Being non-binary and Black in today’s America means being a walking enigma. Beyond being constantly reminded that we are seen as inferior in society because of our skin color, we also exist outside of the gender binary. This existence is hard for many people to accept or “approve of” for, well, reasons.
Being queer, non-binary, and Black can mean coming out to your family and then coming out again. (Or not, of course. I haven’t had that second conversation with my own family just yet.) It’s a bit complex to be all three because many of us grow up with families that are generally against the LGBTQ+ community to begin with, and the non-binary identity is almost unheard of in the traditional southern Black community — at least in my experience.
For those who may not be aware, the non-binary identity (sometimes referred to as “enby,” a phonetic abbreviation for NB in short) encompasses those who do not identify as female or male. The gender binary assumes there are only two gender identities, male and female — but this is an outdated concept, and it can cause issues by leaving out the possibility of any other gender identity. The gender binary has long been ingrained into the accepted norms of society in America, so existing outside it all together — while also being Black — makes you a wild card. A big f*ck you to the status quo.
And while it can be (and often is) empowering to be who you are in the many faces of adversity — to be honest, it can also be alienating. It can be discouraging to see your family come around to being able to support the LGB community long before the rest, if ever. You still hear the remarks about trans people. You hear the comments about the endless variation of gender identities. And you continue to exist, knowing that someone like you is almost unheard of and probably not approved of by most of the people who look like you but don’t identify like you. It feels almost like you’re invisible — like your voice is never really heard.
But I am writing this so that anybody who needs to see it knows that you are seen and you’re not alone. I know personally how hard it is to remain optimistic about your future while watching the news. I know about never being able to walk comfortably because you have to keep an eye out for police and homophobes at the same time. I know you have to experience both the fear of police brutality and the violent hatred for your fellow LGBTQ+ individuals at the same time. I know how it feels hearing the comments about those who don’t stick to the gender they were assigned at birth, whether it be those who share the trans umbrella you fall under as a non-binary person or those who don’t conform to gender in general. I know how those comments feel coming from your family at the dinner table, in the living room watching TV, at the cookout. I know it is hard to remain hopeful and optimistic about anything if you do not feel fully accepted.
As Pride 2020 comes and goes, I am writing this essay to remind anyone like me not to give up hope in these times. I know how hard it is for you to feel safe. I know how traumatizing that is. But I also know that things are changing. And I know that the non-binary Black voice is one that needs to be amplified as we change this country.
If you are young, non-binary, and Black, you are the ultimate revolutionary: You defy gender, and you rebel against racial oppression at the same time. People like the Stonewall activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera paved the way for people like us to create a new future, where our voices can be heard and we can have seats at the tables we’ve been violently excluded from for so long. Drag queens and trans women of color resisted police brutality and discrimination so that the future and present queer and trans community of America could eventually be valued as much as everyone else. It is up to us, the LGBTQ+ youth of today, to continue their legacies, to know when to say that enough mistreatment and injustice is enough, and to rise up. It is time for marginalized voices to be uplifted. In all of current (and future) protests and riots and reforms, you and I deserve to be heard and seen.
Whether you have two social media followers or hundreds of thousands, you are needed now more than ever. Whether you’re making music or starting petitions or reaching out to your state representatives, this Pride month, I encourage you to use your voice the way that our predecessors did. I encourage you to learn more about them and honor them this month and forever after that. It’s important that with the growing voices of dissent for the way things are in America, you remember those of the trans women and drag queens of color who came first, because they paved the way for us all.
With the Black Lives Matter movement now back in the center after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and countless others, it is important that we keep in mind that excluding queer and trans Black lives is an act of violence that further enforces white supremacy. Black Lives Matter means LGBTQ+ Black lives as well, and there is no hierarchy of identity — the idea of being “Black before anything else” (meaning Black before queer, trans, disabled, or any other intersecting identity) is a problematic one and must be abolished if we hope to continue progressing towards unity. A big step in this process includes amplifying the voices of Black non-binary people and educating our community about the identity, gender, the lack thereof, and the intersections of being queer and Black. It’s important that we begin having the conversations that make people uncomfortable. Discomfort is a sign of progress when working to dismantle systems of oppression.
I will close with a mantra for all Black non-binary people that will hopefully lift your spirits as it does mine when things become more difficult or discouraging. My mantra is:
My pronouns are they/them. And I have Black skin. These things combined (and individually) make me powerful, and I am proud.