Who Says You Need a Steady Hand to Do Liquid Liner: Systemic Violence and Nonbinary Feels
Content Notice (CN): Violence against gender nonconforming folks, street harassment, curse/swear words
Hello friends! Or rather, soon-to-be-friends!
This is my first post for Qwear, and I thought it would be fun (masochistic?) of me to start off really heavy and serious: systemic violence against gender nonconforming/nonbinary folx and femme folx.
First, here is something I wrote on Facebook the day same-sex marriage was legalized in the U.S., June 26, 2015.
Today, I woke up, saw the news, and continued on with my day as I had planned. I put on a crop top and peacock-colored pants because I wanted to look cute. I wanted to put on makeup to look even cuter, but I couldn’t. I waited until I got to work because I am afraid of what might be said or done to me in this house by my incredibly loving homestay mom.
At work, people talk about the “good news” nonstop. Each time it is mentioned, my heart rate stays the same. My eyes, still dull. My mind, still churning out messages of self-hate and depression. (Apparently, the demons in my head also don’t care that same-sex marriage was passed today, which, according to Facebook, meant everyone should be celebrating and happy and take a break until tomorrow).
I get driven to a friend’s house for dinner. Before I leave, I scrub my face with toilet paper to try to get off all of my makeup. I scrubbed so hard I almost started to cry. Almost. But crying isn’t manly. And crying draws attention. I was not interested in anyone shooting daggers, or knives, or fists, or slurs, or bullets, or anything else at me.
I ask the host for a baggy t-shirt to wear in place of my crop top. I drop my voice down to a lower register. Sit on the bus, legs spread to take up more space, but not too much space or else someone might notice me trying too hard. Don’t make eye contact with anyone. Make sure not to accidentally smile at anyone.
I got home. Nothing happened to me today. And maybe nothing will happen to me tomorrow, or the next day, or ever. But I have to live in a state of constant fear. Same-sex marriage did not change that reality. I was as scared today as I was yesterday.
Some people are saying that now marriage has been won, people can focus on issues like incarceration, murder, and suicide. That winning marriage was important because now more people accept queer folks. But when has giving some people more rights caused systemic change? Did the ratification of the 19th amendment end violence against women? Did the Voting Rights Act of 1965 end the incarceration of black folks? Do more people accept black folks?
You can be unquestionably happy about same-sex marriage if you want. But then I should be able to be unquestionably sad, or angry, or unfeeling as well.
This is my every day.
I’m a nonbinary femme of color. Being femme isn’t just about what I wear or how I present, it is who I am and how I live. But sometimes, it is about me looking fly as fuck (see below).
Being a nonbinary femme of color is great!
Except when it’s not.
Every day, I ask myself a couple of questions. Would I rather wear a dress or have a place to live? Would this shade of lipstick go with my outfit and with a bruised and bloodied face? Would I cry more if I wear these heels or if I don’t? Which is more important today, my physical safety or my mental health? Do I want to look cute or live until tomorrow?
When I walk down the street, feeling fly in a crop top and heels, I get harassed. People think they own my body. They verbally dissect me and claim parts of my body as their own. My body becomes their little colonial project.
My Their legs. My Their ass. My Their lips. Grabbing and taking whatever they want, leaving me barely whole enough to continue down that street.
So usually, I don’t wear what I want, but instead put on a costume, something of a suit of armor. Shorts. Tshirt. Bare face. Bare nails. Somehow figuring that masculinity will protect me. But, of course, that is one of the biggest lies of patriarchy. Instead, I am wrapping my body in a toxic cocoon, imagining that something that has terrorized my body and mind will keep me safe. So while I may be physically safer, I can feel my mental health deteriorating the longer I am stuck in these clothes.
But that is just in the streets, right? There are safe spaces, right? Community organizations? School? Home? To be honest, not really. Some are better than others, but even extremely progressive spaces replicate destructive ideals of authenticity. This ideology stems from the LGBTQ mainstream’s push for people to express themselves, to show their true colors or that they were born this way or some other now-cliché song title-turned-slogan. And while that may sound great, this push for “authenticity” glorifies certain presentations. It creates a static image of what is “true you” and what isn’t. So when I can reach those ideals, I am told I am brave, or unapologetic, or fierce, or any other generally affirmative adjective. But when I am dressed in any other way, I am nothing because I am “lying” about who I really am. Because “authentic” me can only look one way. And therefore, as a liar, I do not deserve respect or affirmation; instead, an extremely heart wrenching decision is seen as cowardly. So really, who is being called fierce and unapologetic, me or (a specific subset of) my clothes?
My “authentic” self is my self. My “inauthentic” self is still my self. I am still in pain when I wear what I want. I am still nonbinary even if my clothes make me look like a cis boy. I should still matter when I am just trying to survive.
Lots of queer love and radical feels,