Late last year, I dated a woman and experienced for the first time a world without men. My life has long been dominated by men. Through my relationship to men — crushes, loves, heartbreaks, harassment, objectification — I have come to know myself. And yet here was a world where men did not only not feature but they didn’t even get an honorary mention. It was intoxicating to find myself in conversations that always passed the Bechdel test, to be completely unaware of and uninterested in male attention.
Men would still approach me. More, actually, when I was with her, as if they could sense their increasing irrelevance and it made them reckless. I found these interactions funny because no matter how much my body language made it clear that we were together, the men that approached us would remain completely oblivious. How difficult it must have been to imagine a scenario where women did not exist for them; how hard they must have worked to ignore what was right in front of them in order to uphold a narrative of the world that kept them at the center.
I was fascinated by the way she moved through the world. She was not afraid in the way I was. There are whole parts of the city that I mark as off limits if it’s after dark, but she would dive through alleyways without a second thought. It was the faster path so she took it. I didn’t understand how her life was not dominated by thoughts of safety in the same way mine was. Do you only learn to fear men when you have also loved them?
That can’t be true because your sexual orientation does not protect you from violence — more likely, the complete opposite — but still she was unafraid, and it made me feel safe. I was allowed, for a short while, to believe that existing in public while female wasn’t a liability.
The relationship didn't last because I was, ironically, still heartbroken over a man, but it gave me a deeper appreciation for women and for how it feels to surround yourself with female energy. Energy is a murky word because it encourages the kind of faux spiritually that always paints woman as goddesses. I hate the idea of women as goddesses. I don’t want to be otherworldly. I want to be human and for that to be enough. Still, there is something about being in the presence of female excellence that buoys the spirit, and I only know how to describe that energetically, so forgive the connotations of the word.
The embodiment of female excellence -- for me and countless other people -- is Beyonce. I wouldn't typically describe myself as a fan of anyone; I appreciate good art and am thankful for the artists who make it, but I don't feel touched on a life changing level. It is different with Beyonce. I love that her evolution as an artist has been so public; when she performs now, it feels like watching a fully realized woman, and I love that so much of her work celebrates women. Her newest visual album, Lemonade, is clearly made for Black woman, and it is difficult to talk about it without feeling like I am taking up space where I shouldn't be. So I will keep it simple: listening to Lemonade makes me feel powerful. As Clover Hope describes it in Lemonade is Beyonce's Body and Blood, this music is "the type that makes you walk through the streets demolishing tall structures in your head". Her music makes me love myself, and that love expands me into the magnanimous version of myself I long to be but rarely am.
In Lemonade, men are everywhere in the lyrics and nowhere in the visuals. This is not a world without men, but it is a world where Beyonce is deciding exactly how the cheating man is represented, punished, and redeemed. Taking up space, instead, is a long parade of powerful and inspiring women: Serena Williams, the sisters from Ibeyi, Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz, Zendaya, Warsan Shire, Amandla, Gwen Carr, Lesley McSpadden, Winnie Harlow-- the list goes on and on. To see a woman with as big a platform as Beyonce inviting other women to share the stage is empowering in the true sense of the word, instead of the corny, capitalistic empowerment messaging that companies are using to get us to buy more bullshit. It's that same feeling I got in the months when my life was spent almost exclusively in the company of women. I am buoyed, renewed, realized.
I love, too, that this album is about being in love with a man, but it's a complicated love. What love isn't? Whether it's directed at ourselves or someone else. I do not want to live in a world without men. I am, once again, in love with a man and know plenty of good ones (#notallmen) but, my god, it is nice to exist in a time where women are no longer asking permission to take up more room. I know that the world is not magically fixed. I know that I speak from a place of incredible relative privilege...but there is still something hopeful about the art that's being created by women this year. Policies and the general consensus of society might not have caught up yet, but it feels like women on an individual level are rejecting the long-held narrative that there is something lesser, shameful about being female. Maybe there's even a future for me where I can walk dark streets unafraid. I'm not holding my breath for that reality in this lifetime...but still, the hope of it is really something.