The Insidious Afterlife of Social Myth:
Black Transwomen, Surveillance, and Black Religious (Christian) Ethic
The twentieth century saw a distinctive shift for the United States as we entered into a new post-emancipation era, and while black people’s circumstances changed significantly during that time, it goes without saying that the remnants and vestiges of slavery continued to impact the sociocultural reality of black communities. Myths of the black rapist, the black seductress, and more proved unrelenting and, at times, even manifested in new, more adaptable forms. Such insidious and enduring sociocultural myths became central to black life and justification for the violent terror to which they were regularly subjected. Black churches have long been foundational institutions for the black community, acting as a cornerstone for its sociopolitical aspirations and community building. Black churches have simultaneously functioned as a space within which black people came to understand and make meaning out of their sociocultural reality. As a meaning-making institution and safe haven for black people, black churches necessarily responded to the concerns of such depictions and understandings of black life as evil, predatory, and immoral.
This presentation documents the black churches’ response to the sociocultural myths that plague black people and its reification into a particular ethic and disciplinary system.
This sexual ethic like any meaningful moral framework was incorporated into the lived realities of black people and has had a lasting impact on the black community. Moreover, this ethic left black transwomen, in particular, at the center of a dangerous system through which hegemonic forces encourage great scrutiny and surveillance of gender expression. This ethic is enacted through the promotion of self-surveillance within the black community, which ultimately produces a dangerous environment for black transwomen who are always outside of the normative structures of gender, putting them in a particularly vulnerable position.
Benae Beamon is a PhD candidate at Boston University in the Graduate Division
of Religious Studies in the Religion and Society track. She earned her B.A. in
religion from Colgate University and her M.A.R. from Yale Divinity School with a
concentration in ethics. She focuses on black queer ethics, folding the study of
black churches and philosophical hermeneutics into sexual ethics discourse. Using
social history to uncover black moral and social thought surrounding sexuality and
building primarily on womanist ethics, queer theory, and black theology, she
explores the experience and reality of black queer and transwomen. More broadly,
she also has interests in the black arts, such as African American literature, African
American poetry, and specifically tap dance, as they relate to queerness.