Queen Latifah’s gay problem

Another day, another frenzied bout of speculation regarding Queen Latifah’s sexuality – this time, it began with the announcement that Latifah (aka Dana Owens) would be headlining Long Beach Pride (May 19 and 20). Said festival co-president Pat Crosby, “From hip hop to R&B, pop to standards, Queen Latifah is the voice of our generation, and her concert here will be phenomenal. For her to make her worldwide Pride debut here in Long Beach is a tremendous testament to the popularity of our celebration and to the strength of our community.”

Our generation? Our celebration? Our community? OMG. Latifah has finally come out of the closet! Sandrarose.com led the charge in this direction – and despite its faulty logic, the “story” was hastily reposted by various gossip blogs.

(Last year saw a hurricane of erroneous “Latifah Finally Comes Out” headlines, after a quote from the Queen was plucked from its context and reprinted as “evidence” that she’d gone public about her sexuality – Latifah describes her ideal girlfriend! In fact, Latifah was attempting to redefine sexy in light of our sweeping cultural fixation on T & A).

It was her 1996 breakout role as swaggering dyke bank robber Cleo, in Set It Off, that triggered the Operation-Out obsession. Her 2002 “tit-for-tat” turn as Matron “Mama” Morton in Chicago furthered flame-talk. Enter speculation (2003 to present) regarding Latifah’s relationship with Jeanette Jenkins (talk grew especially heated in 2010 when the pair bought a house and were snapped hugging on a yacht). And last year, when Latifah’s character on VH1’s Single Ladies came out as a dyke, Star Pulse media wondered if Latifah was “taking baby steps out of the closet”; Salon magazine asked, “Is Her Majesty trying to tell us something?”

Latifah, of course, has long tried to tell us something – that her sexuality is not for the public.

In 2008, she told The New York Times, “You don’t get that part of me. Sorry . . . I don’t feel like I need to share my personal life.” In July 2009, she told Essence, “My personal life is personal and it’s really not for everyone else.” In 2010, she told Upscale, “I don’t have to explain anything. I don’t have to confirm anything. Look, I need my time. I need my life
. . . You go ahead and speculate. I’ll just live it.”

Indeed, Latifah has been crystal clear.

Our probing public eye, however, continues to insist that her clarity is cover-up – that she’s a cipher, a code to be cracked.

And so, even while skeptics slammed the SandraRose “story” for what it was – wild misinterpretation and irresponsible journalism – the power of possibility lingered. Was Latifah about to declare herself a dyke?


Latifah made no such proclamations during her performance. Nonetheless, her onstage commentary – “I’ve been waiting to do this for a long time” – “Y’all my peeps. I love you!” – “Are you feeling all the unity?” – fuelled conjecture: Latifah just raised her rainbow flag!

Latifah’s performance, however, was neither bold declaration nor tacit acknowledgment of queerness. “That definitely wasn’t the case,” she told EW. “I’ve never dealt with the question of my personal life in public. It’s just not gonna happen.”

As for her performance? “I know that the most important thing and the only thing I have to give is love. When people are going through hatred and bullying, the biggest thing to fight that is love,” she said. “So that’s all I encouraged my audience to do that night: to share their light and share their love. Period.”

Latifah’s response has been met with some “bitch please” backlash. Among the charges: Latifah owes it to the queer community (read: role model); Latifah owes it to herself (read: out and proud); Latifah owes it to the public at large (read: one in 10).

Embedded within these charges, however, are a host of problematic assumptions: that the private lives of public bodies belong to us; that failure to discuss one’s private life with the public at large is evidence of shame and cowardice; indeed, that silence is akin to “secret.”

As Latifah told Upscale in 2010, “I don’t feel like I need to explain things to a perfect stranger. The people who matter know. And they love me for Dana. I don’t have to tell Joe Blow.”

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