Black Men, Don't Make Trans Women Pay for Your Fragile Masculinity

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by L'lerrét Jazelle Ailith  @thebaejazelle

Last week, best-selling trans author and advocate, Janet Mock, appeared on The Breakfast Club where she took that time to educate hosts DJ Envy, Angela Yee, and Charlamagne tha God on the politics of being trans. 

A couple of days later, they invited comedian Lil Duval on to roast the Real Side Chicks of Charlotte. Mind you, this episode was days after Janet Mock was interviewed. In the beginning of the episode, Charlamage asks Lil Duval how he felt about the transgender military ban and from that point forward, they proceeded to dehumanize trans people for comic relief. Lil Duval shouts out all of the “trannies” and then proceeds to explain how he’d murder a trans woman who would “trick” him into having sex with her. As opposed to chastising Duval, the hosts exclaimed that that was hate crime while hysterically laughing. They even added that we should go to jail as an alternative to murder. And to add insult to injury, Charlamagne brings up Janet’s sit down interview while DJ Envy holds up her book, with her face on the cover, and begs Lil Duval to rate her attractiveness. Lil Duval begs DJ Envy to put the book down and when pressed to say she’s pretty, Duval exclaims “that nigga doing his thing” and turns with a grimacing look on his face. The hosts proceed to laugh at his ignorance.

The scene on The Breakfast Club directly mirrors what happens in the broader society. Men like Duval put on a silly show to “defend their manhood” while others like Charlamagne and DJ Envy not only egg him on, but laugh at his jokes. And women like Angela Yee sit in the corner silent and complicit 
If Black trans women minding our business is such a threat to Black men, Black manhood must be in crisis. We need to have a discussion amongst ourselves, Black people, about Black men who never know how to hurt or work shit out without hurting others around them. Black men’s carelessness in handling their own discomfort has created violent conditions for those around them. With folks like Lil Duval recklessly articulating such bigoted sentiments, he emboldens others to weaponize against trans folks in order to protect their street cred without any regard for human life. Moral lines are crossed when speak of meditated murder is used as comedic banter and broadly accepted. 

It is time that Black men focus less on trans women’s existence and focus more on unlearning their internalized oppression. From birth, men and women are socialized to normalize sex and gender and make unquestioned assertions of what is considered masculine and feminine. But, masculinity is an unstable construct. Have you ever noticed how masculinity is so fragile that even the slightest bit of what we define as “feminine” destroys it? Oh, he’s wearing pink? Oh, he painted his fingernails? Oh, he likes art and shit? He must not be a real man. 

Society indicating who is a man and who is a woman is not about biology and genetics. It’s not about X or Y chromosomes! It's about the systemic ordering of bodies and how they navigate space. It strips us of our innate right to self-determine how we as individuals wish to show up in the world. The internal discomfort that Black men experience rooted in their navigation of a restrictive gender norming system is connected to the gendered state violence that Black women and femmes are victim to every day perpetuated by that same gendered system. 

Black men seek to prove their manhood by reinforcing toxic behaviors and gendered absolutes. One such behavior is the invalidation of trans women’s humanity to reinforce their own. And in doing so, they serve as a system of policing for other men as well – especially for those men who are attracted to trans women. Our society fails to allow individuals to determine for themselves who they wish to love. Black men have created this atmosphere that celebrates other Black men for seeking to murder trans women and admonishes them for seeking to love and validate us. Janet once wrote, “this pervasive ideology says that trans women are shameful, that trans women are not worthy of being seen and that trans women must remain a secret — invisible and disposable. If a man dares to be seen with a trans woman, he will likely lose social capital so he must adamantly deny, vehemently demean, trash and exterminate the woman in question. He must do this to maintain his standing in our patriarchal society. For a man to be associated with a trans woman, in effect, is to say that he is no longer a “real” man (as if such a thing exists) because he sleeps with “fake” women (as if such a thing exists).”

I’m so sorry, my brother, that you feel like the world is asking so much of you and you can’t be your full self, but we aren’t going to excuse Black men for their fuckshit. When will Black men start to free themselves from these mental chains? They bash us but also rely on our support to end the violence perpetrated onto their bodies. For centuries, Black trans women and femmes have been burdened with the labor of defending Black men and have been the backbones of movements resisting white supremacist forces, We’ve been consistently comfortable with being loved in the dark while simultaneously being dehumanized and slandered in the light. It is time Black men are called out on their incessant need to disassociate from kinship with Black trans women to prove their worthiness of manhood.

Black men are teaching one another that in order to achieve full humanity for themselves, they must force themselves and others to relinquish it. How does one say “Black lives matter” while stripping the dignity and rights of self-determination and bodily autonomy from Black trans women? How can one wish to see our community whole while simultaneously stripping that wholeness away from others to empower themselves?

This year alone, 15 Black transgender women have been murdered at the hands of intimate partners, who are usually Black men. And more often than not, men are well aware that we are trans. The narrative about us tricking men is ludicrous when you have men with platforms like DJ Envy, Charlamagne, and Lil Duval making light of violence against us. How can we possibly live freely and openly in a society that thinks lightly of jokes about our extermination? Janet Mock wrote on her blog about this, “If a young trans woman believes that the only way she can share intimate space with a man is through secret hookups, booty calls or transaction [...] she will be led to coddle a man who takes out his frustrations about his sexuality on her with his fists; she will be led to question whether she’s worthy enough to protect herself with a condom when a man tells her he loves her; she will be led to believe that she is not worthy of being seen, that being seen heightens her risk of violence. Therefore, she must hide who she is at all costs to survive.” We are murdered for “disclosing” our trans experience to those who desired us before knowing. We are murdered for keeping it to ourselves. We are murdered for not passing as cis and navigating space in our day to day lives. We are murdered for passing too well as cis and navigating space in our day to day lives. We are murdered for speaking our truth to power. We are murdered for daring to live our best lives as our fullest selves by the men who wish they could do the same.

Are Black men so self-centered that they fail to connect these dots? It is time that we stop coddling these men who are unwilling to unlearn their toxic behavior.
This extends even to men who fuck us. Desire, empathy, and respect are not one in the same nor are they precursors to each other. Much of the debate around trans existence in space is about desirability. But let’s be clear, we have never had an issue in that department. Black trans womanhood is beautiful and in high demand. The trade will slide in our DM’s quicker than they will run to our defense when we’re being harassed. And the same men who will bash us in public will hit us up in the wee hours of the morning asking for some head. You aren’t slick. The jig is up.

Trans attracted men get no passes because loving us is not an eradication of your trash behavior. We don’t need your love to feel whole or valued. You aren’t doing us favors. The same men who say they are attracted to us will forever be mute at times that require our defense. They’re the same men who will throw out desire as a stand alone defense of our humanity - as if they aren’t complicit in perpetuating violence upon our bodies. People say they love you but they just love how loving you makes them feel about themselves. Desire is not enough. 

None of us are free until all of us are free. And like Charlene Carruthers of BYP100 states time and time again, “Black folks will not be free if we continue to tell incomplete stories about what’s happening in our communities and what’s happening to our people.” When we talk about the violence affecting our people, we have to address the ways in which mental health and internalized oppression play a role in reinforcing that violence particularly on the folks you often ignore - trans, gender non-conforming, disabled, undocumented, sex workers, etc. We must hold these folks accountable. The same men snuffing us out will also be on the front lines at the Black Lives Matter marches or on the Black Lives Matter panels. We have to tell complete stories about what’s going on with our people and the many layered ways that state violence affects us. Because then, as Charlene says, “in telling more complete stories, we’re able to develop more complete solutions.” If your eyes are truly centered on Black liberation, Black men, please liberate your minds first before being a counterproductive force to the liberation of your peers.

Humanity is limitless and unfettered by social construction. One cannot save humanity while denying trans women their own.

L'lerrét Jazelle Ailith is a Black trans creative and communications strategist born and raised in Baltimore, MD. She now currently serves as the Communications Manager for BYP100 where she is integral is building out a comprehensive communications infrastructure to support Black, queer feminist youth organizing. L'errét lives and believes in a feminism that is sex positive, glamorous, and affirming but also all things raggedy and contradictory - acknowledging humanness and the complexity of life. She has a passion for acting, uses music as a love language, adores cosmetic surgery (if only she could afford it), and lives for a bomb lace unit.

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