I’ve been having a lot of #genderfeelings lately. The release of Beyoncé’s Lemonade has added to that in a way I hadn’t previously thought or felt. Writing an essay I used both “women and femme” and wondered if that was actually true: Can Lemonade be for the black femme who is not a woman or does not at all identify with womanhood? (I say yes, even if that was not the intention.)
Then I asked myself, am I really a femme? Why do I choose to label myself as such? I navigate everyday life as a black woman – not by choice, by people’s perceptions that are pushed onto my body. I value black womanhood because being a black woman, cis and trans, is very fucking hard. It’s harder for some for personal and societal reasons.
Growing up, black girlhood shaped my understanding of myself and my position in society. For political reasons, black womanhood does the same. But I am not a black woman. I hate having to say it, because I don’t want to imply it is not beautiful or courageous to be a black woman or to love being a black woman. Sometimes I call myself a black woman and do so proudly because black womanhood and black sisterhood saved me. Black womanhood has been the only space to make room for me to express and explore my femininity.
But womanhood does not represent how I see and understand myself as a human being. People interact with me as a woman, and I internalize those experiences as a non-binary person. I, like women and femmes, carry the weight and emotional labor in my relationships, especially ones with men. I don’t feel a deep spiritual connection to black womanhood, but I value it like I value my sisters, my mother and her sisters, and their stories.
Not every feminine non-binary person is a femme. I have to remind myself of that as I continue to negotiate with myself on how I understand my femininity. I tell myself, black femininity is not limited to black womanhood or femhood. Neither black womanhood or femhood are the same, though both experience misogynoir (or anti-black misogyny). The two are often conflated—which is what started to make me uncomfortable and unsure in my own identity. Calling myself a femme felt like home as I was figuring out my gender identity and expression (and I still am). Today I am not sure I identify with that either.
I value Lemonade as a sensitive black girl who has witnessed black women being gaslighted and dismissed by their lovers. I value it as a sensitive black girl still working to stop making myself smaller and easier to digest. I call myself a black girl not a black woman; no matter what I call myself, I experience misogynoir because of how people view me, and how black women are treated in society. I question my ability to be a good lover and partner like many women and femmes I know. And I learned how to heal myself through black women and femmes who experienced emotional harm by partners who told them they deserved it.
Beyoncé doesn’t speak for every black woman or femme. Not every black woman or femme speaks for me. Lemonade may not be applicable to me or my experiences, but that doesn’t make it less valid or valuable to those who believe it tells their story. Loving it allows me to understand myself, black femininity, and the politics of black womanhood. Still unsure of where I belong, I love the responses and critiques of Lemonade for inspiring me to ask myself these questions. And I love black women and femmes for making space for me and never doubting my ability to find and authentically express who I am.