Liberation for whom?

by Jaqueline Sephora Andrews

I long for the day when Gender is abolished. I believe that once Gender is abolished, we can truly be free to live life the way we want to live it, without being forced into boxes, forced to perform. This sounds wonderful, but is freedom really possible? I have been here before, a movement predominantly white, talking about freedom. It really doesn’t lead to universal freedom. Therefore, any liberation movement that I am involved with must center the voices and ideas of black women, and other minorities. I believe that it is only when their voices are centered, that there can be true liberation.

Some people might say that they care about the black struggle, yet say that I am colonizing women by calling myself a transwomen and living a socially constructed form of womanhood. This is really offensive because I don’t colonize; I am a descendent of the colonized, with my great great grandmother being that last person in my family tree born into slavery. It was my ancestors who were taken from their homeland and brought here to this land in chains, with many dying along the way. My people, along with the indigenous peoples, and Mexican Americans, who are descendents of the southwestern annexation, are the colonized here in the United States of America; it is an appropriation for a white person to claim this term for themselves. There can’t be true liberation until we recognize the harm that has been done to the colonized. Black people suffered through years of chattel slavery, and are still feeling the effects 150 years later. My entire race is oppressed by this US government. The people of African descent, along the diaspora, are oppressed in their various countries and territories. Within the Black race, it is black women who have suffered the most oppression, from white people and also black men; it is their voices that we need to hear and listen to, in order for there to be true liberation.

However, oppressions do intersect so black men do benefit from male privilege while still continuing to be oppressed because of their race. This male privilege has caused many to use black women’s struggles as an excuse to attack women. It is important to note that women, including white middle to upper class women, are also oppressed. Men, including black men, have also attempted to “teach” women about “womanhood,” which is why it is also important to acknowledge the biological reality of transwomen. We might call ourselves women, but we are biologically male; it is not our duty to teach women about “womanhood.” We haven’t had the lived experience of being female in this patriarchal society. It is the patriarchy that has sought to use controlling images to oppress women, especially black women.

One image is the sexualized black woman. Bell Hooks gives a wonderful critique of Solomon’s sexualization of a black woman in the “Song of Songs.” She tells us that the woman’s point of view is never expressed. How would the story read, if it was told by the woman? Would she have consented to the many love interests of Solomon? The truth is that even the texts we hold as sacred are told from a male point of view. We seem to elevate the biblical writers to the level of God, without realizing that they were human and were subject to bias. In ignoring the voices of black women, the story is told by white men who have had a history of trying to justify their sexual violence against black women. They constructed this image of a sexualized black woman that many black men have internalized, and now black men are responsible for the majority of sexual violence against black women. Patricia Hill Collins speaks of this in her book, Black Feminist Thought. Certain forms of music also promote this sexualized image.

For many transwomen, beauty is an expression of “womanhood.” Of course, this idea is from a male point of view. There is nothing wrong with self-definition, which is spoken of by Patricia Hill Collins. It is important for black people to define ourselves. I define myself as a transwoman, because I am biological male, but I have suffered through dysphoria, which caused depression. Even though I am biologically male, I live socially and am recognized as a woman. Janet Mock is not wrong when she defines herself, even when she says that for her, “Glamour is a source of power.” This is based on her self-definition. What is troubling is when she is held as an example of womanhood. This is when the message becomes an attack against women, especially black women.

In an interview with Afrobella, Janet Mock was asked, “What do you love about ‘traditional’ trappings of femininity. Are there any that annoy you?” To which Mock answered, “I hate walking to work in heels, but I have to have a complete outfit with the right proportions so I tend to walk to work in heels. I hate tweezing my eyebrows, but I have to in order to achieve my most enhancing arch so I pluck my brows.” These preparations for Mock were “the beautiful inconveniences that help make up the sum of my womanhood.” Mock adheres to the patriarchal standards of beauty, which have been used to oppress women, especially black women. So, what is the message? That women have to harm themselves in order to be beautiful? This wouldn’t matter at all if Mock wasn’t held as an example of womanhood. I want people, including Janet Mock, to be able to live their lives and yes even define themselves, but we also have to be realistic. Mock’s example is not of womanhood, but of a male’s fantasy of womanhood.

In talking with Bell Hooks about Beyonce’s Time Magazine shoot, Mock said that it is “freeing having Beyonce showing her ass, owning her body, and claiming that space.” Once again we see the male socialization of Mock. Bell Hooks mentions how Beyonce was made to look younger, for the male gaze, by “imperialists, white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalists.” Bell Hooks then told Mock that “you are not going to destroy this imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy by creating your own version of it.” Regardless of the packaging, Mock is an example of how the patriarchy will use anyone to “keep black women in their place.” The concept of womanhood that Mock promotes should not be celebrated because it is what is used to harm and oppress black women.

Laverne Cox is another trans activist that the patriarchy uses to oppress black women. In her discussions with Bell Hooks, Cox says that her style (including her blond wig) is because she wants “great visibility.” Is Laverne Cox saying that in order to have visibility, she needs to adhere to the patriarchal standards for white women? There is a message behind this statement. Laverne Cox also claimed that posing nude for Allure was empowering, which is another message from the patriarchy. They can’t legally enslave black people, so they sell images to keep us in bondage. The image they want black women to aspire to be is the degrading sexualized image. It doesn’t matter to me if Cox poses nude or not; it matters that Cox views this oppressive symbol as empowering. It is another example of how white supremacists have used black men to attack black women.

Gender needs to be completely abolished, but abolishing gender will not end race-based oppression. Black women are oppressed because of gender, but are also oppressed for being black. Will there be true freedom for black people, in particular black women, once gender is abolished? It is time for society to listen to the colonized, especially colonized women. We cannot be free until our voices are heard. The movement that I take part in understands the importance of black voices, as well as other minorities. Together, we work to end the patriarchy, white supremacy, and to completely abolish gender.

 

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