by Francisco-Luis White @FranciscoLWhite
“From my membership in all of these groups I have learned that oppression and the intolerance of difference come in all shapes and sizes and colors and sexualities; and that among those of us who share the goals of liberation and a workable future for our children, there can be no hierarchies of oppression. I have learned that sexism and heterosexism both arise from the same source as racism - a belief in the inherent superiority of one race over all others and thereby its right to dominance.” - Audre Lorde
Lorde’s words on sexism and heterosexism are as relevant today as ever, easily encompassing cissexism among Black people. Lately, we’re constantly questioning and challenging gender in very public ways, from the no less misogynoirist Young Thug and well-intentioned but space-consuming Jaden Smith to the homey around the way who refuses your boxes and labels without any fanfare.
That’s not to say that those of us who are trans, non-binary, or gender nonconforming are any safer as we navigate this increasingly hostile society, but just that we’re beginning to see more of ourselves reflected in the world around us. However, it’s as dangerous as ever being our unapologetic non-cisgender or non-conforming selves, while being unapologetically Black and especially while being poor. Maybe I’m idealistic, but I still can’t help feeling as though we’re on the verge of a widespread collective and ultimately liberating genderfuck once and for all.
Let me have my hope. Even with increased and too often commodified visibility though, we have work to do.
Laverne’s Emmy nomination is not enough. Janet’s keynotes and book sales are not enough. Young Thug dressed like Raiden Cinderella on his Jeffery album cover is not enough. These are capitalist markers of progress at best, superficially inspiring for some as they may be. As we celebrate not them but ourselves and the diversity of gender nonconformity in this moment, let’s push harder not for inclusion or more access in an inherently cissexist, patriarchal, and anti-Black system, but for an end to patriarchy and gender binarism or essentialism wherever and whenever it manifests - as it does, hand in hand with racism. The question you have to ask yourself is whether you want to be affirmed by and comfortable in this system or to abolish this system as a means of affirming and actually liberating yourself. This is still our off-camera, often unpaid and inglorious fight. It’s internal, it’s on the streets, it’s in the workplace, it’s in the doctor’s office, it’s definitely in the sightline of the officer and Black cishet and both their gun barrels.
The radical Black tradition without us is myth. We know there is and has been no Black radicalism - and really, will be no Black liberation - without Black people who radically defy the roles and rules of gender. When we speak about the work to be done, we’re not only speaking about daring to be our whole authentic selves, but about creating space within the current movement for Black lives for our voices to be lifted. In our self-made very Black, very genderqueer spaces we are tasked with naming all of our oppressors despite the outcry that it’s counterproductive or divisive. There has never been a more crucial moment to be Black and not cis. Indeed, there has never been a more crucial moment to hold cisgender Black folks accountable for how they too perpetuate anti-Blackness, how they too do the work of this system, by enforcing through violence the gender binary and gender essentialism on our Black bodies.
I choose to believe we’re on the verge. I choose defiance. I choose the discomfort of holding my Black brothers and sisters accountable as accomplices, if not as the perpetrators of my chaining while they chant Assata. I choose to hold firm to the hope that ours is the last generation to lose Black trans lives at the rate we do and at the hands of other Black people. I choose Lorde’s words over Baldwin’s. I choose to follow Black queer women and femmes through the fire this time and every time. In this Black nonbinary body, what other choice do I have? Again, let me have my hope.