It’s not just straight men: We all have to reckon with internalized femmephobia in the wake of #MeToo
We cannot have a conversation about problematic models of masculinity without talking about femmephobia as well #MeToo
By Maximillian Matthews
“Don’t hit me up if you are fem… no soft shit.”
“No offense to you but NO FEM, soft, questionable dudes etc. MASC dudes only!!!”
“Please be masc. I’m not into feminine dudes at all. Carry your purse to the next dude’s house.”
If you’re reading this, it’s too late. We have caused irresponsible damage, inflicted mental and emotional abuse, and have denied kinship to our very own. Sadly, this has all been done in the name of Black survival. Perhaps our guardians taught us to value heteropatriarchal masculinity because they believed Black men must meet these standards in order to thrive in an anti-Black world.
Out of concern for our futures, our caretakers instilled damaging beliefs in us, mistakenly thinking we could reap the same benefits afforded to whiteness.
The fact is, such benefits will always be inaccessible to Black men. bell hooks said it best, “Imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy is an interrelated system of domination that will never fully empower black men.” Nonetheless, Black men—both queer and straight—continue to adopt rigid beliefs about the gender binary that marginalizes those who are femme. Promoted by statements such as the ones at the beginning of this article, the heteropatriarchal misogynistic anti-Black structures that plague us all will remain in place.
I am a single, cisgendered, Black queer man who browses dating apps to meet other queer men. Some nights, I would like to find some “company.” Other nights, I would like to find someone to chat with. Most nights, I am met with femmephobic statements on the profiles I read. I will not speak for white men because I do not spend time on their profiles, but I am concerned that it seems Black men feel they must validate their masculinity by afflicting femininity.
I would like to believe that the femmephobic Black men who write such statements are unaware of the damage they are causing to our community. I would like to believe that they do not understand oppression begets oppression. I would like to believe that these men who go out of their way to express their distaste for our femme family fail to realize that their beliefs uphold misogynistic systems.
But the fact is femmephobia can be intentional.
Just as Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo Movement, argues “many of us are trained to protect Black men… to our detriment,” many of us have also been trained to protect heteropatriarchal masculinity at all costs. This protection emphasizes eliminating femininity. As a result, growing up we heard phrases such as “Stop acting like a girl,” “Boys don’t do…” and the infamous “Man up.” Subconsciously, we were being coached to devalue women and elevate men. Thus, femmephobia, along with rape culture and misogyny, were passed down to us.
#MeToo calls for all of us to reflect on the ways we have sustained the systems of sexual assault, which are meticulously tied to systems of heteropatriarchal masculinity. We cannot have a conversation about problematic models of masculinity without talking about femmephobia as well. Perhaps Black men have not known about these conversations because that is how intentionally deceptive white supremacy and patriarchy are, but these conversations have been happening. Although cisgender heterosexual Black men are normally targeted in addressing these issues, queer Black men must participate in these conversations too.
Maybe I have not engaged queer Black men on these conversations because I long for their love and do not want to be rejected, but my silence comes at the expense of those radically living as their femme selves. It comes at the expense of those dismissing the constructs of the gender binary.
My reticence leads to the continued repudiation of femininity and the rise of toxic masculinity. By remaining quiet, the standard for Black men remains beneath mediocre, and femmephobia retains its place as a norm.
The suffering that transgender women endure illustrates that femmephobia has far reaching effects. Femmephobia, which is linked to transphobia, results in the oppression of all whose gender identity exists outside of the constraints of masculinity. Such oppression can reveal itself in the form of violence and sexual assault towards transgender women, as well as cisgendered women.
Femmephobia also places our kids in danger. Children who are perceived to be feminine are often targets of harassment, bullying, and violence, which can even come from the child’s own family (as we tragically saw with Gabriel Fernandez and Giovanni Melton). We must begin the work of eradicating our destructive beliefs before another life is lost.
When we check ourselves on the systems that we are upholding through our beliefs, we are doing the work. When we challenge ourselves to create new identities and worlds where these systems do not exist, we are doing the work. When we elevate the voices of those who are traditionally marginalized in these conversations, we are doing the work. When we commune with Black femme men and collaborate on what Black liberation looks like, we are doing the work.
Those who claim to love Black women and children cannot be a part of the movement for Black lives while possessing femmephobic beliefs.
You cannot do the work of Black liberation and secretly loathe femme queer men. You do not believe Black lives matter when you privately believe the lives of feminine folk are dispensable and inferior.
Femmephobia does not advance Black liberation. Instead, it deprecates our own and keeps our house divided.
Anti-Blackness, misogyny, and heteropatriarchal masculinity cannot simply be conquered with the wave of a magic wand. Resisting these systems requires active engagement and introspection. On the “Commodifying Black Pain” episode of #ThatBlackCouple Podcast, Jenn M. Jackson states that we all have been socialized to participate in white supremacy. I recognize that deconstructing these indoctrinated beliefs take time and I am rightfully wary of the femmephobia and toxic masculinity that I continue to see from Black men, but haven’t you heard the latest? #TimesUp
Maximillian Matthews is a Black queer writer based out of Durham, NC. He holds a M.Ed. in Higher Education Administration from North Carolina State University, a B.A. in English Literature from Elon University, and is currently studying K-12 Counseling at New York University.