How my past as a black woman informs my black male feminist perspective today

Although I am not new to masculinity, I am new to being a black man.

I am new to the experience of male privilege and its consequence of authority, as well as the disprivilege of race that marks my black male body as innately suspect. It is the delicate balance between power and criminal that has allowed me to see the machinations of misogyny in an entirely different light. Whereas black cisgender men have generally approached feminist discourse through the academic texts and writings of black women, for me, it is my lived experience as a black female that has shaped the ways in which I embrace and practice black feminism.

Prior to physical transition, I wasn’t naive to the ways in which certain forms of black masculinity contribute to the oppression of women. I grew up in a family of single black women who loved, really loved, black men even though it was their husbands, boyfriends and sometimes brothers who were the perpetrators of emotional and physical abuse.

I watched my mother, my beautiful mother, struggle with the demons of mental illness and drug use. Her sickness, it seemed, gave the men in the neighborhood free range to take advantage of her financially and sexually. Though I’ve never met him to form an opinion, my aunt still declares it was my absent father who literally drove my mother to madness.

I was witness to the sadness my grandmother felt as all three of her sons followed in their father’s alcoholic footsteps. She still smiled through all of the pain but I saw the sadness when my uncle, her child, routinely threatened her in the same ways as did the abusive husband she left years before.

I learned to resent black men.

As I grew and my body changed, so did my interactions with males that I encountered. I suffered the threat of sexual violence as my female body consistently invited unsolicited advances from (black) men despite my masculine presentation.

I became more aware of the ads, music, and propaganda that told me that I was ugly, unattractive, and good enough only as a sexual object for black men. Even though intro courses to race and women’s studies in college began to offer me the critical tools to somewhat reject these images, I still felt shame as it was impossible to escape the reality that sexist images of black women suffocated me.

When I began to date women, I repeatedly encountered the aggressive homophobe who thought their magical black dicks could turn me “straight.” In some instances, I would rebuff their advances with jokes though I was well aware of the possibility of danger in doing so.

I learned to fear black men.

Although my relationship with black men and masculinity was fraught, I still desired to be one; I knew that gender transition would be a necessary part of my life’s journey.

For some transmen, their female past conjures up memories of pain and humiliation, and rightfully so. These feelings are not absent from my journey but I’ve come to embrace my past as a beneficial asset to my practice of a progressive black masculinity.

Primarily, I am very careful with my interactions with women in order to not be perceived as a physical threat. I am always thoughtful of my newfound “bulk” due to hormones and the ways in which my masculine body moves and occupies space. While walking on the streets, I maintain my distance from women. I avoid eye contact unless we are engaging in mutual conversation and even then, I do not stare. The memory of harassment as a woman doesn’t allow me to.

In professional situations, I am always aware of my male privilege. I do not hog the intellectual space and make it a point to deeply value the input of my female collaborators. My goal is not to be the dominant voice of reason but to attempt to exist as an equal colleague. Furthermore, in my work I find it very important to centralize the experiences of women to supplement the work that they are doing for themselves.

Although I identify as a heterosexual male, in my relationship with my partner I strive to avoid replicating the harmful gendered dynamics that are traditionally associated with heterosexuality. I make it a point to share my feelings and evaluate my shortcomings. I am not perfect and sometimes I slip but the emphasis I’ve placed on expressing my feelings has provided a deviation from conventional notions of black masculinity. This gesture does not negate my manhood; rather it permits me to love and perform gender in a much healthier way.

Additionally, I do not use my manhood as an excuse to cheat, to view my partner as another sexual conquest, or to marginalize her feelings.

In my brief experience of living as a black male, I’ve learned that it is difficult to challenge misogyny in male dominated spaces. I have found myself in a number of uncomfortable situations with men who openly insult and humiliate women and I feel silenced. Not because of the fear of being outed as trans but I fear being perceived as a failed version of black masculinity–a fear that I believe imprisons all black men–adding to the reproduction of a violent patriarchal society.

I am not a perfect man. I am not immune to the assumptions that are expected of me and sometimes, I act them out. However, my transition journey has allowed me to begin the process of forgiving my absent father, my alcoholic uncle, and the cat-calling homophobe on the corner.

Because black feminism allows me to love myself, I have learned to love black men.


About the Author:

Dr. Ziegler is an Oakland based award winning artist, writer, public speaker, and the first person to hold the Ph.D of African American Studies from Northwestern University. He is also the Founder of Trans*H4CK: Hackathon for Transgender Empowerment

DRKRZ – who has written posts on blac (k) ademic.

Email • Twitter

37 thoughts on “How my past as a black woman informs my black male feminist perspective today

  1. How nice to find you writing again after an apparent web hiatus for the movie and the transition. What a fine essay!

  2. Pingback: K. Ryan Ziegler: Reflections on black feminism as a transgender man | Are Women Human?

  3. Well written piece. I am glad that you are beginning to understand the complexity of growing up as an African Diaspora male. We have been inculturated in such a way that our culture rarely allows us to travel outside of the proverbial box. As an African Diaspora male growing up in ‘the people’ country, I have lived under the social conditions that seek to subvert me at every step for my whole life. It is only through an acquired consciousness that is developed through education that we as a people can move beyond the hateful behaviours that embody us. The care that you take in regards to your interaction with women is because you lived almost your whole life as a woman, therefore your perspective is that of a woman. How is that we teach our young, African Diaspora males to see with you eyes? That is an interesting question that I would love to see the answer to

    • Thank you. I wouldn’t go so far as to assume I have a “perspective of a woman.” Although I have experienced the world living in a female body, that experience is no longer and my perspective is also shaped by being a man. The question you raised about teaching young men to see with my eyes, isn’t as difficult as it seems. Grown men must be willing to realize their privilege an the ways in which it oppresses women and actively educate the young men around them. Perhaps that is utopian but I believe it is an important move to attempt.

  4. Although a former “academic” I responded to the article with deep emotional understanding and appreciaton. I give the identification to indicate that I wanted the full weight of my emotions to understand the processes of your life changes. I did not want to second guess or analyze but to feel what this tranformation and transition has meant. The piece is well written and I thank you for your sharing of your journey. I would like to post to our face book page and wonder how the posting can be done.

  5. My comments did not come through for some reason. I read your article and found it so moving and thank you so much for sharing. . I could not find a way to post to our face book page. Is this permissible? Please, I invite you to do so.

    • Dr. Perry, Thank you for your comments.
      Please feel free to share as long as you link back to this posting and cite my full name as the author.

  6. This is a really interesting piece, i feel privileged to benefit from your experience and insight. I’m just wondering what you think about not having words in bold…the reason i ask is because as a reader i quite often feel a slight sense of disappointment when i see text in bold as i feel a bit like i’m being told exactly what to think or how to think it. And frequently, that feeling is at odds with what the writer is actually saying. I completely respect your wish to bold (underline/highlight/add inverted commas to!) your text but just thought i’d put this out there in case you hadn’t realised. If you had, no worries, thanks for taking the time to read this and i look forward to reading more from you.

  7. Pingback: K. Ryan Ziegler on Black male feminism I Are Women Human? |

  8. Pingback: Femmes, Pulling the Pieces Together: A Keynote Address by Pratibha Parmar | The Feminist Wire

  9. Pingback: Friday Links 4/26/13 | Tutus And Tiny Hats

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  11. Pingback: How My Past As A Black Woman Informs Me As A Black Male Feminist — Everyday Feminism

  12. A man being sensitive to women is a thing I have seldom seen in any society. Usually we are treated as chattel, or sometimes worse. Somewhere you show your sensitivity in this article. I seriously wish there were more people like you.

  13. Thank you. For saying the things I needed to hear pre-transition.

    The journey from female to male isn’t just the path to ‘Ok, I can relax now’. There were entire months I hated men for the patriarchy that keeps women submissive and silent over their systematic oppression.

    There were times I denied my own natural reactions in fear they were not ‘masculine enough’. Sometimes I would need to spend time alone as to not become exhausted from policing my own gender identity all. The. Time.

    Then there was the time my voice broke and I was rarely ever seen as female again. Essentially nothing else had changed and yet my rite of manhood was suddenly handed to me.

    This was when I was introduced to feminism. And I suddenly understood that I hadn’t been ok living in constant dread that someone would search for my lack of genitals in the bathroom or that I would refer to myself as having been lesbian and face being outed as trans*.

    So instead I just started living as me. And instead I started to question where the rules came from and why they are allowed to confine us both regardless of gender, and because of gender at the same time.

    It made my entire transition valid just to hear another transman say that they battled against patriarchy and their own masculinity to come out as valuable for feminism. It is time feminism caught on to the fact that gender is not just a dichotomy between masculinity (domination) and femininity (submission). The trans* community battle this binary, and we do it whilst battling our own gender ideals and place in society as second class. It makes me happy to see this conversation being had.

    The trans* community is too often only mentioned as something tokenistic to feminism.

    Thank you for being valuable to feminism, and thank you for saying all of the things we are left to figure out alone as transmen.


    Case Glennie

  14. This is easily the most astounding feminist discourse I have read in a very, very long time. Thank you infinitely for candidly sharing such an incredible story and powerful insight with us; your unique experience has provided you with wisdom and understanding that far outweighs the textbook education or political commentary society is used to spoon-feeding each other in this post-feminist society. Your voice is brave, powerful, unique, and capable of revolutionizing moms. Please please don’t stop telling your story. The world needs you as you are right this moment.

  15. I’m not really black, I’m mostly white, but I am a woman and do see what you mean. I’m proud that you, a man, understands, even though you once had a female body that might helped the insight (but I doubt it, probably family life and your unique mentality). Is it kind of bad if I look at my boyfriend, even though he isn’t oppressive, but he doesn’t seem to understand when I try to explain how it feels to be a woman?

  16. Pingback: Perspective on Black male masculinity | blackheaux

  17. This is a powerful piece. Thank you so much for sharing your journey and your reflections on it. May your words reach far and wide. I have shared it on my Facebook page.

  18. Thanks for this article. On the one hand, I was happy to notice I’m doing many of the things you suggest to help women feel both safe (from me and others) and equal/valued, but I did find one thing you mentioned that I seem to be missing. I need to start having more talks with my wife about my own short-comings. Thanks for bringing that up, you’ve probably helped improve my marriage.

  19. Interesting article. Please consider doing anniversary articles on the subject, say five and ten years from the original date. It would be interesting to see how your perception evolves.

  20. OMG!! This piece was absolutely AMAZING!! Personal, heartfelt but the most powerful part –> honest!! I have often wondered how after transition ones former experiences shaped their ideology. And although I have trans friends and am in spaces with trans folks I somehow think it is an inappropriate question to ask. As you had made mention many people suffer with pain and humiliation attached to their transition. On another note, in regards to your black feminism I am both happy for and proud of you, even in your moments of silencing you are reflective. And as a woman who has been abused not by men but by masculine women and trans men, I am happy to know that you exist in this world. Thank you so much for this piece!!!

  21. Nice…..what I find disturbing is that such views and sentiments and understanding….is not widely held….Or shared….,….I think your insight….accommodation…. Aught to seem normal to feminists…..a liberation movement that seeks only the power of the oppressor is no liberation movement at all

  22. Pingback: How my past as a black woman informs my black male feminist perspective today (Community Voices) « Oakland Local

  23. You are an extraordinary human being, & it’s a beautiful experience for me to learn from & evolve as a person by reading your essays. Thank you for sharing your experiences & wisdom with the world.

  24. Extraordinary indeed! Thank you for posting your insights! I hope that you are now knowing how extraordinarily beautiful you are as well.

  25. “I make it a point to share my feelings and evaluate my shortcomings. I am not perfect and sometimes I slip but the emphasis I’ve placed on expressing my feelings has provided a deviation from conventional notions of black masculinity. ”

    As a male, I would invite you to explore the global culture that trains males to be otherwise. We beat, denigrate and destroy the innocence of boys to make them Be A Man. I wouldn’t call the cultural thief or suppression of male emotional expression a “privilege”. Even in your new male form, you will never know the threat of being drafted into the next war without option. You will never know the male adolescent experience which leads to males committing suicide more often. Why females are made to be a prize for males. Why males drive themselves into alienation, alcoholism or self destruction more often.

    Those who happen to be born male are expected to possess strength, power and be token protectors of society. Yes, even our mothers, sisters and daughters expect their males to be stoic and a pillar of security.

    There is a difference between feminism and misandry. Feminism is about acknowledging and support of inherent equality and ability in women. Misandry (like misogyny) is about the failure to understand the burden of gender role types.

    We all are born with the same emotional potential and depth — but it’s beaten out of some of us as children. It’s not a choice, it’s a systematic conditioning. It is not appropriate for males to cry, to fear, to need emotional help in society. When you learn THIS, then you’ll truly understand masculine experience It’s the denial of your own humanity — even from the people who raise you.

    Documentary filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsome is exploring the topic of gender role-typing. Her upcoming work explores how the male experience is taught from an early age. Here’s a trailer if you’re interested:

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