Friday, July 08, 2011

Janet Mock is a Woman Because She Knows She's a Woman

About two weeks ago, Afrobella got an exclusive interview with Janet Mock (The Afrobella Inverview--Janet Mock). She's the woman of color who recently had a feature in Marie Claire magazine called "I Was Born a Boy". The interview was wonderful. My hair type is a lot different from Ms. Mock, so many of her beauty tips don't apply to me, but her graceful and determined attitude absolutely inspired me just as it did when I read the article in Marie Claire.

I read through the comments on Afrobella and they were, for the most part, really respectful. However, my mood soured a bit when I read what one commenter wrote.
"I think this story is nice and Janet is very beautiful! Her hair is amazing! However, as a woman of God I must ask the question…When a person decides to change their gender,isn’t that saying God was wrong when HE created you? Do not get me wrong I’m not saying she’s the devil oh her soul is doomed…etc..etc. I just want to know what people think."
It really bothered me for several reasons. I didn't like the fact that she posed this question to other cis* commenters, instead of directing it to the person she was talking about. Secondly, I am not sure what God she's referring to, but I do know that that term "woman of God" is used almost exclusively by people in Christendom. I've read the Bible and see nothing that legitimizes her claim that she has to question anyone's gender or relationship with their Creator. Lastly, the "I'm not saying she's the devil.." part irked my nerves. Why even bring that up if that's NOT what you're implying?

Of course, I responded. Being a person of faith, I wanted to express my view so that anyone who read through it wouldn't be led to believe that the views of the commenter represented the thoughts of everyone who also consider themselves people of faith. I'm blogging my comment, because it's something that I'd like others who don't visit Afrobella to understand.

God made our bodies. He did not make our gender. Gender is a social construct, like race. Some Black women have café au lait-colored skin and others have dark mocha-colored skin and some have skin the color of bittersweet chocolate. Yet all are Black. Likewise, some women are trans and some women are cis. It's no denial of God to recognize that not all women look the same nor do all men look the same.

It's not the body parts that make a person a man or a woman. If it was, then what do we call someone without a uterus or without breasts? Would not having these parts mean you're not a woman? What if you have MORE parts than what most people expect a woman to be born with? I have three nipples. Yeah, that's right. I said THREE. Now, here's where it gets even more complicated: Due to cancer, I had chest surgery. It left me with one complete breast and about half of one on the other side.

Well, what does that make me? The answer is: It doesn't make me anything. I am a woman regardless of what my body looks like. My body needn't conform to how some people think that a woman should appear. No matter what anyone else has to say about my body (e.g. "That looks disgusting!"; "How did you get those fat keloid scars across your chest?"; "If I had to go through all of that, I'd kill myself!"), I am a woman and God loves me for who I am, not because of what gender I consider myself or because of what my body looks/looked like at some point in my life.

The same is true of Ms. Mock. She's a woman, because she knows she's a woman. During the period of slavery in America, the womanhood of people of color was denied, because of how we looked. We weren't white and, in the eyes of the ruling majority, that meant we didn't have what it takes to be considered real women. They didn't even consider us people! They even used the Bible as justification for this view.

But WE always knew what and who we were. It took a long time for this society to accept what we already knew. Eventually it became apparent that their self-serving interpretation of the Bible was bogus. If history is any clue, we are now in a period where people who identify as trans* are taking the same steps that people of color had to take to in order to be acknowledged for what and who we were.

I'm saddened that some of our sisters are still forced to fight for their right to call themselves women. I know one thing for sure, in the Bible, Jesus was ALWAYS on the side of the downtrodden and oppressed. I don't think I could call myself a follower of Jesus or a woman of God if I didn't take the same stance and stand in support alongside our sisters who are trans.


Aaminah Shakur said...

Binti-Amor, this is such a beautiful post. Thank you.

And yeah, there was a time when women were made to feel like something "less than" women for having "female parts" removed. And I always wondered when I read or saw that depicted (think of the scene in Erin Brockovich, for example) on film "If they think they won't be *real* women anymore, then what are they???" Oh, but this society can't deal with there being more than two binary genders, LOL, even as we believe that women become non-women - but not men! - when they have cancer and have to have surgery. It's so much a part of our society that even I had some brief misgivings about myself when I had my hysterectomy. And I wasn't expecting to have those feelings because I am "aware" and definitely wanted the surgery, it was a choice, all that. When I went thru my breast cancer "scare" I made up my mind early on that I was okay with doing whatever I had to do to survive, and it didn't change who I am and I wouldn't want to deal with a prostetic or anything - people would have to just get used to seeing a one-breasted woman. I just love your premise, its simplicity: a woman is a woman because they say they are a woman. Nothing can change that and it's no one else's place to question. And as a woman of faith, I don't think God makes mistakes. I think a lot of humans just don't understand how They made us and think we are mistakes. That's not God's judgment of us, that comes straight from people assuming and judging.

Doyu Shonin/Risa Bear said...

Mind if I cry? I think you are one of my BEST friends ...

bint alshamsa said...

Risa, your friendship means more to me than I know how to put into words. Letting me be a part of your life helps me to still feel connected to the world during those long and lonely periods when your pictures are as close as I can get to the world that I long to be a part of. What you share helps to sustain me and keeps the sadness from becoming overwhelming.


bint alshamsa said...

Aaminah, my mother went through this after she had a hysterectomy. When my bio-father abandoned us, his mother said it was my mom's fault for having a hysterectomy and my mom should have known that he wouldn't want her after that. I was ten years old and stunned. I didn't know how to even respond to it, but it drove a permanent wedge between my grandmother and I. It should come as no surprise that she was a member of the cult I was raised in.

When I was going through chemotherapy, I lost my hair. At first I tried to wear a wig, but those things irritated my already sensitive skin. Then, I tried covering my head with scarves. Well, not having much hair made it hard to keep in place. I was constantly having to rearrange it and re-tuck it, until I decided to say to hell with it and just went out into the world with my head as it was.

What you were saying about your hysterectomy giving you misgivings about yourself reminds me of how that ordeal made me feel. Going from being a young Black woman with thick hair past her shoulders to having less hair than many of the styles that men wear made me feel so disconnected from all that I thought being a woman meant.

Hair grows back, so it was mostly temporary (most of my eyebrows never came back). However, becoming a part of disability culture is what made it possible for me to regain my confidence. I've seen so many folks with medically-altered bodies and bodies that are simply different from that of the average non-disabled person. The reality and normality of human variation is just impossible to ignore or reject.

Like you, I had surgery because I chose to. I wanted to be able to have a certain kind of life and if having the surgery would make that possible, then I was going to do it no matter how risky other people thought it was. What they thought didn't matter as much as what I felt was right for me. When I had to start making it clear to some of the people in my life that I didn't need or want their input, it made me start thinking about all of the things that I needed to accept about other people, too.

You would have despised the person I was before that. I still cringe when I think about all of the hateful stuff that I told people back then.

Rootietoot said...

We Christians love to decide what God was thinking when He does something. Our human linear minds can't really fathom omniscience, or omnipresence, so we also decide binary gender, and that marriage is THIS not THAT...based on "biblical" standards that reflect a human interpretation of God inspired concepts. By deciding what God is thinking,we are limiting the limitless,and denying His perfect plan for this world, which just might include people who don't fit nicely into our linear and binary thinking.
I am appalled that anyone would be thought of as less of a woman because a body part was removed. It seems to me only removing your brain would make you different from whatever you are.

Rootietoot said...

and another thing...
I don't agree that gender is a social construct. However, I think it is a spectrum, not a binary. It's in attempting to take someone who's on that spectrum, and shoving them to one end or the other, that problems happen.

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