What if the march towards Black liberation centered the lives of Black transwomen? What if the voice of our generation transcended gender? Not just in theory, either. What if they was actually this generation’s pronoun and when asked who their partner was they replied, “all of America.”
What if I told you they is already here? The Movement for Black Lives not only centers the lives of Black LGBTQIA folks, they uplift our very existence – and not just today. They are highlighting all of our roles throughout this fight.
Barbara Jordan made it ok for me to be me, not just a Black woman but a Black lesbian. Her nontraditional beauty, booming voice and harnessed masculinity propelled her to heights no Black woman from the South had seen before. See, it’s all of her attributes converging that made knowing Barbara so poignant for me. Growing up in the South is one of the most important markers of my identity, and at the same time, it’s the source of so many insecurities. Finishing school, ladies teas, and lace and ruffles—no matter how smart or fast I was, all of this was necessary to make sure that I was prime for the male gaze. What was a little Black dyke from Alabama to do?
I turned to the folks already doing the work ahead of me. In this unprecedented time of bigotry, normalized hate and injustice, we must harness the lessons our elders fought and learned for us. It is their power that brought us this far, and it is our duty to fight on. It is by their model that we must let go of the dangerous constraints of masculinity and femininity. If Black boys were allowed to be feminine, we would have cut our contraction rate in half by now. If Black girls wearing pants were more accepted, maybe Sakia Gunn would still be with us. If we allowed Black people to be as beautiful as we are when we come into this world, our trans and nonbinary folks would shine as bright as the rest. And we would all be that much better because of it.
Now is the time to abandon the goal of proximity to whiteness. We are the chosen. We always have been. White supremacy is rooted in maintaining the status quo; we represent unimaginable power. Despite every attempt to extinguish our lives, we remain resilient and steadfast.
My mother recently visited me and in her earnest attempt to understand the complexities of gender and sexuality said this: “As a Black woman, I have always been gender nonconforming because those standards are based on white traditional norms.” I simply smiled and agreed. Black liberation calls for unification, for us to be swept up in the beauty of our Blackness and hold the line for one another knowing that each hand must be present if we truly want to be free.
My grandfather unintentionally taught me how to tie a bowtie. To this day, he is one of the best dressed people I have ever met. With head held high and chest stuck out in his pink and blue polkadot bowtie and cumberbund, he kissed my cheek at my very own debutante ball. In his late seventies looking ever dandy, he clips his nails twice a week, always has on a pressed undershirt, chapstick in his pocket, and the softest skin you can imagine. He often takes longer than his wife to get ready. My Papa is firmly rooted in his manhood, yet yields to the women in his life with ease and joy. His masculinity is not challenged by theirs and vice versa. No, he didn’t sit me down and show me that it’s just like tying shoes, but he made it ok for me to learn on my own.
Masculinity is often emphasized and praised in our diaspora no matter how toxic, and it is harming us all. It is murdering our trans sisters, it is abusing us in our partnerships, it is imprisoning our folks, it is policing our femmes and leaving us all in cycles of trauma with no end in sight.
We must work to find the answers, to forge a shared path forward. We must challenge those who mean to do any of us harm. It is the responsibility of each of us to love and support one another. Our ability to be everything that we are and still thrive in the face of racism, sexism and state violence is why we will win. I welcome folks to be co-conspirators as we dismantle every system that works to extinguish our light. A collective and united fight means yielding power and privilege to Black SGL/LGBTQIA folks who have the blood memory to survive and thrive.