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Perception

January 6, 2011

Most non-black people tend to see me as “masculine,” butch, or flat-out male due solely to my blackness.  I know that it is solely because of my blackness because *no* black people see me as any of those things.  All black people I’ve ever encountered see me, immediately, as female, femme (if they’re lesbian), and feminine though not overtly (or, sufficiently, depending on who’s making the assessment) so.  The few times I’ve been stopped or questioned when entering a women’s bathroom, it has always been non-black women confronting me.  And whenever I’m called “sir,” which is pretty regularly, it is always a non-black person.

This is not to say that I am offended by being perceived as “masculine,” butch, or male.  It doesn’t change a thing about who I am or the privilege I have in the company of black women who don’t see me that way.  I just find it interesting the way that black femaleness itself is seen as *less* female than white femaleness.  And I think that’s true across the board.  I think that black butch lesbians are seen as *less* female than white (or other non-black) butch lesbians.

I think I’m going to save my thoughts about the implications of this matter of perception for another post.  I just wanted to get my initial observations about it down.

4 Comments
  1. soulsis permalink
    January 6, 2011 12:16 pm

    Interesting point!

    You know, I have long suspected that this happens due to the fetishism of black womens bodies. If we aren’t all “brick houses” as the commodors so “lovingly” put it (snark) then we’re men. And even if our bodies match the stereotypical assumptions about black women, we’re still not female, feminine, or even human compared to white women (and other non-white women).

  2. Mary Sunshine permalink
    January 6, 2011 3:04 pm

    Probably stating the obvious here, but it seems to me that this is because the definition of “female” (necessarily a white-male definition) is that of *white* female breeder. Accordingly, perception of any other humanoids is relegated to the non-female category. You don’t incubate whiteness for them? Fine, then you’re not female.

    I imagine (although I can’t know) that black males have taken up this same definition, but for different reasons.

    • January 6, 2011 8:53 pm

      Probably stating the obvious here, but it seems to me that this is because the definition of “female” (necessarily a white-male definition) is that of *white* female breeder.

      Yes, I think so. And it’s also what leads some nonwhite never-het lifelong butch lesbians to deduce that it’s a bigger deal to be a lesbian *while* nonwhite than it is to be a white lesbian. White lesbians are still white women, for the most part, since by their own estimations, most white lesbians are feminine and ex-het (and saddled with kids).

      Of course, some white lesbians think the only thing that would lead a nonwhite never-het lifelong butch lesbian to that conclusion is self-hatred. Wouldn’t that be nice for white lesbians – if the only thing that would make a nonwhite lesbian think that white (especially western) lesbians have it relatively easy is self-loathing? Bam, voices of nonwhite lesbians dismissed without missing a beat.

      I find it hard to believe such dismissive white women *ever* had any black friends – even 25-30 years ago.

      And black men have definitely adopted this white male definition of femaleness; they take hatred/denial of black femaleness to exaggerated levels, far beyond what any nonblack male feels comfortable saying in public.

  3. January 6, 2011 8:08 pm

    This post evoked a response in me and I’m not sure what it is or how to say it. I feel like I need a clear point but it all feels jumbled.

    Having seen you, and even before that, having heard you, I know this will also qualify as “essentialist” in some ways but I don’t have words for the nuance of this – but you were and are so clearly female. I mean it stunned me to hear that you get “sir’ed” at all, let alone all the time, and stopped at women’s restrooms.

    Which made me think, yeah, that’s proving your point exactly, and it’s the thing I didn’t understand when another friend said SHE gets “sir’ed” all the time and read as masculine and/or male. So she identfies as butch but not “hard butch” (I don’t understand all the parameters so am just trying to describe my experience with this, not trying to use offensive terms and not sure if I am), and she is a dark skinned black woman. And she is so clearly, so obviously female.

    That’s the thing that is hard for me with “masculine” and “feminine” language and concepts, and the attachment of those terms and ideas with biological sex. I feel like I know what people mean when they say “masculine energy,” and same with “feminine,” and also *I* feel like the “butchest” of lesbians still bears no real resemblance to a male person.

    And so there is no way at all to make sense of you being “sir’ed” or her being “sir’ed” that isn’t racism, that isn’t specifically anti-black-female racism sexism. And I would not go and santimoniously “announce” that to a black woman who didn’t see it that way (my other friend does not see it that way), but I’m glad you said it here, made sense of it here. Thanks for this post.

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