Title: “Non-Men”, maGes, and Black Masculinities
Author: g
Date: 8 January 2022
Source: Retrieved on 15 December 2022 from patreon.com

In order to understand patriarchy, one must understand masculinity in relation to, specifically, anti-Black cisheteropatriarchy. Recently however, it’s becoming more and more obvious that a lot of people are fumbling the bag when it comes to this topic. Specifically, I want to talk about the attempts to create a coherent class of “non-men” which has resulted into strange conclusions about Black trans men that also has ramifications for Black transmasculine people in general. I hope to offer some clarification on why it is the case that Black trans men should be considered as belonging to the group known as people of marginalized genders, or maGes and that a failure to do so only reinforces transmisogynoir.

“Non-men” as a term has actually been around for a while, at least over a decade one could comfortably argue. Regardless of its first usage, during most of its “shelf-life” so to speak, it has primarily been employed in the context of lesbianism. Specifically, it has been utilized as a more inclusive way to recognize the non-binary individuals who have always existed within lesbian spaces, regardless of if they had the language to name it, in order to clarify that lesbianism is not merely about loving women strictly, but those who are not men and are comfortable with being included within lesbianism. There have always been debates as to the utility of the term that continue to this day, however that’s not going to be the focus of this essay. I make note of this to merely clarify that there has been a specific context within which the term has been utilized that makes sense.

This attempt to be inclusive in recognizing identities beyond the strict man/woman binary has obviously occurred simultaneously outside of the contexts of lesbianism. With this has come the employment of the term non-men stripped of the context of lesbianism in order to expand the classical framework of patriarchy existing as a system of domination over women by men, a Manichean man vs. woman dichotomy. Instead of merely man vs. woman, it has become man vs. non-man. This, in my mind, derives from an attempt to communicate the antagonistic nature of patriarchy and its place within (neo)colonialism. Within the context of Blackness, this is typically recognized to not fit all that neatly.

Ungendering presents a particular challenge to this dichotomy and the attempts to rectify it range from baffling to laughable. Typically the discussions of challenges to the man vs. non-man dichotomy devolve into a question of whether Black men “benefit” from patriarchy, however this question is not really the standard-bearer to determine whether the dichotomy makes sense. The dichotomy exists because of the attempt to argue that women and men are distinct classes which then expanded to become an argument that non-men and men are distinct classes. With the criticisms of the notion of sexism being the foundation of Black women’s precarious positionality made by Black feminism, the categories “female” and “male” are decimated and their symbolic integrity come under question. This still leaves us with the question however of how we situate the violence of Black cis men that is certainly properly characterized as being patriarchal. We then need to ask a followup question of whether the “non-men” offers clarity to how we can accomplish this.

I specifically noted “Black cis men” above to hint at the rather blatant elephant in the room that is Black trans men. Black trans men are of course excluded from the category of non-men and within the context of lesbianism, this does not introduce any particularly glaring contradictions as they are, after all, men. However if we are attempting to denote two distinct classes of non-men and men, where trans men are included within the former, that denotes the systemic and structural power of one over the other, this presents a problem. Trans men are awkwardly placed on the same hierarchical standing alongside cis men and attempts to make it less ham-fisted rely upon a number of arguments that functionally amount to arguing trans men are mere “lesser forms” of cis men. This logic becomes translated onto Black cis men as well, where advocates of “non-men” as a coherent gendered class are forced to recognize that Black cis men do not occupy the same positionality of nonblack cis men while simultaneously grouping them together. This isn’t to say that Black cis men do not benefit from patriarchy or that they do not engage in patriarchal violence. Rather, I am pointing to the fact that this dichotomy misplaces the role of patriarchy in (neo)colonialism and anti-Blackness and this is antithetical towards establishing a theoretical framework that is encompassing while accommodating of particularities.

The non-men/men dichotomy is, I would argue, ground in the same logic which attempts to be inclusive of Black trans womanhood while framing it as being a “deformed” extension or emanation of Black cis womanhood. I’ve discussed this much more in depth elsewhere, but simply put, Black trans womanhood is not understood as simply being a part of a terrain of womanhood that has existed prior to colonization and slavery and which is named and identified as such in relation to cis womanhood which is formed to be overdetermined and framed as carrying the essence of womanhood. Instead, something more akin to the current conservative argument that trans and non-binary people have only just emerged within the last 20 years is pushed. For those who house themselves under “non-men”, it’s usually fairly easy for them to recognize the problem with this line of thinking, but when applied to the category “man”, there’s a disconnect. Suddenly, there is only one, singular, overdetermined form of man that has always existed rather than the possibility that there have been various manhoods throughout history and in various cultures and that the current manhood that heads white supremacist/anti-Black cisheteropatriarchy is one which asserts itself as hegemonic and closest to “perfection”. The implicit acceptance of this onto-reductionist conception of manhood and its ramifications for the concept of patriarchy necessarily relies upon the obliteration of any previously existing modes of existence as men that deviates from hegemonic manhood and also tosses aside any modern cultural practices which have carried them into the present which are heavily policed by states around the world—including neocolonial states such as those in Africa—to the dustbin of history.

When understood from this perspective, we can begin unthreading some arguments for casting trans men outside of the grouping of maGes. One such argument, which is really a collection of arguments but can be consolidated into one, is that trans men are attempting to take a place alongside cis men in the hierarchy of patriarchy. In other words, while they may not have been so before naming themselves as trans men, they are aspiring to be oppressors. This employs a number of rhetorical devices that I have identified before including the idea that trans men are “betraying” cis womanhood and therefore should be seen as threats unless they act as footsoldiers for transmisogyny. The problem with this is that it treats trans manhoods as embodiments that exist as something which merely aspires to be cis manhood. Because “man” is treated as a distinct class that occupies a hierarchical positionality, trans manhoods therefore do not exist of their own accord, but instead only become legible through ambitions of pursuing cis manhood and therefore seeking power. Further, because cis manhood becomes the baseline through being overdetermined, this flattens various masculinities into a singular “masculinity”. Therefore, just as trans women being understood only in relation to cis womanhood as the normative wellspring of “womanhood” creates a demand that pursuing hegemonic femininity and medically transitioning are the markers which “permit” trans women to actually claim ourselves as women, trans men being understood in such terms in relation to cis manhood creates a demand that their manhood be strictly contingent upon aspiring to hegemonic masculinity and only can claim manhood through medically transitioning.

These two perspectives are conjoined because a central tenant of cis feminism has been that misogyny derives from a fear or hatred of femininity, and by extension cis Black feminism often maintains that misogynoir derives from a denial of femininity. Consequently, the flip side of this argument requires the belief that men gain access to power through masculinity. This sentiment of a universal “manhood” which is expressed through a particular normative and hegemonic masculinity serves as a mere rearticulation of sex-as-class theory through a collapsing of “man” and “masculine”. This renders illegible the experience of masculine non-men, such as studs, both TMA and TME, and also obfuscates the various masculinities of Black men, whether cis or trans. One attempt to respond to this point is the claim that while Black men are harmed by being seen as inherently more masculine because of their Blackness, they have more freedom to be masculine and therefore can benefit from not only being Black, but also being men. There is some truth to this within particular contexts however a full examination of this would need to be part of a larger project. What is most relevant here however is that this argument is conditional for Black cis men (usually under the context of neocolonialism) and that Black trans men essentially break the logic of its supposed universality altogether.

To elaborate on the first point, the imposition of hegemonic manhood and masculinity upon the African continent and upon Black Africans created a precarious situation whereby patriarchal norms contingent upon the preservation of binary sex and dimorphism in order to serve the interests of specific Western colonial labor interests were violently introduced and made to supplant previous indigenous gender inhabitations while simultaneously this hegemony was used to itself demonstrate the supposedly self-evident reality of the masculinity of Black cis men qua “males” being an inherently inferior one. This dialectic derived from a need foundational to Western epistemology to present Black Africans as uncivilized and abjected from History to the point where they were “natural” slaves who needed to be governed by those capable of “rational thought”. Over time, the expression of this required a shift due to various anti-colonial revolutions which—much like slave revolts formed a looming threat which required a reworking of slavery framed as “emancipation”—initiated a wave of reworkings of colonialism through neocolonialism whereby the patriarchal logics of Womb Theory was encouraged and enabled imposed hegemonic patriarchal structures to present themselves as actually being native to the continent. Western academia therefore retroactively ascribes the white feminist framework of patriarchy to the continent and insists on ascribing its gendered epistemology no matter how ill-suited it is, a point analyzed extensively by the various works of Oyeronke Oyewumi. This patriarchy therefore is interminably bound with the classed fissures formed by neocolonialism as compradores bleed the continent dry at the behest and interests of countries within the imperial core.

The second point, pertaining to Black trans men breaking the logic of Black men broadly having freedom that accompanies their masculinity, is rather blatantly demonstrated through the various experiences of systemic oppression they face. The interplay of their invisibility within broader society—mediated through transmisogynoir-as-fulcrum rendering Black TMA people as hypervisible—and hypervisiblity within queer/feminist spaces is a complex one. The societal invisibility makes it such that healthcare for them is woefully inadequate and they are forced into a position whereby they can be denied access to services that are reserved for those victimized by gendered violence but because this is equated with the category “woman”, they are not included. Within feminist spaces, trans men are often read as “betrayers” seeking to “escape” victimization by becoming men. Because the “female” body is read as something innocent, with the white cis woman being the normative anchor, trans men transitioning is seen as “defiling” and because it is argued that they are simply lesbians who are being forced into heterosexuality, it is also characterized within these spaces as “conversion therapy”. At its core therefore, anti-transmasculinity is another articulation of the ever-present fear within feminism of “threats” to the “purity” of cis white womanhood.

We can then ask the, uncomfortable for some, question of whether it at all makes any sense to toss trans men outside of the grouping of maGes while including cis women, or for that matter TME people in general. The assumption that they must necessarily be afforded certain systemic privileges is a fiction and has no backing by any metrics. The reason why it persists is because of the predominance of cis white feminist theory and in particular various trans-exclusive feminist movements that have significant influence within various institutions that can affect politics and the law. One such example is the following statement by J.K. Rowling in her transphobic essay:

“The more of their [trans men] accounts of gender dysphoria I’ve read, with their insightful descriptions of anxiety, dissociation, eating disorders, self-harm and self-hatred, the more I’ve wondered whether, if I’d been born 30 years later, I too might have tried to transition. The allure of escaping womanhood would have been huge. I struggled with severe OCD as a teenager. If I’d found community and sympathy online that I couldn’t find in my immediate environment, I believe I could have been persuaded to turn myself into the son my father had openly said he’d have preferred.”

While Rowling is most well-known for her specifically transmisogynistic statements and opinions, we can see through statements like these how trans men are conceptualized broadly by a society that is cissexist and transphobic. For Rowling, trans men recognizing themselves as such derives from a desire to escape womanhood, particularly through transitioning. Further, through stating that transitioning would turn her into “the son [her] father had openly said he’d have preferred”, she invokes a narrative that trans men are welcomed by society as men with open arms and consequently granted all of the systemic power that cis men wield. She does not conceive of the possibility that her father’s misogyny would be intimately connected with anti-transmasculinity. This belief is the twin side of her belief that trans women are by default to be presumed predators as a rule. The two are mutually reinforcing of one another precisely because feminists such as her can only conceive of patriarchy in strictly binary terms, and unfortunately some QTGNC people take up this framework simply because it’s more easily consumable.

To conclude, I’d like to make a couple of remarks on the utility of placing visuality as the origin of the West’s violent reinforcement of hegemonic gender relations. While visualization of the body is integral to Western onto-epistemology, the systematizing of this on a large and broad enough scale to encompass every oppressive structure and institution was formed in conjunction with the establishment of a biological hierarchy accompanying the secularization of a hierarchy utilizing Christianity as justification. Prior to this, the utilization of visualization of the body certainly existed however the scope and how determining they were varied to great degrees with a common ground of attempting to order the world based on a hierarchy in which the presence and particular form of “civilization” acted as the benchmark, with the in-group civilization representing the highest form; all of this typically extended from slavery. In other words, as slavery accompanies and develops from certain demands of labor relations, differentiating through hierarchy—with visualization of the body playing an ever-increasing role for convenience—develops as well and becomes entrenched with colonialism.

Western metaphysics and epistemology utilize as a bedrock an interplay between duality and hierarchy that are mutually constitutive of one another. Take for example Aristotle’s hierarchy composed of the tripartite of free male, free female, and slave. Despite being a tripartite, this hierarchy relies upon a matrix of dualities—male/female, master(free)/slave, rational/irrational. Visuality is mapped onto these dualities and utilized to establish and justify the hierarchy. What is crucial here however is that these dualities and accompanying hierarchies which are based in specific historical processes/developments and material/social relations precede their visualization. We are therefore left with the arduous task of disentangling visualization of bodies from biological differentiation while also recognizing the ways in which they are constitutive of one another since the development of the latter. Biological differentiation is able to mask itself through Western discourse over various axes of oppression being “social constructs”. Biological differentiation permits for the establishment of universals and therefore underlies every attempt to analyze differences themselves, as within the West, differentiating itself is a process of establishing hierarchies according to the Chain of Being. This is why, for example, “male socialization” necessarily invokes the concept of a fundamental biological distinction according to a sex binary. In this way, social structures themselves are reified as indicative and reflective of “biological realities” and differences in social statuses, socio-economic relations, etc. are naturalized. This is what Oyeronke Oyewumi refers to as “bio-logics”. Taking upon the Western Gaze at face value therefore leads to a dead-end and the insistence upon claiming the origin of Ungendering as being visualizing the Black body and “identifying” a biological differentiation of “Black females” from “Black males” can only reify their places within the Chain of Being.

Therefore, “non-men” as a singular, coherent class that stands in contradistinction to men generally does not actually offer any clarification towards understanding patriarchy nor the oppression of women or more broadly, marginalized genders. The universalities laced within these categories do not permit us to understand the actual material basis for gender-based oppression because they by necessity invoke biological differentiation through the central place of visualization of the body within the Western epistime. This is why it is often the case that “misandry” from TME people usually just amounts to rearticulations of transmisogynoir which serve the function of “protecting” the “purity” of cis white womanhood. They cannot be reasonably entrusted that they will not employ the visualization of the body towards these ends.