Don't Be Sorry for Transwomen, Be Better
BY: T.J. LOVE
Black people are the most vilified, antagonized, unduly criticized people walking God’s green Earth. And I love my community, I honestly do. But we are not beyond reproach. There are many topics that are still taboo in the Black community because of deeply entrenched misogyny and the traditional need to “keep up appearances” in the street.
My grandmother used to tell my cousin and I, 'no matter what happens in this house, don’t let it spill outside.' Everyone doesn't need to know your family's business, so that may be fine for keeping certain internal conflicts from being exposed to the outside world, but when it applies to things like mental illness, homosexuality, etc., it’s suppressive and disabling.
As far as the burgeoning topic of gender identity and sexuality are concerned, we are still very oppressive towards our own because of the deep-seated hypermasculinity that pervades each and every level of our community and it is viscously damaging. AVP spokesperson Sue Yacka told The Daily Beast that of the 17 homicides of trans and gender-nonconforming people in 2017 the project has counted so far, 16 were people of color. Additionally, fifteen had been transgender women and thirteen had been Black transgender women. “This is that we know of,” said Yacka. “The figure may be much higher, due to misgendering and misnaming often by police and local media.” It appears that Black men are still afraid of being caught with trans women because of what they perceive their peers will think about them, conflating trans women as "men in women’s clothing." That perception is incredibly damaging and perpetrates violence against trans women.
We don’t afford trans women the same rights we give cisgender women because we still conflate genitalia for gender. Admittedly, I am unpacking the same damning concepts and misconstructions because of the socialization I’ve been exposed to all my life where masculinity is constantly being subjected to social cues and critiques, whether it be from family, music or relationships, our manhood is always co-opted by socialization.
So why wouldn’t I buck against gender identity? Shouldn't I be upset if I dated someone I thought was a cisgender woman, but was actually a transwoman - ain’t I 'gay' for that? My homies may turn on me, so shouldn't I hide the fact I ever did that? What will everyone think?
While I don’t excuse that mentality at all, I understand where it comes from. It takes a lot to undo the destructive, primal, chest-beating, psychosomatic reaffirmation of masculinity and what makes a man 'a man.' But rather than address those issues, it is significantly easier for many men to abandon all understanding and tolerance and simply be an asshole. But in being an asshole, the assertion that transfolk aren’t worth learning their identities and respecting them enough to address them as such, as well as not being antagonistic towards them is exactly the fight our community goes through. Yes, our discrimination is different systematically, but the origins are the same: 'I don’t value you as a human being therefore I don’t give a shit about who you are and what you stand for and I will dehumanize your existence at any opportunity that I get.' That is hypocritical.
We can’t exclaim that “Black lives matter,” but then exclude Black trans folk because they don’t fit in with our heteronormative concepts. We don’t need to demand that transfolk meet our comfortable sensibilities - we need to meet their humanity at the base level. It literally costs you nothing to respect pronouns and identities. You’re not subscribing to some sort of wicked agenda - you’re just being a decent human being.
I currently date a transwoman. She is 'genderfluid' meaning she identifies either as a woman or agender. Currently, her pronouns are “she/her" but a lot of genderfluid people identify as “they/them." She was afraid to come out to me because she felt like it might scare me off, which is the same fear a lot of transfolk probably feel.
They may wonder: is this person going to reject me?
Is this person going to hurt me?
Is this person going to kill me?
An interesting aspect of our relationship is the conversations we have about her identity and how she’s learning a lot about herself every day, which she imparts on me daily. We hit bumps in the road, because I’m still unpacking a lot of things myself. I’m learning how to unlearn all these aspects of toxic masculinity that have been dormant in me all my life. I still deal with little microaggressions that want to come out of my mouth and I have to censor myself a lot because I don’t want to be insensitive or unconsciously cruel. I still find myself on social media, speaking in trans spaces and stepping on toes by centering the conversation on me, but I realize how wrong that is. Sometimes, I find myself misgendering people and apologizing profusely for it, which is usually met with “don’t be sorry, be better." Initially, it hurt my fragile male ego to be told that, but I understand. How many times have we as black people had to defend our humanity to white people and how tiring does it get? It is just as exhausting for a trans person to constantly repeat “I identify as this, my pronouns are these, please learn them.”
After I let her know it was safe to come out to me and that she would never have any issues with me understanding and accepting who she was, I asked her what she deals with mentally, what goes on in the mind of a genderfluid person. Individually, sometimes she feels feminine, but most of the time, she feels like she’s genderless, neither masculine nor feminine. We talk often about trans-affective subjects and I’ve learned that although it’s often exhausting to keep asking researchable things, she enjoys educating me, a luxury a lot of heterosexual cisgender partners are not afforded.
I feel like it’s strengthened our bond even further. I’ve never dealt with a person quite like her and I feel privileged to know her, let alone be with her, in a world where she is targeted as a woman of color, as well as a member of the LGBT+ community. I feel like my role as an ally has increased and that makes me elated, because I genuinely care about her struggles, as well as the struggles of everyone else who has to deal with the stares and the aggressions and the violence and the condescension on social media and beyond. I stand for all oppressed people and believe in empowering the Black community with knowledge that will foster understanding, acceptance and tolerance.
We should all stand united, shoulder to shoulder, especially in these times where we all have targets firmly painted on our backs.