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Janelle Monáe is talented, relevant, and hot. Tessa Thompson is talented, relevant, and hot. As a couple? They’d be stupid talented, ridiculously relevant, and extremely hot. But with Monáe and Thompson keeping their lips sealed when it comes to rumors that they're dating, it has become clear that playing romantic arithmetic with celebrities is a vice on which we need to chill.
Our collective interest in investing in exciting new celebrity couples stems from a couple of things, I'm sure: We get cool portmanteaus (“Omeeka” being my recent favorite), great drama, and a chance to create love stories we think we’ll never live or see in our own lives. We need to see a king and queen, a forbidden, vampire-esque love, high school sweethearts, and all these other romantic tropes playing out among our celebrities to keep us believing in the idealized romance that's been plugged to us since forever. So, when we get rumors of a hot Black queer couple, what do you think people wanna do?
Mainstream understandings of love in the LGBTQ community are still extremely limited. Jamal Lyon and his flings in Empire are these unspoken, extremely passionate affairs in which he, the sensitive artist, is drawn toward these burly, commanding men. Then we have Orange Is The New Black, the show that's given the average viewer (like me) the majority, if not all, of their experience with lesbian coupling. It’s not that American society doesn’t have its tropes for LGBTQ relationships — it's just they just aren’t as prominent or varied as the stories we have for straight couples.
Creating a new standard for Black femme couples with a Monáe/Thompson pairing would be exploring an exciting unknown. But expecting them to confirm or deny the dating rumors they've been surrounded by for at least three years, merely for our own sake, is unfair, and I’m very pleased with their apparent refusal to address this gossip head-on.
The decisions of these two women not to speak on their maybe-more-than friendship has a number of positive impacts — the first being that it forces us to keep viewing each of these women as individuals. It sounds obvious enough, but in our obsessive ogling of celeb couples, we tend to prioritize these couples as entities over the unique, consenting people that make up the relationship. This is especially dangerous for relationships consisting of individuals who are members of marginalized communities, as they have less control over their narratives once anything less than ideal slips out into the public. Take Beyoncé and JAY-Z and her extremely tight grip on the public image of their marriage, for instance: She can’t afford to give anyone the chance to paint her and her husband as anything other than excellent. If information about the Solange/Jay elevator fight or the identity of Becky With The Good Hair leaked, Lemonade wouldn't be as powerful. Shit, Lemonade probably wouldn't exist in a world where Bey is being constantly scrutinized for her and Jay's marital problems.
They’re raising their stock by finessing our attention.
Likewise, what happens when two queer Black women at the heights of their career allow people to define them by their private life and not their work? Thompson has been everywhere in television and film these past few years, and Monáe just put out her most powerful, vulnerable album yet. These women are amazing, and their contributions deserve attention untainted by buzz related to whom they're sleeping with.
Another great thing about Monáe and Thompson's refusal to acknowledge said rumors? They retain control over their own story. Much like Beyoncé manhandling the nightmare of her husband’s infidelity and turning it into the greatest chapter of her story yet, Monáe and Thompson have been letting their rumored relationship marinate for their own benefit. We keep their names in our mouths for good gossip, but since we don’t actually know if they’re dating, we have to pay attention to each of their careers even more intently than we normally would. They’re raising their stock by finessing our attention. I mean, I enjoy Monáe's music, but Dirty Computer wouldn't be as squarely on my radar if she hadn’t been in my newsfeed consistently as a result of the dating gossip leading up to the album's release. Likewise, I wouldn’t be as impressed with the hot streak of high-profile roles Thompson keeps landing. (Westworld, anyone?) Janelle and Tessa have set out juicy, live bait for millions of us by letting these rumors fester without answers. And once we latch on to said bait, they reel us in so they've got our attention on something far more important and valuable to them: their work.
Whether actually dating or not, Monáe and Thompson are basically a power couple already. They’re exceptional in their crafts and contribute greatly to culture and society. And it’s better for everyone involved if we’re just left to keep guessing about them.