This is something that I have been discussing with close friends and working on what this means for myself. As somebody who is considered an academic in some sense, a lot of figuring this out means I’ve been reading loads of research articles, books, and articles online to look at loads of different perspectives and see how that looks next to the many conversations that I have had with close friends and family. The academic portion of this journey has proved to be difficult as a consequence of the white history of the term “queer”. As a Black person whose gender identity is queer masculine, I have been wrestling with what this means to me and working on constructing a queer masculinity that is decolonized. And by that I mean depatriarchalized, a masculinity that isn’t defined by or nested in patriarchal domination.
As a kid, my gender identity was queer masculine, I didn’t have the words for it then and my family worked pretty hard to keep me from engaging in such behaviors but it’s what I was and still am. What does this mean? I did all the things girls were told they couldn’t do. I played football, basketball, & I rough housed with my brother & cousins. My biggest interests were: books, art, sports (basketball, football, & wrestling), & video games. My family tried to socialize me into the traditional feminine gender rolls & quite frankly it NEVER fit. As a kid I wrestled with this component of my identity as I watched the adults around me squirm at the sight of my lack of gender conformity. My gender expression was always something that stressed my family, I have always preferred more masculine clothing, I played with my brother’s toys & when my mom got me a feminine gendered toy I was uninterested. But the reality was I didn’t identify with femininity & I knew even as a kid that my society’s conceptions of my gender and my body didn’t match my gender identity.
My understanding of my gender identity as a kid was more questioning than anything else. I didn’t exactly fit the category of masculine or feminine perfectly, there was always a shifting for me, and what I see now as queer masculinity is best understood as part of my overall personhood. Eventually my mom stopped wasting her money & stuck to buying me books, writing tools, and art supplies to be on the safe side. Eventually I started to force myself into the category thanks to the fear tactics of my VERY Christian upbringing (my mom is an evangelist, step dad was a pastor at the time). I even got to a point where I consciously worked on altering the tone and pitch of my voice. I’ve always had a voice that contained a deep bravado, been like that since I was a kid, but the rampant homophobia in my family and environment led me to be ashamed of this, scared of what it would mean, what it would reveal about my gender identity and my not so heterosexual identity. I spent the majority of my undergrad experience continuing my gender and sexuality conformity, I did my best to stick to forcing myself to like heteronormativity and to behave based on that identity alone but I fumbled my way through it, I never felt comfortable, and the entire experience was painful to say the least.
It wasn’t until I got to the later years of undergrad that I started to accept some of the components of my gender identity that weren’t exactly cishet but I didn’t refer to them as queer or even masculine. I thought of it more as “girls & women can do that too”. I stopped trying to force myself to wear feminine clothes that I just quite simply didn’t like. I started dressing more comfortably and slowly but surely I stopped creating excuses to justify why I didn’t want to wear feminine clothing that I was never drawn to in the first place. Eventually I came to continuously try to understand what exactly it is I had in common with “womanhood” and when I did I realized I had nothing in common with it, it didn’t reflect me at all. As I was developing my sense of what Black Feminism/Womanism meant to me and for me in praxis, I started to accept more and more of myself, bit by bit. I was coming to understand and realize that I did not have to identify with the either-or-ness that underlies cisheteronormativity. I spent my years in graduate school trying to come to some understanding of my gender identity and my sexual orientation. I wanted to come to an understanding that was plural, dialectical, and intersectional. Throughout my last 5 years of community activism I started getting more involved with doing work under the guise of Black Feminist and Pan Africanist politics. Through my readings on gender and sexuality in Pre-Colonial Africa I came into a better understanding of gender and sexuality outside of the confines of cisheteropatriarchy. Eventually I came to understand my sexuality as bi, a two-ness. While my sexuality was something that appeared to be anchored on something more definitive, my gender identity is not.
Genderqueer (adj./noun) – denoting or relating to a person who does not subscribe to conventional gender distinctions but identifies with neither, both, or a combination of male and female genders.
I was developing and coming into my personal politic and sense of self through engaging intersectional and dialectical analyses. Just as I see my heritage as Diasporic and as a multiplicity, more than one, as many all at once, so too is my gender. But this also begs the question of exactly how I would begin to construct a sense of masculinity not dependent upon domination. Masculinity (adj.) is defined as the traditional qualities ascribed to men, as a noun it refers to any person, place, thing, or element in or marking that gender. What does non-hegemonic masculinity look like? What exactly is a depatriarchalized masculinity? These are questions we must all ask ourselves. Especially since the very qualities society deems as masculine aren’t qualities solely characterized by men, women too can be strong, courageous, bold, and can lead. And there is pretty much no room for non-binary folks because society makes us invisible because we refuse to perform the gender binary. So with that being the case; what exactly is masculinity outside of this? Is and can masculinity be more than what femininity is NOT? Can femininity be more than what masculinity is not? These are questions that take a long time to answer, IF they can be answered and the answers are different for each of us.
This is something that I tread lightly upon due to the particular nature of the intersections of white supremacy and patriarchy, which posit that Black women, not quite women, not quite men, are these non-human beings that look like women but can somehow do the work of men and even outsmart or best a straight cis-het man in competition. My identity in no way fits the confines of Queer Black lesbian women. That’s just not who I am. I do not fit into the framework of feminine masculinity either. I am a question mark that is genderqueerness. The reality is I am not a woman. I have never been a woman. I was misgendered at birth and hence forcibly socialized into a gender that was not mine. I don’t identify as one and I never have. I am a non binary gender (NBG) person. Specifically GQ masc.
For me right now, constructing a decolonized since of queer masculinity, a decolonized sense of qualities society denotes to men, I have to be comfortable with multiple question marks that are what my genderqueer masculine identity means for me. By that I mean I have to be comfortable with not being able to describe this identity exactly. I have to be comfortable with not theorizing every part of myself, I have to be comfortable with abandoning the frameworks of cishetnormativity that are commonly used to define what masculinity is based off its distance and difference from cisheteropatriarchal masculinity. I sense my genderqueer masculinity as an inbetweeness that doesn’t denote being between two genders, its denotes being between masculinity and unknown gender identities we have yet to venture upon in modernity. Thus my genderqueer masculinity isn’t a two-ness, its an intersection of many things. It is a sense of personhood that questions boundaries and is usually something that can’t be accurately defined by the ideologies of imperialist white supremacist cisheteropatriarchal ableist capitalisms.
What I do know about my genderqueer masculinity is that it isn’t hegemonic. Decolonizing this identity means that I am moving it into a form of its own and independence from the cisheteropatriarchal colonial ways. In unlearning the hegemony of patriarchy, we must learn how to interact with our own self and those around us in ways that are not dependent upon dominating and controlling one another. This heavily influences the ways in which I talk, think about communication, the tone I use, my interactions with potential romantic partners, and my conceptions of what love (romantic and non-romantic) are in my life.
I’ll find out what this is to me eventually. What matters most now is that I don’t hasten to definitions. The questioning isn’t about a lack of information or a lack of knowing. I see it as possibility of change, possibility of developing this part of my identity. What matters is that I just be. What matters is that I understand that “I don’t know” is a complete sentence. I don’t have to have a theoretical means through which I describe myself to the outside world. I am comfortable for now with just being. Decolonization is a process. And at this point in the process I am okay with just saying my genderqueerness just is. My masculinity is under construction and I’m completely fine with that. So when people ask me about my genderqueer masculine identity I will simply answer “es lo que es y yo soy lo que soy”/”It is what it is & I am what I am”.