The Principles of Trap Feminism

Black life moves fast, especially for those of us at the margins and intersections of that experience – and Black women and Black trans women are most at risk. In a new book, Sesali Bowen, known online as @BadFatBlackGirl, responds to this reality with a proposal for “trap feminism.”

Text: Jeffrey Martín

Notes from a Trap Feminist seeks to reclaim the performance of racialized gender – often deemed “inappropriate, reductive, and unproductive” – for the benefit and enjoyment of Black femmes, gays, and anyone who doesn’t fit the body expected by the cis-male gaze. Part personal memoir, part anti-capitalist manifesto, part media critique, Bowen’s work approaches a theoretical discourse through the accessible and nuanced lens of trap music – which she uses without centering the men who dominate the genre’s “bros before everybody else” public image. Using lyrics by Gucci Mane, Saucy Santana, City Girls, and Cardi B, Notes from a Trap Feminist confronts the violence inflicted upon Black women and femmes across the gender spectrum by the systems of global hegemony, capitalism, and colonialism. Rap provides evidence that we have not begun to decolonize our world in the way we need to, and functions as a tool for integrating the cultural shadow cast down and maintained by racist imperialism. But Bowen’s life, and the lives of those she has shared it with, are not stories of repression, but of victory, and the artists she cites are poets of liberation, of freedom. Notes from a Trap Feminist is above all a manual, a playbook for readers seeking self-actualization in this messy world. In narrating her own experience of finding salvation in trap music and friendship, Bowen dissects and dismantles anti-Black economic and political structures. Speaking her own truth, in other words, she speaks truth to power.

Bowen is sharp and fresh in the discourse presented in this book, dissecting what consensual sex work really is, how vastly different consensual sex work is from sex trafficking, and how the institutional misunderstanding of the difference between the two has negatively impacted Black and other vulnerable communities. She writes in one snippet: “Even outside media, transactional sex is way more common than any of us are willing to admit. Our practices around sex, dating, relationships, and marriage often extend beyond our primal desire to simply connect with a person we love. We usually want, negotiate, and receive something that is of value to us in return for performing sexuality.”

In the hegemonic police state we live in globally, Black women, especially those who are trans, are most at risk. Notes from a Trap Feminist provides a compass to reform as we endeavor to survive Covid-19, by honoring voices generally left out of both feminist and hip-hop discourses. Notes from a Trap Feminist dropped last month, but as we head into the season of generosity,  I’m sharing some of the book’s key takeaways: trap feminism’s 10 BAD BITCH PRINCIPALS, excavated for your consideration.

#1 Real feminists listen to trap music

“Develop a body positivity lens that makes space for other bodies. The [feminist and hip hop] molds have been broken, but only those of us who never fit it, know it.” 

#2 Black girls, across gender, have power and potential as is

“When a trap feminist uses that Laurel Thatcher Ulrich quote that everyone loves, ‘well behaved women seldom make history.’ We do what we have to, when we can’t do what we want to.”

#3 Self-preservation is key

“Understand the necessity of respect, self-defense, dignity, courage, and survival. The truth is that those things are worth breaking the law for, or sometimes a jaw.”

#4 Stay plotting – while sticking to the plan

“Take care of yourself. Date others who take care of themselves. Live and date by your own morals and principals, not someone else’s. Keep it a buck. Set the tone. Words and labels mean things so use them wisely. Know when it is time to walk away.”

#5 Black girls, bet big on yourself first

“We should be outraged and concerned about the bad things that happen to Black girls who are labeled as fast, whether the label is warranted or not. Black girls have been forced to swallow the pill [and do the emotional labor of men and institutions] for them. Despite the violence, even now, as an adult who understands that I was preyed upon, I have to resist the urge to feel like I should have known better.”

#6 True friendship is anti-capitalist

I’m paraphrasing this one: if folks who aren’t your true friends do not see your value or want to be in a community that is accountable and committed to being anti-capitalist, drop them. Always be in the process of dropping anyone who does not add to your values (or value), your resources, or your peace. You got stuff to do.  And for Bowen, there’s more justice in friendship than there is in romantic love: “Friendship connects us to ourselves in a way that we take for granted. Our friendships tend to exist outside the power dynamics that govern so many of our other relationships.”

#7 Be more like Harriet Tubman

The stories of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass are vital to Black history. They tell of our struggles, our resilience, and our victories. But a closer look at the love lives of our ancestors offers historical anecdotes that support another, important fact: when it comes to dating and relationships, be like Tubman. “Harriet escaped from slavery 1849 [and] was married to John Tubman. … She left him behind in pursuit of her own freedom [because he] wasn’t super supportive of her plan to liberate herself. When she returned to free him in 1851, he had married another woman and was happy where he was.”

#8 Start your self-parenting journey now

“I knew I valued myself, and I couldn’t figure out why other people didn’t seem to value me too. It turns out it’s because I was making too many concessions. I thought that as long as I was loud about how confident I was, people would hear me and fall in line. It doesn’t work like that. I had to show them how I wanted to be treated.”

#9 Don’t hold nobody down that is not holding you down like you need/want/requested from them

“Black women have been gaslit into believing in a version of love that requires us to, first and foremost, decenter ourselves. Our love has been equated with a form of martydom; it grows stronger the more we suffer and hold them down.”

#10 Don’t be femme-, fat-, queer-, or transphobic – or let people who are in your clique. And if you do, you better call them out, sis! Because the music you love, the fashion you wear, the content you crave – all are created by someone at one or all of these intersections.

“Hip-hop and The Black Ratchet Imagination‘s headquarters is the strip club [and that place runs on trap music.] Trap rap pushes against hard/rigid forms of masculinity. The strip club is an inherently queer experience given that it takes place in the space. Black folks’ backwards alliance with heterosexuality is a function of white supremacy and colonization. Heterosexuality is the ghetto; I want no parts.”

  • Text
    Jeffrey Martín

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