It’s a Man’s World

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Denisio and Mwende / Guest Photographer / Our Closet / Uncategorized

Photos by danielle c miles – The Corner: Corners, neutral grounds, stoops, shade trees and corner stores have long been cornerstones in Black communities across the world. From the exchange of neighborhood gossip to political debates, dominos, chess games on legless tables balanced on the knees of the players, to the trading of goods and services beneath signs that scream “NO LOITERING!”– which is perceived as more of a request than a demand, cornerstores — these locations continue to provide space for gathering and communal expression of Blackness. “The Corner” is an ongoing photo-documentary project takes an intimate look at their confluence in the Black community.

Post Soundtrack – “It’s A Man’s World” James Brown



We underrated, we educated
The corner was our time when times stood still
And gators and snakes gangs and yellow and pink
And colored blue profiles glorifying that…

The corner was our magic, our music, our politics
Fires raised as tribal dancers and
war cries that broke out on different corners
Power to the people, black power, black is beautiful…
The corner was our Rock of Gibraltar, our Stonehenge
Our Taj Mahal, our monument,
Our testimonial to freedom, to peace and to love
Down on the corner

-Common featuring The Last Poets, The Corner, 2005


MWENDE: PANTSMy friend found them for me after an estate sale along with some pearls SHOES: Got them from Buffalo Exchange after trading in some clothes some Tulane students had thrown away at the end of a school year

GLASSES: Borrowed from my friend Savv who always has the dopest shades NECKLACE: Bought from a vendor at the Women of the World Poetry Slam in Albuquerque 5 HEAD: Inherited from my father BEADED BANGLE: Purchased at the Community Book Center in New Orleans BARELY THERE EYEBROWS: Inherited from my mother

MWENDE: DOLLA DOLLA BILLS (yall): It was my 24th birthday on this shoot! In NOLA people pin money on a person when it’s their birthday, we went into Buttermilk drop and they gave me my first dollars 😀

Mwende Katwiwa: When I was too small to dress myself, my parents clothed me in typically feminine ways, adorning me (especially in formal settings) in dresses and skirts. Thankfully, the older I got, the less control they had over my appearance and I found myself becoming more and more masculine presenting (though I would say I was just becoming more and more of myself or choosing to wear clothing that I felt was comfortable).

For the majority of my life, people have labeled as a ‘tom-boy’, but I’ve long felt like “Tomboy” was a socially acceptable simplification of how I felt in relationship to my gender identity and expression. I didn’t necessarily want to be more masculine/a tomboy, it was just clear to me from the time I was about 5 that I did not live up to the expectations of ‘typical’ girlhood. Femininity felt clumsy on me, like a flamingo on roller skates going down a steep hill, so I began to embrace masculinity in appearance and action to the point where my brother and I were mistaken for twin boys. Even though somewhere deep inside I had a longing to embrace and express femininity (later I realized it had more of a desire for the acceptance that came with femininity than actual femininity itself but hey I was like 7, gimme a break), there was also safety in masculinity that I recognized, embraced and thrived under as a child.

I remember the day I could no longer pretend I wasn’t a girl. I had come home from a basketball game and was sitting on the floor talking to my mom when I laid down allowing my sleeveless basketball shirt to fall expose my chest in a way that would’ve been innocent in my childhood, but clearly was no longer. My mom quickly pulled my shirt back over my chest and commented on how it was time to get a bra and I froze thikning, ‘A bra…For what?’ . I was only 11 or 12 when puberty hit, so it hadn’t occurred to me that my body would change in ways that threatened the identity I had constructed as a child because in my mind, I was still a child. I hadn’t realized or refused to realize that my body was was changing, and as a result, I hadn’t changed how I related to it, especially in front of others. When my body did change (in what was probably like a year but seemed like all of 7 hours) it changed my entire relationship to self expression and masculinity. I went from having a fairly boxy body that was easy to present as masculine to developing into an hourglass shape that I still have today. But I was 12. Despite the clear changes, I struggled to maintain my ‘tom-boy-ish-ness’ even though I recognized then as I do now that some part of me was happy to finally be able to be recognizably a girl/woman.

Around the same time I hit puberty, my family relocated to a new area, and I made a decision to test out what I had been told was femininity in a place where no one knew the old me. After the move, I dove head first into what I thought and had been told was femininity for about 2 years until I hit a wall. At the start of  high school, I realized I couldn’t keep pretending I found comfort or safety in femininity and the apparent sexualization that necessarily came with it. I remember staring at myself one day in the mirror and just cutting all of my hair off, going into my room and putting away all my skin tight shirts and jeans. Seeing a remnant of my boyish youth in the mirror was like finding a part of myself I had forgotten I’d even lost. I began to settle into a more masculine womanhood after realizing that I had been operating under a very narrow , toxic and patriarchal definition of femininity and feminine expression that was ultimately harmful because it was more for other people’s consumption (read: male consumption) and had little to do with my own personhood. Learning that whether or not people recognized and appreciated me as a woman had no bearing on my womanhood is a lesson I am still learning.

At some point in college, I made a decision to re-examine femininity with a wider lens and interrogate the sources of my knowledge. About a year ago, I made a conscious decision to stop being afraid of expressing myself in feminine ways and the journey has been complicated.

I would be lying if I said I felt physically more comfortable in a dress than a button down shirt and slacks (both in my own body and in how others receive it), but I would also be lying if I said I didn’t feel good in ‘women’s clothes’ and makeup (well, in lipstick anyway. I still don’t wear other make up except for shoots but even that’s just eyeliner and mascara). I’m definitely not done exploring my masculinity/femininity and how they intersect, overlap and complicate my gender expression, my love life and my personal identity, but at this point in my life, I’m not afraid of finding the answer. As I start my 24th rotation around the sun, I am making a conscious decision to express myself comfortably not necessarily along any binaries and just see where that takes me.


Denisio – BLAZER: is one of the remaining items from an online vintage shop I had with a friend. PANTS: are part of a vintage suit. SHIRT: belongs to my partner Michael. I steal his clothes a lot 😉

SHOES: Another thrifted treasure from Maryland. The soles are disintegrating so they are purely for show! BRIEFCASE: was found here in New Orleans. Michael and I lost the combination but a quick google search on his part helped us crack the code!

HIPS: courtesy of my father’s side of the family, and also eating things like Buttermilk Drops on a weekly basis.

Denisio Truitt: Once my mom told me that had I been a boy, my father planned to name me Gabriel after a close friend who passed long before I was born. This was later on in my life when conversations between mothers and daughters transform into something more honest, candid. Something about that conversation an the idea of a phantom boy that never came haunted me for years. Perhaps it was because even without the knowledge of Gabriel, I remember feeling energies in my child body that felt feminine and at times masculine.

I arrived into this world a screeching blue-faced little girl with a mass of black curly hair already springing from my scalp. I would go on to play with brown barbies and My Little Ponies, love all things pink and purple and fishing with her Snoopy themed pole. And though my gender identity has always been female, part of me identified with a maleness that framed the edges of my femininity; something treading just beneath the surface that went beyond the physical ways I chose to express myself. My preteen through junior high years were spent in ambiguity: cargo pants, loose shirts and neutral palettes one day, babydoll dresses and platforms the next. In high school I grew hips and thighs and it felt good to me to accentuate them, so the scales tipped toward more “traditionally” female attire which remained through my 20’s and into my 30’s.

Today I am probably the most feminized than I’ve ever been though there is still a masculine presence within my psyche (even with my preferred attire being anything sequins and heels). And occasionally my clothing reflects that presence; there are days here and there where I find more comfort in loose slacks and button ups than a vintage disco dress. I call those my Gabriel days.


Noirlinians is a love story by two wandering Daughters of the African diaspora 

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The Author

Noirlinians is an AfroFashion blog exploring the complex relationship between culture, clothing & identity in the diaspora. Featuring Liberian artist and designer Denisio Truitt of DOPEciety and poet and organizer Mwende “FreeQuency” Katwiwa, the idea for the blog emerged after a fast friendship developed between the two based on their African heritage and artistic interests.

1 Comment

  1. Meredith McElroy says

    I loved getting to know you a little in this way. Y’all are both awesome and have very interesting stories. Thank you so much for sharing yourselves. Be blessed!
    Meredith (Ma Mere) McElroy


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