Aunjanue Ellis Opens Up About Acknowledging Queer Identity in Her 30s: 'There Was No Place for It'
By Mekishana Pierre
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Aunjanue Ellis has been open about her sexuality for decades, but when asked why her personal life has rarely been in the media, the 53-year-old actress pointed out that "nobody asked."
In a candid interview with Variety, the King Richard actress recalled walking down the red carpet at the Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards in March with the word "Queer" emblazoned on the left arm of her red-hot Dolce & Gabbana suit jacket. But nobody on the press line or inside the event ever asked her about it.
"I was thinking, 'Why didn’t more people pay attention to that?' And I was like, they probably thought it said 'Queen,'" Ellis told the outlet, laughing. "It wasn’t that I was expecting any sort of major reaction or anything like that. One of my family members noticed, but nobody else did."
The Mississippi native shared that she realized she was queer at the tender age of eight years old and growing up in "a God-fearing family in the Bible Belt" had her fearing rejection from her family and trying to "train" herself to be "correct."
"The solitude of that is so lonely, it’s violent," she said. "It’s violent because you literally have to tuck and place so many parts of you to be acceptable, so people won’t run from you and don’t want to be around you. It was exhausting. That’s what childhood was like. That’s what adolescence was like. I knew [my sexuality], but there was no template for it; there was no example of it; there was no place for it, and certainly no forgiveness for it."
Ellis revealed that she fully acknowledged her bisexuality in her 30s, and while she was aware that being out would have repercussions, she wasn't going to hide who she was.
"I am a work in progress, and my family and my community are works in progress," she shared. "I really believe that that is important to say because I’m not alone. We see people on the other side of it, where everybody’s good and fine: 'Love is love.'"
The Lovecraft Country star is in an 11-year relationship with a man she met in church and explained that she's never been the type to discuss her personal life with media just for the sake of it. She noted that her role is to speak about her work, not her relationships. "I wasn’t going to be like, 'And by the way, in case you ain’t heard yet…' Because that’s artificial," she reasoned.
The downside to that is how often Ellis faces the homophobic views of those who don't recognize that she's part of the LGBTQ community. "There is an assumption made of me -- a presumption made of me. Is it because I’m a Black woman from Mississippi? Is it because I’m older?" she asked. "I don’t know what the mechanics are that goes into them not processing, or them not just being able to believe that in the same way I am Black, I am queer. This is who I am."
Currently, Ellis revealed that she aims to expand the range of queer representation through her work, noting that there aren't many literary works about Black queer women.
"There are characters, but the full experience of a Black woman being gay or bisexual, it doesn’t exist, so we’ve got to write it into existence," she added. "This idea that we just decided to be gay two years ago, or 15 years ago, or 20 years ago is a lie. It is imperative that we see more of that, because it is the truth of who we are. It is not a blemish on who we are. It is the wonderful scope of our humanity as Black folks in this country. It is something that I am insisting on, in what I bring into the world creatively."