(The following article is in response to the article entitled ‘A Black Butch Speaks: Addressing Female Oppression’ posted to the Bklyn Boihood blog on January 12, 2012. Read the original article in its entirety here.)
A Black Butch Speaks: Addressing Female Oppression – A Response from The Ignant Intellectual
by The Ignant Intellectual
I think and speak in color. For example, when I spoke of my 20s, I referred to them as fuchsia. When I speak of my 30s, I refer to them as maroon, suggesting that my 30s are warmer, smoother, and that I’m more mature. When I’m sad, I speak of the color grey. When I’m happy, I speak of the color yellow. In reading this article, the only two colors I see are black and white. Where is the grey? Where is the homage to the diversity of queer females and to the fact that queer experiences cannot and should not be homogenized? Where is the fact that not all butch females are oppressed? Why does this article make me feel like a child discovering that they may not be connected to their body is akin to dwelling in the 7th Chamber of Hell?
Before I even get into this, let’s (for the sake of this argument) pretend that children are actually fully functioning humans with the ability to know (perhaps not have the language to assign to emotions and feelings) fairly mature things about themselves. Things like when their stomachs hurt, when they are happy or sad, when they don’t agree with an idea or concept, or when they don’t feel comfortable in their assigned gender. Ok now that we’ve gotten that out of the way…
While I agree that there are ginormous negative implications surrounding the lack of communication within some Black communities, I argue that this ‘hush mouth’ mentality is not fully responsible for children’s arrival at the Shore of Confusion to be devoured by the Albatross of Ignorance relegated to a life in the shadows. Perhaps ‘little butch Lakesha’ made the statement that she made and received the response that she received because of the basic ignorance (lack of knowledge/understanding) of the majority of society, including Lakesha’s family, surrounding trans-identify. In my humble opinion, the dysphoria is partially a direct result of said ignorance. Instead of avoidance or demonization, what would have been more healthy would have been an honest and open dialogue around why Lakesha hates her body and wants to be a boy. And if that reason is simply because she feels that she is a boy inside, that should be honored and valued and Lakesha should be ‘encouraged to take on male identity’ as much/little as she feels represents her. But never should Lakesha be made to feel bad because she is realizing something about herself.
I firmly believe that children should be respected enough and supported enough to express themselves and identify however they see fit. Some female-bodied children simply do not identify as women and to force them to or to say that those that “hate their bodies and want to be a boy” are somehow pathological is a full-fledged degradation of identification, and worse…it is the complete removal of choice. There is nothing either/or about gender identification and/or gender expression. That is the beauty of it…it is a rainbow of choices and options. If anyone brings a child to the Shore of Confusion it is ignorant adults projecting antiquated ideologies onto non-confused children. Kids know who they are and who they are not and to force a non-conforming female-bodied child to connect with their genitalia is far more damaging than an adult forcing themselves to see the child as smart and intelligent with limited vocabulary. For many trans folk, it’s not even about hating their bodies as many feel that their ‘goddess blessed bodies’ are absolutely amazing. The issue is that many don’t find their bodies RIGHT FOR THEM, thus the dysphoria. Furthermore, the equating of trans-identification and gender non-conformity with elements of demonization, degradation, and mutilation is harmful-- and possibly transphobic. Furthermore, gender re-assignment surgery is not mutilation. For a trans person, it is a stop along the road to becoming one’s complete self.
One of the weakest points made by the author is what seems to be part of the crux of their argument –the parallel between internalized racism and trans discovery. Lakesha coming home and telling her mom that she wants to be white is hardly comparable to Lakesha coming home and telling her mother she wants to be a man. One is internalized racism (structural/negative/no bueno) and one is gender identity (identification/positive/muy bueno). The issue here seems to be with the discomfort that gender identity discoveries evoke in adults. Can gender identity be a negative thing? I’m sure it can. IMO, it’s more so the process of discovering and accepting one’s gender identity that is disconcerting as opposed to the actual gender identity itself. Someone realizing that they are not connected to their goddess-blessed bodies is often status quo and should be considered quite normal. This argument reminds me of countless experiences that I have had where members of queer communities can only go but so far in the LGBT alphabet soup. The L and G part is cool, but dammit don’t even think that we have wrapped our minds around the B or the T! The B is still branded confused and in need of one ‘picking a lane’ and the T is still demonized and considered maladaptive. Also, I have come to realize that often trans folk realize that they were never gay/lesbian to begin with, but rather didn’t have the language to verbalize what they truly were, so they played the part until they realized that they were reading the wrong script. Perhaps Little Butch Lakesha is not really butch at all, but rather a human being having a trans experience or maybe she’s both butch AND trans. GASP! CLENTCHED PEARLS!
Little Butch Lakesha has a vagina. She possibly has breasts. She has estrogen. She probably has non-ambiguous female genitalia. Eventually she will bleed every month like clockwork. HOWZENEVA, she is a SPIRITUAL being having a HUMAN experience. Ergo, the automatic infusion of woman into her vagina or girl onto her breasts or female into her estrogen will lead you down a path that you likely won't find Little Butch Lakesha on. We must be exceptionally careful about the language we use surrounding sex, gender, gender identity, and gender expression. There are huge implications around word choice. I do not believe in sexing nor genderizing anyone based on genitalia or primary 'sex characteristics'. You may try. Be my guest. It may work for you, but it doesn't work for everyone, including Little Butch Lakesha. She is normal. We live in a world that says vagina = female = certain expectations and that’s where the world messed up. Scratch the expectations and let our children evolve into whomever they choose. They are not a girl because they have a vagina. They are simply a person with a vagina. I challenge butch females. Heck, I challenge all females. Hell, I challenge everyone to think long and hard about their ideas around gender identity and to pay careful attention to the threads that run within and across their ideas and word choice.
From the moment a female child presents as possibly trans she is loathed, feared and rendered invisible by her peers and elders alike. Why are we not outraged by trans oppression and willing to explore gender oppression like we look at race or class oppression? Why is it not seen as status quo for young butch girls to be disconnected from their bodies the goddess blessed them with? Why are we ushering our baby butches towards any particular identity rather than allowing them to pick for themselves the identification(s) that best represent who they truly are?
Instead of expanding the boundaries of gender identity to include all of its nuances, we have fallen desperate prey to that 1% that makes us comfortable.
To be Black, female-bodied, butch and/or trans is to be a warrior, let us pray that more of us have the courage to love ourselves wholly and be outspoken mentors to young gender non-conforming persons struggling not to conform to the impossible; a forced binary gendering system that only represents two colors— black and white.
About The Ignant Intellectual...
The Ignant Intellectual is a New Orleans-reared writer, poet, and spoken word artist who has been writing before completely mastering the English language. From the accent to that je ne sais quoi that folk have been trying to put words to for far too long, to the curious name, The Ignant Intellectual is indeed a 'strange fruit'. I.I.'s goal in writing and performing is to deconstruct the many unconscious social constructions that guide our mental processes and ultimately our actions, to influence youth and elders to re-imagine what is, pushing/pulling the collective to our full potential. The Ignant Intellectual's vibrant, often humorous, and always though-provoking writings and performances convey that, "Life really is good enough to be true." And so it is.
I am ‘Z’. I am a cultural & social critic. I am the bridge between the Hood and the Ivory Tower. I am unapologetically me. I seldom conform. I am highly conscious of my worth. I am a 504 Boi. I am a Spelman Dude. I am exceptionally inspired by the most non-traditional and socially-rejected of spaces. I love thinkers over those that simply regurgitate. I have a very soft spot for the supposed arm pits of society –whomever and wherever they may be. I am a label-less gender-phuker. I am a boy and a girl. I am neither a boy nor a girl. If you understand the last 2 sentences, I may possibly love you for life. I believe that despite the difficulties of relationships, the euphoric, warm, and fuzzy feelings of love can and should last. I am a full-time Drug & Alcohol Counselor at a residential treatment facility entirely for trans-gendered and gender variant adults. I am, ironically, a bartender. I am a co-owner/co-host and one-half of the mastermind behind a most beastly on-line radio show entitled Queer 2 the T based out of the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia, PA. I am the brainchild behind a developing blog entitled: ‘The Blog to the Proletariats: Where the Hood Meets the Ivory Tower’. I am a published poet/spoken word artist. I am a PhD program drop-out. I am my mother’s only child. I suggest you formulate no judgments, expectations, or pre-conceived notions of me; you will find yourself utterly disappointed. I do not debate my sexuality. I am a master procrastinator. I choose to live life with no chains.
Radio Show: queer2thet.blogspot.com