Opinion: The Intersectionality of Womanhood, Blackness and Non-binary Bodies

The author, Dallas first-year Naima Davenport, held by their mother on their first birthday. Young AFAB children are typically brought up around the color pink (Photo courtesy of Naima Davenport).

To exist as a woman is to be perpetually fighting and the struggles are insurmountable; I will forever haunt the body I exist in. 

I began to identify as non-binary when I came to terms with the fact that many would never treat me as a woman due to my status as a Black woman; something that will eternally be too important to me to just throw away in the hopes that non-Black, non-binary people consider my identity valid.

When I started to use they/them pronouns, for some it was easy. Others struggled, but tried to adapt. A few disregarded it altogether and outwardly refused to refer to me as anything other than a girl. 

I can recall when a white, non-binary person was trying to be supportive after finding out my pronouns were the same as theirs. They told the teacher, “her pronouns are they/them!” 

I could only smile at the volumes it spoke. 

Not only did it tell me that my acceptance in non-binary spaces was slim, but it also reminded me that to many, I could never appear “non-binary.” I would simply always be a Black body to them.

I don’t think they understood that I, however quietly, had never been a girl. I was always non-binary because of the inherent masculinization I’d been subjected to. My experiences with womanhood would never fully be realized because, to the outside world, Black and non-binary can never be synonymous.

Being non-binary means I am always, at all times of the day, educating someone. 

I’m educating people on what to call me, explaining my identity over and over and over again, silently looking down in frustration when people respond with, “Really?” when I tell them I am non-binary. Knowing they were assuming I wouldn’t know what non-binary was because I am Black.

The work was tiring; I corrected people for a long time. I no longer share my pronouns with anyone.

I was assigned female at birth (AFAB). Growing up, I was socialized in the body of a Black woman. These experiences ensured that I will always associate myself with Black womanhood. 

Non-binary people exist as neither male or female; my status as a non-binary person is not lessened by the fact that I retain my Black womanhood. I identify as such and, consequently, have different experiences from most.

There are struggles within this identity that most may never come to experience. There is a huge racial disparity between being Black and non-binary and being a Black woman who is non-binary. Most define non-binary as “other,” secondary to and separate from “she” and “he.” 

But I’ve never been able to consider myself a woman anyway, Black women are othered just for existing.

Being AFAB, but still existing outside of the experience of womanhood, is overwhelming. You must perform for different worlds to fulfill the needs of different parts of you. You find yourself constantly trying to relate to that which most women never think twice about. 

I remember when I finally accepted not being a girl: My period, an experience not exclusive to women, was something that made me feel very “girly.” That feeling was uncomfortable, as a non-binary person; as a result, I excluded myself from many milestones other girls loved achieving. Through the eyes of 14-year-old me, my period was a constant reminder that I was becoming a woman, something I feared more than anything. 

Being a Black woman means I am always enduring misgendering, transphobia and racism – to some extent – at all times. 

It also means I am not allowed to outwardly express my anger over these things without becoming a stereotype. Further enhancing the differences between myself and my white non-binary counterparts, who may easily disrupt conversation flows to correct people on pronouns or wrongdoings. I will never be seen as non-binary in the same manner my white counterparts are. But that part of me is something I cannot live without. My identity is compromised and broken down simply because of my Blackness. To many, my Blackness means that my womanhood is secondary. 

I exist as a non-binary person, but I will always be a Black woman because of my identity’s connection to my experiences. My perceived identity as an AFAB Black woman will remain with me until the day I die, regardless of my true identity.

As I got older, learned more terminology and gained more experience within queer spaces, it became easier to piece together my identity and understand that I was not bound by my AFAB status. 

Though I will always be grateful, and pay my dues to the womanhood that defines me, I don’t owe all those years of girlhood anything. My choice to condemn or cherish girlhood would wholly be my own; either way, it still wouldn’t define me. 

My Blackness, on the other hand, will always define me. The world will always see me as nothing more than a Black body; othered, making me both a woman and non-binary.

About Naima Davenport 6 Articles
Naima Davenport is a first-year from Dallas, Texas majoring in English at Albion College. They enjoy reading as well as jewelry making. You can contact Naima at knd11@albion.edu

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