It’s that time of year – back to school. I’ve been trying to be a better auntie lately, so I told my niece that I would take her shopping for back to school clothes (cuz that’s how I roll).
“What are you looking for?”
“Pants and Doc Martens.”
I, of course, bristled at this. Anyone who knows me irl knows that I never wear pants, much less pants and a t-shirt like my young niece does. It’s worth noting – my niece is fucking gorgeous. Objectively gorgeous. She’s the same ethnicity as Kehlani, light skinned mixed black. As an ultra-femme authority figure in her life, I can tell that she’s at that age where she’s starting to express her gender and her sexuality. Which is stressful af on its own, but that’s a story for another day. What struck me today was: wow, she’s really into this non-binary stuff. She’s supportive of trans rights, loves queer culture, but also identifies as straight.
To me, non-binary is a relatively new phenomenon. I started noticing it two years ago, and before that people who bucked gender roles just went by ‘freak.’ It wasn’t a big deal, probably because to me ‘freak’ isn’t a slur, it’s a compliment. There’s something about growing up in the gay capital of the world that has made me a bit ignorant of certain things, and perhaps this is one of them.
My mother noted that my niece is coming full force into her adolescence. My mother, who is in her 70s and has short hair, a full figure, and who I have never seen wear make up or a dress in my lifetime, poo-poo’ed my niece’s nascent identity.
“She’s always dancing so…provocatively,” my mother told me.
“Well, she’s fourteen. She’s starting explore her sexuality, which is the most normal thing to do,” I responded. But I knew what it meant – my mother had identified that there was something about my niece that needed to be suppressed.
At least, that’s how I was raised. Granted, I’ve come a long way from that, but my mother never let me wear tight clothes. She didn’t want me to shave my legs. I wasn’t allowed to wear short skirts. It was a way of neutering my sexuality because my sexuality was dangerous. I knew my sexuality was dangerous not only because of the way that I was raised, but also by the way that message was reinforced by culture at large: I was not supposed to be sexual. I was not supposed to enjoy sex. I was not supposed to want to be pretty – the feminine desire for beauty was immoral. In beauty, there was sex. And my sexuality threatened to destabilize marriages, power structures, the fucking economy.
I look at my niece, and the same thing is happening. And I get it. This shit is incredibly fucking threatening. As a woman in her 30s, it’s scary to be around a young woman who will most definitely be getting all the male attention that I am used to hoarding for myself. I guess there’s something natural about wanting to eliminate the competition.
There are a lot of ways that society tricks women into not competing. I was besotted with anti-consumerist ethos when I was younger – spending money to look beautiful just so you could fuck a man was beneath me. (Don’t get me started on the white anti-consumerist culture. That shit is so problematic – how you gonna have all the money in this country but look down on other people for spending it? Just another way to alienate poor people.) Then there’s the health and wellness community that says make up is poisonous, fashion doesn’t serve the body, and it’s all about ‘inner beauty.’ But fuck that – there’s something so human about beauty, about being drawn to beauty, about wanting to be beautiful. It’s innate. It’s hardwired. Sure, this drive has been weaponized against us, but that doesn’t mean that it’s inherently harmful.
Which brings me back to my niece. Sure, I’m aware of my desire to foist my beauty standards upon her. So I’m trying to put that aside. What I really want her to know is: you are allowed to be beautiful. More importantly, you are even allowed to be more beautiful than other people, and there’s nothing immoral about that. Which is why I’m a bit wary of her inclination towards the non-binary trend – she’s still impressionable, and at this age I wonder if she’ll digest it as something that separates her from her femininity. More importantly, something that separates her from her black femininity.
For the most part, I’ve noticed that the non-binary trend is very popular among people who were white women. This is exactly what has made me skeptical about what the true motives of this movement are. Claiming non-binary is a way that people who in a different time would have been white women in the feminist movement can divorce themselves from the claims of racism within the feminist movement. It’s an added layer of oppression that obfuscates from the inherent racism of white people. In that instance, it’s a way that white people shift the blame to other people who are guilty of misgendering them. It’s classic misdirection – you’re too busy doing mental gymnastics around pronouns to call out racism.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that white women are shifting into the non-binary category at the same time that black women are finally being acknowledged as the paradigm of beauty in our society. It’s almost as though white women know that they can’t compete anymore, and in doing so, they are trying to eliminate the entire playing field. This is just a new way to vilify black women for being black women.
If my niece wants to be non-binary or androgynous, sure, that’s fine. I support that. I just want to make sure she knows what I didn’t know at that age: sometimes that shit is just a fucking trap set by white people. If she wants to opt of gender, that’s fine – I just want to make sure she’s doing it because that’s who she is as a person, and not because some white woman told her to do it because that white woman was threatened by her. But she’s smart, so I’m honestly not too worried about it.