RevolutionarySex & Gender

revolutionary identity: decolonizing the black body

November 21, 2019
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Marlon Riggs once said, “Black men loving Black men is a revolutionary act.” I like to take that a step further to say that the act of living outside of the heteronormative, and pushing back against everything our bodies were conditioned to be, is revolutionary. The Black body in general is often something that is shamed, politicized, demonized and vilified. The same body intersected with a queer existence is often met with a visceral violence and even death.

The Black body is one of the greatest creations known on this earth. A body that has been used and abused by masses over time. One that has truly never been our own, especially that of the Black American. As a Black non-binary identified person, I often think about what ownership of my body looks like — not only for me, but for the masses of Black folks who have never once thought about it outside the constraints of a heteronormative, respectability-driven life.

Nonbinary /nänˈbīnərē/ (adjective) – is a spectrum of gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine‍ —‌ identities that are outside the gender binary. Genderqueer is an earlier term with the same meaning, originating from queer ‘zines of the 1980s.

For my birthday this year I came out as nonbinary. A decision that was one of me fighting against my own conditioning of what the world would think, because of my presentation as a man. It was something that I had to reconcile within myself, the feeling that I’ve never been a man or woman, male or female, but the embodiment of many things across the spectrum.

Funny enough, I had been more worried about the shame it would bring those who knew me, not knowing all along that because they truly knew me, they knew I had always been this person. While sitting in the hospital with my grandmother in August, she asked me clear as day “you not just gay, are you?” I responded, “no I’m not.” She stated “the ladies at the church always ask me and I tell them you aren’t. That I don’t know what you are, but gay isn’t it.” I sat shocked but asked her, “what do you think I am?” She responded, “Well. You haven’t never been really a boy, but you never were really a girl. You always sat in-between even as a child. So, whatever that is.” That was the talk I needed to begin owning my body without fear of anyone else’s thoughts.

But for me, the nonbinary isn’t just an identity. It is an ideology and revolutionary approach, to push back against all we have been conditioned to know about living in a two-gender binary system — despite thousands of years of evidence to the contrary. It is about not living in the boxes of what is deemed acceptable, masculinity vs femininity, and understanding that a penis or vagina shouldn’t be the determining factor in how one’s life should be lived.

I often wonder how many people in my community perform a heterosexual existence because it is all they have been conditioned to know. If they have ever sat with themselves to ask the question, “Am I straight because I’m straight? Or am I straight because I was told to be straight?” I’m old enough to know that many people who identify as straight have queer tendencies that they will never fully live in because of how society shames anything counter to binary cis-heteronormative living. But I do wish as Black folks, we fought harder to create the space for an existence outside of a “norm” that we were colonized to be in.

I also cringe at any abortion conversation centered on the state’s governing of the body. To be clear, the Black body was once property in this country — and, in many ways, still is under capitalism. I will never agree with the state owning our bodies in any way, shape or form. Our bodies were the free labor that built this entire country. Our bodies were the lab experiments for new sciences white folks wanted to test out prior to using it on themselves. And even when we were granted “freedom,” systems of oppression formed, and our bodies became the tools to work it. We were then told how we had to perform to assimilate into white society that has never been meant for us. At no point in America have we truly had a chance to explore the Black body and define its identity for ourselves outside of the conditions we were thrown into.

Despite this, we have found ways to express our queerness outside the heteronorm. The Harlem Renaissance birthed some of the greatest queer artists, musicians, and Black people. The Ballroom culture in America that has now become so popular has been here nearly 100 years — a subculture built on the freedom of expression and a revolutionary act against what is deemed acceptable. But now, as Black queer visibility continues to rise so does the violence against — and that is what must stop.

We can no longer allow our bodies to be colonized as our minds have been by the oppressor. The teachings that we exist in a two-gender system is simply false, and there is more than enough evidence, should you choose to do the research. Living under the belief that our society isn’t binary does nothing to harm how your existence as man or woman. But it does allow those who don’t identity as either a chance to live out their Blackness with its inherent queerness — but most importantly allows our community to define the existence of the Black body in a country where our body has never been free.