to support them when white America is constantly damning them, he finds that to be attractive and appealing. And you know what? The fact that the Black men in my life, I could call any of them, right this second, and they would be like, "Sure Shellie. Whatever you need", I find that to be undeniably beautiful about them.
That's why I also get that white America doesn't want Black men and Black women to feel this confident and secure in one another. They want us to see each other as obsolete and then shout it from the rooftops. The last thing they want is for me to write an article like this and end it by saying that yes, there is some real toxic masculinity out here. HOWEVER, automatically being a man and, especially a Black man, is not. I don't care how much that lie is perpetuated, I will never be on board with it. Black men, as men, are beautiful, special, and sacred even to me. And no, I don't want or need them to be just like me for me to acknowledge them, praise them and support them. Believing that I should? To me, that is toxic.
In the Bible, Mark 10:6(NKJV) says, "But from the beginning of the creation, God 'made them male and female.'" To me, this means that men serve a purpose and women serve a purpose. We're all supposed to be things like kind (I Corinthians 13:5) and have a form of gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:23), no doubt. Yet if we were supposed to be just alike, we would be. The male design? It's amazing. The female design? It's unmatched. The egos involved when it comes to trying to manipulate either into becoming a carbon copy of the other? To me, that is what's toxic. That's what needs to be addressed more than it tends to be. So that balance can transpire. So that true toxic masculinity can be handled and dealt with without destroying masculinity in the process. Full stop.
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After being a regular contributor for about four years and being (eh hem) MIA in 2022, Shellie is back penning for the platform (did you miss her? LOL).
In some ways, nothing has changed and in others, everything has. For now, she'll just say that she's working on the 20th anniversary edition of her first book, she's in school to take life coaching to another level and she's putting together a platform that supports and encourages Black men because she loves them from head to toe.
Other than that, she still works with couples, she's still a doula, she's still not on social media and her email contact (firstname.lastname@example.org) still hasn't changed (neither has her request to contact her ONLY for personal reasons; pitch to the platform if you have story ideas).
Life is a funny thing but if you stay calm, moments can come full circle and this is one of them. No doubt about it.
Unapologetically, Chlöe: The R&B Star On Finding Love, Self-Acceptance & Boldly Using Her Voice
On set inside of a mid-city Los Angeles studio, it’s all eyes on Chlöe. She slightly shifts her body against a dark backdrop amidst camera clicks and whirs, giving a seductive pout here, and piercing eye contact there. Her chocolate locs are adorned with a few jewels that she requested to spice up the look, and on her shoulders rests a jeweled piece that she asked to be turned around to better showcase her neck (“I feel a bit old,” she said of the original direction). Her shapely figure is tucked into a strapless bodysuit with a deep v-neck that complements her décolletage.
Though subtle, her quiet wardrobe directives give the air of a woman who’s been here before, and certainly knows what she’s doing. At 24 years young, she’s a “Bossy” chick in training— one who’s politely unapologetic and learning the power of her own voice.
“I'm hesitant sometimes to truly speak my mind and speak up for myself and what I believe,” she later confessed to me a couple of weeks after the photoshoot. “It's always scary for me, but now I'm realizing that I have to, in order to gain respect as a Black woman— a young Black woman— who's still navigating who she is. And you know, I'm realizing that closed mouths don't get fed. And if I keep my mouth shut just because I'm afraid of what people's opinions of me will be or turn into, then that's not any way to live.”
For Chlöe, the journey into womanhood is about embracing who she is, without succumbing to the perceptions of what others think of her. From the waist up she’s everything you’d imagine. A gorgeous goddess with the kind of sex appeal that some work hard to embrace but fail to exude. But unbeknownst to anyone not on set, her bottom half is covered by a white robe, surprising coming from the girl who boasts “'Cause my booty so big, Lord, have mercy” on her first hit single “Have Mercy.”
But that’s the beauty of Chlöe. There’s more to her than meets the eye. More than what a few sensual photos sprinkled throughout an Instagram feed could ever tell you. Just like the photo-framing illusion of her portrayed from the waist up, what we know about the songstress is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more beneath the surface.
Some hours later Chlöe leans back in a high chair as her locs are transformed from a formal updo to a seemingly Basquiat-inspired one. It’s pure art, and at her request, no wigs are a part of the day’s ensemble. She’s fully embracing her natural hair, a decision that wasn’t always a socially accepted one.
In the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, (Mableton, to be exact) Chlöe began to explore the foundation of her self-image. At an early age she and her younger sister, Halle, demonstrated a vocal prowess and knack for being in front of the camera that caught their parents’ attention. Soon after, they were sent on a parade of local talent shows and auditions, and eventually broke into the digital space with song covers on YouTube.
It was during these early years that Chlöe first learned that the entertainment industry could be unforgiving to those who didn’t fit a particular beauty standard. Despite the then three-year-old snagging a role as the younger version of Beyoncé’s character, Lilly, in Fighting Temptations, casting agents requested that her natural locs be exchanged for more Eurocentric tresses. Ironic, considering that growing up Chlöe saw her hair as no different than that of her peers. “I remember specifically in pre-K we had to do self-portraits and I drew myself with a regular straight ponytail, like how I would put my locs in a ponytail,” she says. “I just never saw myself any different.”
Chlöe would also learn the true meaning of a phrase that would later become an affirmation posted on her bedroom mirror: “Don’t Let the World Dim Your Light.” After attempting to wear wigs to fit in, the Bailey sisters instead chose to rock their locs with pride, which undoubtedly cost them casting roles. Yet they would have the last laugh when making headlines as the “Teen Dreadlocked Duo” who landed a million-dollar contract with Parkwood Entertainment, and the coveted opportunity to be groomed under the tutelage of a world-renowned superstar.
Credit: Derek Blanks
While that could be the end of a beautiful fairytale of self-empowerment, the reality is that it’s just the beginning of the story of her evolution. For most girls, the transition into womanhood takes place in the comfort of their own worlds, often limited to the number of people they allow to have access to them. But for Chlöe, it’s happening in front of millions of critiquing eyes just waiting for an opportunity to either uplift or dissect her through unwarranted commentary.
Many in her position wouldn’t be able to take that kind of pressure. But Chlöe is handling it with grace. “I feel like all of us as humans, we have the right to interpret things how we want,” she says. “I put art out into the world and it's up for interpretation. I'm learning that not everyone is going to always like me and that it's okay.”
Chlöe isn’t the first artist to receive criticism for her carnal content, and she certainly won’t be the last. In 2010, Ciara writhed and rode her way to banishment on BET when the then 24-year-old released her video for “Ride.” In 2006, 25-year-old Beyoncé received backlash for “Déjà Vu."
"I put art out into the world and it's up for interpretation. I'm learning that not everyone is going to always like me and that it's okay.”
So much so that over 5,000 fans signed an online petition demanding that her label re-shoot the video because it was “too sexual.” Even 27-year-old Janet didn’t escape critical headlines when she shed her image of innocence for a more risqué appearance with the 1993 release of janet.
It’s almost as if public reproach is a rite of passage for young Black women R&B singers on the road to stardom. Good girls seemingly “go bad” whenever they embrace the depths of their femininity, and fans only like you on top figuratively. But Chlöe has learned not to bow down to other people’s opinions, but to boss up and control the narrative. As the saying goes, well-behaved women seldom make history. If sex appeal is her weapon, she wields it well.
On set, Chlöe exudes the energy of Aphrodite in an apple red, off-shoulder dress with a sexy high split. In between shots, she mouths the lyrics to Yebba’s “Boomerang” as it echoes throughout the space in steady repetition at my recommendation. The hour grows late, yet Chlöe is heating things up as eyes stare in deep mesmerization of the girl on fire.
Credit: Derek Blanks
Through music, she explores the depths of her being, a journey that seems to be, at its foundation, rooted in self-discovery. Whereas their debut album The Kids Are Alright (2018) boasts a young Chloe x Halle empowering their generation to embrace who they are while finding their place in the world, their second album Ungodly Hour (2020) shows the Bailey sisters shedding the veil of innocence for a more unapologetic bravado.
What fans looked forward to seeing is who Chlöe shows herself to be on her debut solo album In Pieces. In an interview with PEOPLE, she confesses that releasing her first project without her sister was “scary.” "It was a moment of self-doubt where I was like, 'Can I do this without my sister?’”
Chlöe has never been shy about sharing her insecurities or her vulnerabilities, all of which are laced throughout the 14-track album. “I want people to have fun when they listen to it and to just realize that they're not alone and it's okay to be vulnerable and raw and open because none of us are perfect; we're all far from it. And I think it's healing when we all admit to that instead of putting up a facade.”
The gift of time has given the self-professed “big lover girl” more encounters with romance and heartbreak. Love songs once sung for their beautiful riffs and melodies become more than just abstract lyrics and are replaced by real-life experiences, which she tells me is definitely in the music.
In her single “Pray It Away,” for example, she contemplates going to God for healing instead of going at her ex-lover for revenge for his infidelities. “With anything dealing with art, I am completely vulnerable,” she says. “I'm completely myself, I'm completely open and transparent. So it's pretty much all of me and who I am right now.”
Has Chlöe been in love? That still remains to be said. Of course, she’s been linked to a few potential baes, but dating in the digital age isn’t as easy as a double tap or drop of a heart-eyes emoji. It requires a level of trust and vulnerability that’s hard to earn, and easy to mishandle. To let her guard down means to potentially set herself up for disappointment. “It’s difficult dating right now, honestly, because you really have to kind of keep your guard up and pay attention to who's really there for you. And you know, I'm such an affectionate person and I love hard.
"So when I meet the one person that I really, really am into, it's hard for me to see any others and I get attached pretty easily. And you know, I don't know, it's…it's a scary thing.”
Credit: Derek Blanks
“With anything dealing with art, I am completely vulnerable. I'm completely myself, I'm completely open and transparent. So it's pretty much all of me and who I am right now.”
While broken hearts yield good music (queue Adele), what’s in Chlöe’s prayer is the desire to be happy. What does that look like? Well, she’s still figuring that out herself. “Honestly, I'm the type of person who I don't truly learn unless I experience it. So it's like I can view and watch my parents and watch the loving relationships that I see in my life and be like, ‘Oh, I want that. I would love to have that.’ But then I also have to experience [love] on my own and see what my flaws or my faults might be or see what my good things about myself are. I feel like it's really all about self-reflection. And even though our base is our family and that's our foundation, we are still our own individuals and we have to find out specifically the things about ourselves that may be different from what we saw from our parents when we were growing up.”
Her ideal beau, she tells me, is someone she can feel safe to be her fun, goofy self with, but who also gives her the space to be the boss chick chasing her dreams. A man who understands that just because the world compliments her doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to hear those words from his lips or feel it in his touch. A bonus if he shows up on set after a long hard day of work with vegan cinnamon rolls. You know, the basic necessities. “I like whoever I'm with to constantly tell me they love me and that I look beautiful because I do the same. I am a very mushy person, and if I see something or you look good, I will never shy away from saying it out loud. And I want whoever I'm with to do the same, be very vocal. Tell me that you love me. Tell me what you love about me because I'm doing the same for you because that's just the person I am.”
Until she meets her match she’s married to the game, and for now, that seems to be perfect matrimony.
Credit: Derek Blanks
On stage at the 2021 American Music Awards, Chlöe solidified her position as a force to be reckoned with. It was a full-circle moment. In 2012, bright-eyed and baby-faced Chloe and Halle would walk onto the set of The Ellen Degeneres Show and blow the audience away as they bellowed out their future mentor’s song. Ellen would present the sisters with tickets to attend the AMAs, assuring them that they would be back and had a promising future. Nine years later, Chlöe descends from the sky cloaked in a snow-white cape and matching midriff-baring bodysuit for her debut performance. It’s the first time she’s graced the stage of the very award show that she was once an audience member of.
As she shakes and shimmies and boom kack kacks out her eight counts, it’s clear that she’s in her element. Just like her VMA performance a couple of months prior, and the many more stages she’ll continue to grace, she brings an energy that has earned her comparisons to the beloved Queen Bey herself. An honorable statement, considering few R&B songstresses are getting accolades for their entertainment capabilities. It’s on these very stages, in front of hundreds of astonished eyes and millions more glued to their televisions at home, that she tells me she feels most sexy. Powerful, even.
But off stage, it’s a different story.
It’s more than just the commentary about her image and media-flamed rumors that get to her. Mentally, she’s in competition with herself. The desire to be the best burns at the back of her mind with every performance, every production, and every time she steps into the booth. Before, she could share the weight of this burden with her sister. Being a part of a duo meant she could turn to Halle for quiet confirmation and encouragement without a word being exchanged. But lately stepping on the stage means stepping out on her own. And despite being a breathtaking, five-time Grammy-nominated star, Chlöe doesn’t escape the reality that sometimes we can be our own worst critics.
Over the last year, she’s been coming to terms with who she is on her own while overcoming the fear of failing to become who she’s destined to be. While the world waits to see how Chlöe wins, the real triumph is in every day that she chooses herself and continues to walk in her purpose. “I don't really have anything all figured out, honestly. But what I try to do, a lot of prayer. I talk to God more and I just try to do things that calm my mind down and just breathe.”
To whom much is given, much will be required. She’s been chosen to walk this path for a reason. Once she fully embraces that everything she’s meant to be is already inside of her, she’ll be an unstoppable force. “My grandma, Elizabeth, she just passed away and my middle name is her [first] name. So I feel like I truly have a responsibility to live up to her legacy that she's left on this earth. I hope I can do that.”
There’s no doubt that she will. With a role in The Fighting Temptations at three years old, a million-dollar record deal, a main role on five seasons of Grown-ish, five Grammy nominations, a number one solo record in Urban and Rhythmic Radio, a debut solo album, and starring roles in recently released movies Praise Thisand Swarm (just to name a few), Chlöe’s certainly already made her mark, and she’s just getting started.
Photographer & Creative Director: Derek Blanks
Executive Producer: Necole Kane
Co-Executive Producer: EJ Jamele
Producer: Erica Turnbull
Digitech: Chris Keller
DP: Alex Nikishin
Gaffer: Simeon Mihaylov
Photo Assistant: Chris Paschal
2nd Photo Assistant: Tyler Umprey
Features Editor: Kiah McBride
Special Projects: Tyeal Howell
Hair: Malcolm Marquez
Makeup: Yolonda Frederick
Fashion Styling: Ashley Sean Thomas
For More: Cover Story: Issa Rae Comes Full Circle
Keke Palmer Opens Up About Her Sexuality & Never Feeling "Straight Enough" Or "Gay Enough"
Over the years, Keke Palmer has solidified herself as a prominent voice of her generation who doesn’t shy away from speaking her truth. Now, the 29-year-old actress is peeling back the layers and opening up about her sexuality and gender identity.
According to Variety, the Nopestar was presented the Vanguard Award at the LGBT Center’s The Gala in Los Angeles, where she took time to reflect on her own identity journey.
“Sexuality and identity for me has always been confusing,” Keke shared during her acceptance speech. “I never felt straight enough. I never felt gay enough. And I never felt woman enough. I never felt man enough. You know, I always felt like I was a little bit of everything.”
KeKe recalls that she’d often “lead with masculinity” and how that complicated her perspective on the power within herself. “And as a woman, I’ve always been met with so much disdain, you know what I mean? I think so much of that came from who I thought I had to be to get respect, admiration, and love,” she says. “And I’ve always really wanted to be like my father…to want to be taken seriously and not diminish because I was a woman. You know, that’s always been a source of — I guess you would say — pain and resentment.”
Araya Doheny/Getty Images for Los Angeles LGBT Center
The moment of reflection brought on an emotional response from the Nickelodeon alum. “Why did my gender have to define the power I have in the world? And why does my gender get to decide my sexuality?” she asked.
“You know, since I was younger, I always questioned the boxes I was forced to be in and it starts with who you’re supposed to be as a child. You’re supposed to be as a Black person or whatever the background you are from… Then those walls just try to cave you in from every damn angle, who you are as a creative, who you are as a friend.”
She concluded the thoughtful speech by noting her gratitude for being accepted by the LGBTQ+ community as an ally for which she was honored for. “I’m truly so grateful to be seen in this room because I know I’m surrounded by people who know without a doubt what it’s like to decide to be who you are in a world that tells you to be everything but yourself.”
Keke’s Vanguard Award is the perfect illustration of why allyship and activism go hand-in-hand. With voices like Keke’s sharing her truth about self-discovery in sexuality and gender identity, it, in turn, inspires others to do the same.
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Featured image by Araya Doheny/Getty Images for Los Angeles LGBT Center