By Jamie Lee
Andrea Long Chu stated in her prolific experimental monograph “Females: A Concern” that “everyone is female — and everyone hates it.” I remember when I first read this, I was astonished that someone, especially a transgender woman, could make such a declarative statement about sex. I was curious and caught in an intellectual chokehold, because it spoke to some of the questions I had been asking myself for a long time regarding the history of this cultural phenomenon of cisgender man’s obsession with playing up [Black] women caricatures. I had been thinking long and hard about this, because I just knew there had to be some relationship between this performative enactment and the ways Black trans women are often told that we are “myths, don’t exist, or are downright men playing up in drag.”
The history of cisgender manhood is both a violent and fragile one to exist at the cruxes of life. Within it, participants must deny themselves any capacious form of desiring which must be a daunting task. I name desire here as the “wanting, longing, and craving for something” as well as “the abdication of power.” Men for so long have desired to be women that they’ve created a whole historical genre on stage, in film, and now in digital media to experiment with those longings. I was a teenager when I first began to make sense of this performative disdain toward Black women. I would see this played out time and time again whether I was watching Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, or Tyler Perry playing up the figure of the rambunctious fat Black matriarchs or while scrolling down my Instagram timeline to see another white gay man personifying Black womanhood, dolled up in a full wig, long nails, and speaking in what they would consider “blackccent.” What perplexed me the most when pondering on these moments, was that this hatred for femaleness or womanhood showed up intimately in the lives of Black trans women. No matter if the news or media has fed us that we are in the golden age of trans representation, the material lives of Black trans women still remain insubstantial.
Transmysognoir has become the beacon for cisgender male profiteering. The cisgender logic functions as follows: I desire to embody you and perform who you are to the world, while I simultaneously dispel your existence. This is made possible because cisgender malehood will always be given room for reprieve. I get to name you as “unreal” and “illogical” while robbing you of your pedagogical blessings.
This same logic becomes the code that works against the life worlds of Black trans women. What might it mean to live within a matrix that weaponizes your life to sustain capitalist accumulation? And although this logic seems to play up the illusion that it is those individual men who choose to ignore these violent histories that make up Black trans women’s lives. It is the same function of individuation that transmysognoir utilizes to simultaneously mobilize, validate, and erase Black trans women as a commodity that brings life to a world ridden of gender autonomy and euphoria as an everyday fight for freedom. A world fraught with the ability to birth new ways of being in a body is also simultaneously caught up in Western logics of what it also means to be a human.
Although I am not interested in making the argument in this article about “humanness,” which I find a boring concept, that often doesn’t ever include the bodies of women and girls like us. Instead, I am more intrigued by the everyday teachings of what Black trans existence grants the world. I end with this pivotal question: what might contemporary media as we know it, aka Instagram or TikTok look like without the Black trans life? I can answer that for you: It would cease to exist! What these re-enactments reveal to us in real time is that Black trans womanhood uncloaks what the desire to be and become can actualize. Furthermore, it further displays what Black trans womanhood gifts the world—with a power that is outside of capitalism’s urge to control women’s bodies and materiality. Black trans womanhood shows cisgender manhood what possibility looks and feels like. Desire teaches us things, and if it taught me anything as a Black trans woman, it is that cisgender audacity will always refuse to allow you to believe that your life is not a blueprint for surviving in this wild world. But honey believe me, Black trans womanhood is here and now.
About The Author: Jamie Lee is a Black Trans cultural worker and arts writer, as well joint Ph.D. student at The University of Chicago in the departments of English Literature and Theatre and Performance Studies. As a dreamer and world-maker, much of her writing is obsessed with the thinking/doing of Black literature and arts’ insistence to reckon and experiment with ruin as a way to think with and beyond colonial and planetary collapse. For this reason, gender, race, sexuality, and affect or feeling become important vectors and crossroads to attend to these matters of Black livingness. Outside of these intellectual activities, she enjoys a cunty little vogue session with her good ‘judies’ with a splash of kiki’ing to get through the tragedy of a transforming world.