- Thandiwe Ntshinga
Humanising the image of masculine-presenting Black queer wom_n
Not too long ago, I came across a Facebook post that celebrated the deliberate work being done to humanise the image of masculine-presenting Black queer wom_n. The sentiment behind the post piqued my interest because, to me, humanising masculine Black women has meant their dehumanisation but what does that mean? The questions are then, how have masculine Black wom_n been dehumanised and how do we go about humanising their image?
The image of masculine Black wom_n as violent requires textured analysis (most of it being beyond the scope of this blog post) that is generally dichotomised as either victim or abuser. On one hand, by being masculine presenting, these wom_n are read as queer making them vulnerable to corrective rape by men. Human Rights Watch noted that "butch lesbians and transgender men face a particular brand of abuse that reinforces the constant threat of physical and sexual violence against them. Their masculine gender expression means that they are immediately identified as "lesbian" and their mere presence in a public space can elicit ridicule and abuse". Repeatedly, I hear masculine queer wom_n express frustration and fear around being perceived as a threat to Black men for "stealing their wom_n". I have also witnessed aggressive male behaviour towards masculine wom_n that confirm the alleged threat masculine Black wom_n present to cisgender heterosexual Black men. Be it a man disrespectfully trying to flirt with her partner in front of her, an unnecessarily confrontational attitude or just an overall display of fragile masculinity that views masculine queer wom_n as competition with the potential to "take our girlfriends".
On the other hand, there is also the internalisation of masculinity, in all its toxicity, where a study by queer organisations the Triangle Project and PRISM noted that "the study names the influence of "butch" and "femme" lesbian identities on IPV (intimate partner violence), with participants making reference to butch-identified partners abusing their femme-identified partners"—although it is also highlighted that "abuse in women's same-sex relationships is not restricted to such a binary". What caught my intrigue in the social media post about humanising masculine wom_n was the visceral realisation that my feelings towards masculine-presenting queer wom_n have hardened due to my mistrust and dislike of masculinity. In my activities, I have marched for masculine Black wom_n, written about corrective rape and supported anti-corrective rape causes. All of this is because I stand with and behind Black wom_n. Socially, however, I have distanced myself from the masculinity of masculine Black wom_n that mirrors the most undesirable behaviours of men. Under heteronormativity, as a feminine queer wom_n, I have experienced interpersonal relationships with masculine wom_n that are drenched in levels of misogyny that I do not regularly experience from men (because of the distance I maintain between myself and men). Far too often, I have come to know of a femme survivor of same-sex intimate partner abuse with a masculine perpetrator. Moreover, this is often hidden in fear of queer societal persecution, further contributing to the discrimination of LGBTQ people and internalised homophobia.
Lately, my feminism has taken a turn. Anger has served me well but currently, I am feeling like the most radical turn I can make for myself is learning how to lead with empathy, kindness and compassion. I have expressed a lot through anger. It has motivated me. It also blinded me to my participation in reducing masculine Black queer wom_n to a dramatic embodiment of internalised toxic masculinity based on unfavourable interactions and observations. Moving beyond hurt and distrust, I have been reminded of masculine Black queer wom_n as kind and caring that have enveloped me in friendship for years. Furthermore, in conversation, I have learned of toxic femininity in femme wom_n that masculine Black queer wom_n experience in romantic relationships—the same toxic femininity that men are slowly speaking out against. I also learned that masculine Black wom_n are overwhelmed by conforming to the heteronormative expectation of fulfilling traditionally male roles and that, at the end of the day, masculine presenting wom_n just want to be seen as human beings and treated fairly.