I am a Black woman.
Until one year ago, I didn’t realize just how hotly contested my identity was. For me, it was simply a material reality – experiences coded into my very existence, experiences that inherently influenced how I both perceived and was perceived by others.
But, blissfully ignorant of the culture war taking place in which my identity would be used as leverage, I ran in circles which impressed upon me that I had some unsaid duty to ally with a certain group of people – trans people. Trans-identified males specifically.
As a result, I happily shouted down any woman designated a “transphobe” with the compulsory mantra “TRANS WOMEN ARE WOMEN!” Why wouldn’t I? It was the progressive, empathetic thing to do. Unlike those TERFs – those deplorables – I was on the “right side of history.”
And then, I actually engaged with what was meant to be the “wrong side,” and had the subsequent realization that the wrong side wasn’t actually wrong.
Since becoming conscious of the immutable material reality of sex, and equally aware of the consequences of ignoring that reality, I’ve encountered a wild, frustrating assortment of justifications for blurring this all-important line and for dismissing the implications of making “woman” an umbrella term under which anyone can simply identify. But none of those justifications are more egregious than those which attempt to assert that males can be women because Black women are women.
A stellar example of this argument follows from a discussion on BBC2, though hundreds have been curated by feminists across social media.
Evie's sentiment is far from isolated. Across social media, trans activists imply that "trans womanhood" is as valid as that of Black, brown, disabled, and even simply masculine or gender non-conforming women.
Often, these arguments are followed by some appeal to the historical oppression Black women faced in times of segregation. As though, because we were once segregated from white women, it is unthinkable that we should still need sexed segregation from males. Of course, the argument never speaks to 'males' but rather to this magical sub-category under the umbrella definition of woman.
In this logic, Black women become a subcategory of White women, excluded only because they were seen as not real women, and – poof! – so-called trans women can become a subcategory of women, too! And they're excluded only because they are seen as not real women.
The tactic is a brilliant one... after all, if one succeeds in obfuscating the meaning of “woman,” then on what basis can any woman, even those who aren't but self-identify as such, be excluded? But for all its cleverness, I take exception - not only for myself as a Back woman - but for any other woman now classed a subcategory of woman (i.e. “Black woman”, “disabled woman”, etc.) so that men may worm their way into a similar subcategory.
Neither “woman” nor “man,” “girl” nor “boy,” are genders. In the same way that a “doe” is a female deer, and a “buck” is a male deer, “woman,” “man,” “boy,” and “girl” are words for sexed human beings, not identities.
Black, brown, and disabled women are not kinds or categories of women, lesser women, or subcategories of white women. As females, they are strictly women whether or not they ambulate, experience unique uterine/ovarian conditions or ailments, or boast more melanin than their white counterparts.
A disabled woman who does not like or wear dresses is still a woman. A brown Latina who would be a shoe-in for stunt double to Joyce Hyser’s Terri Griffith in 1985’s Just One of the Guys is still a woman. A Black woman who doesn’t cook or clean particularly well is - yes, you guessed it - a woman!
Unfortunately, this argument that Black women stray from the category such that they become a distinct subcategory takes shape with the use of another unfortunate logic salad: “Sex is a colonial construct. Before the arrival of the white man, African societies had no notion of sex or of a ‘gender binary.’” The locus of this supposed "binary" is then placed on Europeans, and all non-white peoples are then treated as if they are morally required to uplift and endorse the scribes of the new gender religion.
Despite the very many and real products of its imposition in our lives, gender itself is not real. So there wouldn’t have been this “notion of a gender binary.” But there would have been, was, and is awareness of sex. Gender roles existed in pre-colonial African countries, as they do now in Africa and everywhere else, and are based on the sex binary. Thus, the “gender binary” in these countries hinged on their residents’ very consciousness of the sex binary.
According to the genderists, “sex is but a construct,” and yet certain practices exist and have existed since before and without colonizer contact with African nations - practices that are eerily consistent with regards to the sex at which they strike. What is currently being termed “gender-based” oppression, such as female genital mutilation, female infanticide, and child marriage, is actually sex-based oppression perpetrated only because of the acute knowledge of what a female is.
To be sure, gender non-conforming (GNC) people existed then, as they do now. Further, new social categories were created and deployed in order to accommodate these GNC people, such as the hijra of the Indian subcontinent, muxes of Oaxaca, and kathoeys of Thailand. The entire logic behind "third genders"was that these people were not, and could not belong to an existing category.
Africans have always known the difference between the sexes, and, in fact, that knowledge served as the basis for the so-called “gender” binary. Many African and non-African Black people alike have protested the (frankly, sh*t) proposition that the simple, noble Africans did not know any better, and could not possibly have understand the mechanics of human evolution.
It is not only incorrect but also profoundly racist to argue that, for example, Black women and trans women are the same or even similar. This argument, that both are somehow "subcategories" of women, relies on the assumption that Black women stray in some way, even slightly, from one or more of the two primary elements of womanhood: “human” and “female.”
Trans-identified males, by definition, are male.
Black women, by definition, are female.
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