Bentley Mode: Grace Jones

Bentley Mode [bent-lee mohd] noun: An existence that is black-against-blackness, peculiar-against-queerness,  sexual-against-sexuality, secure-against-insecurity, and aggressively striking-against-all angles of passivity. Bentley Mode is to be hyper-Everything, even and especially in environments where values of social marginalism are shared.

(note to intellectuals and academes: you can’t argue with my definition because i just made it up:)

People have often mistaken me for a man. But I am all woman to me! But what’s a woman supposed to feel like? I like hard things. I like soft things. I go feminine, I go masculine. I change roles in my life. I am both.–Grace Jones

Grace Jones

Photo courtesy of

For me, Grace Jones existed before Gladys Bentley as an early progenitor of gender and race deconstruction, an image of truly unadulterated wildness.

There are those loud characteristics everyone notices about Ms. Jones: her naturally striking features that lend to theatrics, her bold stance that screams ferocity sans rigidity, skin so deep and rich, I’d swear she bleeds chocolate. In as much as Ms. Jones means to queerness, its equally important to uphold  her blended femininity and masculinity and the unique recipe of blackness these multiple identities create. In the 70s, an era of political exhaustion dubbed the “Me Decade” in one moment and “The Great Awakening” in the next, Ms. Jones made dark-skin and mannishness less endangered standards of beauty without making herself any less dangerous.

Much of Ms. Jones’ early career was spent reinterpreting popular tunes by contemporary artists, who, in their own right, were norm-defiant. Using this formula, she found success with her fourth album, cultivating an audience beyond the concentration of gay clubbers who embraced her first three efforts.  Stylistically-speaking, Ms. Jones also found her ilk in the fashion world (creating her signature style in collaboration with French photographer and graphic designer, Jean-Paul Goude). In the 80s Ms. Jones found herself  in the racial minority, situated atop the universe of fashion and costuming, an exotic island populated by beautiful freaks.

Grace Jones, Jean-Paul Goude

I’ve looked the devil in the face, and god, and somehow I’ve found a balance. But being extreme is at the same time a balance–one extreme balances the other. –Grace Jones

Grace Jones, Jean-Paul Goude

Men are terrified of me. I can easily step into the mans shoes–that’s what sets off the tension. It puts the man in a position where he has to become the female. But, my image is supposed to frighten men, so only the good ones come through. –Grace Jones

Grace Jones, Jean-Paul Goude

I think it’s our nature to be man and woman all in one. To give and to receive. I think that all men need to be penetrated at least once in their lifetime, to understand what it is like to receive. It’s my own theory, which I think could help take some of the aggression out of the world. –Grace Jones

As I’m writing this and listening to Ms. Jones’ eclectic catalog in my headphones, I’m recognizing how easy and often we situate her in the spectrum of queerness. I mean, look at her. Even if we mean ‘queer’ in its most etymological and Webster-friendly sense, the elements thereof reach out and grab us in each of the photos above, no different than in Ms. Jones’ volumes of soulfully eccentric music. However, I’d suggest gazing densely into Ms. Jones’ brown eyes and charred skin. Blackness so stark and against every conservative, mainstream definition of beauty–black or white or ‘other,’  glares back at you. Once called ‘socially sick,’ in a junior high school report, Ms. Jones is lewd lankiness and small-breasted, sharp-edges. She is black extremity, even in an extreme white world of creative non-conformity.  She is the man who fucks you strong and the woman who caresses you tenderly. She is equally the man who caresses you tenderly and the woman who fucks you strong. Ms. Jones, in her Bentley Mode, is Misfit.

*this post is the first in a series of profiles of artists who, in my slight and humble opinion, exude and define ‘Bentley Mode.’ If you’d like to suggest artists to profile, send an email to or if you’d like to contribute an article send it to the same address with the term “Bentley Mode” in the subject line. I’d love to post it here!



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8 Responses to Bentley Mode: Grace Jones

  1. leapeace says:

    WoW, those are powerful gorgeous words and images.

  2. Beautiful and incisive essay, Shirlette.

  3. Sam P says:

    Even though Goude’s work was at least partially born from the fetishist/exoticizer’s obsessive manipulation of his “object,” Grace totally blew his dick and and mind. That work ended up being a total COLLABORATION (I’ve seen his other “exotic” work-it’s much less sublime). She OWNS it, and in fact by doing so, explodes the trope, turns it inside-out and lets a kind of blackness emanate that can ONLY come from her, not from his “creation” of her. I saw her 2x in the early 80′s–during her encores she licked everybody’s hands, mostly gay men. AWESOME.

    • Shirlette says:

      Thanks for sharing that experience/insight Sam. Grace Jones = Nobody’s Mannequin. “She OWNS it, and in fact by doing so, explodes the trope, turns it inside-out and lets a kind of blackness emanate that can ONLY come from her, not from his “creation” of her.” Amen.

  4. Sam P says:

    ps- I’m totally using “Bentley Mode” in future academic papers. I’ll know where to cite.

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