Chahney and Kei / by Tiph Browne

Chahney and Kei

Much of how I used to do my gender was about being invisible.

-Chahney, 25, They/Them/She/Her

 

I’ve been told I read as intimidating. A lot of that has to do with my race, but it also has to do with my level of education. Much of how I used to do my gender was about being invisible. I have a trauma history, so for me, not being feminine enough to attract attention, or masculine enough to be a threat, was a safety thing. Fortunately, I have not experienced physical violence, but I have experienced a plethora of verbal violence, hostility, and threats of physical violence. The majority of which have been from men whose advances or unwanted commentary I’ve rejected or ignored.

On days when I am feminine, I experience the world differently. People interact with me differently, I feel like they have access to my time and personal space differently. I find that I am more defensive on those days. When I’m dressed very masculinely, I am acutely aware of my presence and how it may affect other women and femme folks; I don’t want them to feel threatened. I actively make myself smaller, less intimidating, or make sure they hear my voice/see me smile, so they will feel safer. I don’t necessarily take it personally, because as a small, female person, I feel scared sometimes, too.

 

White children are more vocal about being confused about my gender than when I have encountered youth of color.

-Kei, 25, They/Their/Them

 

I am a triple negative. I’m female-bodied, queer, and Black. In my own community it’s very much eyebrow-raising, and heavily dismissed. When it comes to White/Non-People of Color (POC), I think I make them uncomfortable. I’m most often mistaken for a young black boy by white people. White children are more vocal about being confused about my gender than when I have encountered youth of color. It is mainly White/Non-POC’s who express how pretty I would be if only I dressed more femme. I think my identity and appearance is a point of revolution. It’s different. It’s extraordinary. And people are uncomfortable with that.

Especially when the person who represents that is Black.

I tend to not think about how other people perceive me and my gender. But it would be a total lie to say I didn’t think about it at all. For example, when I am in a more lesbian/gay/queer friendly area, then I relax a little. If I am with a partner I display affection. I am not so much worried about what could happen to me because of my gender. However, when I am in other areas, such as where I live in Harlem, I am on edge. In these areas I try to downplay my queerness in appearance as much as possible. I do not want to be perceived as a threat or find myself threatened. In an attempt to compensate for any negativity someone may feel towards me, I tend to be more outwardly friendly/passive.