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Kortney Ziegler examines Harlem Renaissance performance artist Gladys Bentley and the ways her manipulations of gender suggest a kinky politics that offers a new space of black queer possibility. Known for her appropriations of a fetishized image of black masculinity during the 1920s, Bentley released an autobiography in the 1950s to announce her embrace of femininity and heterosexuality. Ziegler reads Bentley’s announcement of heteronormativity through “sissy play”—a type of BDSM role play in which a male embodies hyperfeminine attributes. Although Bentley did not identify as male, Ziegler interprets her work with the knowledge that black women have always been perceived as innately masculine through competing discourses of white racism and black respectability politics. He reads Bentley’s cross-dressing and vocal play as representative of a “black sissy” aesthetic that makes legible the interrelation of black queer and “normative sexualities,” while transforming dominant notions of black female sexuality and gender.

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