I love husky voices in women, which must be why Ryan’s bullying didn’t usually bother me. It got annoying, the way anything done repeatedly and publicly would, but not annoying in a way that made me feel small or self-conscious (that I recall), rather annoying the way boys tend to be when they have a crush and you don’t.
For what must’ve been all four years of high school, usually during French, because I don’t remember him having any other IB classes, a boy I’m almost sure was named Ryan mocked me for having a man’s voice. I don’t think our seats were assigned, but we routinely sat next to each other — which means he sat next to me — and I remember being certain in multiple, nonconsecutive seasons that he had a crush on me, and occasionally I’d consider him a entry level, lowercase friend, in that I didn’t avoid him or feel the need to. So why did it go completely unnoticed that he deepened his own voice when mimicking me in class? Why did no one say anything, and why didn’t I remember it until very recently? And how did he know at that age that the masculinization of cisgender Black women was a long-running form of abuse?
Michelle Obama. Serena Williams.
The darker the skin, the more constant the barrage of defeminizing attacks.
So why didn’t it register, even to me? The answer I’ve come to assume is that I don’t remember caring. It didn’t hurt my feelings, that I can recall, so it didn’t stick. I was disinterested in him, so—what? I feel like this speaks to the constant threat of abuse, or the expectation of it. It feels like I must’ve deprioritized aggressions from people who didn’t matter to me, which honestly checks out. It’s always confounded me when people I don’t know exist or whose existence about which I’m ambivalent expect me to feel strongly about their opinions of me.
Black women sweat more than other women, so I hear. I know I do. Black women have higher levels of testosterone. It’s strange because epigenetics is fascinating when we’re talking about how an Irish descendant of grandparents who lived through the famine have genetic repercussions, and yet there doesn’t seem to be the same academic curiosity to meet higher levels of adrenaline, and what that might have to do with prolonged and persistent seasons of racially specific stress. It isn’t that Black women may have a sickle trait disorder, sickled cells, and therefore higher levels of testosterone might be related to the body’s attempt to vasodilate blood vessels to allow flow with lower risk of red blood cell destruction. It’s just that Black women are manly.
So why didn’t Maybe Ryan’s abuse “matter” at the time? And then why did it resurface? Of recent racist remarks, I’ve said: I don’t care that that individual feels that way. I don’t have any emotional investment in them, so their thoughts aren’t impactful–at least not because they’re from them. It can be dismissed easily, in the moment, because it isn’t new. But that’s the problem: it isn’t new. It therefore gets sifted through and only the individual gets discarded. The sentiment, however, has company. It isn’t the first of its kind, it’s not an isolated incident. So it either lays dormant, waiting for the next and the next until there are enough of them that the weight is noticeable, or it is that final straw. It adds up and eventually the abuse succeeds, not because Maybe Ryan matters, but because he is part of a great tradition that is also allowed to continue unabated until committees involved in a woman’s sport and passion can decide she has no place in competition. Until journalists can sully great moments of accomplishments with coded language and intentionally selected photographs. Until someone who does impact our lives adds their length of straw.