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Sister, Insider: A Nod to the Black Femme Experience

Journeying through our light and shadows with wisdom from Audre Lorde’s “Eye-to-Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger”

Photo credit: Jessica Felicio on Unsplash

By Mariah Emerson

AUG 3 2020 │ 10 min. read

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I read “Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger” by Audre Lorde with tears streaming down my face. In a climate where it feels many would rather talk about the myth of “Black-on-Black” crime over the horrid and inhuman treatment of Black bodies in Amerikka, there hasn’t been much space for me to discuss the intersection of Black femmehood, trauma, and our relationships with one another.

I begin this very ongoing conversation with a note: This piece is NOT for those who are willing to argue that Black-on-Black crime is a valid and legitimate thing. It is not. It is not for people who don’t share the experience of Black woman or femmehood. It is not for the white ally looking to “understand the Black experience in order to increase their own ‘empathy.’”

This is for us: the Black bodies who’ve been met with the complex, beautiful, heavy, and multifaceted experience of being a Black woman or femme in the United States. It’s for Black trans women, Black cis women, Black queer folks, femme-adjacent non-binary folks, and the likes. I make this very clear because no amount of reading or webinars could demonstrate what it’s like to be us. So this piece is not to educate. It is to affirm, to question, to exist.

As a queer, Black woman, intersectionality is an unavoidable reality. I’ve seen how homophobia, racism, misogynoir, sexism, and other manifestations of hatred and oppression affect the way that I move about and against the systems invented to diminish my sense of power and light. In a world where people murder Black women while we sleep in the comfort of our own homes (#justiceforBreonnaTaylor), it is easy to question the legitimacy of phrases such as “safe space.” While my Black trans siblings continue to show up in a world that is too buried in its own shadows to give basic human decency and respect to a community that fights for the rights of all, I ask, “What is a ‘safe space’ for a Black woman or femme person in this country?”

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Of course, this offers a beautiful opportunity for us to create healing resources for Black women and femmes across the board—and we’re doing that work. We’ve been doing that work. But what about the shadow side? What about the parts of us who were raised to hate ourselves, and thus, each other. The contempt which Lorde notes when she looks into the eyes of a fellow Black woman at the library is one that I’ve seen before. I’ve felt it. I’ve received it. I’m sure I’ve been the woman with the look myself.

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Great question, Audre. And a relevant yet unresolved one at that. You were writing this piece in 1983, I am here today as a twenty-five-year-old in 2020 still asking the same question.


As I read “Eye to Eye,” I envision all of the relationships to Black women that I’ve formed and dissolved over the years. The Black women and femme friends I’ve broken up with, ex-bosses who I’ve had to leave, and the lovers I’ve held and released who still hold a heavy and deep place in my heart. These relationships served as a stepping stone to the coming into myself that I’m still discovering. I felt seen in these relationships, but even a shared identity did not prevent them from becoming tempestuous. Some of these relationships I am still unpacking in therapy today. I find myself asking how it’s possible that we show our darkest, nastiest sides to those we hold so closely not only in our hearts, but in our experiences.

Great question, Audre. And a relevant yet unresolved one at that. You were writing this piece in 1983, I am here today as a twenty-five-year-old in 2020 still asking the same question.

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As I read “Eye to Eye,” I envision all of the relationships to Black women that I’ve formed and dissolved over the years. The Black women and femme friends I’ve broken up with, ex-bosses who I’ve had to leave, and the lovers I’ve held and released who still hold a heavy and deep place in my heart. These relationships served as a stepping stone to the coming into myself that I’m still discovering. I felt seen in these relationships, but even a shared identity did not prevent them from becoming tempestuous. Some of these relationships I am still unpacking in therapy today. I find myself asking how it’s possible that we show our darkest, nastiest sides to those we hold so closely not only in our hearts, but in our experiences.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Thank you to the Black women who supported me in reading, reviewing and enhancing this piece: Barbara Darko, Ambernechole Hart, and Brinkley Moore. I am grateful for our collective power.


Special mention of gratitude to Jessica Felicio—the photographer on the cover photo of this piece. I was immediately drawn to this shot, and then I read its description:


“I lost my twin and sometimes I wonder what life would be like with her, so I Photoshop myself and create photos that I wish I could take with her.”


I knew immediately that I’d chosen the right photo to illustrate these points. Thank you, Jessica.