We long for the day when no one feels compelled to “come out”—or for straight folks to feel equally compelled. Ideally, sexuality should just be considered another natural and accepted part of identity—but then again, so should blackness.
But if you do feel so compelled, there’s likely no better month to declare pride in who you are than Pride Month. And this year, actress and activist Amandla Stenberg did just that, confirming to British magazine Wonderland that she is not, in fact, bisexual, as she declared to Teen Vogue via Snapchat in 2016, but gay.
In an interview with friend and recording artist King Princess, who joined her on the red carpet at the 2018 MTV Movie & TV Awards, the 19-year-old Stenberg corrected any misconceptions about her sexuality, saying, “I’m gay—not bi, not pan, but gay—with a romantic love for women.”
Stenberg, who is also featured in a surreally saturated fashion-spread shoot for the magazine, styled by Editor-in-Chief Toni-Blaze, said that the realization gave her a “profound sense of relief,” telling King Princess:
I’m grateful for how being gay has afforded me this ability to experience and understand love and sex, and therefore life, in an expansive and infinite way. The continual process of unlearning heteronormativity and internalized homophobia can be difficult, but one of the biggest blessings lies in the magic that comes from having to understand love outside the confines of learned heterosexual roles. ... Once I was able to rid myself of those parameters, I found myself in a deep well of unbounded and untouchable love free from the dominion of patriarchy. My sexuality is not a byproduct of my past experiences with men, who I have loved, but rather a part of myself I was born with and love deeply.
Though Stenberg recalled having feelings of being gay as young as 9 or 10 years old, she credits seeing more black gay women in the public sphere as a catalyst for her own awakening and confidence in her identity—likely a reason she’s being so open in her own coming out:
Had I had more representations of black gay women growing up I probably would’ve come to conclusions around my sexuality much earlier because I would’ve had more of a conception of what was possible and OK. Having more representations of black gay women now and seeing myself reflected in them has been a huge aid in seeing myself as whole, complete, and normal.
As well known for her outspoken activism as her acting roles, Stenberg will combine her two passions in the much-anticipated film adaptation of Angie Thomas’ best-selling novel, The Hate U Give, starring as its heroine, Starr—a role about which Stenberg said, “I carry her in my heart and see myself reflected in her.” In fact, Starr’s trajectory closely resembles Stenberg’s own:
She’s fresh as hell, she’s nuanced, she’s adept and she’s brave. I don’t think it’s very often we get a black girl character who has mastered the ability of the code switch. She proficiently moves between the comfort of her lower-income black neighborhood and the world of the white private school she attends where she doesn’t fit in. This was my experience in life too, and to see a character who lives within this dichotomy find her voice and grow into the realization of her truth in the face of such adversity feels really special and necessary.
Stenberg’s hopes for the film’s impact are significant, to say the least:
Black Lives Matter. Black children are not criminals. Black girls are magic. Black community is everything. I hope the film is able to reach those to whom these events seem trivial and ground it in reality for them. I love the power film has to create empathy through personal narratives, and I hope this shit gets real to those unaffected real damn quick.
And for those wondering how, at 19, Stenberg became so confident about her identity and artistic expression, she told Wonderland that it’s all a matter of evolution:
Identity is transient and ever-shifting, shaped by our realities and relative to our environments. I think it’s a lens through which we navigate the world, and so it is inevitable that as I grow and change my experiences of life and love permeate the art that I make.