I can explain to cisgender white men (who are largely responsible for implementing and maintaining the social rules of sexism and racism) that I am not a woman. I can explain that gender is a nuanced and complex spectrum on which I personally sit somewhere outside of female, but somewhere that also isn’t male. I know that, despite my explanations, the likelihood of my being read as a woman is pretty high. This, to me, feels comparable to women being unable to escape sexism in spite of many who have patiently, almost neverendingly explained that it is oppressive. As a Black, non-binary, AFAB person, I know that I am unlikely to avoid the male gaze, and am definitely unable to escape racism. Enter misogynoir, a term coined by Moya Bailey which describes the intersection between racism and sexism that Black women and femmes experience.
When discussing misogynoir, it is vital to look to our Black female ancestors. Marsha P Johnson is the most well known of the Black trans women and drag queens who fought against homophobic, transphobic, racist police at the Stonewall riots in 1969. Johnson and her work went largely ignored and unsupported by the wider LGBT+ community, and is an example of how misogynoir operates to isolate Black trans women. After the Stonewall riots, Johnson partnered with Sylvia Rivera, a trans femme and former member of the Black Liberation movement, to create STAR House (STAR=Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), a safe space where trans and gender-nonconforming youth were cared for. Marsha P Johnson is one of the most well-known examples of a person working against misogynoir to create a better future for everyone.
Today, I feel included through the language used in Sisters Uncut’s Safer Spaces Policy. The description “all women (trans, intersex and cis) and all nonbinary, agender and gender variant people” acknowledges the marginalisation experienced by all those living under misogyny, and that sexism can exist for all people who do not identify solely or primarily as men. It is important that affirming and celebratory spaces centre all those mentioned in the above Sisters Uncut quote so that we are able to build community as well as social justice movements. Pxssy Palace and Gal-Dem have previously organised events within the QTIPOC community with this uplifting focus. I feel fortunate to live in a time where these spaces are accessible to me, and I am interested in investigating where and from whom these spaces originally came.
Black trans Women whose names history has not remembered were often House Mothers to young queer Black and Latinx people in the Ballroom scene. House mothers provided care, mentorship and homes to the people in their Houses who became a form of chosen family. Beginning in the 1920s and still going strong today, Ballroom culture was one of the only spaces which welcomed queer Black people during the 1980s AIDS crisis and remains one of the most longstanding examples of queer family building thanks to the Black trans women who led this movement. LGBT+ people owe much of our community to the history of House Mothers and Ballroom culture, and women of all races owe much of their movement building and activism to Black trans women.
Looking at Black trans women and femmes today, they are still providing vast amounts of support to those who suffer under misogynoir. For the Gworls is a Black trans-led collective that raises funds for rent, gender-affirming surgeries, medicine/doctors visits, and travel assistance. Asanni Armon (pronouns they/them), set up what was initially a rent party for a few individuals in 2019, which then transformed into a collective that have raised over a million pounds for the Black trans community. For The Gworls has enabled multitudes of Black trans people across the globe to have their basic needs met when our systems of care have failed them.
We know that Black people are twice as likely as white people to catch coronavirus, meaning that socialising in person for many Black queer and trans people still isn’t on the agenda. Accessing affirming spaces and existing under misogynoir has become even more difficult during the pandemic, but once again there is community support led by Black trans femmes. Danielle Braithewaite-Shirley’s project, Black trans Archive, allows Black trans people to engage with community and ancestry whilst remaining in the safety of their homes. This immersive video and audio piece of hyper-vivid, interactive world-building, guide those within the space on a journey tailored to their own lived experiences. Braithewaite-Shirley’s other works include live performances in Berlin, Italy, and the UK, various other digital archives, and an upcoming solo performance at the Tate Modern. Quoting from Go Find Me, an interactive archive created with Black trans people in Berlin, we can recognize that the burden of educating around gender and race should not always be assumed to fall to Black trans women and femmes:
“THIS IS NOT AN EDUCATIONAL SPACE, THOSE THAT SEEK TO
UNDERSTAND BLACK TRANSNESS WILL NOT BE SUPPORTED, WE
EXPECT YOU TO DO THE WORK BEFORE YOU ENTER HERE.
THIS IS A SPACE THAT APPRECIATES BLACK TRANS PEOPLE FOR
WHO THEY ARE, PEOPLE JUST LIVING THEIR TRUTHS.
BY ENTERING THIS SPACE YOU ARE AGREEING TO DECENTRE YOUR
OWN EXPERIENCE AND AGREEING TO CENTRE BLACK TRANS PEOPLE.”
Black trans women and femmes do not exist to support or educate the rest of the trans community, or cis people, or white people. It is important to remember that white men are at the root of misogynoir and that white women also play a vital role in upholding it. As the most marginalised and most vulnerable to misogynoir, Black trans women and femmes should not be automatically made responsible for educating, supporting, or campaigning around dismantling this harmful social ideal. It is through the transformational acts of Black trans women and femmes that I and many others have been able to exist freely today. I want to honour the work that continues to be done by Black trans women. I want to always consider whether I am speaking over Black trans women and femmes, or whether I am supporting and platforming them. I want to listen.
I commit to working to unlearn biases around misogynoir that have infiltrated my thinking around Black trans women and femmes. I promise to support Black trans women and femmes in the struggle against misogynoir however I am able to. I ask you to do these things too; honour the work of Black trans women and femmes, platform and support them, unlearn your biases, and listen to them.
If you’ve read this piece and feel similarly to me, here is a Black trans woman who you can support financially right now: https://www.gofundme.com/f/amanis-transition-fund