How to Reconnect With Your Body In Spite of the Impact of White Supremacy

Finding ways to reconnect with our bodies in a world that tells us our bodies are wrong is no easy task.

As a whole society, we've all been influenced by the impact of white supremacy for longer than anyone alive can recall. Throughout history, white supremacy has normalized and promoted the idea that money can buy love, and that marriage is the definition of relationship⁠ goals. It's planted the seed for the idea of the nuclear family as it socially cemented the idea of monogamy, and it's historically shamed anyone who would dare be romantically involved with more than one person (even though this has always been applied almost exclusively to the conduct of folks perceived to be women). These are some examples of the many ways that historically dominant identities and behaviors have become normalized, and have consequently shamed those who were unlike them. I’m going to tell you about a few more examples of how this has manifested in our bodies and then I’m going to give you some ways that you can start to dismantle that impact and reconnect.

White supremacy oversimplifies complex bodies and identities.

White supremacy very negatively impacts transgender and other gender nonconforming people, but trans and GNC communities have existed much longer than these values have. With the seeming resurgence of so many trans and gender nonconforming⁠ people being recognized in mainstream media, I can’t help but happily make the connection that globally, folks are finally starting to try and reconnect with their own bodies. It’s no coincidence that corporations are now jumping on the “rainbow pride” bandwagon; touting all those fancy colors without an understanding of the nuance that is inside the alphabet soup of LGBTQ⁠ . For example, since being transgender⁠ isn’t a sexual orientation⁠ , it’s important to be understand the differences that exist between the letters themselves.

Let’s start here: Sexual orientation has to do with you’re attracted to, gender identity not only has to do with who you, all by yourself, are, but it also isn’t about what a lot of people usually think it is. Elements of sexual orientation also include who you’re attracted to and the kinds of acts you want to engage with a person. Some examples of sexual⁠ identities can be lesbian⁠ , gay⁠ , bisexual⁠ , straight, and queer⁠ . Sexual orientation—both identity⁠ and behavior— is something you choose for yourself and you have the right to love and have sex⁠ however and with whomever you want.

The ’T’ in LGBTQ represents something different altogether. Sexual minorities have been grouped together since before Western language evolved. Being transgender isn't about who you're attracted to: it means you don’t identify with the sex you were assigned at birth.

For thousands of years we've been assigning sex at birth based only on the appearance of external genitalia—on whether someone has a penis⁠ or a vagina⁠ , without considering a whole lot of things, including the fact that the penis and the vagina do not even develop from the same organs when it comes to actual function.

Here’s a little anatomy⁠ lesson that might be a bit different than you’re used to: The vagina, an opening and cylindrical muscle that acts like a flexible sleeve, is the name for just one of many sexual or reproductive operators in the whole of the vulva, which represents the entire external organ from the outside. The penis, which is comprised of three main parts (the shaft⁠ , the glans⁠ /head, and the root, which isn’t visible to the naked eye-pun intended) serves as a pathway for urine and sperm⁠ to exit the body through the urethra⁠ , which is usually located right in the middle of the glans. The urethra on a vulva⁠ is not commonly found inside of the vagina. It’s right above the vaginal opening⁠ .

If we were to assign a counterpart for the penis, it would actually be the clitoris⁠ . They’re homologous organs, which means they're essentially the same in varying sizes and shape. When fetuses form in the uterus⁠ , they all start with clitorises, and depending on a number of additional factors, which are primarily related to hormones⁠ or chromosomes, then a penis would form from the same organ. Essentially, penises are long clitorises with around half the amount of nerve endings. Clitorises have about 8000 sensory nerve endings and the glans, or head of circumcised penises, has about 4000, and just like penises, clitorises come in all shapes and sizes. (If a penis is uncircumcised, the foreskin itself also has at least thousands of nerve endings: it's similar to the labia⁠ minora.)

Some genitals⁠ at birth aren’t even clearly distinguishable as one or the other, which erases intersex⁠ infants before they even have the chance to speak for themselves. Intersex is a term that refers to any combination of variance in genitals, chromosomes, or hormones from what has been typically accepted as “average.” A number of infants are given unwanted surgeries at birth without their consent⁠ , sometimes not even being told about these changes until they start puberty⁠ when unexpected bodily changes occur. These sort of occurrences are ways that way supremacy and the unnecessary binary⁠ impacts us in really violent ways and is one of the most visceral examples that we’re forced to disconnect from who we are before we even know it.

White supremacy fortifies unnecessarily binary norms.

When infants are born, doctors sometimes are assigning sex inaccurately, and that’s not just about intersex people.

By all means, if you don’t identify with the sex you were assigned at birth, then you might be transgender. But I’m not sure that cisgender⁠ individuals—people who do identify with the sex they were assigned at birth—would even exist if we weren’t assigning sex — and thus, in a lot of ways, gender⁠ roles — at birth, and based only on a quick view of external genitalia, no less. If doctors were given sex ed in medical school (most aren't), or any point in time in their educational process then this distinction wouldn’t be such a big deal. It was always odd for medical professionals to be categorizing folks this way. Because of the trajectory that these assignments can send someone on, gender roles are imparted on people from an early age and gender identity⁠ feels like less of a choice. But just like sexual identity, gender identity is self selected. You cannot know someone’s gender identity unless they tell you.

How someone identifies should not, and usually does not, rely exclusively on their genitals, nor on an assignment someone else made for them. If genitals are an important part of a person’s identity, that should to be up to them, not a doctor or anyone else.

How you relate to your body parts is your own business. People really ought to mind theirs.

Putting so much weight on a person because of the genitals we assume they have can be an extreme source of unwanted oppression. Not everyone makes life decisions based on the sex they were assigned at birth. The amount of pride you can have about your genitals has the right to extend itself in any direction and can also be about any organ; from our shoulders to our arms or elbows. A favorite fingernail.

If deeply connecting with or reclaiming your genitals feels challenging, you can always try starting with a different, and potentially less loaded, body part. For example, If you have the privilege of having hands, look at them! Just observe them. The idea of hands as sexual organs may be new for some, but there are a number of ways that someone can use their hands ranging from something as minimal as a sensual graze of the cheek or earlobe all the way to manual sex⁠

When was the last time you appreciated having such great appendages?! Hands are one of the most interesting sexual organs to me because they have the capacity to hurt just as much as they have the capacity to heal. Hands aren't usually assigned sex or gender, so there’s not as much stereotyping or pressure around what our hands can do as there can be with our genitals. Develop what freedom you have to use your hands on your own body or with a partner⁠ , with consent.

Reconnecting with your body is all about the intention you set with your actions. Keeping in mind that intent isn’t the same as impact, it is still really freeing to just start to understand and experience the possibilities that exist for your body and how you can feel about it. For those who don’t have as much experience exploring their own bodies, it can be helpful to start with the familiar. If you’ve never taken a moment to appreciate something as simple as your hands, just start there. It might seem small, but it has the capacity to be really powerful and big.

Baby steps from there could look like finding a way to be comfortable seeing and starting to work on accepting yourself, your whole self, exactly as you are in the present. Not as the person you could be if you lost a few pounds, not as the other people you’re comparing yourself to: just you.

Western culture has prioritized and valued identities they perceived as dominant since the first major revolution, so people in positions of power that are white, cisgender, able-bodied, straight and monogamous⁠ left little room for people of color, trans+ people, those with disabilities, who are gender variant, fat, queer or polyamorous. So much diversity is erased because of the effects of white supremacy. For those who have the power and privilege to exist in the identities that challenge that tired dominant narrative. We take on an immense amount of unnecessary stress by envisioning other selves instead of appreciating the ones we actually have.

Combat the impact of white supremacy by proudly displaying self-love.

Self-love and self-care are all about giving yourself much deserved grace. Because there is a trend of self-care due to the ecological revolution, where people are reconnecting with themselves and acknowledging their actual needs, it can be difficult to figure out⁠ which means of self-care are authentic, or pseudo- erotic⁠ . When I say pseudo-erotic, I’m talking about pleasure that’s an act, or that may feel good temporarily, but can have long-term negative effects. Things like consuming alcohol or smoking, for instance, can be replaced with masturbation⁠ , meditation or yoga for a more holistic approach to actually getting to know your body as it is instead of numbing it. Self-care can look like curating your social media accounts with inspiring and uplifting pages, like @makedaisychains or @sexpositivefamilies. You deserve to feel good and there’s nothing wrong with seeking pleasure out. If you have the opportunity to utilize your own social media profile to be intentional about what sort of messages you want to spread, that can also positively impact your mentality and potentially inspire others like you, too.

Eliminate shame from your life and start to truly accept who you are.

There is no shame in working with what you have from exactly where you are. I keep my own house full of mirrors so I have as many opportunities to see myself as honestly as I can. Front-facing cameras are a modern day version of mirrors: selfies are one of my favorite forms of self-reflection. Literal self-reflection helps you see the nuance of your expressions, your shoulders, that favorite freckle. Being able to orient yourself in a space is also an excellent way to practice self-awareness. Stay aware of how you look when you are in any particular setting. If you find yourself with the time to snap a picture or two now and then, just getting used to seeing yourself at certain angles can strengthen your ability to harness⁠ some of your inner powers of self-love and acceptance.

Other methods of experiencing and proudly displaying self-love can lie in how you express your gender.

Physical, outward gender expression⁠ is what society sees when they look at you. That can be your style of dress and the clothing you wear, the style of your hair, the physical mannerisms you use when interacting with others. Gender expression is not necessarily the same as gender identity; they don’t have to inform one another or “match." For folks who are comfortably connected with their bodies, wearing clothing that aligns with how you identify — if it exists and you can access it — can be one of the most freeing parts of self-expression.

Reconnecting can feel like rejecting the negative things you’ve been told about yourself for your entire life.

It’s a privilege to be able to stand wholly in your truth without the fear of being harmed or excluded. Public figures like Alok and Erika Hart are proudly paving the way for queer people of color to embody what it means to let your authentic self shine through on the outside despite mainstream media’s historic insistence that they aren’t the ideal. Yet, we are ALL ideal. Every last one of us. Difference should be celebrated. The things that make us stand out are what also make us unique. Displaying the truth of who we are to the world is also an untapped form of pleasure that I believe goes undervalued much too often in our society. The ability to be whoever you want to be is a freedom that shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Allow yourself to feel entirely. Allow yourself to explore every inch of who you are unabashedly. Every body is different, so there is no one right way for someone to connect to their own body. White supremacy has set an impossible and unachievable standard for us all that we do not have to adhere to. There’s no checklist that’s going to apply to every individual, so your best bet is going to be trying out what feels nice for you and seeing how you feel. An embodied trial--one that’s effortful and intentional--is highly recommended, but as I mentioned, even making attempts in tiny ways can have a huge impact on our bodies, our hearts, and our minds. We are literally constructing new ways of thinking every time we do this work. It’s been suggested that it takes 3-5 times of trying something for you to know if you actually enjoy something, so apply this rule to all of your bodily endeavors and give your body a chance to explore something new. I promise you won’t regret it. Truly connecting with your body and accepting it in spite of the messages we’ve been targeted by can give us immense amounts of radical satisfaction. And who doesn’t love feeling satisfied?

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