A Non-binary perspective on socialized masculinity beyond the binary
Glossary of Terms
AMAB-assigned male at birth
AFAB-assigned femme at birth
Mammy (wiki)-is a U.S. historical stereotype depicting black women who work in a white family and nurse the family's children. The fictionalized mammy character is often visualized as a larger-sized, dark-skinned woman with a motherly personality. The origin of the mammy figure stereotype is rooted in the history of slavery in the United States. Black slave women were tasked with domestic and childcare work in white American slaveholding households. The mammy stereotype was inspired by these domestic workers. The mammy caricature was used to create a false narrative of black women being happy within slavery or within a role of servitude. The mammy stereotype associates black women with domestic roles and it has been argued it, combined with segregation and discrimination, limited job opportunities for black women during the Jim Crow era,
I use the words Masc(uline) and Femme instead of male and female. gender is a spectrum that moves beyond genetic markers and we should acknowledge it as so.
Each week in addition to my writing I will have a corresponding collage that will be detailed in a separate post
I was born Black (dark skin) assigned femme at birth (AFAB) which means I have always been a part of the most marginalized group in society. Through consistent abuse both verbal and physical via emotionally immature parents, I became a fat child. And both of my grandmothers were fat femmes. That was my first introduction to the Mammy. The fat Black Femme.
Even with those intersections I have experienced privilege, mainly via education and the Masters degree I hold and growing up middle class ish.
We know that being born a man, a Black man, even a Black fat man comes with a level of privilege, access, and socialization as the dominant culture that Black femmes aren’t privy to.
Through a deeper understanding of myself, access to resources and language that I didn’t have growing up I came to recognize that I have always been non-binary, but before engaging this identity with the world I needed to heal and explore the ways in which I had engaged with my previous identities and intersections. The negative and the positive. Learning and healing with the goal of not to take old harms and traumas (placed upon me by society) into my new identity, or at least being able to recognize them immediately in my engagement with others. Working with and understanding my socialized privilege.
It’s important to note that the U.S. is rooted in the binary. And as much as I would love to do away with 400 years of being rooted deeply in the binary and patriarchy, I know it will take the same amount of time if not more to move away from the binary.
Black and yt. Democrat and Republican. Man and woman. Rich and poor. Dark skin and light skin. Fat and skinny and so on.
At the top of the pandemic I realized that there was more healing that needed to be done. Especially if my goal was to empower fat Black queer folx and their many intersections I needed to be clear about all of mine. The pieces of me that have caused me the most pain and the most joy and everything that falls in between. As I begin that journey (one I am still on) I came to recognize that most of the non-binary voices being brought to the forefront were majority those that had been AMAB.
Queer voices were getting louder, I was seeing stories and images. But they were still excluding bodies like mine. The shows I was watching. The books I was reading were centering the voices of those who were born with the socialized privilege given to men and it was still benefiting them in their new identity; and it seemed those with this socialized privilege were already using this in tandem with their new identities to further marginalize bodies that are even further from equity that they were receiving.
Non-binary in the dictionary is defined as genderqueer. It is an umbrella term for gender identities that are not solely masculine or femme—identities that are outside the gender binary.
If this is the definition set by dominant culture, what we should be seeing from Non-binary community is a mix of different peoples, and bodies, and intersections. And AMAB folx should have no problem speaking to the harm caused by socialized masculinity. But I wasn’t hearing the leading voices in queer community acknowledge it at all. I was seeing more and more shows, and interviews centering non-binary folx who were AMAB. How can we disrupt patriarchy if we are still honoring those same person’s first within queer community as well? This speaks deeply to how much cishetero fatphobic patriarchal society is still deeply impacting queer community.
Why are those who are claiming they have been marginalized and harmed as a part of the dominant culture creating a new culture that honestly doesn’t look much different from the latter? Why are we letting cishetero standards of inequality lead the way. That is to say that business and brands by default are always going to center a masculine perspective even under the guise supporting all of queer culture. If there is not a conscious effort by brands as well as by AMAB queer folx to undo the social construct of masculinity; we will remain where we are already deeply troubled by a system that sees men as leaders and femmes as the servants. Being non-binary and AMAB still sets you up as a part of the dominant culture and if there is not daily work being done to dismantle and move yourself away from socialized privilege and behaviors. That privilege will translate the same way in LGBTQIA+ community, and it already is. While we are seeing more conversations around identity, gender, and race the conversation is still deeply excluding those born Black, fat and AFAB.
Some of you will be angry when you read this. Some of you will call me homophobic and transphobic and it’s not because I am( I am not). But seeking to call out queer community for harm is almost impossible. For example last year we were dating a non binary human AMAB (yes, we are poly, that's a topic for another time). To start this person had a very troubled relationship with anyone in their family who is AFAB including their mother. Wounds left unhealed and festering. Being ethically poly is about explicit communication, Because you are dealing with the emotions of more than one person. It is an exercise in communal thinking.
Back to my story we had discussed potentially moving out of state together. Nothing had been set in stone but this individual was having second thoughts. But instead of communicating that directly, they spiraled into socialized behavior. They secretly discussed it with my masculine presenting AFAB partner (men prefer seeking advice from other men), talked to all of their friends who are not poly, and when I finally approached them both about it and the harm that resulted I was told it was their choice to make and their life. All of which are correct. But that is socialized AMAB behavior. Believing you are above accountability, or that you don't need to communicate is the socialized behavior of men. Peak nigga mentality, and when you dip into your socialized masculinity all bets are off. Meaning I will now engage you through my own socialized behavior as well in order to protect myself. Transphobic and homophobic was thrown like water because of the performative nature of social media and the need for folx to defend others hollowly without understanding how much we are all impacted by socialized gender. Especially Black queer community.
Because I have always been a part of a deeply marginalized community and the world has been trained to see my truth as a lie. I hope that you will pause with intention if your reaction is to drag me. Because that’s the name of the game. You are mimicking the behavior of the dominant culture. Trust Black femmes and AFAB non-binary folx, include them in the conversation.
I have watched show after show, read books, and they tell us the same story when it comes to being Non-Binary and AFAB. From Queer Eye to We’re Here. The entertainers, producers and production teams continue to tell a story where socialized masculinity still rules all. Where being a gay man is the most powerful position of all as they are the gatekeepers in movie and production when it comes to queer culture. I listened to non-binary panels. Had Alok books sent to me. Listened to Sinead O’Connor look alike's talk about their oh so marginalized life when it is anything but. Representation matters yet even among queer, trans and non-binary communities especially when socialized masculinity, thinness, and ytness remains king and is directly connected to the erasure of Black femme bodies, especially Black fat femme bodies. Because Black fat femmes fall to the bottom of the list, they are not seen as human but something other (cc Sarah Baartman). But in the gray space that is non binary as it should remain other and something outside of the binary, we don’t see that. We see Non-binary AMAB individuals leading the charge and claiming all of the privilege and resources while simultaneously closing the door for anything different. So I ask you how is this any different from where we already came from?
I read DaShaun L. Harrison’s Belly of the Beast. It was gifted to me by a close friend and I was excited to read it. I sat down to read it. Read the intro and the first few pages and I put it down. I didn't return to the book until a few weeks ago and I had to force myself to finish. The first thing I noticed was the academic tone and language. Which for me signaled that Harris’s voice had all but been removed from the text, also letting me know that this book wasn’t written for the fat Black queer body. Academia and its language are tools created by and for yt men.
School in American society is meant to remove any sense of self. It is meant to ingratiate you to yt society. It is to take what is seen as wild and unruly and give it a respectable form. The pledge of allegiance, American history which is yt history etc. School teaches you to operate as a good citizen under rules created by yt men to keep themselves in power, it makes you a producer for the dominant society. The further you go in our education system the more ingratiated you are to the yt culture. For anyone who is not yt this means removing your voice and the core of who you are and where you come from. Academic writing removes diversity and places all knowledge within the realm of ytness and yt ways of understanding. It gives yt folx direct access into cultures and worlds not their own so they can continue to dominate and demean marginalized peoples. That is how the book felt to me. The fact that they set themselves up in comparison to a fat Black femme from the start of the book felt weird. Outside of a whole chapter of trauma porn where the deaths of Black folx killed under American genocide were written in explicit detail. Again a tenet of yt male academia that tells you proof is necessary, and in this case that proof is Harris’s book. The book signals and feels like yt control in a book about fat liberation. It feels like an academic panel felt they had a say in what Fat Black liberation looks like. It feels like trauma porn which is always for the yt audience, it never endears empathy just their power over us. How do I know, I don’t for sure. But as someone who has been through and completed an MFA program I left grad school proud and educated with the voice of ytness now in my body because my own had been erased. It took me over 12 years to return to my voice.
The last two chapters of Harris’ book were the ones I enjoyed the most, hearing the voices of Black trans folx AFAB, making a connection to why fat liberation is necessary. Connecting the themes in Black fat queer lives that we often forget because we are consumed with survival. Because where we are headed, Black futures, what our Black lives require is not more academia, not more books that will sit on shelves or be read overwhelmingly by yt folx. I want the ones we will pick up that are a direct conversation and love letter to us. The Black body. I didn’t see myself reflected in Harris’s words but instead I wondered whose voice I was hearing and I still don’t know. The text didn't help get me one step closer to Fat Black futures, it left me stuck somewhere in limbo. Fat Black liberation cannot be left in limbo and the voices of AFAB folx should be centered just as heavily as the rest. It gave a name to things I knew happened in society around fat politics, there may have been no title for them then, but I remember the first time my mom sent me to weight watchers, or when I lost an unhealthy amount of weight on Atkins. I remember feeling that finally people will let me be. I remember turning vegan and vegetarian when I lived in California. Not because of climate control and animal cruelty but because I was tired of only being seen as an animal. A sex thing, a play thing, but never something to be loved in completion. Black femmes and AFAB folx have given us so much and reading this book they didn't feel celebrated but instead placed on a pedestal of jealousy that said my experience as other is deeper than yours.
Fat liberation can’t be one step at a time and it shouldn't be either or. We don’t have to take what we can get because every time that is the mentality we are taking steps away from advocating and standing for those who need us the most. Pride was a riot and yet we are still exchanging radical liberation for politically correct conversations so yt ears aren't hurt. We are still trapped in the same cycles of valuing those socialized as men at birth and stepping over anyone else and calling it inclusive. I'm sick of it. Please prepare to be sick of me.