Have you even seen POSE? You know, Emmy award-winning show about transwomen competing in the underground ballroom scene at the height of the AIDS epidemic? Beautifully written, compelling plot, all kinds of visibility and of course, Billy Porter.
Well if you know the show then you know the captivating lead, Elektra Wintour. Former house mother befallen by painful misfortune after completing her gender-affirming surgery, the woman had a character arc that would put the McDonalds logo to shame. Highs upon lows upon hubris upon humility. With scathing wit and cheekbones that could cut glass, her long lean frame is often adorned with finery that puts the spoke in bespoke – it announces her presence before she even does. Suffice it to say, Elektra is a hell of a woman.
So why was I so hurt when a random Uber driver likened me to her?
It was a night out in Miami pre-COVID and I had just gotten dressed up for some proper debauchery. I was headed to a friend’s place to pregame before the club. You know the drill, black halter top bodysuit, hair slicked back in a low ponytail, legs out in all of their heel-clad glory. I hopped in the cab and the driver started chatting with me. Simple stuff at first. What’s your social security, your mother’s maiden name, street you grew up on, etc. But then he asked me… if I was a transgender woman. I think the blood stopped on the way to my brain in that moment because I was at a complete loss for words. He realized I had fallen silent, processing. He quickly continued on to explain his rationale. No no no, he didn’t mean it in a bad way and no he just thought I looked like Elektra and he loved everybody because he’s gay and his fault if I felt offended at all.
And one of these days we’ll talk about “intentions” because quite frankly I don’t give a damn sometimes. In that moment his capital-I Intention© was to ask a deeply probing question unopposed, he left me in the back seat of his car reflecting on how the only thing Elektra Wintour and I have in common are that we are tall, lean, dark-skinned black women.
I spent the rest of the night trying to act like this brief interaction hadn’t sliced through to the vulnerable part of me. The part that was so heavily padded with self affirmations and carefully honed confidence that I thought the soft center didn’t exist. And yet. The next day, that hardened exterior had thawed entirely, flowing out in the tears streaming down my face. I asked all the questions I didn’t want to, like, would he ask the same of my tall white girlfriends or do I not look feminine enough and most importantly, why did it bother me so much???
Because confronted with this idea of our struggles being identical, I felt deflated. Because faced with the idea that in addition to being seen as an “angry black woman”, my womanhood itself would now stand trial. Would I, too, be assaulted because my very existence posed some imperceptible threat to a disgruntled white man?
In short, I didn’t want to admit that the world doesn’t see me as I see myself. I may feel beautiful or regal or sexy (let’s face it, the goal is usually all 3) but as a dark-skinned black woman with natural muscle tone and now extremely short hair, the expression of my femininity may not amount to womanhood in others’ eyes. And to be presented with that reality — be it by errant cab drivers or literal delinquents berating black women on Twitter — is an exceedingly difficult emotional burden. And it’s one I’ve carried for the longest. The scarlet letter emblazoned on my chest isn’t an “A” for adultery but one for androgyny and atypical and ambiguous. It is a question mark where I wanted a period. A full-stop where my gender identity isn’t called into question. Hence, misandrogyny. A resentment, if you will, for the nebulous bit of space between what was once 2 genders and is now countless more.
In more ways than me, moving to Berlin saved me. The place where I freed my hair of its earthly shackles, where combat boots are uniform, where expression is so much more fluid. I relish the ability to slip in and out the divine feminine. I still want people to assume I’m female, simply because I am. Simply because my womanhood has been called into question so many times. But who I am is not up for debate. Today, or ever.