By Tessara Dudley
I think pretty often about the potential aftermath of my death. I think about what I would like done with my remains, and who would support my mother, and what my partner would do without me. I think about what my obituary would say, and what the police or medical examiner might find. I think about dying in an accident, like getting hit by a car or a bridge collapsing when I’m crossing it. And I think about murder.
It’s true that many women go through their days with a constant fear of violence, but it looks different for Black women, especially Black queer women. Gendered violence is compounded by racial violence is compounded by anti-queer violence. The worst part? No one is talking about it.
When I am walking down the street, or home alone, or riding transit, I am confronted by the manifestation of this fear. Every day, I fear I will be murdered by a white man.
This fear is rooted in my personal experiences—all three of my sexual assaults were perpetrated by white or white-passing men—but it’s also related to the larger history of our country. Since the introduction of chattel slavery in the Americas, Black women’s bodies, our sexuality, have been viewed as open ground for white men to access. Enslaved Black women were an investment, and sexual assault served to increase wealth and property for white slaveowners and to punish and control enslaved Blacks. Even once emancipation came, there was no end to white control of Black bodies; along with tropes about animalistic Blacks, lynching and prison culture served to disenfranchise the formerly enslaved, and the legacy of that period remains today. I can’t help thinking of Renisha McBride, who was shot for trying to get help after an accident. Kendra James was killed trying to escape arrest at a traffic stop. Pearlie Golden (a 93-year-old Black woman) was shot to death by police when neighbors reported fear for her mental health. Where our gender and race intersect, Black women are literally in the crosshairs.
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My Blackness and my femaleness convey a particular intersection of danger. But my queerness creates a different danger, and I struggle to address it. There’s a muffling silence about Black women who aren’t straight and the danger we face from the Black community, from our own.
Examining violence against Black women, I am forced to confront the history of queer Black women murdered by Black men. Sakia Gunn. Shani Baraka and Ray-Ray Holmes. Britney Cosby and Crystal Jackson. And the picture gets worse if you expand beyond the United States, to places like South Africa. When history shows that you and others like you are disposable, it seems every interaction, even a seemingly-pleasant one, could be fatal.
But I don’t fear Black men. Given the incidence of violence from these men towards queer Black women, maybe I should. Maybe my chest should tighten and my heart rate subtly increase, maybe I should become hyper-aware of my surroundings, of my vulnerability, but it doesn’t happen.
I recently went to New York City for a writer’s conference at NYU. My hotel was a 2+ hour transit ride from the school, and the night before the conference, I left the city too late and ended up stranded, so I called for a cab. My driver, a cute young Dominican man, flirted with me during the ride and then followed me into the reception area of the hotel. After kissing me, rubbing my hand over the bulge in his pants, and putting his hand up my skirt, he tried to invite himself up to my room. I ended up sheltering near the check-in desk and waiting for him to give up and leave.
In this moment, I had to navigate the fine line between flirting back too much and possibly making it harder to extricate myself, and not flirting back enough, which might make him angry or escalate. Early on, he asked if I had a boyfriend, and when I said I didn’t, he asked if I had a girlfriend. I had to make a call between outing myself to him with no idea how he would react, or lying and creating an opening for him to continue flirting. I chose to lie, weighing the possibility of sexual coercion against the possibility of anti-gay violence.
These are the calculations that Black queer and trans women make every day. While many women and non-binary people of various races also make these calls, Black women are under a unique pressure to bear up under centuries of violence from oppressors and other oppressed peoples. In the US, Black women face intimate partner violence at rates higher than any other group except indigenous women—2.5 times the rate that white women face, for instance. Yet we are instructed to never ever report a Black man to the police, no matter how heinous the action committed. The game is rigged to end in death: either for Black men at the hands of police, or for Black women at the hands of Black men in our community.
I am very aware that the situation with my cab driver could have ended so much worse. I was alone with him in his car for 20 minutes, but I was not afraid. It’s terrible that we live in a world where I feel like maybe I should have been. While the Black community spends so much time talking about the hardships that Black men face, Black women are accused of being anti-Black whenever we try to discuss the dangers we are subjected to. We’ll never achieve equity if we are willing to compromise about the safety of some members of the community. The murder of women, Black women, Black lesbian women is no less real and no less important—and we must face that head on.
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Tessara is a poet and educator dedicated to community support and using the sharing of stories to change minds and change the world. Tessara coordinates their university’s LGBTQ Speakers Bureau and brings an intersectional lens to all of their work. Tessara currently lives in Portland, OR.