Why Black gender conversations will always fail unless we center Black children
I am asking that we simply hold space for those who haven’t abused us yet: Black children.
“To refuse to participate in the shaping of our future is to give it up […] Each of us must find our work and do it.” — Audre Lorde
I am hurting. On Saturday, as I walked through a Black gay club, a guy crossing my path grabbed between my legs. He barely reacted as I pushed him off, drunkenly stumbling into another person behind me and attempting to sexually assault them as well.
I am hurting. My cisgender straight mother still hasn’t come to terms with my queerness. Still, she has come a long way from when she refused to sign off on college loans after I first told her. But I think I haven’t yet come to terms with the fact that she could ever do such a thing.
Nor have I forgiven my cisgender straight father for the only beating I remember him giving me, which happened when I was a child for doing something he perceived as gay.
And I haven’t forgiven the Black trans girl who recently called me a “disgusting faggot” after I had supported her through so many struggles just for daring to claim I wasn’t a man and not being trans enough in her eyes to say such a thing without appropriating.
I am hurting, and it is not lost on me that Black people have hurt me. It is not lost on me that I have experienced masculine violence most directly from Black men, and the pressures of being forced into a violent masculinity I wanted no parts of by Black women.
But it also is not lost on me that all of these people who have hurt me are hurting themselves.
And though it’s not my responsibility to fix their hurt — especially if they are committed to spreading it to whomever gets close to them, it is my responsibility to acknowledge that their hurt exists, lest I let my own hurt create the same collateral damage that theirs inflicted upon me.
“Often without noticing, we absorb the racist belief that Black people are fitting targets for everybody’s anger. We are closest to each other, and it is easier to vent fury upon each other than upon our enemies.” — Audre Lorde
Last week, I read an article by a Black mother entitled “When will my son become an ain’t shit nigga?” Not if, but when. She was lamenting the very real abuses she experienced at the hands of Black men—“ain’t shit niggas”—and had projected those abuses onto her child, whom she had already read gender and sexuality onto, seemingly without the child’s consent. She is hurting.
Without any effort to understand where “ain’t shit niggas” come from, that they might come in part from being gendered and sexualized before they even know what gender and sexuality is, her child is bound to hurt too, if that child isn’t hurting already.
It’s a seemingly endless cycle. So much of the work we do as Black people is bound up in our trauma, because, for Black people in an anti-Black world, trauma is inescapable. I don’t know one Black person who has made it into adulthood without experiencing severe violence in some form or another. And in a world where anger at whiteness is never allowed, other Black people—who are in many cases simply the conduits of intergenerational trauma already passed down by five centuries of systematic genocide—become the targets for the anger arising from our hurt.
We can’t conceive of a world without anti-Blackness, and so the Black people who internalize that violence become indistinguishable from this world. They become “ain’t shit niggas,” rather than niggas in an ain’t shit world who, just like us, think they can only take part in it. They become “trash,” irredeemable, and disposable.
It’s clear that disposing of ourselves in such a way is unsustainable if we are to ever get any freer, but it’s less clear what the alternatives are. No one should have to hold space for their abusers, and often that’s what it sounds like I am asking for when I push for us to imagine a world without the pathologization of Black people of any genders.
But what I am really asking is that we simply hold space for those who haven’t abused us yet: Black children.
I believe the answer lies in how we view Black children, and how well we can center them in our work. Rather than coming from a place of trying to rectify the trauma that has happened to Black adults of this gender or that—which, unfortunately, perhaps cannot ever be rectified—what happens when we instead attempt to prevent the trauma that happen to Black children of all (non)genders?
I am hurting, but I am healing. I am healing because in the boy who sexually assaulted me this weekend, and the many boys who did the same before him, I see myself as a child, and how my experiences with sex at way too early an age made it seem as though consent was never even a possibility.
I am healing because in my mother, I see the little girl growing up under an abusive mother herself whose fundamentalist teachings and untreated bipolar disorder gave my mother a god who might protect her, even if He didn’t protect her queer children.
In my dad I see the boy who was told by his white teacher in a segregated town that he could never be a scientist like he wanted to be, so instead he only tried and failed to be “a man.”
And I do not have to forgive them for that to see these children within them. I do not have to forgive them to see these children around me every day. They are called “ain’t shit” in so many ways, by the predatory behaviors of their fathers or the pathologization of their mothers, and they are the future Audre Lorde was referring to.
If we are to not give up, each of us must find our work in protecting them. And we must do that work.