I have known sexual assault more intimately than I have known most of my sexual partners. For years, it has been central to a lot of my writing, my organizing practices, and the ways in which I navigate the world. In that way, sexual violence is not foreign to me; for as far back as I can remember, men have used my body as their playground—finding the fun and the safety in hiding from themselves, and hiding themselves from others, with no regards for how damaging it was for me. I have written about some of my assaults. I have even written about the role my fat body played in my relationship with sexual violence. What I had not sat with, however, was just how much my body being read as that which belonged to a Black woman caused me to be assaulted by the type of men who engaged me. Not until I sat down for a conversation on the new docuseries Surviving R. Kelly, anyway.

The first time I can recall being violated by a man, I was around 8. I was a, then, young fat boy who had more ass and more thighs than boys were supposed to have. Black boys are supposed to be athletes. They’re supposed to carry their weight proportionately or not at all. They are supposed to be thin, or at least a little muscular, and not really fat. Whatever their size, they were never supposed to look like the little fast Black girl on the block. The one whose breasts formed a little earlier than expected. The one whose ass was just a little too round for men to resist. The one whose body moved differently when she walked. Though I was, in fact, an athlete, that body that people so easily read as “fast” was my own. I had the weighted thighs, the pants that didn’t really fit, the ass that moved without being prompted to. And because I did, I quickly learned that my body was not my own.

bell hooks defines patriarchy as “a political-social system that insists that males are inherently dominating, superior to everything and everyone deemed weak, especially females, and endowed with the right to dominate and rule over the weak and to maintain that dominance through various forms of psychological terrorism and violence.” This made evident to me that the violence my body has long endured is due to the ways in which patriarchy shows up through anti-Blackness, anti-fatness, heterosexism, and especially misgynoir—a term coined and proliferated by Moya Bailey and Trudy. Black women, while mostly described as “strong” and thought to not be able to experience pain, are still oftentimes viewed as “vulnerable” and “weaker”—the latter most often being what informs the former. They are weak because they are strong; they are strong because they are weak. They are assaulted because they are strong; they are weak, therefore they are assaulted. They are fast until they are slow; too slow until they’re fast. They are girls until they are women; they’re always women, even when they are girls. Men, and the way they rationalize these violences against so many bodies, are walking contradictions.

It is this that forces me to grapple more deeply with my assaults. The type of men which engaged my body, who I understand as DL and straight-assumed, still held intimate relationships with women, or led others to believe so. My body—full and weighted—waited for no one to touch it, and yet it was touched anyway. Over. And over. And over. And over again. And what I did not realize until I sat down for that conversation on Surviving R. Kelly is that it was engaged in such a way, in part, due to the fact that this body is and has always been thought to belong to a Black woman. For these men, my body provided a comfortability usually found only in “fast” girls void of any and all perceived vulnerability. Said again, my body was welcoming—even well into my adult years—because, frankly, it made these men feel that they were fucking a non-boy, a woman, without engaging the power dynamic therein.

To provide a point of clarity: this is not intended to compare my experience to that of little Black girls robbed on their girlhood and Black women robbed of their womanhood, but rather is to name the severity of the violences transgressed against them. If these assaults fell so confidently on my body, one which, at the time, belonged to a boy, one can only imagine the aggregated harm many Black girls and women have been forced to endure. Patriarchy acts as a system which assigns power to and employs hegemonic masculinity at the expense of non-men, especially women—whereby I am more directly stating that men, especially those who are cisgender and heterosexual, while also negatively affected by this system, are empowered to hold dominance over women and people perceived as women. This is, to my understanding, where the harm forged onto and around my body interacts most with misogynoir.

Sydney Lewis writes in I Came To Femme through Fat and Black that she “came to Femme as defiance through a big booty that declined to be tucked under, bountiful breasts that refused to hide … Through shedding shame instead of shedding pounds,” and this forced me to consider how the fat Black fem(me) body is perceived, especially in the Black South. Femme bodies like Sydney’s—ones with breasts and booties that would be described with adjectives like “voluptuous” and “busty”—have often defied standards of beauty, of womanhood, of femme-ness, so much so that, for as far back as the enslavement of African people, fat Black women in the south have long had a history of being assigned “caregiver”/”nurturer.” They act as the Mammy.

The Mammy Caricature, dating back to 1810, originated as an image to advertise the mythological unification of the south. Enslaved fat Black women were assigned the duty to care for white children. Their bodies, oftentimes used and abused, were thought of as a symbol of loyalty, unity, and care. Jesse Parkhurst writes that “[the Mammy] was considered self-respecting, independent, loyal, forward, gentle, captious, affectionate, true, strong, just, warm-hearted, compassionate-hearted, fearless, popular, brave, good, pious, quick-witted, capable, thrifty, proud, regal, courageous, superior, skillful, tender, queenly, dignified, neat, quick, tender, competent, possessed with a temper, trustworthy, faithful, patient, tyrannical, sensible, discreet, efficient, careful, harsh, devoted, truthful, neither apish nor servile.” And though all these descriptors were used as a way to market the Black women caring for white children—thus, creating a “unified south”—what is never made public is the sexual abuse her body endured; the fact that she, too, was still nothing more than property; that she was just an image who was still denied the realities of resources, freedom, and a true role in society.

This is a truth, an imagery, that is still central to the Black South. The feminization of the Black fat body is salient in our culture. We deify the imagery of our grandmothers cooking, cleaning, and caring for us with their low-hanging arm fat. We reminisce on the moments we shared out on grandmama’s/mama’s/auntie’s porch, looking out into the field, where she imparted all of her knowledge and wisdom into us. And still, as Lewis writes, these women are deviant in that their bodies refused to take up a different form. Ingrained in the DNA of the (Black) South is the belief that fatness, especially when it rests on a Black woman, belongs to non-fat people; that the only acceptable time to love/touch/assign femininity to a fat, darkskin Black person’s body was when it was performing for them, and especially when that body belonged to a woman. This sense of entitlement is what leads to the sexual violence against little fast Black girls who had shapely and fat bodies. To that same point, this is what feminizes the body of little fat Black boys who own a body most oftentimes associated with Black women.

My assaults, though made possible by heterosexism and anti-fatness, too, have all been a byproduct of misogynoir and the way in which men engage bodies that “belong” to Black women—even when those bodies actually belong to Black girls, Black boys, and Black adults who are not women. This fat body, especially in its younger years, only knew violence because that is how patriarchy intends to indoctrinate us. As bell hooks says in Understanding Patriarchy, boys are propagandized into the order and stipulations of patriarchy by teaching them to feel pain but to never express it. This, I believe, is something that men know, even if they cannot name it. This is the cause for this sort of intracommunal (both Black and non-heterosexual) violence: these particular men intend to explore their sexuality with bodies that don’t make them too uncomfortable, with the expectation that they’ll never speak of it again; that they’ll internalize it and move on with their lives; that they, fat boys, own bodies that are meant for women, thus designed to violate, but will/must adhere to the patriarchal teachings that they should never be courageous enough to speak of the trauma afflicted by those who have trespassed against them. That is why my assailants felt comfortable with engaging with me normally whenever they would see me outside of those moments. That is also why I never felt comfortable engaging them until I’d accepted that this was my role. That if I was to be a boy who would one day be a man—thankful that I found myself failing manhood time and time again—I’d have to accept my part in the patriarchy.

Now that I understand myself as a person with a deviant gender which does not fit or fold neatly into the gender binary, I have found myself detangling the web of patriarchy in my life and being more committed than ever to being sure that those little fast Black girls never have to experience the worst parts of patriarchy again. That is what we must all be committed to. We must commit to the complete eradication of the Mammy Caricature in our community. We must commit to the total deconstruction of the patriarchy. We must find ways to humanize fat Black women, little Black girls and little Black boys with deviant bodies in a way that does not imply ownership over their bodies or require them to perform. The lives of many rests on this.




Originally penned for: Patreon.