Why I’m Only A Black Woman On Sundays

Photo Courtesy of Reegan Saunders.
I am only a Black woman on Sundays. 
Let me clarify.
 I am a 21-year-old Black nonbinary person. I was assigned female at birth. My pronouns are they/he. I am a lesbian. I am a journalist and an artist, and sometimes I am a musician. When I am not in school or work, I love to crochet, visit farmers' markets and spend time with my friends and my partner.
For me, being nonbinary is having the space to exist as a human. It’s sometimes hard to define, but at its roots, my identity is about releasing myself from expectation — it’s about fully embracing who I am. Including the times when I feel at home identifying as a Black woman. 
When I was younger, I felt empowered by the idea of a strong Black woman, someone who could do anything she set her mind to. Someone who could overcome the boundaries set by society. And when you grow up in a predominately white community as I did, you cling to that. But even that archetype became a fence for me to climb in my journey as a nonbinary person.
Growing up I never had conversations about what it meant to be queer. I knew what it meant to be gay, but I did not understand the scope of what queerness could look like. My vision of gay love was two white men with bowties and my vision of Black love was a nuclear family; it was my parents. When I was a teenager, I couldn’t turn on the tv and see Black queer love and the Black queer existence. And in some ways, I was cheated by that, but it also means that now I get to shape what it looks like for myself.

Being tethered to the picture of a Black girl, of a Black woman, is sometimes the only way I feel close to the Black community because we are not in a place where there are enough examples of Black nonbinary existence.

So, I have my Sundays. Sundays are an experience, a concept born from remembering times when my family would go to the Black church in town. I would put on my best dress, my hair would be pressed (with the ends bumped under of course) and I would walk into the church feeling like a young Black woman. To be seen as a Black woman at that moment was a comfort, and now I look back on it with fondness. Living as a Black woman in Black spaces is to feel connected with my ancestors and my community in a way that I do not always have the opportunity to. “Sundays” are when I’m at a cookout, when I’m talking to the older Black man who works mornings in my college dining hall, and when I listen to Woman by Doja Cat. These slivers of Black joy keep me tethered, in a positive way, to my upbringing as a Black girl.
Being tethered to the picture of a Black girl, of a Black woman, is sometimes the only way I feel close to the Black community because we are not in a place where there are enough examples of Black nonbinary existence. And as much as people around me can respect my pronouns and validate my identity, I feel there will always be part of them that sees me as a woman, and I do not know how to combat that.
The reality is if you see me on the street in my hot pink tennis skirt and a crop top, you’re going to see me as a woman — if you see me with my freshly shaved head wearing my most masculine outfit, you’ll probably still see me as a woman. I have worn pronoun pins and still had a Black gay man refer to me using she/her pronouns. I have walked home from work and the men on the corner catcalled me because they saw me as a woman. When I walk into a room people have a preconceived notion of who I am, based on the way I look. These experiences can be so invalidating for me as a nonbinary person, but they are also a bridge to a community of Black women. There is comradery that is present because of the way Black women walk through this world. Whether it’s discussing hair politics or joking about how some of us never learned how to twerk, being involved in conversations about what it means to be a Black woman is another Sunday for me.
Photo Courtesy of Reegan Saunders.
However, most days I feel far away from womanhood, and that is a good thing for me. When I first started exploring my gender identity and breaking away from the gender binary in the summer of 2020, I found euphoria in fully embracing my masculinity. My first binder came in the mail, and it gave me so much happiness when I looked in the mirror.
I give myself the freedom to express myself in a way that is affirming. I don’t close myself into the “men’s” or “women’s” clothing sections. Although, I do have to say I often feel gender euphoria when I wear clothing from the “men’s” section. I think there is something so amazing about going against the gendered norms that were set for me. It’s like a tiny rebellion.

There is so much nuance to the Black nonbinary experience, to my Black nonbinary experience.

This spring I went to the barbershop. For the last three years, my hair has been changing — as it always has. I went from box braids to bangs and everything in between, until eventually, it evolved to me looking like Ramona Flowers. And all of those hairstyles felt like me at the time, but they also made me feel like a woman.
Black hair holds so much power. It’s a life force in some ways. Taking care of my hair is an extension of self-care, it is the core of my self-expression.
I looked at Black men — my father, my brothers, Frank Ocean — and I wanted the power of feeling closer to them. So, I made an appointment and went in for the Big Chop.
And there I was, sitting in the chair. My back turned to the mirror, I felt the cool blades across my skin, I saw piles of my hair hitting the ground. And I had to stop myself from smiling like a dork because I was so happy. I hadn’t even seen what I looked like, but I knew I was completely and totally myself.
And there are other times when I feel completely myself as a Black nonbinary person: when I get hand-me-down clothes from my younger brothers, when I dance to house music in my hip hop class, when I am listening to Black music, when I am with my partner, when I am with my best friends, and when I encounter other Black queer people in the world. At the end of the day, there is so much nuance to the Black nonbinary experience, to my Black nonbinary experience. Because there is no path set out for me, I get to forge my own. Although it can be scary, there are people out there who do understand what my life is like. And through my journey, I have the chance to expand other people’s perceptions of what queerness looks like.

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