According the plan outlined in the Commons Crit intro, we are providing two takes on Nu Mas(k)ulinities by Eb. Brown, Daniel Coleman, and Joie Lou Shakur, which took place June 1 in The Commons festival at CURRENT. One writer, Danielle Purifoywas only privy to the final showing, while the other, Don Holmes, was embedded throughout the month-long residency and development process. We invite you to compare the outcomes, and read Don’s prior pieces here and here.

By Danielle Purifoy, final writer

A couple of years ago, I attended the orientation for the Durham chapter of Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100), an organization committed to creating justice and freedom for all Black people through a Black queer feminist lens. A prospective member asked what we meant by Black queer feminism. I realized I’d rarely heard a cis man ask a genuine question about queerness or feminism.

What if he—and other men—could be convinced that freedom for everyone could be found in Black queer feminism: a rejection of toxic masculine domination and the centering of the most marginalized Black folk, including women, trans folk, and gender nonconforming folk? It would mean that I, a Black queer femme-ish person, could walk around in control of my own body without fearing for my safety. 

Just as important, Black queer feminism would allow this Black man to seek tender touch and care from another masculine person without it necessarily being sexual or “emasculating.” And he might be willing to ask for what he needs and carry his power in ways that keep him—and everyone around him—alive.

Last Saturday, when I walked into the interactive ritual Nu Mas(k)ulinities, I saw and felt validation of my conviction. The space created by Eb. Brown, Daniel Coleman, and BYP100 member Joie Lou Shakur—all Black, queer, masculine-identified people—showed me a brilliant vision of masculinity rooted in Black queer feminism. The performance space was a candlelit sanctuary filled with gorgeous, large-scale photos of Black masculine-identified folk suspended in joy, contemplation, and vulnerability. These were souls open to alternate ways of holding power, and I felt safe in their presence.

The ritual was an indulgence of the senses, and rightly so—patriarchy valorizes senselessness. As we set our written intentions on the flower-filled altar and sprayed the backs of our necks with Florida Water to honor our loved ones, as we were invited to sit quietly with our feelings, I considered how rarely I have witnessed silent masculinity that wasn’t masking emotions or resisting gentleness. I also recognized how rarely I challenge the mandate imposed on Black women to take on the world, which itself reflects patriarchy’s refusal to share in care work. 

At the ritual’s core was the question: Why do you want to end patriarchy? The creators left us to answer for ourselves as we witnessed Coleman dance gleefully to Spirit McIntyre’s lyrics, “happiness and joy rain down on me,” and as we listened to Brown tell about his fight to honor the boy and the girl living within him. I caught my breath as we saw Shakur’s film of their hands washing the hair of another masculine person. When they asked us to reflect with the person beside us, I turned to my partner and asked why she, a masculine-identified person, might want to end patriarchy.

“Because ending it would un-limit our imaginations,” she said. If we could imagine masculinity without domination or senselessness, we might witness more masculine people like the Black men at BYP100 dancing or smiling or playing with each other’s hair, and more femme people like me moving freely and confidently through the streets at all hours. We might hear more tender words spoken. We might be able to look in each other’s eyes and see something other than fear.

By Don Holmes, embedded writer

The audience entered the performance space in silence. Ushers pointed us to our immediate right, where a table was spread with tools for us: selenite sticks to dispel negative energy and spray bottles of Florida Water to quiet disruptions in our minds. At the table, we wrote our intentions for attending Nu Mas(k)ulinities with white markers on black slips and laid them on the altar center-stage, beneath the projected word “silence.” This silence fostered a space to both listen and receive. We were about to embark upon a journey to uproot toxic masculinity.

This journey, I have learned, is both communal and personal. Since I departed the artists’ ritual space at The Mothership a couple of weeks ago, I have sought to gain clarity about my masculinity, the space I occupy, and my role in uplifting healthy masculinity. The final performance piece emphasized not only such individual commitment to this work, but a larger commitment to hold one another up as we do it.

When Eb. Brown and Daniel Coleman took the stage on Saturday night, I could see both of their spirits wading deeply in torrential waters. Facing away from each other, they danced before turning and meeting once again in the center. Daniel took a falling Eb. into his hands ever so gently, lifting him back up to his feet; Eb. reciprocated the gracious movement. These Black trans artists were like warriors standing alone, separately facing their own painful battles but finding strength and unity in their common purpose to rewrite the uninviting narratives written by society.

Approximately halfway through the piece, collaborator Joie Lou Shakur introduced their short yet profoundly impacting video as part of a communal praxis of undoing toxic masculinity. In the video, Joie Lou was seen loving and caring for Ambria, another masculine-identifying person, by washing their hair, a deeply symbolic, interpersonal act in Black communities. Throughout the video, the audience reacted positively, in an audible way, to the imagery of healing and connection between them. It felt to me as if Joie Lou’s healing hands, which caressed and cleansed Ambria’s hair, exited the screen and were laid on each of us.

At another moment, Daniel danced in the aisle that acted, in my view, as a splitting of the room—it was directly in front of the altar. Darkness surrounded him, but a small circle of light perfectly captured his body’s grace as he pulled the two halves of the room together, connecting our individual experiences to a larger, more communal one.

Although the Nu Mas(k)ulinties ritual ended after an hour and a half, I left with renewed assurance that the participants had the tools to continue the praxis for undoing patriarchy, both alone and together. Nu Mas(k)ulinities was a revolutionary and immersive ritual, a celebration of Black trans queer art, that courageously shaped an innovative narrative: A better world is not just a faraway hope, but unfolds right before our very eyes.