To Those Like Me,
Everyday I decide to step out my door is a day where I decide to tackle the woes of the world, trying to figure out my identity and negotiating the intersecting identities of mine that the outside world interacts with.
Let’s start with the more obvious identities: my race and perceived sex as a Black male (who stands at roughly 5’10”, slim build and a typically happy demeanor). Less visible are my sexuality and gender identity, as a gay, gender fluid trans femme individual. All of these identities come into play most when I am visually femme. In other words, it’s when I wear my wigs, heels, skinny jeans, and accessories like chocker’s and headbands and things of that nature that you begin to see the expression of those less visible aspects of my identity.
I have noticed in my 21 years of life that how people interact with me is based on their biased perceptions of me and which identities I present (or that they perceive). I live in two worlds. One is where I am this fabulous, 6 foot (in heels) queer trans student activist/drag queen YouTuber who lives unapologetically for themselves and let’s no one stand in their way. But then on the flip side I live in this totally opposite world where I’m this stifled and emotionally abused Black male, trying to figure out how to live with a single mother who's struggling with her own problems (that she continues to put on me through gender policing and emotionally abusive micro-aggressions).
Existing in these two worlds requires me to negotiate my identity between pleasing my mother and pleasing my queerness, and satisfying the outside world and satisfying my gender identity. I say this because as far as my relationship with my mother goes (single mother, by the way), she is only willing to accept or acknowledge my queer identity with stipulations that continue to perpetuate discrimination and abuse of femme people.
Let me be clear, I don’t want to demonize my mother or Black mothers. This is the masculinity that was taught to her. Rather, I want to illustrate my experience and the possible larger experience of femme folks like me. Yes, telling femmes “it’s OK to be gay as long as you don’t act “girly”” which has a lot to do with how Black masculinity is constructed, and has grown to be anti-femme when it comes to males, and it is perpetuated by the Black community.
Before I can really delve into this we have to understand how Black masculinity is constructed so you understand how my existence as a femme Black male is a threat to that same Black masculinity.
The trauma of slavery and the stealing of many Black men from their families led Black men to construct a masculinity they passes as lessons to their boys about “being a real man” and having to be strong for the entire family. This manifested itself in never showing weakness or vulnerability. When translated to the recent past with Black males being ripped from their families and into the prison industrial system, they once again left their boy children with these same lessons in Black masculinity. In short, because of Black people’s history in the United States, and more specifically the Black male experience, they have had to construct this hegemonic masculinity as a form of protection from the systems that exist to violate them and their families.
However, when it came to Black femme males, this became a source of conflict. Black femmes do not fit into this masculine mold. Femmes had created their own form of masculinity, one that embraces all parts of them, and allows them to be and feel vulnerable. I subscribe to this new form of masculinity, this non-toxic form. And it is challenging and a threat to the old form of masculinity that most Black mothers subscribe to, my mother included. She has difficulty dealing with my queerness and my embrace of this new masculinity because she sees it as a weakness that society will exploit.
It’s out of love that she wants to protect me from harm. I believe that a lot of the perpetuated femme emotional violence, and invalidation of Black males specifically, at the hands of mothers comes from this place of a misguided sense of “love”. It is because of the pressures of society and how it treats our Black bodies that our mothers are in a constant state of hyper fear and anxiety, that the world will exploit and kill their babies so they must toughen them up at all costs. It’s reminiscent of that old phrase “I’ll beat my child before this world does,” but all they are doing is beating the world to the punch, and in a way killing their babies themselves.
I am left to live my true self in private, in spaces where my mother doesn’t frequent. It is in those spaces where my second existence resides, and where I negotiate how people interact with my gender-fluid identity. In the rare cases where strangers have interacted with my gender identity directly, it was at different parts of the spectrum. Some were pleasant and gave me compliments on my hair. Others would sneakily but very unsuccessfully hide and take pictures of me, like when I’m out shopping for heels or skinny jeans. And of course the religious zealots who just tell me the same old same old about going to hell and needing to repent.
As a femme trans gender fluid Black male, the world interacts with my identity in a very invalidating way, and doesn’t even blink an eye. More than a couple times I have had to hold back tears and simultaneous rage and anger from things as small as the snickers and laughs of people, all because of my identity and people's ignorance to it. Many of us femme individuals have faced these same stories in our lives more than once, and far too often.
It’s rooted in an historically perpetuated and internalized misogyny that transcends genitalia. It’s not just misogyny against biological womxn (or women with vaginas) but really feminine energy itself. With a foundation that is male and heteronormative, it’s just expected that the people of this society would internalize these systems and act them out in their own intra- and inter-personal interactions.
This is just yet another oppressive system that allows for the oppression of femme Black males trying to exist outside of the systems of the world. And this is the existence where I must negotiate my identity. In these negotiations it can become a matter of life of death. As we have seen, this actual threat for survival is a disproportionate burden for Black trans womxn in our community. I’ve had numerous experiences where it's become very clear to me that my existence as a Black, gender fluid, trans, gay male (which let's not forget in and of itself is a defiance and threat to the systems of society) comes with it an ever present dance of life and death.
In later reflections of these experiences, I’ve come to realize that these situations could have played out very differently where people could have taken it upon themselves to enact violence on me, beat me, or even kill me. I have realized that my daily dance between life and death could have ended right then and there if my oppressor had decided to end it. I have realized that in this world my body does not belong to me whether I be a Black male meeting the threat of police violence, or as a trans femme Black individual meeting the toxic masculinity in the form of physical violence and abuse.
I constantly negotiate my identity from the moment I leave my house to moment I return. However, as I have learned, I’m not alone in this fight for identity and space in a world that criminalizes my Black body, invalidates my trans identity, continues to offend my queer identity, and perpetually erases and white washes my history. It is because of these things that I fight for the liberation and freedom of my people, and for people like me.
A Fierce Femme
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