'Masculine of Center' Black Women as Targets

Bianca T/Bklyn Boihood via Colorlines
Bianca T/Bklyn Boihood via Colorlines

"We walk through the world, and some of us pass as male," Oakland, Calif.'s Erica Woodland told Colorlines' Dani McClain. "We get left out of this conversation."


"We" refers to women whose clothing and mannerisms lead people to perceive and treat them as men. That's more than a source of confusion or an inconvenience, given the often-dangerous profiling of black men that has received national attention thanks to New York City's stop-and-frisk policy and George Zimmerman's targeting of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin as "suspicious."

The possibility of being targeted by police or by a fearful, overzealous civilian on account of her race was one consideration for Woodland, who is black. But so was gender. She describes herself as masculine of center, which means that her way of expressing herself — clothes, mannerisms — falls toward that side of the spectrum. It also means that like many of the black men and boys at the center of the recent conversation advanced by everyone from President Obama to Questlove, she’s been profiled as criminal or suspicious.

“We walk through the world and some of us pass as male,” Woodland, 33, says. “We get left out of this conversation.” 

Somewhere at the intersection of blackness, gender expression and sexual orientation is a heightened risk for harassment and bias-driven violence. According to National Coalition of Anti-Violence Program’s 2012 report on hate violence, LGBTQ people of color are nearly twice as likely as their white counterparts to experience physical violence. Last year, nearly three-fourths of anti-LGBTQ homicide victims were people of color and just over half were black.


McClain explains that women like Woodland  — not to mention transgender men — face discrimination and harassment in ways that "map more clearly to mainstream narratives about black men." It's not that a place in that narrative is really a coveted spot, but for those who are targeted, it would be nice to have some support. Thankfully, people are working on this in ways that acknowledge that individual acts of violence are too numerous to target individually:

Jindasurat of the Anti-Violence Project mentions a public awareness campaign run out of the Washington, DC Office of Human Rights and a legislative campaign advanced by New York City’s Communities United for Police Reform as bright spots.

But two groups doing some of the most innovative work in the country with trans men and masculine of center women of color are actually focused inward rather than on advocacy. Willis, of Bklyn Boihood, says that collective is more interested in building community than in confronting head on the harassment and violence that many in her community consistently face.

“If this happens 100 times, I don’t have the energy to articulate and to make this call to arms and action 100 times,” Willis says. “A lot of times it doesn’t feel valuable to take to task something that’s happening all the time everywhere.”

Read more at Colorlines. 

Share This Story

Get our newsletter