The feminine ideal is viewed under patriarchy as something worthy of militant protection. We know that racist white men kill with a quickness to preserve white female virtue.
At this moment, liberals apply a sentence of social and political death (and ignore actual death threats) against those who fail to “protect” transfemmes, and black transfemmes in particular. Indeed, their rhetorical vitriol has started to assume the same kind of shrill irrational rage that conservative white men reserve for the protection of white women.
In this essay I explore what liberal white rhetoric regarding the rights of transfemmes and the exaltation of the black transfemme in particular tells us about how they view black femininity and womanhood more generally, and the role that this worldview plays in the greater goal of propping up white supremacy and degrading black women.
If we use white liberal outrage about black transfemmes’ vulnerability as a mirror of white conservative outrage about white women’s vulnerability, we gain insight into the white liberals’ view of the ‘virtuous’ black woman prototype. That is, the stereotypical all purpose ‘virtuous’ black woman who is most worthy of the militant protection by the state and social acceptance by the wider society, something that is usually only reserved for the good white woman.
What the exaltation of black transfemmes reveals about black womanhood as constructed under the white gaze is both deeply troubling and entirely unsurprising.
In the construction of the poor black transfemme is every ugly, sad, pitiable, and mean-spirited stereotype that black women have had to endure under the distorting effects of the white supremacist patriarchal gaze.
Black women are mannish. This perception arises from both enhanced muscularity (the body shaming of Serena Williams and Misty Copeland are examples of this), and the fact that black women have always worked just as much as black men since the time of slavery. While white women had to fight to work, most black women have never had a choice.
Black women are “other”/freakish/alien. The effects of plastic surgery and hormone treatments can exaggerate and distort the features of transfemmes in ways that are extreme and unnatural. Additionally, transfemmes who have clearly masculine features also appear “other” when compared to most women. Under the white gaze, however, there is little difference between the transfemme and an ordinary black woman since our ordinary features of Africanness (fuller lips, larger backsides, tightly coiled hair) are already seen as exaggerated and distorted.
Black women are poor, cheap, and sexually available. In June of last year the Human Rights Campaign released a brochure on trans sex practices which casually referred to what they call “transactional sex”, a euphemism for prostitution. Not only are black women particularly cheap and easily bought, but their poverty is such that prostitution should be normalized for them.
Black women are sexually wild and animalistic. In the same HRC manual above there is a section on BDSM which discusses how to handle blood and knives during sex play.
Black women are reproductively barren. This final perception is really more of a sexual ideal under the white gaze, since though many white men fetishize black women and want to fuck them, far fewer actually want to reproduce with one. However, in so far as black children are viewed as both worth less and worthless when compared to white children, there is still a notion of “barrenness” attached to black women in the white supremacist imaginary now that black children no longer have monetary value as property or chattel.
While white liberals will no doubt vehemently object to the notion that they perceive black women in the ways described above, the fact of liberal silence and luke warm political support for the social and economic issues of real importance to black women, especially when compared to the red faced vitriol they seem to be able to muster in defense of black transfemmes, reveals a deeper material and emotional truth, namely that they don’t really care about actual black women at all.
For example, black women have experienced a rise in mortality during pregnancy such that they now die at four times the rate of white women. However, I am yet to see this appalling statistic rendered on a placard during a “Women’s Rights” protest or addressed in the media as the public health crisis that it actually is. Why? Because black women (and children) are not really valued by white people or liberals of any race.
Even president Obama and the first lady remained conspicuously silent about the high and rising death rate of pregnant black women, as well as the rising suicide rate of black children, even as he used his executive power to “protect” trans rights by giving boys and men the power to invade the privacy of girls and women. The feelings of boys and men were held to be of more importance than both the feelings and bodies of women and girls.
The liberal silence and erasure of the increasing suicidality of black children is particularly galling when one considers the way in which the suicidality of trans people is held up as a cudgel to be used against those who dare to deviate from the trans movement’s proscribed policy positions. Apparently the suicidality of black children only matters to liberals if they happen to be trans.
So, given that it is transparently clear that liberals don’t actually care enough about black women or children to work on issues that actually affect them most, to what political and social end is this rather sudden and incredibly loud liberal support for and elevation of the black transfemme?
The elevation of the black transfemme serves a variety of purposes for racist and sexist liberals of all races who, despite their rhetoric, often end up working to preserve and further the cause of white supremacist patriarchy.
First, it shames the black community. Holding up the death of black transfemmes as a crisis worthy of particular media attention even as the high death rate of pregnant black women is seen as a non-crisis serves to shame the black community by reinforcing the stereotype that black people are particularly prone to murderous violence and the most virulent forms of homophobia and transphobia.
Second, it enables them to engage in trickle down sympathy. By applying rhetorics of sympathy to black transfemmes white people are able to engage in a kind of representational “trickle down” sympathy wherein they maintain the pretense that caring about the lives of 0.5% of the population is equivalent to caring about all black people by extension.
Third, it allows them to engage in a game of moral “one upmanship”. By militantly defending a tiny extremely marginalized group they pretend that they have greater moral virtue and authority than those who are concerned with larger populations of less marginalized groups. Militant support of black transfemmes is to social justice politics what extreme veganism is to ethical eating.
Fourth, it reinforces the supremacist degradation of black people. By defending and publicly mourning the death of black transfemmes with a fervor that was almost entirely absent during the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement, liberals covertly signal their belief (however unconscious it might be) that the only kind of black man worthy of state protection is the effeminate, castrated black male who lacks the kind of masculinity that threatens white men and thus attracts their bullets. Of course, that black transfemmes pose little threat to white men is not the same as saying that they are not a threat at all. Transfemmes of all races have histories of violence, including truly horrific violence against women that liberals have chosen to erase and ignore in order to make women’s fears seem trivial, and to make black transfemmes perfect victims.
Fifth, it enables white liberals to indulge their faux paternalism. Militant liberals claim to be protecting trans adults and children against the harmful emotional effects of social ostracization by “accepting” them. Of course the real material effects of ongoing economic and social ostracization by white people against all black people in the form of racist hiring practices, predatory lending, criminalization of poverty, school to prison pipeline and other social harms is conveniently ignored or given less attention by these same “caring” white people.
By applying rhetorics of sympathy to black transfemmes white people are able to engage in a kind of representational “trickle down” sympathy
Sixth, it allows them to engage in political black face. That is, expending political capital on issues that are actually important to white people while pretending that this political engagement is on behalf of “needy” black people. Black transfemmes are particularly easy to exploit for this purpose since their extreme marginalization leaves them desperate to feel seen, accepted, validated, appreciated, and empowered. Black people more generally have a long history of being used as pawns in white supremacist politics.
Seventh, it allows them to engage in the most aggressively regressive form of ‘stealth’ misogyny seen in decades under the guise of “gender liberation”. In the insistence by delusional liberals that transfemmes are actually women we see the re-emergence of a common historical narrative – men seeking to define womanhood for women and silencing women as they do so. In this case womanhood has been reduced to “what a man thinks being a woman feels like”, and “what a man who identifies as straight wants to have sex with.”
While conservative male supremacy often centers on ensuring that women look like women and are subservient, liberal male supremacy centers on granting men easy access to women’s sexuality through the normalization of pornography and prostitution, and then attempting to convince women that their participation in these institutions is ’empowerment’ and ‘liberation’ rather than sexual exploitation. Libertarians are particularly fond of such politics since there is no need for social welfare programs for women and girls if they can simply prostitute themselves to survive financially in a misogynistic sexually permissive society.
Womanhood has been reduced to “what a man thinks being a woman feels like”, and “what a man who identifies as straight wants to have sex with”
Eighth, it enables them to normalize male and white supremacist domination and sexual violence. Black women in this country have faced sadistic sexual violence since their arrival on this continent at the hands of white and black men alike. By presenting BDSM practices as ‘normal’ as the HRC guide does, white liberals minimize the very real psychological harm that is done to people who have internalized this kind of violence and oppression. Instead such people will be ‘psychologized’ into believing that their engagement in such practices, especially when they are aligned along a racial axis, is in fact “healthy” and “empowering”. As such this normalization implicitly reinforces the perverse supremacist patriarchal ideal that abuse, enslavement, violence, and servitude are forms of love, and that being on the receiving end of such treatment is the natural role of black and feminine people.
I have little doubt that I could probably generate a longer list of supremacist social ills tacitly endorsed by the uncritical embrace of trans chauvinistic politics, but for those who are able to be convinced, the list above should be sufficiently exhaustive.
Feminine is not equivalent to female, girl, or woman
Transfemmes are not female, girls, or women
Transfemmes have no experience of being female, girls, or women
Perception is not equivalent to reality
Feelings are not equivalent to facts
The above statements are true, and, in a sane world would be entirely uncontroversial. But we now live in an insane world in the era of alternative facts.
Until the militant left wing trans activists are willing to exit their delusions and accept the existence of facts and a material world, they will and should be abandoned by rational, thinking people.
Additionally, the tiny minority of people who are serious in their concern for the rights of black women should exercise extreme caution in supporting this movement which, despite its exaltation of black transfemmes, is drowning in the most virulent form of misogynoir that this black woman has ever personally witnessed or experienced.
Coming up next, The Uncanny American, a series of essays on the connection between trans visibility and the robot revolution. Stay tuned.