March is (apparently) International Working Black Women’s Month: On Invisibil(ized) Black Women, GNC & Femme Labor
What a month that was for Black women.
While it *was* Women’s History Month, who knew that would end up being an entire month of Black women working EXTRA overtime trying to make their voices heard? (Well, Black women prolly did…). Even if you are not a Black woman, it is somewhat predictable since Black women can almost always be found working overtime on behalf of everyone else… Still, you would think that in the Month “for women” & in the weeks following Black History Month, Black women might… could… maybe get a break in celebration of their continual hard work…. but
I guess not.
To begin, we started the month with 3 Black trans women being murdered within days of each other, followed by the Women’s March follow-up strike on International Working Women’s Day that was simultaneously questioned and it’s intentional ode to the history of solidarity striking erased on March 8. Then, Chimamanda Adichie’s extremely harmful comments landed just a few days later. From jump, the first few days alone of this year’s Women’s History Month were already chock full of more work than celebration. The kicker, which is fundamentally indicative of the way womanhood functions: that work was mostly done by Black Women. As if that first week wasn’t enough, Black women also carried #BringBackOurGirls, the D.C. Edition on their shoulders, along with even more noteworthy effort in the #BlackWomenAtWork Twitter conversation. While each of these warrant critical reflection or articles in their own right, they’ve pretty much all been written. Even as it relates to this piece: I intended on writing a small recap of the webinar I offered on March 8. But as a sometimes-“woman”-presenting, but overall Gender Non-Conforming (GNC) Black person, I have to be honest that the month took its toll on me. Every time I tried to write the recap, I walked away depressed that there was more to cover and connect than the day before.
As I’m seen as a Black woman about 50% of the time — 25% of the other time as a Black man and the remaining 25% as they or Black “other” — I have a unique perspective on the construct of gender itself. Essentially, my proximity to masculinity via my style, presentation, size, and low voice often gets me things other womyn tend to not get (initial respect, 2nd chances, safety when I walk down most streets, etc). I won’t get into it more here but you can follow me on facebook or IG to see what its like in real time.
I coordinated this March 8 webinar to show just how much GNC/Femmes/Women/Transfeminine folks actually have in common, despite our differences in upbringing, location and family roles. The goal of this call was also to drive home the reality that we are all victims of patriarchy (or the privileging of men & often termed ‘masculine’ ways of being), as opposed to our problems being reduced down to the man-woman binary only. Ms. Adichie would do well to internalize this fact. You can find to the recording of the webinar I did with Aaryn M. Lang, Myisha T, and Brittany Ferrell, 3 self-identified Black women/femme/GNC folks, here. (On the day of a called strike, the irony is not lost on me that I asked 4 Black women/femme/gnc people to work). In the webinar, we also break down what International Women’s Day means to Black women/femmes/GNC folk (To summarize: not much/White women get to work/#StopKillingUs….) but we talked about that and much more.
Because I’m particularly uninterested in maintaining the violently enforced gender binary, this at times makes it difficult to have conversations that discuss (and therefore, reify) it. In writing this article though, I realized that the more we nuance our discussion of gender, the more we can get to creating a new world and calling things what they are. By expanding the notion of woman (because that’s all it is really, a societal notion, as opposed to a fixed biological or sex category), we’re able to see more nuanced view of the impact of not just men, penis-havers, or gender, but the real enemy: patriarchy. The ways we trust men to be the one and only moral compasses of society; the ways we enforce that men shut off their emotions (and others their inherent sexualities around men); the ways we don’t flinch when we tell men and anyone who will listen to be strong or emotionally muted to the point of inflicting violence against others: these are just a few iterations of a problem ultimately traced to patriarchy and toxic masculinity, not maleness. As a matter of fact, this problematic societal agreement itself is not even linked to a gender (though people with penises do have it expected of/beat into them more often). This is something women, cis boys, demigirls, genderqueer beings like myself, and gender-transcending agender folk shouldn’t have to do to get respect, safety or #EqualPay.
If we’re not honest about the violence the binary inflicts on us, things will stay the same. Patriarchy will continue its stronghold, on women, men, and gender-transcending folks alike. People who experience this world as woman and Black in a society that hates both will continue to make new ways from inside a painfully heavy intersection. To then be trans, Black and someone who must fight for their femininity under a world obsessed with enforcing toxic masculinity and patriarchy onto anyone with a penis, testosterone or large physical size makes black trans women at minimum, a shadow and at most feared to almost everyone, whether we admit it or not. But the point of my rambling is this: as the mule of the world, those who identify and walk through the world as Black women, whether cis, or trans, and GNC people, are doing the brunt of the work to hold open the door to safety and honesty for all genders. And our first charge at the threshold: #TrustBlackWomen, a hashtag that came to be out of reproductive justice movements but one that my Black woman partner never lets me forget, mostly because she’s… usually right. #TrustBlackWomen is a motto we should all be living our lives by and we can start by doing a much better job of listening. Yes, even if and when they’re wearing wigs.
Finally, a moral: The binary is not only violent towards those who willingly break its boundaries. It requires your unwavering belief in it even as it’s violent towards the loudest parts of your inner self. Since we could all use some reminding that the binary really isn’t worth keeping up as we know it, I close with a status I wrote earlier this month in response to Chimamanda’s harmful comments and double downs. We may have a long way to go, but I hope this post reminds you to do your [learning] part in the journey.
If you learned something, cash me up. The patriarchy owes me money (but for real, it does).
Cash App: $JayMarieH / Venmo: @Jay-MarieH / Paypal: paypal.me/JayMarieH