How Black cis het men’s relationship to our bodies contributes to our violence against Black transgender women
I remember the laughter in my belly, among other bored Black boys—the laughter shackled to threats of harm against our sisters.
by Donnie Moreland
This essay discusses transmisogyny and the murder of Black trans women
It’s odd; where the mind of a young man goes in boredom. It’s often sexual—at least in my experience. It’s a lot of thinking about who you’d fuck and how. What’s even more telling is when we commune in boredom. Our sexual fantasies, queries, anxieties, and fabrications collide in a mish mash of homoerotic peacocking and lies.
But there is a conversation that I’ve been a part of, and I’m sure other cis heteronormative men—specifically Black men—will attest, which is a little more troubling, a little more violent. It has to do with these two questions: 1) Would you fuck a “tyr*nny”? and 2) What would you do if you fucked a woman and found out she “used to be a man”?
I chose not to clean up the language, here, because I’d be doing a disservice to the evidence of our everyday private exchanges as Black men, which pours more gasoline on the flames of our cultural hysteria concerning gender autonomy, but also because I used to ask these questions verbatim. I also used to answer in the same capacity as I’m about to illustrate.
Concerning the first question, the usual responses you’d acquire would ranges from “fuck no” to “that’s gross!” It’s when you present the latter querie that the response would range from “I’ll beat that nigga’s ass” to “I’ll kill that nigga.” Before I continue, I must assert that my admission of participation is not in hopes of absolution, but to be used as tangential evidence of our contribution to the epidemic of gender based hate crimes, especially of Black transgender women.
It would be easy to hide behind the walls of privacy which every human being should be afforded, in the absence of physical harm, and not compose this essay. But folks are dying. Our folks. Nineteen transgender women have been murdered in 2019 so far. Most of whom were Black. Absent bodies unaccounted for, of course. We, as a Black family, cannot afford any more corpses, especially if what’s said in the private quarters of bored Black boys is as contributive to the neglect, and demise, of the lives of not just transgender women, but any person outside the house of Black male respectibilty politicking. But to understand Black male respectability politics, specifically sexually-oriented respectability politics, one has to consider what a Black man is—below the belt.
How Could Something So Small…?
I’ve written a little bit before about a kind of historical revisionism made popular by Black male reconstruction-era historians, political activists and the sort, in response to the confusion of plantation sexual politics as a primary contributor to modern homophobia among Black folks, specifically of my ilk. And to a degree, our transphobic expressions are a “natural” evolution of such cultural shame.
But what makes our brand of transphobia different than our practices of homophobia is that one has to do with where we come from and the other has to do with where we are going. Or where we think we should be going. Both, strangely having to do with What’s between our legs, in our minds.
For as much as we want to dismiss the history of the Black Buck—the hypersexual Black man—our securities have a tendency to lean very much so on our sex. As Baldwin put it in the 1971 one-on-one conversation between he and Nikki Giovanni, hosted by the PBS series SOUL!:
“[About the limitations of a Black male sexual expressivity and its relationship to cultural esteem] He has no floor on which to dance, room in which to move, no way to get from one day to the next, because to make love to you is not the same thing as taking you and it’s a journey which most people have got to make with each other… You know if you lose your center, and let’s say the center is your sex. If you lose that. If you allow that to be destroyed, then everything else is gone and you have to figure out a way of saving it.”
Now, one can argue that the Baldwinian conflation of sex and masculinity troubles how to understand sex, here, in relationship to the physical act or the objects and symbols by which sex becomes understood, but I believe him to be describing, quite literally, our penises. And as usual with Baldwin, he was right.
Our measure of self worth is often in conjunction with in what capacity we can use our penis and the ability of the world to see us use it. For us to be, the world must know, especially the white world, that the certainty of our existence is less determined by it but guaranteed by our phallus.
For us, it’s reproduction, it’s generational wealth management, it’s mentorship—all things which require, in our estimation, children. And children require a uterus, which requires our penis. It’s this that we stress in our pursuit of position and status among our White Gods and which the existence of Black transgender women destroys.
The existence of transgender women, and quite frankly any other gender or orientation aside from the widely-accepted binary standard of cis and heterosexual, eradicates certainty. It creates this group existential phenomenon wherein we are forced to question our purpose, if someone who was Assigned Male At Birth and may have once identified as a Black boy or man can remove, disacknowledge the existence of, or embrace as part of another gender that which, for us, must make us.
Because if there is no truth in our penises as passageways to preservation, and if our penises, in this centuries-long quest for a place in the world as cis Black men, are trivial at best, then what do we do with the shame? We pivot the shame instead to sexual misanthropy, because transgender bodies leave too many questions about our bodies now, much like the bodies of homosexual men leave too many questions about our bodies past.
The Lost Boys
But this is our problem. Not the problem of anyone who has contributed nothing to the shame we’ve adopted and have begun to adorn. We’ve placed both our hatred and self pity on the backs of persons being hunted, partially due to our own sexual panic. And that’s a shame fit for a guilt to which we should give concession.
When I remember the laughter in my belly, among other bored Black boys—the laughter shackled to threats of harm against our sisters—I feel shame. I am disturbed less by the violence on our breath and more by how lost we were, how lost we are, to our own bodies. So lost, in fact, that others whose bodies have been realized must die before we can admit that our bodies, outside of our penises, are worth discovering.
Donnie Denkins Moreland Jr is a Minnesota based youth violence prevention educator and writer. Donnie holds a Master’s Degree, in Film Studies, from National University and a Bachelor’s Degree, in Sociology, from Prairie View A&M University. Donnie has contributed to Black Youth Project, A Gathering of the Tribes and Sage Group Publishing.