By Aaron Jackson
Okay, so get this: you’re in the third grade again. You’re outside in the playground, when all of a sudden, some fifth grader begins to pick on you, along with some random fourth grader. You survive that torment, but as soon as the fifth grader leaves, the fourth grader who experienced the same thing as you – begins to pick on you too. I mean, that’s crazy right? They literally sat through the same abuse as you, but now they’re the bullies? Of course there is technically nothing stopping them from bullying you. I mean, they are a grade above you, and since power dynamics on the playground do change in your favor if you’re in a higher grade, they’re pretty much predisposed to bullying you.
Anyway, the above analogy – besides being an almost gross oversimplification of complex issues– serves as my method of relaying the idea of how marginalized groups can play into the oppression of other groups. For this article however, I’d like to focus on how black people of the LGBT+ communities are not only abused by mainstream groups already known to be their oppressors, but also often suffer additional marginalization by other minority groups.
We can list various forms of oppression right off the bat that stem from good ol’ fashioned anti-blackness and racism perpetrated by white people. Furthermore, we can also easily identify the kinds of discrimination ( such as trans-misogyny, homophobia, etc.) leveled by cis-het people specifically against the LGBT+ community.
However, in the case of black queer people, these two types of discrimination are not mutually exclusive. These two kinds of social discrimination do not exist in a vacuum—separate from each other – but instead, in almost every case, they intersect.
Here are some facts, according to The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Program’s LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL, TRANSGENDER, QUEER, AND HIV-AFFECTED HATE VIOLENCE IN 2014 report. Black queer people are 60% more likely to be the victims of hate-related homicide. Transgender women of color make up 50% of all hate-related homicides. Meanwhile, in the Hate Crimes and Violence against LGBTQ People research overview, it was shown that in the majority of cases, while white people comprised 46% of those perpetrating these crimes, African Americans came in second at 18%.
These statistics are the result of a pervasive mixture of racism and hate for LGBT+ people. Many queer identities involve some sort of femininity or a performative version of femininity; be it the “concrete” feminine identity of Transwomen, to the less solid, but deeply ingrained “feminine” aspects of being a gay male.
This is not to say that so-called feminine behavior comes with being gay, but it would be unfair to ignore the recognizably feminine energy surrounding gay manhood. And aside from the degradation of feminine behavior by patriarchal standards, white supremacist ideals have long affected how femininity is viewed within black communities.
Within this form of institutionalized racism, black people are portrayed as “hyper-masculine” beings. This has its origins in the “primitive savage” stereotype that was used by Europeans, white Africans and white Americans to dehumanize black people as an attempt to both eliminate their guilt at brutalizing and abusing another group of people, and to establish themselves as superior to them.
And yes, while this isn’t the sole cause for the hyper masculinization of Black people (other tropes exist as well, including the widespread acceptance of Christianity, which arguably promotes misogyny and homophobia), it is one of the earliest and most important.
“But how does this contribute to the oppression of black queer people?” You probably didn’t ask this question, but I’m going to answer it anyway.
You see, in most cases, stereotypical definitions of femininity and masculinity aren’t likely to coexist without negative repercussions. In patriarchal societies one major theme in masculine thought is to weed out anything that is “weak” through the use of violence. Violence is another common theme in masculinity, and femininity in almost all cases (at least through a masculine lens) is seen as weak.
Now this isn’t to say that one ethnic group discriminates more against LGBT+ identified people than the other. But it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that black people are the second most common perpetrators of LGBT+ hate crimes, when this whole concept of hyper masculinity is deeply ingrained within their cultures.
Furthermore, this heavy implementation of stereotypical masculinity also operates as a negative against black queer people. For those whose queer identity involves adopting femininity in any shape or form that might seem untraditional to whichever gender they were assigned at birth, usually suffer the majority of these crimes. Stereotypical Masculinity not only involves dominating or controlling femininity, but it also has an intense focus on weeding it out amongst people expected to be traditionally masculine in order to preserve the weeder’s own grasp (or understanding) of “manhood” as a fixed gender identity.
Black gay men as well as black transwomen suffer the most from this as they, more than any other racial group, are expected to be not only masculine – but highly so.
So when a cis-het black male–who’s still invested in the hyper masculine concepts ingrained in him through white supremacy– comes into contact with a black gay male or a black transwoman, they feel their own male identity is being challenged or destabilized. That’s because these people who society expects to be “masculine” –- and because they’re black, exceedingly so –are now presenting themselves as feminine. This threatens the cis-het black male’s sense of his own masculinity to the point where he thinks he must violently destroy whomever embodies this threat to protect his own self-image.
A more specific instance and explanation for the high percentage of non-white transwomen homicides is the result of yet another conceptual collision between masculinity and homophobia.
Through the heavy fetishizing of transwomen, many cis-het men can find themselves attracted to them. Also, as it is difficult for transwomen to find jobs due to the stigma attached to being trans, many transwomen end up taking advantage of their grossly fetishized image by becoming sex workers. Selling sex then becomes one of their only sources of income. Unfortunately, this work itself is dangerous, mostly due to the clients they serve. Most clients are cis-het men who, although they are attracted to transwomen, don’t completely (if at all) respect their gender identities. They choose to view them by their assigned gender, which is male. Once this misperception collides with their attraction, they see themselves as not having sex with a woman, but being “tricked” into having sex with a man – which is how a homicidal homophobia can be activated.
Thus when a cis-het man is confronted with the idea that he might be gay for having relations with a woman whose gender he doesn’t understand or acknowledge, he feels a loss of his masculinity and sees no other way to reclaim it except through the use of violence against the emasculating figure.
Black transwomen are more at risk of trans-misogynistic hate crimes than white transwomen as they are forced to live with the racist idea that they are more masculine than other races. This means they are also more likely to have their gender invalidated. White people assigned male at birth are supposed to be masculine, while Black people assigned male at birth, HAVE to be masculine.
Also, sociologically speaking, it is common knowledge that racial groups tend to gravitate towards their own ethnicity and thus become segregated from others. So it comes as no shock that black transwomen would mostly interact with and end up with clients consisting of black men. Since, as a result of white supremacy, these cis-het black men cultivate a higher, more imposing sense of masculinity, they are more likely to commit crimes against black transwomen.
It is also important to note that these attitudes that marginalize black queer people, can also manifest themselves’ specifically within the white queer community. White homosexual and bisexual men blatantly discriminate against other races . Often they openly stereotype other groups and state that they won’t have any form of romantic or sexual relation with specific racial groups, all while pretending that “ it’s just a preference”.
This issue even permeates websites and networking communities where relationships aren’t necessarily a major theme. These ideas stem from preconceived notions and stereotypes about these people by whites – which results in their dehumanization. Not only are various ethnicities objectified as offensive stereotypes, but they are also sometimes seen as nothing more than an exotic toy for a white person’s own gratification.
White queer people sometimes carry the peculiar notion that because they are also a marginalized group, this gives them permission to be openly racist. One example of this is Milo Yiannopoulos, a gay British journalist who started a wave of racially-charged hate mail aimed at Leslie Jones, an African American actress. Even though Leslie is not LGBT+, Milo using his being gay as a defense for his racist posts on Twitter is just one of many cases of white queer people thinking they get a free pass to be as offensive towards other people as they please.
To wrap up, if there is one goal I hope to accomplish by writing this piece, it is probably to communicate the fact that queer black people don’t always go through exactly the same experiences as the cisgender or heterosexual subgroups that comprise their ethnic community.
So think twice before you’ve convinced yourself that there’s no way you harbor any opinions or behaviors that might be harmful to queer black people. Also think twice before you lump all black people, or all queer people, into the same category; because you could very well be grouping them together with the very same individuals who contribute to their marginalization.