Audre Lorde / On the Loneliness of Unity, Finding Self



"Every one of the women in our group took for granted, and would have said if asked, that we were all on the side of right. But the nature of that right everyone presumed to be on the side of was always unnamed. It was just another way of silently avoiding having to examine what our living positions were within our small group of lesbians, dependent as we were upon each other for support. We were too afraid those differences might in face be irreconcilable, for we had never been taught any tools for dealing with them. Our individuality was very precious to each one of us, but so was the group, and the other outsiders whom we had found to share some more social aspects of our loneliness."
~Audre Lorde, "Zami: A New Spelling Of My Name" (p.205)

So much of the lessons Audre Lorde learned in the context of being black and lesbian, I see as applicable to my people in general. Everything about this passage applies to the struggle of community in general, lesbian or not.

The full passage is below, after the continued:

"It was not that I didn't have friends, and good ones. There was a loose group of young lesbians, white except for Flee and I, who hung together, apart from whatever piece of the straight world we each had a separate place in. We not only believed in the reality of sisterhood, that word which was to be so abused two decades later, but we also tried to put it into practice, with varying results. We all cared for and about each other, sometimes with more or less understanding, regardless of who was entangled with whom at any given time, and there was always a place to sleep and something to eat and a listening ear for anyone who wandered into the crew. And there was always somebody calling you on the telephone, to interrupt the fantasies of suicide. That is as good a working definition of friend as most.

However independently, we tried to build a community of sorts where we could, at the very least, survive within a world we correctly perceived to be hostile to us; we talked endlessly about how best to create that mutual support which twenty years later was being discussed in the women's movement as a brand new concept. Lesbians were probably the only Black and white women in New York City in the fifties who were making any real attempt to communicate with each other; we learned lessons from each other, the values of which were not lessened by what we did not learn.

For both Flee and me, it seemed that loving women was something that other Black women just didn't do. And if they did, then it was in some fashion and in some place that was totally inaccessible to us, because we could never find them. Except for Saturday nights in the Bagatelle, where neither Flee nor I was stylish enough to be noticed.

(My straight Black girlfriends, like Jean and Crystal, either ignored my love for women, considered it interestingly avant-garde, or tolerated it as just another example of my craziness. It was allowable as long as it wasn't too obvious and didn't reflect upon them in any way. At least my being gay kept me from being a competitor for whatever men happened to be upon their horizons. It also made me much more reliable as a confidante. I never asked for anything more.)...

[...] In a paradoxical sense, once I accepted my position as different from the larger society as well as from any single sub-society -- Black or gay -- I felt I didn't have to try so hard. To be accepted. To look femme. To be straight. To look straight. To be proper. To look "nice". To be liked. To be loved. To be approved. What I didn't realize was how much harder I had to try merely to stay alive, or rather, to stay human. How much stronger a person I became in that trying.

But in this plastic and anti-human society in which we love, there have never been too many people buying fat Black girls born almost blind and ambidextrous, gay or straight. Unattractive, too, or so the ads in Ebony and Jet seemed to tell me. Yet I read them anyway, in the bathroom, on the newsstand, at my sister's house, whenever I got a chance. It was a furtive reading, but it was an affirmation of some part of me, however frustrating.

If nobody's going to dig you too tough anyway, it really doesn't matter so much what you dare to explore. I had already begun to learn that when I left my parents' house...

[...] Every one of the women in our group took for granted, and would have said if asked, that we were all on the side of right. But the nature of that right everyone presumed to be on the side of was always unnamed. It was just another way of silently avoiding having to examine what our living positions were within our small group of lesbians, dependent as we were upon each other for support. We were too afraid those differences might in face be irreconcilable, for we had never been taught any tools for dealing with them. Our individuality was very precious to each one of us, but so was the group, and the other outsiders whom we had found to share some more social aspects of our loneliness.

Being gay-girls without set roles was the one difference we allowed ourselves to see and to bind us to each other. We were not of that other world and we wanted to believe that, by definition, we were therefore free of that other world's problems of capitalism, greed, racism, classism, etc. This was not so. But we continued to visit each other and eat together and, in general, share our lives and resources, as if it were."
~Audre Lorde, "Zami: A New Spelling Of My Name" (p.179-205)