All My Life I Had To Fight (To Wear Mascara)

I was never a child. Though I once was a little Queer Black boy, foreign is the concept of childhood bliss, for there was never a time when I was free from hegemonic masculinity - violently forced to be a man. Y? Each strike, each lash, each taunt stays etched in my mind. For as long as I have existed, the world was dead-set on beating my pink spirit black and blue.

The earliest attack on my psyche and on my physical self came in preschool. Though I was a persnickety child, set in my ways and averse to tradition, Miss Emma loved me. She guided me as I joyfully read aloud to the class. She allowed me to help her decorate the cakes she baked for us during nap time. She proudly pointed my arts and crafts self-portrait out of the line-up to my father. “What the hell is that on your head?,” he roared to me. Y? I had rendered myself in white dress with pink lips and winged eyeliner. My eyebrows were snatched. I sensed that I had done something wrong, but the truth was that I was wrong. Though I was a bit taken aback by his tone, I excitedly replied, “It’s a hair bow, Daddy! It’s a pretty picture!” The sound of the blow to the back of my head made Miss Emma flinch. The pain was sudden and sharp. Over the echoes of my wailing, I can remember her softly pleading with him to show me mercy. “He’s my brightest kid. He is smart as a whip… even if he’s a little Dixie.”

Dixie. That is what they called it in Georgia, where I was raised. It was a word that flowed freely from the mouths of older Women in church hats and pearls. Soft was favored among men. “Feminem”- in our strong Southern drawl- was frequently used to describe me. To some I was fruity. The schoolgirls would tell you that I just had a little sugar in my tank, and that’s why I was so sweet. But to the neighborhood boys, I was just a plain ol’ faggot. Y? It was difficult to keep track of how many different words there were for how wrong I was.

I cannot remember the name of my 3rd grade guidance counselor, but I remember her face. Y? She had deep-set smile lines and rosy cheeks; she even wore literal rose-colored glasses. Whenever I met her gaze, I would catch a glimpse of my reflection- I saw myself in pink. By the time I shared with her my plans to kill myself, I had already been a war veteran of four years. I wanted out, and I had finally come up with an exit strategy. The next time the boys chased me home, I would throw myself into traffic. Y? The turmoil was endless, my true self under constant attack. What else would bring about peace? She kept me alive with three words: “It gets better.”

I believed her. Y? Life was a battlefield (and a battlefield it remains) littered with landmines, every step a potential explosion. Bloodied noses at school and torn clothes on the street for any divergence, like the time I let the girls in my class paint my nails or when I would jump rope instead of climbing trees. Harsh punishments at home (in the form of sanctions and violence) for even the slightest deviation from masculinity, like the time I was caught with a Barbie in the bathtub or when I failed to “put some bass in my voice”. Verbal assault and glares of disappointment at the barbershop- a place that is always heralded as a cultural center for Black people. She had no idea of the non-stop violence endured by little Black boys who were Queer like me. She could not fathom that there would never be a cease-fire.

And to this day we must fight. Physically, even rhetorically, even in so-called safe spaces like academia, social justice circles on social media, LGBTQ spaces (clubs, events, sites, apps, etc.)  To everyone who was once a boy forced to be closed-fisted instead of naturally limp-wristed. To everyone who was once a boy forced to march yet born to switch. To everyone who was once a boy playing with toy ovens instead of toy guns. To everyone who was once a boy never allowed to live their truth because a Y-chromosome decided their fate, I hear you. I feel you. I love you. I am you. All my life I had fight to be free. All my life I had to fight to be me. All my life I had to fight to wear mascara.

The fight continues, and hopefully it ends with us.


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