Kehlani: Binaries Hold Women Back From “Exploring Their Queerness”

"Queerness is soft," says Kehlani, who's had relationships with men and women.

In an interview with Paper magazine, Kehlani opened up about her gender presentation, sexual fluidity, and the radical softness of being queer.

The pop singer, who identifies as bisexual, spoke candidly about shifts in her gender presentation and sexuality. Fluidity isn’t something she’s ashamed of, she said. She even has a tattoo of the word “fluid” on her chest:

I get a lot of, “Why do you get your nails done?” “Why some days are you more masculine than you are feminine?” People either expect me to be a quote-unquote dyke or femme, and it’s weird to me. Especially when queer people do it to each other, because I think when you truly understand the humanness of queerness, there are no rules to this shit.

Kehlani believes her “hot mouth” has gotten her in trouble. She finds herself having to “check herself” on social media, especially as a queer woman of color who doesn’t filter her own mental health struggles or feelings.

“I try to speak about [mental illness] from a non-condescending place… because it’s really hard for people to receive information from someone that they think has a perfect life,” she told the magazine, admitting that her superstar status makes her and many other celebrities seem impervious to depression or other mental illnesses.

Though she came out publicly as this April, Kehlani told Paper that she’s had relationships with men and women her entire life. For her, queerness is “soft,” she says: “People just don’t understand fluidity.”

@Kehlani: The Softer Side of Savage #PAPERPride #linkinbio

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At first, she found herself abiding by gender norms and prescribed binaries, even within queer relationships. But breaking out of the male/female binary has empowered her.

Plus, teaming up with other out artists, including recent collaborator Hayley Kiyoko, has helped her accept herself.

“There’s always this need to fill that binary outline out,” Kehlani said. “That’s what stops a lot of people from stepping out and exploring their queerness— especially women, because they get nervous about what role they’ll be ’taking on.'”

“Once they get through that, the world just opens up.”

Brooklyn-based writer and editor. Probably drinking iced coffee or getting tattooed.