(The Root) — Nineties R&B singer Monifah is putting it all out there: She's been dating women exclusively for more than a decade and she's an ex-cocaine addict.
The former Uptown Records hot girl's sexual orientation surfaced recently in promos for her new TV One reality series, R&B Divas, which premieres Aug. 20. A clip shows her with her girlfriend of two years, Terez, and arguing with her 21-year-old daughter, who disapproves of the same-sex union. In the new reality series, viewers will get a look inside Monifah's life and experience some of the ups and downs of fellow soul music divas Faith Evans, Brownstone's Nicci Gilbert, Syleena Johnson and KeKe Wyatt.
While Monifah insists she's "never been in anyone's friggin' closet," the idea of an African-American celebrity publicly engaged in a same-sex relationship may take some getting used to for some. Sure, singer-songwriter Frank Ocean garnered support from many of his peers when he revealed on his Tumblr page last month that he'd loved a man. Meanwhile megastar Queen Latifah has faced lesbian rumors for nearly two decades — including denying that she'd come out after a performance at the 2012 Long Beach Lesbian & Gay Pride festival in May — but maintains that her private life will stay private.
The Root caught up with Monifah, who was promoting her new show in Atlanta, and discussed her thoughts on why celebrities stay in the closet, her daughter's views on LGBT matters and what viewers can expect this season.
The Root: How does R&B Divas compare to other reality shows?
Monifah: To me the difference is that we're not obscure; we're not trying to become famous. We've already had some of those accolades. We're truly friends and have grown even closer during this process. The difference is that we're trying to share our stories to be inspiring.
I don't thumb my nose at these other shows. There just needs to be some balance [of the type of images on television] and that we're coming with that balance. No one's flying across the tables and throwing stuff. It's not that type of party. We don't always see eye to eye and we give each other words every now and then, but it's where we come from with it — we're coming from a place of respect and love.
TR: One aspect of your life that will be shown is your involvement with your girlfriend and your daughter's disapproval of that relationship. Were the show's producers open to sharing those intimate parts of your life?
M: My daughter is saved and she's a new Christian. God is working with her and through her in different ways. She's a young woman, she's shaped by her experiences and so she believes in a certain thing. She's 21 and has a lot of living to do. I'm older, and I understand because my ideals aren't the same now as they were when I was 20. She has to live a little more and she's going by the book, so to speak.
I have to respect what she believes because I taught her to stand on her own and speak her mind. And who would I be to fight her on that? I'm her mother. She's my child. We're still living and loving one another as mother and daughter.
That's one of the things that I want to get across and why I opted to talk about it on camera. I was very much in control of my story line and what I wanted to share. I also was addicted to cocaine for seven years. This [show] is not [for] shock value; this is my existence. And if you're going to document my life, this is what my life is right now.
TR: Your current relationship isn't your first same-sex involvement. You were dating women exclusively when you made your debut in 1997. Was it hard for you?
M: No, it wasn't. I always lived my life authentically. Over the past 15 years, same-sex relationships have been my primary relationships. It wasn't a secret to people who've been around me in the industry. I just lived my life.
I hate the term living in the closet. We should be way past that at this point. I'm not going to embargo my life because of the ignorance of certain groups of people or people period. I stand for equality, period. And, yes, I'll shout from the rooftops for equality for everyone. No matter your gender, whatever you choose to do, as long as you're not hurting other people or yourself.
I am not married but we are definitely talking about it. This is a very important person that I live and am building a life with. I've got to take the punches and I've got to be obedient to what God has called me to do in my life and my time on this Earth. And that's what I'm doing.
TR: Why do you think many celebs stay in "the closet"?
M: It's because of the fear of the shunning and the ignorance of folks. You don't have to announce anything. It's just that I was doing something that warranted realness, and who I am and where I was in my life I decided I'm just going to live … It's not a big deal.
I look forward to that so that people who are [LGBT] don't have to make those choices. It's hard to live [in the closet]. It really is. I've seen people do it and it sucks. I refused to be that person a long time ago.
Aisha I. Jefferson is an Atlanta-based contributor to The Root.