Written by Mariane “Mare” Leon.
Art by Leeya Jackson.
CW: gendered language, mentions of/reflections on pronouns. Some diet and weight talk.
For the sake of this reflection, woman/women will be referring to my experiences with cisgendered women.
When I encounter Black women, they rush to “queen” and “sis” me. These moments are always strange, like I have to make a decision to stay Black or stay nonbinary. I often just choose silence, overwhelmed with my inner battles, criticisms, and confusion. While I can exchange an annoyed glance at every Becky in the room with a Black co-worker, I cannot meet her eyes for comfort when I’m misgendered. I have to use the same tight lip smile I give to white folks when Black women exchange an energetic “ladiesss!!!” when we gather. I have to wave it off or pretend I don’t notice when they stutter and try to correct it.
I cannot fully express the ache of this gap and the dysphoria that comes with feeling freer from whiteness the more I remove myself from the binary, but also feeling further from Blackness by doing so. This is what no one tells you about being a Black nonbinary femme – while you recognize the power of your expansion, you also have to reckon with your loss of community and grieve the identity that isn’t yours but will always be attached to you.
I have consistently pushed against the binary, knowingly and unknowingly. I never connected to womanhood in the way it was presented to me – in pink, in heels, in make up, in motherhood and more. It never quite made sense how attributes like softness and nurturing became a requirement for women and detriment to men. I especially despise the “ride or die” mentality many Black women have. It often leads them to questionable partnerships with the toxic masculine men they are taught to desire and the most fiercely independent women I know fall into gender roles so they can “catch” or “keep” a man.
But despite me not being “woman enough” for the world, I clung to the binary through my desire for toxic male attention, in dieting and weight loss, and by hiding or hyper-feminizing myself to be validated or less bothered.
The rejection of “womanhood” also presented itself without my doing – from my fatness to my Blackness, my experience within “womanhood” wasn’t universal. White and/or thin/”thick” women could do things I couldn’t and had desirability privileges that my darker, fatter body couldn’t access. But despite me not being “woman enough” for the world, I clung to the binary through my desire for toxic male attention, in dieting and weight loss, and by hiding or hyper-feminizing myself to be validated or less bothered.
My shared experience with the Black people around me is deeply tied to my experience as a Black woman and the pride and community that comes with that. My struggle to hold on and fit into the binary came from my desire to belong and honor the Black women who I admired and owe my life to.
As I grow my understanding of myself, I am healing and redefining that relationship to my Blackness. I am still nonbinary even though I recognize, understand, and have shared experiences with Black women. Mainly because no matter who I am, I hold “cis-privilege” (and this is already a mind-freak of a thing that arguably doesn’t exist since “looking” cis isn’t real). For better or worse, the oppressive world sees me as a Black woman and treats me as such. Being nonbinary doesn’t exempt me or exclude me from those experiences. They are just as valid and so is my conscious and continuous effort to detach from the binary.
I can value and share the love and adoration of Black womanhood within the limitations and celebrations of Black womanhood and still not be within the binary. My ability to be fluid is simply being human.
I also have freed myself from either. I don’t have to be one or the other in any sense of the word. I can like an exaggerated “guuuurl!” when the tea is hot and hate it when I’m called a lady. I can have a valid yet fabricated rich auntie life and still know my genitals aren’t my gender. I can value and share the love and adoration of Black womanhood within the limitations and celebrations of Black womanhood and still not be within the binary. My ability to be fluid is simply being human. Nothing about my physical self is permission or pronouns. My physical self is not a checkbox conclusion about where I “fit” in the binary.
But the struggle is still real.
How different would the world be if people stopped long enough to ask themselves why they simply accept something as true/standard/normal and reject the rest? Furthermore, how different would the world look if Black people stopped normalizing whiteness through binary thinking, colorism, heteronormativity, capitalism, elitism, anti-fatness, and all the other ways we shame and restrict existence?
Part of me feels that we will never know that world, but I am working to stay hopeful. In the meantime, I’ll be here, nurturing myself as I continue to challenge my thinking while existing fully and simply as a fat, Black, and genderless femme.
About The Author
Mare is a fat, Black nonbinary femme who is empowered by vulnerability and surviving through humor. they are writer, photographer and journeyer @weirdlyorganic + weirdlyorganic.com. they enjoy ice oat milk lattes and the color yellow. Mare is currently located in philadelphia, pa | venmo: mchop88