by Daniel Diaz
A friend of mine who has always openly admired my “dapperness” instinctively flinches at the idea of my previous feminine gender presentation.
“Why does it bother you?”
“I don’t know. It kind of ruins my mental image of you.”
I looked back at the photo I was showing her of a smiling young girl in a pink satin dress with long flowing dark curls and a carefully made up face. I remember the pride I took in achieving the perfect winged eyeliner, purchasing the most complimentary shade of cocoa brown eye shadow, the lightest salmon lipstick. I remembered the hours of painful waxing with my sister pinning my foot down to avoid me flinching violently, my eyes watering at the meticulous ritual of eyebrow shaping, the constant anxiety that my ankles would buckle in my polished leather heels.
The hope that I was “girl” enough for the others, for the girls who walked miles in six-inch Jimmy Choos, who straightened their blonde hair every morning.
The hope that I was “girl” enough for a boy, a good white boy, with decent studies, who would be the perfect boyfriend in my life as a pretty straight cis girl.
The hope that I was “girl” enough to compensate for, and erase, every time I had fallen in love with another girl and felt the urge to shave my hair off and don loose fitting khaki trousers.
The hope that my performed femininity compensated for my brownness; bleaching my upper lip, stretching out my curls, using light lip shades since red apparently made my full lips “look like a prostitute’s.”
The eternal awareness that a large amount of my perceived feminine beauty was from inheriting white features, from having the “African gap” in my teeth closed, from allowing myself to be compared to Shakira, from striving to be (to quote Frantz Fanon) worthy of white love.
The pressures of femininity as a performance in girlhood and womanhood are complex and multi layered and forever a reminder that masculinity is a patriarchal strength that women do not deserve to have. The added pressures of whiteness as supreme presented itself as an unspoken, inevitable test of my ability to assimilate.
And even then, despite the effort and pride invested in Eurocentric feminine gender presentation, I had to listen a toothy white boy sneer at all the “girly” things I had spent hours on to make myself all that more fuckable.
As a non-binary, masculine-presenting Brown anomaly, these are the angry realizations I still carry with me. They resurface whenever a white queer mocks the photographs from my involuntary girlhood; whenever a white lesbian in a club gravitates toward me; when I am asked if I can “dance Latino” since my masculinity becomes Brown, and exotic, and incredibly sexy.
And I know, with a shock of brown curls, an “African gap” in my teeth, and darker skin, that the validity of my masculinity would not be compromised. As a masculine Brown person, I do not need to assimilate much further than worshipping white girls to be worthy of white love.
Being feminine, aside from how triggering it is to feel forced to perform femininity as a MOC person, was hard – really hard – because femininity is viewed as intrinsic to valid womanhood; it is white and a reflection of female inferiority. I wasn’t a slim, straight, able bodied white girl and that overwhelming sense of inferiority is something I remember and resent when faced with anti-femme sentiment from white, MOC queers.
“That’s a bit girly, isn’t it?”
“Carmen was my favourite character on the L Word, totally my type.”
Navigating the white supremacist, patriarchal pressures of performing femininity was reversed when I began to express my masculine gender presentation. Black masculine-presenting folk are dehumanized in many ways; we are desexualised, hypersexualised, erased, vilified. But our masculinity is never up for questioning as much as Black feminine-presenting queers’ femininity.
Although masculinity is a performance with its own patriarchal pressures, it is also mainly a rejection and absence of femininity. This being said, femininity is a far more visible and scrutinized performance.
By adding whiteness as a base of femininity, Black feminine-presenting folk are far more exposed to white supremacist beauty norms than Black masculine-presenting folk. The societal paradigm of femininity is white because it is a Western concept, whereas masculinity is simply perceived as a human default.
And, by virtue of the insidious nature of white supremacy, Black and Brown femmes with dark skin who are operating outside of the heteronormative structure still face the pressures of the white supremacy in feminine gender presentation from other queers. I watch white femmes gravitate toward Black butches, while the white butches gravitate toward the lighter-skinned Black femmes.
More poignantly, I watch Black butches and bois size up how white they can romantically and sexually aim for, how out of their league of Blackness they can strive. Because, like Frantz Fanon’s Black cishets, Black queers also want to feel worthy of white love.
And we, as Black and Brown masculine-presenting queers, need to start unseeing the white gaze. We need to review our own internalized misogynoir that was forced on us prior to transitioning. We need to decolonize ourselves and our pursuit of white partners. We need to stand beside our Black femme sisters in the face of white supremacy in the LGBT community, rather than be complicit in it.
We need to remember those long hours of stretching out our curls so that some toothy white boy could see us as human.
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Ari Diaz-Cebreiro is a London-based university student, writer, activist, poet and thinker. He is an aficionado of critical race theory and a Latino fanboy of Black feminism. He is a member of the NUS Black Students Committee, and is committed to bringing café to the leche that is UK queer activism. He currently busies himself with QTIPOC events and community, and decolonising academic spaces that he has managed to infiltrate. He writes to tell stories and survive, and can be found making trouble in white spaces.