The Color PYNK: Black Queer “Femme-inism” and Popular Culture

By GABY JADOTTE

Colorado College’s Tutt Science building is home to multiple academic departments, state of the art labs, and a large lecture hall typically reserved for speakers in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields. For the majority of the year, the building is dedicated to STEM-related classes and research, a haven for science majors, and a spot usually avoided by humanities students. However, on April 15, the lecture hall was full of students and faculty from different academic disciplines attending a talk by Omise’eke Tinsley, PH.D., on “Black Femme-inism” in modern day America.

Photo by Joe Keat

Tinsley’s lecture focused on modern-day Black feminists and their use of visual art as social commentary, as well as a form of resistance. She began the talk by revealing that even though she had researched and studied Black queer feminism, years of what she labels “femme-phobia” prevented her from using her own sexuality as a mode of social resistance. 

She stated that she knew celebrating queer cis-femininity was just as important as celebrating its counterpart, queer masculinity, but her insistence on defining “femme” kept her from fully engaging in it. It was only after the 2016 election of President Donald Trump, when Tinsley “was writing for sanity and to convince herself that she could stay safe as a queer person of color in the American South,” that she embraced the abstract qualities of the term “femme.” It was during this time that she began to see queer-femininity as a color, PYNK, and to see that color more and more in popular culture.

During her lecture, Tinsley used the recent works of different creative figures in popular culture to illustrate modes of resistance that Black feminists are using today. She showed Janelle Monae’s critically acclaimed PYNK music video, and a scene from Janet Mock’s episode of the TV series “Pose.” In PYNK, Tinsley remarked on the constant usage of the color pink, not as a gimmick, but as an identifier of internal womanhood. 

According to Tinsley, Monae’s lyrics, “pink like the inside of your, baby” and “pink where its deepest inside, crazy” may seem like they refer to the external anatomy of a woman’s body, but in her analysis, these lyrics actually talking about internal womanhood. The Presence of only Black women in the video displays Monae’s celebration of Black female bodies as beautiful and artistic, rather than sexualized in vulgar contexts.

Tinsley also focused on Janet Mock’s episode of “Pose.” The episode “Love is the Message” was not only Mock’s directorial debut, but also the first time n TV show was directed by a trans woman of color. Set in New York City during the late 1980s, Pose explores the worlds of Black and Latinx “ball culture,” the downtown literary scene, and the rise of the “yuppie” milieu. 

Though the entire series is full of poignant interactions between its characters, the scene Tinsley chose from “Love is the Message,” was especially powerful. In the scene, a white woman Patty is having a conversation with a trans Latina woman, Angel. During this conversation, Patty confronts Angel, who is her husband’s mistress. Though a white woman would typically have the upper hand in this interaction, Mock has written this scene to give Angel the advantage. 

She comes out voluntarily and confidently to Patty, and reveals that she had ended the affair due to Patty’s husband’s leave expressions of toxic masculinity. Tinsley cites the role reversal within the scene, along with the references to dolls and the pink light that bathes the actors, as Mock’s powerful stand for queer Black femininity in primetime television.

Tinsley is an associate professor of African and African Diaspora Studies and associate director of the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. She is also the current F.O. Matthiessen Visiting Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies at Harvard University. 

Her research focuses on art as a mode of resistance against anti-blackness, misogynoir, and the heteropatriarchy. This focus on black Femme-inism is reflected in her three books, two of which were published in last year. Tinsley is not only a distinguished academic, but also an influential mentor. Professor Rushaan Kumar credits Tinsley for helping him realize his true gender identity as a trans butch man when she mentored him in graduate school.   

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