I wanted to give those who read this and are getting any kind of transition surgery — or even just starting their transition in general — the tools to process the feelings they’ll probably feel.For much of my life, I’ve had to hide who I am. Whether it was from relative strangers or just relatives, Princess, Alexzsa, Nykki, whoever I was at the time had to exist in the darkness. Although there are few men in my family, they cling to any person assigned male at birth and desire to subsume them in their toxically masculine, bro culture. Although some of it was less intense at times, my childhood included events where men in my family tried to shift me away from “female influence” and tried to get me interested in masculine or sport-y things. (Although sports aren’t masculine per se, they were certainly thought to be.) There was this need for me to be a “regular” straight, cis boy. But I could never be that. Although I realize that straight and cis people may not be able to understand the need for it, I ended up having to nurture two completely different personalities that never fully, truly had the opportunity to reconcile. I had to nurture the “ordinary latinx boy” façade while also developing myself as the girl/woman who I am. I became an expert in secrets, even hiding that I was taking hormones from my parents, they couldn’t tell that I was growing breasts until I had already and completely came out to them (before that, I was already a B cup). Having to learn how to hide everything I am makes it really easy for me to get the things that I need to get done, because I don’t need to worry about whether or not someone will approve of it or not. It allows me to function freely, because I could just hide it. I realize that this is deceitful, but when you’re a trans woman of color you sometimes have to move in darkness. A lot of the time, there is no letting our freak flag fly, so to speak. It was this history of basically having to move under the cover of metaphorical darkness that helped me survive the initial trials and tribulations of the closet and even non-closeted living. It helped me become confident in myself, my choices, and my choice of chosen family (which is, for me, a mix of blood and non-blood people). That said, though, it left me under-prepared for the biggest hurdle that I’ve ever had to face. December 22nd was a glorious, victorious day for me. After many years of dysphoria so bad that I wanted sometimes to do my own surgery, I finally had a genital surgery that I’d wanted: an orchiectomy. It was a magical day for me. I was so excited, so happy that instead of sleeping, I just stayed awake thinking. I was painfully tired by the time my surgery actually took place. It was a day where everything felt like lightning.
Women and femmes are not the same, but they are intertwined, and its exactly that mutual oppression and shared experience under patriarchy that has led activists today to identify “women and femmes” in their organizing spaces.[Editor's Note: This analysis is being re-published with permission from B.B. Buchanan's Medium page.] By B.B. Buchanan
I need to start this article with a clear declaration:I am a Black non-binary femme, and I’m proud of that.
Lately there has been some confusion around what the phrase “women and femmes” does — what it clarifies analytically and what work it does to build solidarity in our activist/organizing spaces. In particular, this article responds directly to critiques leveled by Kesiena Boom in a recently popular Slate article making its way through the queer community. I’d like to break down the term femme, it’s contested meanings, and it’s use in activist spaces today.
As a fellow Black scholar and sociologist of gender and sexuality I’d like to invite a deeper and more nuanced discussion of linguistics and gender than simply calling my gender presentation (and solidarity across femininity) “incoherent nonsense.”
As a historical sociologist, the first place to start in any analysis is with the origins and transformations of the category we’re talking about. Often times “femme” is reduced to a term used by working class lesbians to connote a feminine gender expression, often seen in contrast to the masculine lesbian construction of “butch.” It was a performance of femininity which subverted and rejected standards of heteronormativity and patriarchy — with an explicit focus on the ways femininity (often understood as excessive, artificial, and criminal) could be understood outside of a masculine/feminine dichotomy in which femininity is only defined as it’s opposite.
Interestingly, the claim that working class lesbians “owned” the word femme fails to take into account concurrent trans histories. During this time period — in the same book suggested by Boom (Stone Butch Blues) — we can see that trans identities are named through expressions of gender rather than identity. The book itself troubles the categories so necessary to Boom’s analysis, as the main character Jessie moves back and forth between the categories of trans and butch. This is also certainly true of the feminine presenting people throughout the book — including and especially the “drag queens.” We can see this blurred nature historically as well — particularly within queer of color spaces like the balls which proliferated throughout American cities since the 1930s. When one walks in the ball category of “femme queen realness” it’s not about sexed bodies, nor identity, but the ability to demonstrate and perform femininity. Without the creation and dispersal of words like “transgender” people often identified as drag queens, femmes, and other labels which upset cis-normative standards and expectations. In fact, the difference between gender expression and identity is a product of the historical construction of the categories of sexuality and gender.
Being trans is not at all determined by our bodies. Our genders are not determined by our bodies or body parts.Even as knowledge on trans identities and trans folks becomes more widespread and accessible, a perilous hyperfixation on trans people’s bodies remains. We are vilified and harassed everyday in our homes, our schools, or in our places of work for how we might look or present. Trans folks are consistently shamed, marginalized, and oppressed under cisheteropatriarchy and through its actors for failing to adhere to colonized, cisgender binaries and gender roles and expectations, especially with regards to our presentation and our bodies. Trans people are misunderstood and pathologized as having some “deviance” of the body. Even among folks who claim to be trans allies, trans people remain fetishized and objectified as body-objects and nothing more. Trans women and femmes especially are graded and received only through how conforming our bodies are to respectable, colonial, and cis standards of beauty. We are told even by those who claim to be our friends how they would “never have been able guess/tell”. We are told that our presentations “look so good for a trans girl” or that we are “surprisingly” skillful at navigating and crafting our presentation. As well, armful, overgeneralized assumptions continue regarding trans folks and our bodies, in particular our genitalia or other physical characteristics. And this contributes to the transmisogynistic demonization of trans women and femmes in particular regarding social access, like to public bathrooms. This also maintains a predatory “chaser” culture in which interested potential partners fetishize trans folks on the mere assumption of what body parts we may have. But in truth, we are more than our bodies. Our genders are more than bodies. In fact, being trans is not at all determined by our bodies. Our genders are not determined by our bodies or body parts. And our trans identity does not determine what body parts we may have. This pathologized, colonial misunderstanding of gender is simply not true. Regardless of where our genitals or other physical/bodily characteristics fall on the spectrum of human variation, we are peoples of many different genders.
Related: DON’T BE A TERF: TRANSMISOGYNY 101
When I found myself as the victim within an abusive relationship, one that was marred by queerness, blackness, and a profoundly turbulent love resonating between the two of us, I was stunned into submission.[TW/CW: descriptions of emotional abuse and physical violence.] Last month while sitting in a smoke lounge on the westside of Atlanta, a friend leaned over to speak directly into my left ear, trying to whisper under the music. “Speak in my other ear, I’m partially deaf in that ear,” I said, as I have to often. “Wait, really? I didn’t know that.” She responded. “Why are you deaf in that ear?” Such a simple question leads me to the painfully uncomfortable conversation, by which I spend several minutes thinking to myself how to tell her, or even if I should tell her, that I am deaf because I used to date a super villain. And he beat the shit out of me. The first time it happened, he left my right cheek with a red tint over brown skin; an awkward silence dwelt within our kitchen in that moment. He no longer looked quite like an honest man, especially the man I’d fallen in love with, rather he resembled one of the grotesque villains I’d watch my favorite cartoon characters fight when I was a child, The Joker maybe. “Why did you embarrass me in front of my friends?” he would say, then a push, one strong enough to knock me off my balance and onto my knees. “I didn’t mean to,” I’d reply, not even remembering what I did wrong in the first place. I would say whatever to make the moments when the super villain was in my kitchen stop, or at least slow down. I thought I was seeing past it, always telling myself it was my fault, blaming myself for the speed and the force with which I was hit. The thoughts that raced through my mind this time were fleeting embarrassments and angering confusions that left our kitchen in an awkward silence for a moment: this wasn’t normal, this doesn’t happen to our kind; these types of violences are surely rare for us, and I’m now feeling as if I am a part of an anomaly within a sea of already demonized love. Here I was months deep into a love which was once all power and puff, now saying and doing whatever I could to defuse a situation I thought I was to blame for. When I found myself as the victim within an abusive relationship, one that was marred by queerness, blackness, and a profoundly turbulent love resonating between the two of us, I was stunned into submission. The person whom I was giving so much to, and borrowing so much from, became the very person who made a mess of me; the one who swore he wanted to build a nest up high with me began clipping my wings.