by Michal “MJ” Jones
We have all learned strategies to survive under oppression, but oftentimes those same tools continue cycles of harm. As a masculine of center non-binary Black person in QTPOC spaces, I’ve become aware of how many of us police others in order to grow into our own identities.
In my daily life, it’s often other non-binary, masculine of center, studs, or trans men of color who perpetuate the most harmful forms of masculinity. When I’ve called out masculine voices for taking up too much space in a room shared with femmes, the response is often, “we have nowhere else where our voices matter.”
Expression of masculinity is affirmed in society in forms of competition, taking up space, ‘chivalry,’ and shutting down women and femme people. Many masculine of center folks perpetuate these learned behaviors in the very spaces where many aim to escape toxic forms of masculinity. We need to remember that we each hold certain privileges even as we’ve been silenced, made invisible, and brutalized by heterosexism, racism, transphobia, and other oppressions.
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I know and understand that so much of needing to be the loudest voice in the room and taking up the most space comes from our experiences of feeling disempowered. I know that a lot of what I recognize in our communities as ‘hyper masculinity’ is rooted in a desire to have our identities affirmed. But ultimately, I think masculinity should break through in ways that leave space for everyone.
Mainstream heteronormative and transphobic culture already wants to control and police our identities and expressions; we deserve better from one another.
But how valuable or liberating is our masculinity if it silences or asserts power over femininity and other forms of gender?
I struggle with community dynamics as much as I struggle with how my gender is perceived. When I find myself in spaces with other masculine of center QTPOC, my gender is often challenged and forced into boxes.
I’ve been looked at sideways for asking friends not to call their lovers or family members or femme friends “bitches.” Sometimes I catch an eye roll or look of annoyance when I tell other Black bois that my pronouns are they and not he or she. I can’t even count the number of times that masculine of center folks have refused to respect my pronouns because I don’t look or act a certain way. I fight harmful messages of masculinity from others and also from myself through self-hate and body dysphoria just because I do not represent what society tells us genderqueer should look like.These limited notions of what masculinity in queer communities of color should look, sound, and act like make me wonder if I should identify with masculinity at all.
Those of us who feel disempowered outside of QTPOC spaces end up bringing harmful baggage to the QTPOC community. At times, I’ve felt like I’m in a pissing contest with people I want to be in community with. Simple conversations turn into arguments about who’s right or wrong, who’s most oppressed, who’s done the most work for the community, and so on.
Recently, a Black trans man compared our bodies, noting how “soft” mine is and boasting about his many hours spent in the gym. He explained things to me that I already knew and created arguments where they didn’t exist. Clinging to his experiences of oppression, he was unable to acknowledge the ways his masculinity oppressed those with whom he shared community. Instead, he abused the power embedded in presenting and behaving in traditional roles of masculinity.
Even though masculine of center POC aren’t the only ones who internalize and embody these problematic messages, we’re often the ones who most recognizably enact them. As well intentioned as I try to be about examining my own thoughts and behavior about masculinity, I’ve struggled not to internalize patriarchal views. In relationships with femme partners, I’ve stepped into the role of caretaker in a demeaning way. In the workplace, my voice carries more weight in a room full of women colleagues.
We need to challenge the ways that we limit and reinforce masculinity over each other and we need to acknowledge that acting from our places of power silences others in our community. Ongoing conversations about femme privilege are incomplete and problematic – they often discount how often masculine of center folks silence and invisibilize femme queerness.
I want to reframe masculinities in a way that encourages both individual and collective healing. We don’t have to discount the ways that we’re oppressed to recognize the ways that we hold privileges in community with each other. As we come into our fullest expression of ourselves, we need to make space for everyone else to get free too.
Michal “MJ” Jones is an awkward Black queerdo, activist, and musician writing from Oakland, CA. They believe in the power of vulnerability, creativity, artistic expression, and music to radically transform individuals and connect community.
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