My queer, class struggle, politics stem from my relationship with feminism and the radical challenging of power through confronting patriarchy. It is through a developing Black, Marxist, Feminist lens that I understand the material conditions of, not only my particular oppression, but the history of the various people who have existed in the world and confronted oppression and exploitation. Recently it has become very obvious to me that I am a bit of an oddity, in the sense that it is not common to hear of male feminist, even in the political Left. Often times my political position has been met with raised eyebrows, uneasiness, or dismissal of my opinions as being my own. Other men sometimes attribute my feminism to my relationships with womyn and while it is true that the source of my feminism comes from my upbringing/ close relationships with womyn, it is a bit inaccurate to speak of those connections as if I have been brainwashed by angry, butch, white womyn who refuse to shave.
Feminism came to me long before I was able to articulate, understand, or accept it. It was not something taught to me by a member of the intelligentsia, but instead by the womyn who surrounded me as I grew up. Looking back to my childhood, I can see feminist thought and action as something ever-present in my mother’s smile, her hands, her roar, her laugh, and her back. When she was a young womyn she ventured out into the world, and went to college in Michigan. This was forever and a day away from Washington DC, where she was born and raised. My grandfather, unhappy about one of his daughters venturing out so far attempted to raise all of hell to the surface. She lived, became a Black Nationalist, womanyst, dancer, poet, and finally a social worker upon graduation. I remember going through her old photos in my youth and seeing images of righteous afros, smiling men, homemade dashikis, glorious fists, forever cloths, and a life so wondrous and far away from mine. All of this joy and eccentricity made it harder for me to understand how and why I found myself poor and unhappy in the ghettos of DC with the same womyn who’s smile emanated from those pictures. I didn’t know then that the world is a cruel place for Black people and especially Black womyn. My mother, full of light, saw that for herself. Somewhere between the crack infested 80’s, Ronald Regan’s love letter to the Black ghetto, and ailing parents my mother found herself in a less sun filled position.
My youth is filled with memories of violent men, drugs, dignity destroying welfare, tear-stained food stamps and thunder screams. These were the realities that I observed my mother navigate. I saw firsthand the incredible power that lies in Black womyn and the strength that is necessary to re-enter, everyday, a world that chips away at your very life force. I also witnessed the power of community and the laying of hands that is womyn holding each other warmly and creating informal networks of support and trust. All of my mother’s friends were womyn that I looked at as aunts. They watched me, played with me, applauded me, and scolded me. Most importantly, they all imbued me with the strength, courage, and wisdom of a generation of Black womyn who had come of age in the post 60’s nightmare of America and lived to tell the tales of rape, joy, power, and loss.
They relied on one another so fiercely and loved one another fiercely, even in times of disagreement or betrayal. Many of the patriarchal, Black Nationalists, I’ve met, take issue with the fact that the racist capitalist system has exploited male/female difference, combined it with institutional racism and made it near impossible for the mythical “Black nuclear family” to exist. I have a serious problem with a generation of Black men falling by the waist-side due to White Supremacist, Patriarchal Capitalism and state sponsored terror.
However, I see Black womyn’s role as mothers to Black men as essential and I am not an advocate for the lessening of that by some reactionary “return of the Black male to his rightful place”. Often times that slogan has been code for female and child subordination through patriarchal oppression.
I see Black womyn’s oppression as my primary teacher and shaper. I see it as the roots of my radicalization and worldview. Queer or not, men are socialized through the patriarchal society and are people who have lived with those values as central parts of their lives. However, I found that that was something derailed by my upbringing in this community of Black womyn and seeing something powerful in radical womyn raising men. In addition to my developing queer identity, I began to analyze the society from the position of someone who was oppressed based my gender expression.
It is important to state, however, that my upbringing didn’t make me a feminist. It made me more understanding and receptive of and to feminism.
It wasn’t until college, when I entered a larger more radical community of my peers that I embraced the “f-word”. Being in struggle and solidarity with female comrades contributed to my understanding of patriarchy, under capitalism, and how the two beast feed off of one another’s destructive energy. As a queer person, my oppression is based in patriarchal thought. It is the thought that socializes men to see their needs as the most important, that breeds their violent culture, that reprimands their tears, that tells them everything that is masculine is so out of a negation of the feminine characteristics within all of us. So when we talk about battling patriarchy, we are talking, in part, about breaking down the socialization that contributes to the development of men and womyn semi-self realized human beings. We are talking about abolishing gender as such and that is essential not only to womyn and queers, but to the whole of the world. We are talking about ending a world that creates such a power dissonance between humans. We are not merely talking about getting people who wear dresses to join picket lines and call it feminist realization in class struggle.
As I am writing this, I think of the male organizers I know. I recently decided to celebrate my birthday with a drag party. I originally thought that the men would react very negatively to this, that they would outright protest. And indeed some of them did. Some had a problem with my minimum requirement of lipstick. It is incredible to think of the reasons and thought behind the aversion to men wearing dresses. What does it say about the culture when men who claim to be about revolution cannot bring themselves to wear a dress for one night? Many of my male comrades did come in dresses and that small act, while not a feminist revolution, made me smile a bit.
I hear the radio on in the distance and the discussion is of whether or not men should be able to have “man bags”. People are outraged and disgusted that the DJ would even propose something so horrific, that he would propose men degrade themselves by performing some act attributed to the opposite gender. It is heart breaking to think of the generation of men who cannot be themselves without the violent reinforcement of our culture’s hatred of womyn. I think I’m going to call in.