This past weekend, I was winding down after a fairly long Thanksgiving weekend by engaging in one of my guilty pleasures: The Real Housewives of Atlanta. After a long day, I was ready for some petty, funny mess.
What I was not ready for was being blindsided by a transphobic “read.”
The read in question? Well, after Kim Zolciak-Biermann goes after Kenya Moore for allegedly making her husband up, Moore accuses Zolciak-Biermann of having a “hard-on” for her and expresses confusion about this, since she thought “it got cut off during her gender-reassignment surgery.”
Now, I had known that some potentially messy shit would happen with those two being in the same room, based on last season’s finale. And longtime watchers of RHOA, while disgusted, weren’t immediately shocked by Moore’s jab, since RHOA has a sordid history with homophobia. (That’s not to say that black women and black people in general are more prone to homophobia—which would be a white supremacist lie—but this show, on the other hand ... ). I, personally, after thinking about it, wasn’t shocked for another reason:
1. Black women and queer black folk have a tense relationship.
To say that black women and queer and transgender black folk have a fairly solid, yet strained relationship would be an understatement and is pretty much already assumed, but in this case, it’s worth elaborating on. While this phenomenon spans the spectrums of both communities, this usually plays out in the dynamic between cisgender black women and cisgender gay black men (and occasionally cisgender black lesbians).
And when we’re not having “chicken vs. egg” arguments about who coined the latest phrase that Urban Dictionary just ran away with (hint: The proof is in the ballroom pudding)—or beefing with each other about the misogyny and femmephobia that can be perpetuated by cis gay black men, or the queerphobia, transphobia and reinforcement of toxic masculinity that can be perpetuated by cis black women—we do have moments when we have a strong bond.
Said moments can be attributed to the fact that it is crucial for both groups to be hyperaware of the various ways in which we can be oppressed and for the simple fact that we share an oppressor (read: cis black men). There’s that, and the fact that despite what whitewashed history would have you believe, black women and queer black people (and trans black people—and all intersections thereof) have been instrumental in every single goddamn resistance and liberation movement in this country (and, hell, on this planet) and in our communities.
And yet, all that common ground is not necessarily enough to keep us from laterally punching the hell out of each other. You see, oppression tends to do things to your mind, even to the point of selling out your own niggas. This kind of thing often plays out in the previously mentioned examples of gay black men trying to trade up some privilege and fit into an already warped definition of manhood, and black women trying to trade up some privilege and be approved (or at least harmed exponentially less) by patriarchy.
Still, I’m not here to talk about “both sides.” Contrary to popular belief, especially after Moore’s comments, I’m here to examine—as a cis black femme—my own and my tribe’s role in stoking the fires of homophobia in our community.
And here’s why:
2. Black women should know better. And yet ... here we are.
This past August, I came across a thread by @jamKartel, which had been retweeted into my timeline by the audacious @AdamantxYves. This thread was so controversial that it was all my timeline would talk about for weeks.
Now, what was this thread about, people of the planet Earth? Well, this thread asserted that cis black women were more homophobic/queerphobic/transphobic than cis black men by, like, the tiniest bit. Like, only really by about 0.0000000000000001 percent.
But the damage was done, and the backlash was almost immediate. @jamKel was accused of being misogynistic against black women. Gross deflecting and gaslighting happened. And though the thread was not without blemish, cis black women who took umbrage with the thread’s premise tried oh so very hard to poke holes in it, and not once did they stop to consider the source of the assertion.
Hell, even I was tempted to go “Well, actually,” despite being queer myself, but the more I sat with it, the more I began to see where @jamKartel was coming from. To explain, the premise of the thread rested on the fact that cis black women should know better because of all the intersections we are aware of and operate in (Kimberlé Crenshaw, everyone). And while many cis black women found this misogynistic because it put the onus on us to be better than our male counterparts, I didn’t necessarily agree with their assessment.
I say this because we are a group that exists in many spheres of oppression (misogynoir being the most discussed—and quadruply so if you are queer, disabled, trans, etc.), our existence in these spheres dictates that, yes, we technically do know a lot about this shit. And we definitely know more than our cis, straight male counterparts who only have to deal with the sphere of being black. This is perhaps what always makes homophobia (or any “phobia”) coming from a cis black woman that much more biting: It’s because, at that moment, we know better but have chosen instead to hurt and do the opposite.
And it’s tempting to downplay the homophobia that cis black women perpetuate because we, too, exist in spheres of oppression along with queer black folk, but that is dangerous to do. And I’ll explain why:
3. While black women express homophobia differently than black men, that does not make it any less dangerous or harmful.
Perhaps the most bone-chilling part of the rebuttals to the aforementioned threat was all the women who were screaming about black women not being as violent as black men with their homophobia. It was almost as if they wanted queer black people to be grateful for the bare minimum—which apparently includes not beating them to death or killing them in cold blood.
And this is fucked up for two reasons. For starters, it puts black women in the precarious position of “benevolent oppressors” (who exist), since what we’re doing isn’t technically killing anyone (at least physically). Second, we’ve heard this argument and line of logic before from some not-so-kindred spirits:
Now, before you snatch my purple wig off my head and throw it to China, I will say that I am not calling us white women. Such an assertion would make no sense because black women and white women are not held in the same regard in our respective communities. As sleeper agents for white supremacy, white women can and do sic white men on the rest of us with the aid of a single tear, and we don’t have that same ability (mostly because no one gives a damn about black women, but I digress). That said, we have the capacity to do similar (not the same, but similar) damage to black people in our community who may be more marginalized than even we are. And to deny such would be to use the same deflective tactics that white women use to downplay their role in white supremacy.
And if I am expected to go hard about how sneaky, conniving and underhanded white women are about enforcing white supremacy, then you bet your ass it would be hypocritical of me not to have the same energy when I am discussing the ways in which black women can (and do) uphold homophobia, transphobia and toxic masculinity in our own communities.
Sure, maybe we’re not murdering our gay black children or stuffing them in a trash can like Tyrone might, or attempting to “beat the gay” out of them, but let’s not be so quick to let ourselves off the hook.
Ostracizing your gay son while your pedophiliac uncle gets a seat at the Thanksgiving table isn’t much better. Expressing bystander syndrome when you see cis black men starting in on “that gay shit” isn’t kosher. Putting your queer child out of the house because you can’t bear “the shame” is a little bit less than honorable. Seeking out gay friends and associates only when you need your nails did and hair done (and thereby tokenizing and accessorizing them) is not the business. Having this rigid idea of “what a man should be” when it comes to sexuality and portraying any experimentation with sexual pleasure on his part as “automatically gay” and therefore “bad” is not the wave, either.
Saying that trans men still retain “male privilege” because “they’ve gotten to live both as men and women” (there is so much wrong with that, but that is a conversation for another day) is fucked up. Being the gatekeepers of what it means to be black and women (e.g., thinking that one cannot be a woman without a vagina) and therefore barring trans women from that because they aren’t “real women” is definitely fucked up, too.
All of that, while not physically violent ... is still violent. Much like the seemingly benign violence that white women deny that they inflict on us, the type of violence I listed above is built to ostracize, antagonize and minimize the lives and lived experiences of queer and trans black people based on their identities. And, OK, it’s not going to instantly kill them, but that kind of violence? It wears you down. Eats at you. Breaks you. And by the time that’s all said and done, you might as well have killed them.
Take it from a cis black femme who internalized her own homophobia and queerphobia for years.
And that’s the key here, because it points out that even in our oppression as black women, we still have the capacity to oppress others. Our being marginalized in one aspect does not mean that we do not hold power over others in another aspect.
The faster we can grasp that concept without digging our heels into the ground and sticking our hands in our ears, the better.