Tag Archives: Audre Lorde

Correcting my scorecard

In an earlier post today, I likened what happened in North Carolina yesterday to a baseball player moving the runner over while making an out.

I’d like to correct my scorecard. Based on today’s news out of the White House this afternoon, I think we did more than that. I think we scored a run on that play.

The Internet has been aflutter all afternoon with people complaining about President Obama’s statement today in support of same-sex marriage. It’s too calculated, it’s too late, it’s distracting to the “real” issues that are plaguing our nation, it’s not enough, it’s a ploy to invigorate his base, it’s cynical.

Whatever. Some folks, when given the opportunity to see a glass half-full or half-empty, will maintain that we’re all out of glasses.

One small step, one giant leap

For me, watching the sitting president of the United States, who is a biracial man with an unusual name, come out in support of my equal rights — well, this is as riveting as the moon landing. I’ve watched the clips several times, with that same  combination of awe and disbelief that I had when I watched Neil Armstrong make his way down that ladder.

I still can’t believe I have lived long enough to see the kind of progress on queer civil rights that have happened in the past 15 years. I wish Maurice Sendak, who never came out to his parents, and who made a home with the same man for 50 years, had lived to see this day. I wish Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde and Matthew Shepard and Harvey Milk had lived to see this day.

My hope, my prayer, is that those of us who have the good fortune to live and love in these times will continue to live and love in ways that honor the mighty ones who came before us.

Thank you, President Obama.

Update at 9:56 pm Eastern Time: feel free to use the comments to add the names of friends or family of yours who you wish had lived to see this day. Thanks for the idea, Miss L.


“The skies are full of them”

Adrienne Rich

The news of Adrienne Rich’s death yesterday leaves me simultaneously heavy-hearted, unfathomably grateful, and with an incrementally widening grin on my face.

Before Dan Savage created “It Gets Better,” Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde were two word warriors whose prose and poetry gave queer people like me a hand out of the hell of  compulsory heterosexuality. Rich and Lorde didn’t write about how it gets better. Their work implored, argued, persuaded, comforted, rallied, and railed in messages that conveyed that to be queer and to live out loud was not only possible, it was essential.

Audre Lorde

The grin that ambles across my face today is the result of contemplating the reunion of these two mighty women in whatever comes after this life (Lorde died of cancer in 1992). No longer weighed down and contained by their human bodies, what sort of poetry might they unleash? What new language will emerge from the unknown that they now inhabit? What constellations are bursting forth from their unfettered and now collaborative energies? The possibilities make a girl downright giddy and tearful all at once.

As Rich wrote in one of her essays:

“…Sisyphus is not, finally, a useful image. You don’t roll some unitary boulder of language or justice uphill; you try with others to assist in cutting and laying many stones, designing a foundation…My work is for people who want to imagine and claim wider horizons and carry on about them into the night, rather than rehearse the landlocked details of personal quandaries or the price for which the house next door just sold.”

You may not know it, but if you have spent any part of your life rolling the boulder of justice uphill, you have been in the company of Adrienne Rich and Audre Lorde — master builders and stone cutters.

Look up. The skies are full of them.


By Adrienne Rich

Thinking of Caroline Herschel (1750—1848)
astronomer, sister of William; and others.

A woman in the shape of a monster
a monster in the shape of a woman
the skies are full of them

a woman ‘in the snow
among the Clocks and instruments
or measuring the ground with poles’

in her 98 years to discover
8 comets

she whom the moon ruled
like us
levitating into the night sky
riding the polished lenses

Galaxies of women, there
doing penance for impetuousness
ribs chilled
in those spaces of the mind

An eye,

                           ‘virile, precise and absolutely certain’
                             from the mad webs of Uranusborg

                                                        encountering the NOVA

every impulse of light exploding

from the core
as life flies out of us

                  Tycho whispering at last
                 ‘Let me not seem to have lived in vain’

What we see, we see
and seeing is changing

the light that shrivels a mountain
and leaves a man alive

Heartbeat of the pulsar
heart sweating through my body

The radio impulse
pouring in from Taurus

            I am bombarded yet                I stand

I have been standing all my life in the
direct path of a battery of signals
the most accurately transmitted most
untranslatable language in the universe
I am a galactic cloud so deep        so invo-
luted that a light wave could take 15
years to travel through me        And has
taken     I am an instrument in the shape
of a woman trying to translate pulsations
into images        for the relief of the body
and the reconstruction of the mind.

From The Fact of a Doorframe: Selected Poems 1950-2001 (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 2002)


A Litany for Survival

By Audre Lorde

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours:

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive

From The Black Unicorn (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1978)

Come out, come out, whoever you are

Estimates for how much of my childhood was spent in the car on long road trips range from 30-80%, depending on which trip I’m remembering. Every summer of my childhood, my dad – or both my parents – got invited to minister at week-long church camps called “reunions.” Over the years, we travelled by car to reunions in at least half of the lower 48 states, and several Canadian provinces as well. When my parents became empty-nesters, they got invited to places like Tahiti, Australia, and Hawaii. But I’m not bitter.

One of our trips back when I was five or six years old took us through the Black Hills of South Dakota. My recollection is that Dad had taken some “No Doz” so he could stay awake (Red Bull hadn’t been invented, and he didn’t drink coffee), and he was driving – and vibrating with caffeine-induced jitters – through the night across the other-worldly landscape of the Black Hills.

At some point in the wee hours, I woke up to find that Dad and I were the only ones awake in the car. I looked outside and asked quietly, “Where are we?”
“We’re driving through the Black Hills of South Dakota.”
“What kinds of animals do they have here in the Black Hills?”
“Oh, let’s see. Buffalo. Antelope. Maybe mountain lions. Bears. Deer.”
“Which is the biggest one?”
“Probably the buffalo. But bears get pretty big, too.”

These hand binoculars REALLY work!

I looked out the window again. It was the darkest dark I had ever seen, even with our little headlights, and the occasional lights of a passing truck or car. For whatever reason, I was suddenly obsessed with seeing a buffalo. I squinted hard and peered out the window. I made circles with my hands, and used them as pretend binoculars. I scanned the horizon.

“Psst. Hey Dad,” I whispered. “I see some buffalo out there.”
“Really?” he whispered back.
“Yeah. They’re huge!”
“Wow! What are they doing?”
“Um. Uh oh. I think they’re running toward our car. Go faster!”
“I can’t do that without getting a ticket.”

I looked up ahead, then behind us. No police car in sight. No cars or trucks of any kind. No other signs of life, except for all those buffaloes of unusual size I was sure were chasing our car. The humming in my head became a roar. Ohhhhhh noooooooo. Hurrrrry uuuuuuuuup, Daaaaaaad. Drive fasterrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Come onnnnnnnn. Goooooooooooooooooooooooo.

I crawled over my sleeping brothers and found a spot behind my dad. I reached up over his seat and started rubbing his shoulders. He liked when I did this during long distance drives, and it was a way for me to feel connected to him without bothering him. It also made me feel a little safer.

After a long silence, punctuated by Dad’s murmurs of gratitude for the shoulder rub, I said, “I’d sure like to see these buffaloes better. When will the sun come up?” “Not for a few hours, Joybells. Why don’t you get some sleep?”

I thought to myself, “But what if the buffaloes aren’t out there when I wake up? What if this is my only chance to see them? Why are they chasing us? Why are these stupid Black Hills so dang BLACK??”

I drifted back to sleep for a bit. When I awoke again, we were driving through that pre-dawn darkness that feels so full of hope and possibility (or dread, if you’ve stayed up all night studying for an exam or writing a paper). The long and ridiculously dark night was almost over. My dad had stayed awake. And the buffaloes were STILL there!

I perked up and waited eagerly to see my first real live buffalo. I used my hand binoculars to get a closer look. I couldn’t believe what I saw. I slowly put the hand binoculars down in my lap and looked out the window, unaided. I swallowed hard, first in disbelief, and then in embarrassment.


All those enormous, scary buffaloes I had seen before were trees. Gnarly, hump-backed, buffalo-shaped trees. They dotted the landscape as far as I could see. The lighter it got, the smaller and more ordinary the trees appeared. By the time the sun was all the way up, I couldn’t figure out how the trees had ever looked like rampaging herds of buffaloes to begin with. And yet my middle-of-the-night certainty and the fear it inspired were so clear and fresh and real.

This memory was playing like a movie in my head when I awoke in the wee hours yesterday morning. As I lay there trying to fall back to sleep, counting the buffaloes/trees, I remembered that October 11, is “National Coming Out Day” here in the U.S.and in several other countries (it’s on October 12 in the U.K.)

When National Coming Out Day was founded in 1988, I’d be willing to bet that very few people in the queer community, or our allies, friends, or families, envisioned where we’d be now: same-sex marriage is legal in 10 countries, as well as six states in the U.S. You might think that such a trend would render National Coming Out Day irrelevant.

My hunch is that National Coming Out Day and the AIDS Memorial Quilt were among the many things that helped to pave the way for the momentum we see now for same-sex marriage. Back when we queer people were mostly just shadowy gigantic buffaloes of people’s frightened imaginations, same-sex marriage was unthinkable. Even civil unions weren’t on the map, for the most part. As more and more of us started coming out – along with our families, friends, and allies – it was as if the sun began to rise. Lo and Behold! All along, those gnarly buffaloes were just ordinary trees.

I have fewer people to come out to these days, but I have friends and family who are not so lucky. I still have plenty of friends and family who are faced daily – usually multiple times each day – with the exhausting battle of whether or not to come out, how to come out, and to whom. Each decision is freighted with worries that include, “And what if they hate me?  And what if they hurt me?”

Even as It Gets Better, it doesn’t necessarily get easier. Kids still get bullied for being suspected of being queer. People are still killing themselves, or being killed, for being queer. Thirteen years ago today, Matthew Shepard died of injuries sustained when two men beat and tortured him for being queer. That seems like only yesterday to me.

So this year I have a different take on National Coming Out Day. For the first time in my life, I am hearing it as an invitation to straight people who are our allies, friends, and families. Because even in a world where more of us can get married, we still have a long way to go until every queer person can live a life of openness and integrity without fear of losing our jobs, our families, our children, our homes, or even our lives.

This past summer, the hospital where I work started a Be An Ally program, which encourages ALL hospital staff to put rainbow stickers on our badges as a sign of support and welcome to all queer people and their friends, families, and allies who are on hospital grounds. It’s an amazing thing to see so many rainbow stickers everywhere. That’s one way to come out.

So come out, you allies, friends, and families of queer folk. Come out, come out, whoever you are. We need your help, because we can’t create a safe place on our own. As an example, right now the presidential candidates from the Republican Party are busy shooting daggers at each other over who is a Real Christian or a Real Conservative. PW and I were talking recently about what a relief it is to have their wrath focused elsewhere.

Eventually, though, many politicians of all affiliations and many of the religious folk who support them will start shooting at the queers. They do this in every election cycle. It’s exhausting to be so regularly and so predictably dehumanized. So we need you straight people to come out now more than ever, and we need you to do it daily, as many times a day as you can. To paraphrase the queer writer Audre Lorde, your silence does not protect us. We need your active and vocal support to help us shine the light through people’s fears and anxieties, so we can all see our rampaging herds of midnight buffaloes transformed into the benign, shade-giving trees of morning.

Lyrics to “Always” by Blind Pilot

Holy road we are on tonight
Catch as catch can till we get it right
Always… in this dark light
Tell me more than what you can guess
Feel like thunder then quick to forget
Always looking for what is not yet
Lock the keys in my house tonight
Hit the steps for the morning light
Always looking for a new light