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July 27, 2014

Ain’t I A Woman? ~ Cherina L. Jones

istolethetv/Flickr http://www.elephantjournal.com/2014/07/i-am-not-your-safe-gay-friend-steve-mattus/

“Do you have a pronoun preference?”

She apologized right before asking, and assured me it is something she asks when she meets someone for the first time.

I met her eyes with a curious uncertainty and answered guiltily, as if she had snatched off the blanket of some big secret.

“Uh…no. No.”

Sadly, I would have been less surprised or befuddled had the question been a precursor to a belittling conversation about homosexuality. I have a collection of responses for those occasions.

But she was being respectful. Her line of work involves engagement with the LGBTQ community, and her experience has taught her how broadly people identify.

I have always been very clear and accepting of being a woman, and even though on occasion I feel like I have to wave my vagina around as proof, I have always been willing to do just that to clear up any confusion.

I understand the need for people to cling to heteronormative roles, and although being a masculine presenting dyke challenges that, I will never consider another pronoun to describe me other than “she.”

Recently, I performed a Google image search for “Black women.”

Not surprisingly, the search yielded a montage of made-up women whose skin represented a variety of brown hues, wearing relaxed and natural hair. None of those women looked anything like me—tall, short haired, boyishly handsome, a button down shirt, and a pair of fresh men’s oxfords—certainly not a school girl’s uniform.

My parents can attest to my displeasure of wearing skirts and dresses. I don’t believe there was one Easter Sunday at church when my legs weren’t cocked open sitting on the front pew, unaware of how I was far removed from being a little “lady.”

My wardrobe doesn’t make me any less Black or woman, but too often, as an adult, my physical presentation and sexual orientation has been used as a catalyst to disavow my identity as a woman.

I face the same challenges as other women, and my masculine presentation does not free me from being devalued, scrutinized or sexually objectified.

Unfortunately, I, and other Black women who look like me, are not always amicably welcomed in the inner-circles of Black women who resemble the faces my Google search returned.

At times being labeled as a Black lesbian, instead of a Black woman who loves other women, makes me feel invisible and disconnected from other Black women. I am extremely apprehensive about getting involved in groups dedicated to empowering Black women that are not in some way connected to the gay community.

I always fear I will not be welcomed or that my masculine presentation or knowledge of my love for women will become a distraction.

I am very much about the Black woman’s plight. How I am dressed is not an indication that I want to be called, “he” or “sir.” Even among other lesbian, masculine presenting Black women who love other women, I am not comfortable with being called “bro” or any other adjective alluding to being a male.

I’m not a male.

When I am (often) mistaken for a man or called “sir,” I quickly make the correction to whomever on the spot. It is very important to me that people know I am a woman and women don’t always fit into this neat box dedicated to the very narrow guidelines of gender representation.

There are women who look like me who very much enjoy the sexual companionship of men.

In a society that prides itself in acceptance and diversity, it’s extremely tragic that women like me can’t fully enjoy such profound values.

The conditioning that we experience within this heteronormative society has to evolve. Although the gay community has made great strides in getting people to recognize that identity is not a narrow one-way street in a desert town, women who look just like me are being murdered and raped because of how we look and who we love.

I am a Black woman and I stand with other Black women, regardless, if they accept me or not.

I am not invisible. I am a Black woman, unapologetic and proud.

 

 

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Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: istolethetv/Flickr

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Cherina L. Jones