I Made this Money, You Didn’t: or Why I Won’t Be Supporting YOUR Black Lesbian Business

I came across the article Black Lesbian Owned Businesses are Endangered today, and I have to admit that it read more like a rant than anything else, and to be honest with you, as a Black lesbian with dollars to spend, I was offended by Ms. Breedlove’s comments. I do my best to support Black owned establishments, and actively seek out Black and lesbian owned businesses that provide services or goods that I need. While I understand that she may be frustrated, the way to encourage me to patronize your place of business is not to call me a “crab in a barrel,” or to make judgments about how I spend my money.

Likewise, if you know anything about the current state of our economy, then you must know that Black lesbians have a higher rate of poverty than most other LGBT folks, and are usually raising children as well. So, no, most of us aren’t spending $400 on weaves or sneakers, and if we are, that’s our business, not yours.  If you want me to buy what you’re selling, how about you market a quality product that people want instead of putting them down and suggesting that all Black lesbians are a bunch of weaving wearing, stripper loving idiots who don’t have the good sense to know how to walk away from poor service, or that we all patronize homophobic or racist establishments?

Perhaps Ms. Breedlove needs an attitude adjustment more than my business.  The one thing that she seems to forget that she is in the social networking business, so no, we don’t necessarily NEED your service, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr do just fine. However, I have utilized Black lesbian-themed social networking sites, because I do like the idea of an internet space that caters to my needs, and I’m a member of at least one site that I truly love.

In order to EARN my business, Black lesbian business owners need to do more than assert that I engage in behaviors that are taking money out of their pockets or lay some guilt trip on me about tithing my money to a business that doesn’t meet my needs, simply because we are part of the same community.  And while I support strippers and other entertainers’ right to do what they do, I’d rather spend my money on a nice vacation, concert, or some other activity where I’m getting more for my buck than a handful of sweaty ass.  You also need to do more than insinuate that all of us are fighting at the club every weekend, drinking up the money we should be spending with you. You also shouldn’t assume that some, if not most of us, who are doing well financially, aren’t already giving back to our communities, financially and by providing other resources and support to the issues that we care about.

Ms. Breedlove, you seem angry that we aren’t supporting YOUR business, and while I am certainly willing to give any business a chance to earn my loyalty and hard earned dollars, I am hard pressed to give one to a business that focuses more on telling me why I’m a careless consumer than proving that she has the best service or product on the market.

From one Black lesbian to another, it might be a good idea to change your marketing and publicity strategy, because although some Black lesbians may engage in some of the behaviors you mention, you may have just managed to offend a huge portion of your target consumer base in a major news source.

Probably not good for business.

I Am Your Sister: Notes from a Native Daughter

To commemorate the life and legacy of our sister Audre Lorde, who would have been 79 years of age today, I am reposting this piece I wrote in 2009 on the new collection of Lorde’s work, edited by Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Rudolph Byrd, and Johnnetta B. Cole. 

Musings on I Am Your Sister: Collected and Unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde

Travel back in time with me to 1986, (I realize that some of you might have been very small children then, but work with me), to my senior high school English class, taught by Chi-Chi Peak, and yes, she looked just liked her name sounds, like a little bird, flitting around the classroom correcting our English and encouraging us to embrace Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which I loved. When it came time to select a text for our book reports, I wanted to write about one of the few black authors I knew of at the time, James Baldwin.( Morrison and Walker had both been writing for decades, but their work had not received the status that it has today.) I had read If Beale Street Could Talk and fallen in love. From that point forward, I read everything by Baldwin I could get my hands on, including his famous collection of essays, Notes of a Native Son, The Fire Next Time, and Giovanni’s Room. Somehow I figured out that Baldwin was gay, and even though at that time I didn’t know that that was something we had in common, I felt as if Baldwin was my big brother, uncle, something. He became my hero, and I wanted to write the kinds of essays that he wrote, essays that would spark a nation divided by racism into action, to write essays that would stir the types of emotions that Baldwin’s work had stirred in me. Mrs. Peak didn’t want me to write about Baldwin, and she wanted to know why I chose this author rather than one of the authors on our reading list. Well, to me it was quite obvious, he was Black and wrote about all of the things I cared about, racism, oppression, love, family, literature, all of the issues that shaped the world I lived in. He was my brother, and I wanted everyone I knew to appreciate his work too. Mrs. Peak did not share my enthusiasm for Baldwin, and indeed, from this point forward I was “militant.” I guess you could say that I still am.

Fast forward to the year 2007. By this time I had been married, had a daughter, divorced, and had been “out” as a lesbian for about 13 years, even though I had been only out to my family for about four. I came across Alexis DeVeaux’s biography of Audre Lorde, Warrior Poet at a used book store. I didn’t read it then, but knew that I should. Still, I put it on my shelf and promptly forgot about it.

However, in 2008, I was reintroduced to Lorde’s work, and in the past two years, Audre Lorde has become central to my research and central to the ways in which I have come to view my identity. Yes, my identity. For those of you who think that identity politics is an exercise in futility, that the death of the author, theories of structuralism, and post-structuralism, postmodernism, and psychoanalysis, queer theory and performance theory, have done away with the subject, be advised that in doing so they erased our very humanness as well. It is very easy for us to sit in the safety of our tower, our classrooms and offices and theorize about what it means to be Black, lesbian, woman, man, the list could go on. But for the past several months, a lot us of have shed tears of the senseless suicides of several gay youth who suffered at the hands of bullies because of their real or perceived identities as gay men. But how many of us have cried over Sakia Gunn? The young Black lesbian woman murdered on the streets of Newark, New Jersey because she rejected the advances of white men and proclaimed her lesbian identity? This is the kind of oppression that Lorde speaks about in her essays. And this is why I Am Your Sister:Collected and Unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde is such an important book.

This collection of essays is in part inspired by the recent opening of the Audre Lorde Papers housed at the Spelman Archives at Spelman College, where both Guy-Sheftall and Cole have been faculty and administrators. The Arcus grant that funded the processing of the archives seeks also established the ZAMI project to: “increase the public awareness and understanding about African American gay and lesbian experiences; explore the marginalization of racial issues in the GLBT movement;… and other activities to combat homophobia in the Atlanta University Center community and other historically black colleges and universities; and contribute to the production of scholarship on Lorde” (Guy-Sheftall 2009, 255).

So this volume has several goals as articulated in Byrd’s introduction:

  • To honor the life and legacy of Audre Lorde.
  • To elevate the importance of Lorde’s published essays and other work, which have served as a catalyst for theorizing by scholars and activists in relation to questions of identity, difference, power, social movements, and social justice.
  • To publish selections from the unpublished writings by Lorde.
  • To recover some of Lorde’s prose writing that has been out of print. (2009, 4-5)

What Guy-Sheftall, Cole, and Byrd suggest in their reflections on Lorde and her work is that “each of us has multiple identities” and Lorde reminded us of that each time she introduced herself as “black, woman, feminist, lesbian, mother, teacher, warrior, poet” (2009, 236). Indeed throughout the text Lorde is referred to as a Black lesbian feminist, and as the sister outsider. Why are the authors privileging these identities? For two reasons: The terms bring to mind Lorde’s collection of essays, Sister Outsider; and also because the term “illustrates the ways in which Lorde reclaimed and transformed overlapping , discredited, and marginalized identities—black, lesbian, feminist—into a powerful, radical, and progressive standpoint” (Byrd 2009, 5).

Likewise, the introduction traces a brief history of Black feminist thought, and gives us snippets of Lorde’s Back lesbian perspective on the civil rights movement, second wave U.S. feminism, the Black Nationalist movement, and the gay and lesbian movement. Lorde had something to say about it all. We also learn about her battles with cancer, her trips to the Caribbean, and the homophobia she experienced at the hands of Black intellectuals. I Am Your Sister is important because we need to rethink how we hear and don’t listen; see, but look through, past, or around; identify and dismiss.

In the years since I’ve become re-acquainted with Lorde and her work, I’ve  come to understand that my fierce commitment to self-definition, to speaking boldly, to embracing difference, and to uncovering racism, sexism, and homophobia wherever I find it, are also hallmarks of Lorde’s work and life.

I am a Black mother, sister, daughter, lesbian, scholar, writer, activist, southerner, friend.

And I too, am your sister.

WNBA star speaks out for marriage equality in Minnesota battle

WNBA star speaks out for marriage equality in Minnesota battle

I am so excited for Seimone and her partner!  I’m even more excited that Black lesbians are coming out and taking a stand on marriage equality and talking about their same-sex relationships in positive ways.  

 

“Being Queer Does Not Make You Radical” via GataAgressiva411

Sista is right on point. This is for those of you who insist that only LGBT identified folk (not queer identified) are always already invested in heteropatriarchal capitalism.  Queer men are especially adept at this. How about y’all pluck that rafter from your own eye so that you can see the stake in ours?

With love,

Sista Outsider

I am a Black lesbian

I am lesbian, not queer. I am Black, not colored, and while I stand in solidarity with my sisters, brothers, and genderqueers of color, I will not allow anyone’s deconstruction of identity to erase my own. I am a Black woman, cis-gendered and femme. I reserve the right to name and claim my own identity and I respect the right for you to do the same.

That is all.

A “Dime Piece,” Seriously?

I heard this term used recently and decided to repost this from a piece I wrote a couple of years ago.  The Struggle continues. 

So, check this out. A couple of weeks ago I got a message in one of my in-boxes from this woman who wanted to submit an application. (More about that later.) Now, I’m always respectful and polite when people send me messages, even when I don’t solicit them. Regardless, I responded to her and later on that day, we proceeded to chat on the phone. Well, as she began to tell me a little about herself, she made the comment that she was looking for a “dime piece.” She said that she was “vain” and wanted a certain kind of woman on her arm. I was rather stunned, first because I hadn’t asked her what kind of woman she was looking for and second, because she used such an archaic and misogynistic term that signaled the commodification of women and their bodies. Well, I sort of let it go for the moment, and the conversation proceeded onwards.

My problem, however, is the term in which she used to refer to the type of woman she was interested in dating. But first let me mention a bit about this wonder of a woman. From what I gather, she is newly out and continually referred to her lesbian identity as a “lifestyle.” I was offended, but figured she was only parroting the heterosexist terminology that is floating around in American culture today regarding lesbian and gay identities as a lifestyle choice, rather than as an ontological state or as an identity.  (But that’s another blog.) She mentioned that she had been out for five years which might explain her rather heterosexist attitudes, but who knows? Either way, this chick has three kids, the youngest of whom is 12 and all of them at home and never mentioned a job. I thought to myself, “She talkin’ ’bout looking for a dime piece, what, pray tell, is she going to do with her when she finds her?” It seems to me that she has her hands full raising her children, and might want to focus on that rather than searching for a woman who is only 1/10th of a 100 percent of a real person.

Finally, by the time we got to phone conversation two, this woman wanted to talk about intimacy (ok, sex).  Really? Now, I’m a firm believer in having those types of discussions with someone with whom you have decided to become intimate. But shuga, I don’t even know your last name. Is there any particular reason you want to know what I’m into behind closed doors before you even know my favorite food? Is there anything wrong with getting to know someone BEFORE the sex questions come up? Sheesh!

So the moral of the story is this: don’t refer to women as articles of currency. Not only is it crass, but it suggests that women are objects to be bought and sold based on physical attractiveness and according to whose standard of beauty anyway? And I thought we stopped selling Black women in 1863. Black women should be slapped up side the head  every time one of them mentions a “dime” piece to remind them of their fore-mothers who were bought and sold on the slave market.

And lest any of you think I’m hating on beautiful Black women, I’m not. ‘Cause I’m one of them. But I just wish we would think more about how we’ve internalized heterosexist attitudes towards women, and stop engaging in behaviors and speaking in terms that dehumanize and commodify each other.

No Shame Today, or Any Day

In honor of The Siwe Project’s #NoShame day, I thought I’d pay tribute to my dear friend Dee who suffered from depression.  It’s hard to know where to start: Dee was one of the smartest, most vivacious people I know.  She was an out Black lesbian, and was a great comfort to me when I was going through the process of coming out with my own family.  We’d talk for hours, and many a night we’d stay up until the wee hours of the night with our other friends drinking coffee, playing spades, and talking shit.  Dee thought I was smart as a whip, and encouraged me to finish my B.A., even though at the time I was working a full-time corporate job and raising my young daughter as a single parent. She believed I could do anything I set my mind to, and I dare say she had me convinced too.

But Dee could “act the fool” too.  More times than I care to remember I’d get a call from another dear friend (he lived across the street from Dee and her partner), telling me that there had been an “incident” and he’d had to go over and try to help out.  Dee was notorious for her sharp wit and even sharper tongue. None of us ever wanted to get on her bad side, because we’d seen the havoc she could wreak on the uninitiated and we also knew that there was more to Dee than met the eye.  What I didn’t realize until later was that Dee’s “acting the fool” was linked to her depression and to the periods of time when she’d be off of her medication, and that sometimes resulted in erratic behavior.

When I met Dee, she was on disability, she had been diagnosed with clinical depression, and was on a couple of different medications, whose names I cannot now recall. All I remember is that at some point, Dee talked to me about how the depression made her feel and how she hated it.  I couldn’t understand it at the time, I just knew that when she took her meds she was ok, and when she didn’t, she wasn’t. For me it was a no-brainer.  However, I now realize it was so much more complicated than that.  Dee’s depression was debilitating; some day’s she just couldn’t get off the couch.  The meds she was taking didn’t always help, she said they made her feel like a zombie, which made it even harder for her to function.

My friend was suffering, suffering from demons I cannot hope to describe in this blog post, but I know that at some point it all got to be too much.  The meds, the doctor’s visits, and grappling with memories of emotional and physical abuse, had gotten to be more than Dee could handle and she suffered a nervous breakdown.  After a 48-hour hold in a local state mental hospital, we hoped that Dee would get treatment that would help to stabilize her and help her to function as “normally” as possible.  For a while things seemed to be getting better: she enrolled in our local university, bought a new car, and seemed to be doing well. Then, four months later, another, harder crash.  Dee was hospitalized for an extended period of time, but this time, in a private facility with a more treatment options, and we hoped, a better outlook for her future.

In early January, 2004, my friend went out to her storage shed, put a gun in her mouth, and pulled the trigger.  The initial gunshot wound didn’t kill her, but five days later her family took her off life support. Her partner of ten years was not allowed to have any say in the decision. In fact, after the shooting, they ran her out of her own house and treated her like a criminal.

Dee planned her death carefully: She made sure that her son would not find her body, and she had even laid out the clothes she wanted to be buried in.  She had left a note for her partner in the bathroom, she knew that would be the first place “A.” would go when she came in from work.  Our friend “T.” from across the street found her in the shed; her son “M.” wandered over there looking for her as he often did after school, since Dee would sometimes walk over for coffee and a chat in the afternoon.

I’ll never forget the impact that Dee had on my life; she’s one of the reasons I decided to pursue the Ph.D.; she believed I had something to contribute even when I wasn’t so sure myself.  She also helped me to understand the impact that depression and mental illness have on a person’s life, and that no, you can’t just get over it.  Related to this are the ways in which Dee’s lesbian identity and same-sex relationship impacted her family’s reaction to her depression.  They refused to help Dee when she reached out to them, and they made medical and other legal decisions that rightfully should have been left to her partner. She left instructions for “A.” that her family simply ignored because they weren’t legally married and because they didn’t “approve” of her relationship.  I know that Dee would be pleased to know that same-sex marriage has been made legal in some states, and that people are working to eradicate the second-class citizenship status that many LGBT persons still experience everyday.

Dee was my friend and I miss her terribly.  I like to think that she would be proud of me; she’s one of the reasons that I’m committed to writing about Black lesbian experiences.  No blog post could ever do her justice, but I hope that in sharing a little of her story, I can help raise awareness about mental illness in our communities.

What’s in a Name?

So, check this out:  I’m a member of a couple of Black lesbian groups (mainly social, mainly women over 30), and yesterday’s question for discussion was as follows:  “What type of women do you go for, passive, submissive, aggressive, or a combination of all three?”

My answer was short and sweet: “I like assertive women, not aggressive, with a soft side.” Only one other person in the conversation noted that the labels or descriptors seemed a bit limiting, and mentioned that she didn’t like any of them.  I actually started composing a longer response that mentioned that all of these adjectives/labels had pretty negative connotations, but as I scrolled down and read the rest of the responses, I decided just to let it go.  And to be honest with y’all, I know this conversation has gotten a little tired. Still, it was messing with me, so I decided to write a little about it here and see what y’all think.  To give you a little context, here’s a smattering of what I read: “I like my women submissive, except in the bedroom.”  I like them smart/sexy, and submissive and knows how to play her part well.” Sigh.

Before I go any further, in the spirit of full disclosure I’d like to mention that I am attracted to (and partnered with) a masculine of center woman. She describes herself as a “soft stud.”  I’m good with that. And if you’ve read my other post Straight Passing, Or on the Invisibility of Femme Lesbians, you know that I identify as femme. And I’m good with that as well. So my issue is not labels per se, indeed, no matter how hard we try, we always end up coming up with new ways to identify ourselves so that others have an idea of who we are or are not.  Likewise, one of the biggest issues that Black women, lesbian or not, face, is society’s ever increasing propensity to impose labels on us that we would never choose for ourselves, in order to make them feel more comfortable, powerful, whatever.

What I’m not good with though, is how we accept some of these other labels and descriptors without fully examining the ways in which they impact how we behave toward one another.  Here I’m going to limit myself to speaking about the Black lesbian communities of which I am a member, in other words, I’m speaking about my own experiences, as well as some I’ve witnessed.  Bebe Moore Campbell said it best when she proclaimed that “Your blues ain’t like mine,” so just know that I’m not trying to generalize or stereotype all Black lesbians.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s just break these terms down just a little, and think about how they have come to represent at least one of the primary labels that Black lesbians (I’m also thinking “aggressive is used more in the northeast, as we southerners seem to be more attached to “stud,” or “soft stud,” which is equally problematic, given our slave history.)

Dictionary definitions for passive, aggressive, and submissive:

  • Passive:  accepting or allowing what happens or what others do, without active response or resistance.
  • Aggressive:  ready or likely to attack or confront; characterized by or resulting from aggression.
  • Submissive: ready to conform to the authority or will of others; meekly obedient or passive.

Now, I get that “aggressive” is used in lesbian communities to indicate a break from all things feminine in some women, and for others, it simply means that they are more masculine identified, although they might still identify with a bit of their feminine selves (thus the “soft” in soft stud).  Still, I have to ask myself why would anyone want to use an adjective that suggests that she is “likely to attack or confront?”  I also know that what has resulted from this label “aggressive” is the tendency for some of these women to take on all the negative attributes that have come to signify what “man” or masculinity means in U.S. culture: sexist and over-sexed; aggressive, violent behavior, a sense of entitlement and an assumption of power related only to the fact that they identify as masculine; and last but certainly most disturbing, outright misogyny. We see this in the tendency of some of these women to call women bitches and hoes, to claim that “bitches ain’t shit,” to focus on women as the sum of their body parts, (usually her boobs or her ass), and to relegate their partners to “submissive” roles in the bedroom, insisting that “real studs” don’t let their women touch them.  To claim that you want a woman that “knows her place,” is to subscribe to gender binaries that relegate feminine or femme identified women to the bedroom and the kitchen, and not much else.  I also get that some femmes seek out women that treat them this way, and I wonder why they allow themselves to be objectified in such a manner. But that’s another blog.

Now, before you get your boxers (or panties) in a bunch, I realize that not all of you think or behave this way. In fact, one of the most thoughtful pieces of writing I’ve seen on this matter is the The Lesbian Stud Manifesto, which details the ways in which some women come to claim a stud identity, and what that really means for them.  So, now I’m not sure if I’ve added that much more to the conversation, but I’ve certainly gotten this off of my chest.  What do you all think? Are the terms aggressive, submissive, and passive too negative to be associated with lesbian identities? Or does the literal definition of the term, along with its connotations, not matter at all?