The underlying cause of much of Black internal schisms and oppression is due in large part to the trickling down of white supremacy and hegemony into the minority community. Hip Hop culture has roots attributed to the Bronx, New York and claims to be the musical voice for the Black community, but after research and polls conducted over the years, it’s been found that over 70% of the Hip Hop music consumed is by white men. This commodification of Hip Hop has led to the exaltation of strict constructs of masculinity surrounding violence, power, conquering mentality, and sexuality. This popular representation of Hip Hop culture ultimately leads to “trapping Hip Hop in a box” – forcing men to “prove” their manhood which establishes hyper heteronormativity and misogyny – objectifying women, belittling womanhood, and marginalizing those with various gender/sexual identities. This misogynist and gender particular mindset is truly outlined and portrayed in trans women’s interactions in the Hip Hop realm and how transmisogynoir is a real issue with which we need to deal.
According to authors of ‘A Billion Wicked Thoughts’, “T-girl” sites are the fourth most popular category of adult websites on the internet yet trans women are so dramatically stigmatized in our society. How can this be? Why are the men hiding from their desires? Why do black men, in particular, alienate these women as if they are not human beings?
To understand this, you first have to understand the dynamics of our society. From birth, men and women are socialized to create this noted stratification of persons based on their sex and gender. We are made to believe that men are strong, emotionless, and conquering which we attribute to the idea of masculinity while women are the opposite, or feminine. Now, though men ascribe to these masculine characteristics, they are not entitled to them wholeheartedly. Gwen Sharp in her ‘Policing Masculinity in Slim Jim’s’ “Spice Loss” ads stated that
Femininity is depicted as weakness, the sapping of strength, yet masculinity is so fragile that apparently even the slightest brush with the feminine destroys it.”
This quote exemplifies the idea that men are battling for what we call the “hegemonic” masculine identity. Men are expected to be this cookie cutter type of manly man, and when he does not meet the expected standards entirely, he is shifted down the totem pole and emasculated by his peers. Hegemonic masculinity is something completely defined by the educated, upper class, cisgender, white male. So what about those with various minority identities? What about black men?
In the black community, hegemonic masculinity is placed in a box, and nobody wants to navigate outside of this box in fear of being ridiculed and judged. The box, however, is inaccessible and misrepresented in this community. No black man can embody the “ideal” hegemonic masculine image without risk of being labeled an “Uncle Tom.” So for a black man to assert himself and prove his masculinity, instead of following the standard guidelines of hegemony, he will feel pressured to invoke fear in others to show his dominance.
Rappers in Hip Hop are preoccupied with violence and artillery and exude the mindsets centered around power, conquering, and violence. As “role models” for the young boys in the community, they feel the pressure to overexert their masculinity to prove their dominance since they have little to no actual power in reality. What better way to assert your power than on individuals that society as a whole deems as inferior: women.
“Bitches” and “hoes” are terms you hear widely used in the Hip Hop community to describe women and to devalue their identities. Women are largely seen as sex objects and even were thought to be on Earth to solely fulfill the sexual desires of men. Scantily clad women in videos and the hypersexualized images were indeed pervasive in Hip Hop culture to the point where it bled into majority culture through media portrayal of objectification and sexualization. This confuses the minds of the consumers and leads men to believe that the only way to connect with women is to treat them like sex toys, and women feel the only way to get a man’s attention is to succumb willingly to his advances. This misogynistic attitude towards women became so standardized that even videos such as “Tip Drill” by Nelly that blatantly displayed the objectification of women were accepted and deemed entertaining. The social injustices of women were ignored, and the black community as a whole didn’t see misogyny, sexism, and violence as urgent issues.
With this established misogynistic mindset pervasive in Hip Hop came a new problem – homophobia. Black men equated masculinity to manness and femininity to womanness, and since women are not seen as superior, any man exemplifying feminine characteristics is related to womanness and is pushed further from that misguided hegemonic norm. Any man driven closer to that woman identity is deemed as gay and is isolated from his manly community. No black man wants to be seen as gay, so he acts hyper-masculine and is homophobic to prove that he is in no way gay. The problem is, without the literacy in understanding the trans community, the stigma of homophobia transcends about the trans* community as transmisogynoir.
Trans women are seen as gay men that give up their male privilege to become “Fake women” so we are seen as the bottom of the barrel type of human being. Being a black trans woman pushes you down even further because black women already have little to no variety in positive portrayal in mass media. Trans women are consistently disrespected by having their woman identities invalidated, and they are seen simply as “drag queens” or “trannies.” This segmentation of trans women from cis women dichotomizes the woman classes and transmisogynoir materializes. To try to align themselves more with cis women in the eyes of the majority culture, trans women become obsessed with “passing” as a “real woman” and also over exaggerating her sexual features to lure in men and help boost her ego. When a black man engages a trans* woman because she is so sexually enticing, due to the stigma of the trans identity in the black community, he would feel like his sexuality is being jeopardized. Andrea James touches on this idea writing,
“Because straight and male are the “good” options in our society, anyone who can pass as straight is going to choose that option.
Because of the stigma around a “gay” identity, many men attracted to us seek out trans women who are “passable,” or they parse their desire, so only the receptive partner in a sexual act is gay, and the other is straight. Their interest in passable trans people helps maintain their identities as passable straight people.”
Black men are more secure in their sexualities when their masculine identities dominate over the feminine so conquering a trans* woman who is feminine of center and aesthetically parallel to the “ideal real woman”, the man feels less internal struggle. However, these men do not dare broadcast their intimacies with trans* women in fear of losing their “man card.” Janet Mock elaborates,
“This pervasive ideology says that trans women are shameful, that trans women are not worthy of being seen and that trans women must remain a secret — invisible and disposable. If a man dares to be seen with a trans woman, he will likely lose social capital so he must adamantly deny, vehemently demean, trash and exterminate the woman in question. He must do this to maintain his standing in our patriarchal society. For a man to be associated with a trans women, in effect, is to say that he is no longer a “real” man (as if such a thing exists) because he sleeps with “fake” women (as if such a thing exists).”
Trans women are being constantly told that they are not “real women” but also that they are not men and that they are not worthy of dignity, respect, and hope. Black trans women are trapped in this environment fueled with ideologies spewed through Hip Hop culture that makes them feel that they will always and forever be taboo and that having a man will only happen if in private, in secret, and in fear. Janet Mock adds,
“If a young trans woman believes that the only way she can share intimate space with a man is through secret hookups, booty calls or transaction, she will be led to engage in risky sexual behaviors that make her more vulnerable to criminalization, disease, and violence; she will be led to coddle a man who takes out his frustrations about his sexuality on her with his fists; she will be led to question whether she’s worthy enough to protect herself with a condom when a man tells her he loves her; she will be led to believe that she is not worthy of being seen, that being seen heightens her risk of violence. Therefore, she must hide who she is at all costs to survive.”
How can we end this constant cycle of oppression and marginalization? We just change the culture of Hip Hop, right? But that’s going to be a difficult task to achieve because artists produce what’s being bought because the companies will only allow them to create what is profitable and safe having been reciprocated over and over again and who controls these record companies? White men…
So a media outlet that helps to shape black public thought is steered and monitored by white men and us as black people end up dealing with internal adversity as a result. So here we are again trying to figure out how to heal our community and ended up finding the source to be the white man. There is no race blaming here, but I find it quite interesting how racial dominance can interrupt interactions across various lenses. So, is the lack of visibility and acceptance of the person with trans experience in the black community simply a black problem or does it have direct ties to the lack of support from our white counterparts?