29 Jun 2014


Hello tumblr.

I’ve noticed that a lot of y’all are really into the hit Netflix show Orange is the New Black. Now, I’m not going to bore you with any prison abolitionist rant here. I just have a request.

You know how Miss Claudette doesn’t get letters? How…

28 Jun 2014


Hey! So after seeing how confusing people found her sort of ironic blurb for decolonizing trans/gender 101, b. binaohan has written a new one!

tired of reading yet another trans/gender 101 entirely centered around white people and their normative narratives? tired of feeling like you must be this tall to be trans enough to belong in the ~community~? tired of feeling like the white trans community is erasing your experiences?
having gender feels but not understanding how they fit into the current white hegemonic discourse on gender?
decolonizing trans/gender 101 is a short, accessible (and non-academic) critique of many of the fundamental concepts in white trans/gender theory and discourse. written for the indigenous and/or person of colour trying to understand how their gender is/has been impacted by whiteness and colonialism.

Follow this link to buy in various places!
Also… short note: we’ve also redone the interior of the book ‘cause nina finally saw a paper copy and realized that she’d put the margin a little too close to the edge of the page. Sorry! She is still learning everything as b. steps away from managing the business.


Hey! So after seeing how confusing people found her sort of ironic blurb for decolonizing trans/gender 101, b. binaohan has written a new one!

tired of reading yet another trans/gender 101 entirely centered around white people and their normative narratives? tired of feeling like you must be this tall to be trans enough to belong in the ~community~? tired of feeling like the white trans community is erasing your experiences?

having gender feels but not understanding how they fit into the current white hegemonic discourse on gender?

decolonizing trans/gender 101 is a short, accessible (and non-academic) critique of many of the fundamental concepts in white trans/gender theory and discourse. written for the indigenous and/or person of colour trying to understand how their gender is/has been impacted by whiteness and colonialism.

Follow this link to buy in various places!

Also… short note: we’ve also redone the interior of the book ‘cause nina finally saw a paper copy and realized that she’d put the margin a little too close to the edge of the page. Sorry! She is still learning everything as b. steps away from managing the business.

28 Jun 2014

Stonewall Riots, June 28, 1969 (and following days)

(Source: livefasttryingnottodieyoung)

3 Jan 2014


Originally Delivered by Cheryl Clarke as the Kessler Lecture on Dec. 6, 2013 at the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center

Scenes of black queer and feminist resistance; or forced confinement and forced mobility”

Recently I said the following at a “Symposium: Black Women’s Studies and the Transformation of the Academy” in 2010.  I shared the panel is Nikol Alexander-Floyd, Paula Giddings, and Cheryl Wall.  I think it is applicable to black queer trouble-making:

“I remain convinced that there is no transformation in the academy unless black feminists engage in a kind of itinerant movement from front to back, to inside, to outside again and again, and unless there are parallel movements, going and coming–in the streets, down the alley, and in the house–whereby dynamic mutuality and exchange coalesce and contest. As [Akasha Gloria] Hull said of [Audre] Lorde’s radical positionality of ‘living on the line,’ black feminists [and black queer troublemakers] too have to live ‘on the line’ between the either/or and both/and’ and engage in ‘ceaseless negotiations of a positionality from which [we] can speak,’  not settling, setting, or sitting still.” (Hull ,1989, 154-55).  (Clarke, 2010, 786).

Kimberly Springer calls it “interstitial” politics or feminism in the cracks in her study of black feminist organizing from 1968-1980, Living for the Revolution (2006, 88).

A few words about lesbian-feminism.  Lesbian feminists did the work and the word.  We took the potluck to new levels; most nights of the week, on Saturday mornings, Sunday afternoons at meetings and on projects.  At fundraising events for those projects.  At the proof-reading and lay-out meeting.  After an afternoon of wrapping and trips to the post office with scores of parcels among you in somebody’s old VW or Corolla.  The lesbian-feminist theater group, the tickets, the box office, the folding chairs, the posters, the feeding of the cast and crew; or the cultural center and cafe, its readings and public programs; the film set in someone’s loft with 20 volunteers on hand to make up, dress, direct, film, feed the cast and crew; the lesbian-led national conference on violence against women of color on a frayed shoe string budget and women from all over the country and the world come–at their own expense or ours; the anti- apartheid publication celebration on an equally frayed budget under the aegis of a lesbian editorship; the all-volunteer lesbian health fair;  etc.  Or at the weekend long board retreat, where we supplied the food and cooked it too.  We produced politics and culture for us, by us, about us. Lesbian feminism put our feminist messages out to our constituencies–other lesbians, women identified women, gay women of color, and “women for whom relationships with women are an essential part of their lives.” Lesbians of African descent were/are everywhere.  Women of color sometimes code for “lesbians of color” were/are everywhere.  Lesbians of all colors worked very hard to produce for our imagined audiences.  We claimed and challenged our masculinity, femininity, blackness whiteness as well as our androgyny and hybridity, liminality, and marginality.

I know we celebrate This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color and Home Girls:  A Black Feminist Anthology–as we shouldbut Imust celebrate CONDITIONS: FIVE, The Black Women’s Issue.  Its guest-editors Barbara Smith and Lorraine Bethel gave me the first space to call myself a black lesbian feminist there.  And white feminists and CONDITIONS founding editorial collective members, Elly Bulkin, Jan Clausen, Irena Klepfisz, and Rima Shore gave the journal over to the project of black feminism and later to the project of women of color feminism by committing the magazine to women of color leadership.

In their introduction to C5, the co-editors identify many of the obstacles to producing the publication, most of all the very perilous conditions of black women’s lives:

“… [T]welve Black women were being murdered in Boston’s Third World communities between Jan. 29 and May 28, 1979.  While we were working to create a place for celebration of Black women’s lives, our sisters were dying. The  sadness, fear, and anger as well as the unforeseen need to do political work around the murders affected every aspect of our lives including our work on CONDITIONS FIVE.”

And the editors go on to say that these murders and all other violence against black women necessitate “the dire need of such a publication and for a Black feminist movement.” Let me call out some of the writers who appeared there:  Gloria Hull, Renita Weems, Ann Allen Shockley, the late Linda C. Powell, Donna Allegra, Toi Derricotte, the late Yvonne Flowers (Mauwa), the late Pat Parker, the late Audre Lorde, Eleanor Johnson, Alexis DeVeaux, Beverly Smith, Fahamisha Shariat.    CONDITIONS: FIVE was my first encounter with “queer black trouble.”  Some people ask what ever happened to lesbian feminism.  Well, like many things else, it has gone virtual and viral, including black feminism and lesbian feminism, as the “Crunk Feminist Collective” enunciates in its mission statement and blog:

“Our relationship to feminism and our world is bound up with a proclivity for the percussive, as we divorce ourselves from “correct” or hegemonic ways of being in favor of following the rhythm of our own heartbeats. In other words, what others may call audacious and crazy, we call CRUNK because we are drunk off the heady theory of feminism that proclaims that another world is possible. We resist others’ attempts to stifle our voices, acting belligerent when necessary and getting buck when we have to. Crunk feminists don’t take no mess from nobody.”


Quite a change in tone from the rather depressed tone of Smith and Bethel, and also different from Gumbs’ more teacherly, reserved tone.  The virtual anthology carries on the work of black feminist trouble-making.

Women’s Studies scholar  and trouble-maker, Vivian M. May asserts in “Undertheorized and Understudied,” her article on Harriet Tubman– a real revolutionary and if not queer a definite black troublemaker–that histories of this noted icon of black women’s resistance tend to portray her as a superhuman 19th century anomaly, separate and apart from the community of black women in resistance to slavery.  May further contends that were Tubman doing today, what she was doing before Emancipation,  i.e., armed resistance to slavery, leading someone’s human chattel to freedom, ready to kill or be killed rather than be returned to slavery (which was still legal during the earlier part of her resistance), she would be considered a “domestic terrorist.”  May continues to frame how we “make over” the radical facets and figures of black history in the image of black respectability.

Tubman’s historical “makeover” transforms her radical vision and resistant (and at times illegal) actions into benign symbols of progress and family values: this interpretive shift aligns her organized resistance to fit with narratives of the nation’s deliverance from its past sins and to render a more tender portrait of the nation as a family.  The salvific also reinforces problematic ideas about the state as an otherwise perfect system—with its central tragic flaw, slavery, and its tragically flawed central characters, white citizens, healed over thanks to Tubman.  It is imperative to consider how “deliverance” models draw attention away from the tenacious nature of the systems of oppression Tubman fought against in her lifetime and how they persist to this day (i.e., they live on in new ways, and we as a nation are still not “delivered” from them).   (forthcoming in Meridians, 8)

There is some room for comparison between Tubman and Assata Shakur.  Similarly Tubman was branded an “illiterate” and “insolent” abolitionist, who, when she was enslaved, was always “getting in the way” of slaves discipline. $40,000 dollars for Tubman’s capture, dead or alive; or ‘the sooner she is turned in the better it will be for all Southerners.’   Assata has been cited by the F.B.I. as a “domestic terrorist” with a $2 million reward, aided by the New Jersey State Troopers, for her capture.  For over 40 years the U.S. has been trying to capture Assata, who was railroaded into life plus thirty imprisonment on very unclear evidence that she murdered New Jersey State Trooper, Werner Foerster in 1977– which continues to tell us that the systemic racist oppression of African-Americans, primarily in the context of the carceral state, is not only the new Jim Crow but really a 21st century replication of slavery.  Once a slave, you’re a slave for life, once a prisoner of the state, you are for life contained, constrained, and surveilled by the state, blacks have no rights whites are bound to respect, an ex-felon has no rights a citizen is bound to respect, stand your ground, shoot to kill, take your best shot, stop and frisk.  Assata continues to say that she is a warrior for black liberation.  Angela Davis declaims:  ‘Assata is not a threat… . If anything, this is a vendetta.’  And at least I can say, like Mychal Denzel Smith in The Nation Online:  “Hands off, Assata, now and forever.” (

I flew in on the cusp of the Black Power Movement.  But someone did not  pay the bill… . And here we are all left alone in our blackness.Oct. 8, 2009

Black queer troublemakers, one of the more excluded and despised members of the black community in the United States, carry on the “black power” revolution’s commitments to racial justice.  In response to black drag artist Jomama Jones’ comment cited above, I will claim that work for black queers and for that “unfinished revolution” somewhere in Atlantic City when Ella Baker walked out of the 1964 Democratic National Convention after the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party was prevented from being seated.[1]  While we–black queers– were left “alone in the dark,” countering the sexual repression of the Nixon-Mitchell/Reagan-Meese nineteen-seventies and eighties, black lesbian and gay writers appropriated that direct and aggressive expressivity of Black Arts Movement to continue black queer critiques of the ubiquitous racism of white America, the racism of the predominantly mono-sexual lesbian and gay liberal movements, and the sex-role prescriptiveness and homophobia of the conservative black community—most viscerally documented in its refusal to organize around the AIDS pandemic or anything else having to do with lesbian and gay rights/same-sex rights.  Here Jericho Brown reminds us:

Tell them

Herman Finley is dead.  Then,

Tell them what God loves,

The truth:  the disease

Your mother’s mouth won’t mention

(Jericho Brown, 2010, War Diaries)

During those years lesbians enacted what Farah J. Griffin says of black modern dance artist, Pearl Primus, in her portrayal in the 1940′s of the “Jim Crow car.”  .Primus was able to embody a particularly black paradox “forced confinement and forced mobility” (Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II, 2013,27).  Can’t set too long and sometimes can’t go too far or can’t be afraid to come back or must, like Assata Shakur, never come back. We too worked within the constraints to break free of them.

Mecca Jamilah Sullivan’s short story, “Wolfpack,” “for the New Jersey Four,” about the seven young black lesbian teenagers who were arrested in the West Village for defending themselves against a low-life street peddler exemplifies Griffin’s metaphor of “forced containment and forced mobility.” A good story about the ways in which the press “savaged” the young women is in “The Public Intellectual” in 2011, an online newspaper, and predisposed the court and the public to viewing them as assailants rather than victims.   Sullivan’s story is based on the actual event in 2006 and is told from the perspectives of four fictional  oung women who were sentenced from  3 and a half to 11 years in jail.  “Verniece,” one of the four, decides to make things whatever she wants them to be inside her prison cell.  Out In The Night is a developing documentary of the New Jersey Four.  This story is a parable of places that could use some black queer trouble-making:


I  am wrapped up in Luna, my girls, and the warm, licorice sky. The man tears like a bullet through our night.

“Who asked what you think, you goddamn elephant?”

… . So many things are going on in this moment, my skull loses its solidity and breaks down to mesh, to screen. I cannot tell what part of the action is happening inside, what out. I see a man in pink come, I see a woman run away. I see fingers and DVD cases and a nugget of fire fly… . I see blood curled around stripes, and Sha holding a silver-soaked blade. From one side of my ears or the other I hear him say again “Goddamn,” “God-damned,” “God-dammned.” I feel words popping like firecrackers inside my mouth, and I let them blaze the air:

You are not a man Your sneakers are cheap your clothes are corny you have no job You are not a man, hands on your sleepy little dick You are not a man, what you know about God some white man in the sky If your God doesn’t know me and my big black dyke manwoman God fuck him he doesn’t exist You are not a man You are a joke.

… . My first night here, I make a decision: Pretend. I play games with myself, games like my mother used to play: I pretend to fool myself. Things are not what they are. In some other place, in some far corner of possibility, things are right… . Still, there is always the ink, running like blood up and down the newsprint paper: “Killer Lesbians’ Trial Begins.” “Seething Sapphic Swarm Descends.” “Bloodthirsty Pride Attacks.”

… . When I can’t tell the difference between inside and out, I decide. If I want to share my dinner with Anthony Jesús, I decide he’s on my lap, his polka-dot bib brushing my wrist. If I want to joke with TaRonne and Sha, I decide they’re on the cot with me, and we laugh. I wade through the sea of orange suits, eat my food and do what I’m told. I try not to think in days, how they close me up in darkness… I try not to think of how time is crusting over, baking me deeper into stillness each time the moon brings a day to its end.

On the morning after my first night here, someone puts a newspaper in my hands. The paper is folded open, and before I read the headlines, I find my name in the middle column… .  I read up from there, wading back.  I see the name of the reporter and roll up to the headline: “Lesbian Wolf Pack Howls its End.” This is when I decide to make things whatever I want them to be.  From the space around me, I carve my mother’s smile and a deep, wetwarm sky. I get up, tighten my grip, part my lips like two heavy winds and say—out loud—Let’s go.

And so I finish.


Works Cited:

Bambara, Toni Cade.”Foreword.” This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color.  Watertown, Mass.: 1982.

Baraka, Amiri.”Black Art.”Transbluency: Selected Poetry of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones (1961-1995). N.Y., N.Y.: Marsilio Publishers, 1995, 142 .Transbluency: The Selected Poems of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones (1961-1995),Transbluency: The Selected Poems of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones (1961-1995),

Bashir, Samiya. “Clitigation.”  In Clarke and Fullwood, eds. To Be Left With the Body. AIDS Project Los Angeles and GMAC, 2009, 20.

Brooks, Gwendolyn. “A Street in Bronzeville: song in the front yard.” Selected Poems. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006 (1945).

Brown, Jericho. “Herman Finley is Dead (1947-2005)” in eds., Bryant, T. and E.  Hardy, War Diaries.  AIDS Project Los Angeles and the Global Form on  MSM and HIV.2010, 33.

Clarke, Cheryl.”Living the Texts Out.” The Days of Good Looks. N.Y.: Carroll and Graf, 2006 . In  “Symposium: Black Women’s Studies and the Transformation of the Academy”  Signs: A Journal of Women, Culture, and Society. 2010, 786.

Crunk Feminist Collective. “Mission Statement.”

Fullwood, Steven J.   “The Low Down on the Down Low.” Funny. New York, N.Y.: Vintage Entity Press, 2004, 74-75.

Gumbs, Alexis Pauline. dare we know) “Star Apple” in  ProudFlesh: New Afrikan Journal of Culture, Politics, and Consciousness, 2013, 18.

Hemphill, Essex. “Heavy Breathing,” “Conditions: XXIV.”Ceremonies, 1992, 5.

Jones, Jomama.  In a performance for the Fire and Ink Conference in Austin, Tx.  Oct. 8 to 11, 2009.

Lorde, Audre. “Echo” The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance 1993 in The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde 2009. (1993).

May, Vivian M. “Undertheorized and Understudied,” forthcoming in Meridians, 2014.

Moraga, Cherrie. A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness.Writings, 2000-2010. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2011, 31.

Smith, Barbara and L. Bethel, eds.  Conditions: Five, the Black Women’s Issue. 1979, 14.

Smith, Mychal Denzel.  “Assata Shakur Is Not A Terrorist.” The Nation. May 7, 2013.

Springer, Kimberly.  Living for the Revolution:  Black Feminist Organizing From 1968-1980, 2006, 88.

Sullivan, Mecca J. “Wolfpack” in Best New Writing 2010.  Titusville, N.J.: Hopewell Publications, 2010.

[1] The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party was organized throughout the state in 1964 to elect delegates and to challenge the all-white segregationist delegation to the Democratic Convention in Atlantic City.  Because of backroom maneuvering and strong arm politics of Lyndon Baines Johnson, the MFDP did not get seated but was extended a crust of bread, i.e., to have one representative seated with the rest of the all-white delegation.  They turned it down.  Fannie Lou Hamer came to fame here with her “I question America” speech.  Also Ella Baker was a major organizer and motivater of the MFDP. See Ransby’s Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision. University of North Carolina Press, 2005.

2 Jan 2014


Originally Delivered by Cheryl Clarke as the Kessler Lecture on Dec. 6, 2013 at the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center

 Note:  Elizabeth Lorde Rollins, my friend and sister, introduced me at the event.  

Thank you, Beth.  Wonderful to see you again.  We miss your Mother.  In case I run out of time at the end, I want to make sure I read this for you, ‘Echoes’ from Lorde’s last collection, The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance, 1993.

I want to thank Jim Wilson and the CLAGS Board.  I am deeply honored and surprised to be here.   I was a member and a co-chair of the CLAGS Board from 1990-1992.  I had good times as a board member and co-chair with Esther Katz and working with Marty Duberman and was involved in many good programs.  I remember one year when Adrienne Rich and Alice Walker agreed to serve as Honorific Co-Chairs of our annual fundraiser, and Alice Walker was in the city at the time of the event and wanted to attend.  So, Esther Katz, and I had the honor of picking up Ms. Walker and her friend historian, Robert L. Allen, and escorting them to the Graduate Center when it was on East 42nd Street.

As many of you in the audience know,–or even if you don’t–I have been honored, asked to give celebratory addresses to students and colleagues, been given a fabulous retirement party in June by my beloved Rutgers colleagues [alma mater of  Paul L. Robeson in 1919].  And I received a wonderful celebration of my writing on the Livingston campus in October 2013, organized and convened by a hardworking group of younger black queer troublemakers:  Darnell Moore (the Hetrick Martin Institute), Steven G. Fullwood (the Schomburg Center). Alexis Pauline Gumbs (the Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind, Durham, N.C.), and Mecca Jamilah Sullivan (U-Mass/Amherst).  And now, tonight, here at the CUNY Graduate Center for  CLAGS.  I gave my talk the title, “‘Black Queer Trouble’ in Literature, Life, and the Age of OBama,” so I could practically talk about anything in the black queer/lesbian, gay, bi, trans  world.  But I won’t talk about everything–or anything.  And I am going to begin before the age of Obama (almost before he was born), however.  I just stuck “Obama” in there in the hope of drawing an audience.


My mother, she tells me that Johnnie Mae

Will grow up to be a bad woman.

But I say it’s fine … .

… I’d like to be a bad woman too,

And wear the brave stockings of night black lace

And strut down the street with paint on  my face.

(Brooks, “a song in the front yard,” A Street In Bronzeville, 1945)


I am an oversexed

Black Queen
by phrases like
I am the love that dare not
speak its name.”

… . And you want me to sing
“We Shall Overcome”?
Do you daddy daddy
do you want me to coo
for your approval? (Hemphill, “Heavy Breathing,” Ceremonies, 1995)


Pass through me /

dark to light /

wash over me

with rivers of joy

embrace me with

your love — if  I’ll

have you — but know

I am no one’s for

the taking.  No –

I am not even mine

for the taking.

(Bashir, “Clitigation,” To Be Left With the Body, 2008)


Mannish dyke, muff diver, bull dagger, butch, feminist, femme, and PROUD” (Political poster, 1991 at the Fifth Lesbian and Gay Studies Conference, Rutgers, New Brunswick)       

All of the above ought to be enough to cause some queer black trouble up in here tonight.  One starts to ponder what one has contributed and where and its future.  And was it progressive, reformist, reactionary, in the service of institutional politics, in service beyond the boundaries of the institution, transformative, radical or even revolutionary?  What are the limits of one’s allegiance? Of feminist commitments?  Of risk?  Of courage?  Of the politics of blackness? Of erotic choices?

Black Literary Practice

In the summer of 1967, auditing Arthur P. Davis’[1] course, “Negro Literature in the U.S.,” I learned for the first time about black literary practice, from Phillis Wheatley to LeRoi Jones. I learned that the reading of so-called “Negro literature” had been a primary means of communicating social injustices done unto black Americans.  African-American literature became a metonym representing global oppression of Third World peoples.  South African writer, Peter Abrahams (b. 1919) is inspired to write by reading Du Bois, Cullen, Hughes, Wright, claiming in his memoir Tell Freedom that their writings gave him a new vision of his own country, which he left in 1957.  My sense and experience of writing as an explicator of the absence social justice emerged.  And I might add, I was emboldened to write poetry.

Having attained a R&B and a black arts sensibility, I set out from Wash. D.C. in 1969.   I had read Frazier’s Black Bourgeoisie, Alex Haley’s Autobiography Of Malcolm X, Fanon’s Black Skins/White Masks, Aptheker’s The Documentary History Of The Negro American, and Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.   What more do you need?  I landed in New Brunswick, on the Rutgers campus met by the ballyhoo of a full gamut of political demonstrations by students and faculty:  anti-war, black power, women’s liberation, gay liberation, and the kindness of, shall we say, strangers—all in jeans and tee shirts.   It took me ten more years, however, to catch up to lesbian-feminism and the women in print movement that enabled and emboldened my contributions to “our sex lives and political dreams”— as Prof. Daniel Hurewitz from Hunter College said so kindly of my work when I spoke at the Harry Hay Conference here a year ago.

I am drawn back to the writings of black women, who have fed my desire for troublemaking: Walker’s first novel The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970); Morrison’s first novel The Bluest Eye (1970); Bambara’s (ed.) The Black Woman: An Anthology (1970);  Angela Davis’ article from prison, “Black Women in the Community of Slaves (1973);” Lerner’s (ed.) pivotal Black Women in White America: A Documentary History (1973); shange’s “choreopoem,” for colored girls (1975); Smith and Bethel’s  quested-edited Conditions: Five, the Black Women’s Issue (1979); Moraga and Anzaldua’s (eds.) iconic This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (1981); Smith, Hull, Scott’s (eds.) celebrated All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave: Black Women’s Studies (1982); Smith’s expansive Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology (1984);  Audre Lorde’s outstanding volumes of poetry, The Black Unicorn (1978) and Our Dead Behind Us (1986), Ikon Magazine’s special edition Art Against Apartheid (1986).  WHOM DID I LEAVE OUT FROM THAT 70-80 period.  JUST SHOUT EM OUT.

I must also call out the names of the black feminist critics who followed Barbara Smith’s call to be as “daring” as the writers themselves and who emerged during the seventies and eighties:  beginning with Smith’s own “Towards a Black Feminist Criticism” (1977), Barbara Christian ‘s Black Women Novelists: Development of a Tradition (1980), Hazel Carby’s Reconstructing Womanhood:  the Emergence of the Black Woman Novelist (1989), Deborah McDowell’s essay “The Nameless … Shameful Impulse: Sexuality in Nella Larsen’s Quicksand and Passing” (1986), Hortense Spillers’ article “Interstices:  A Small Drama of Words” (1983),  Claudia Tate’s ethnographic Black Women Writers at Work (1983), Mary Helen Washington’s collections Black-Eyed Susans and Midnight Birds: Stories By and About Black Women (1988) ), Jewelle Gomez’s “A Cultural Legacy Denied and Discovered: Black Lesbians in Fiction by Women” (1983),  Cheryl A. Wall’s influential Changing Our Own Words: Essays on Criticism, Theory, and Writing by Black Women (1989),  Gloria Hull’s article “Under the Days: the Buried Life and Poetry of Angelina Weld Grimke” (1979), Beverly Guy-Sheftall’s volumes Sturdy Black Bridges (1979) and Words of Fire(1995) and so many more.   Writers and writing became the chief arbiters of a transformation of consciousness–intellectual, political, emotional–which is ongoing.  Not merely instrumental, novels, poems, plays, essays of underrepresented writers, and cultural readings and public events became pedagogical and theoretical and critical guides by which to live.

In her “foreword” to This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color, the late Toni Cade Bambara charged us, the writers and editors of that enduring anthology, to “Make revolution irresistible.”  We know revolution is protracted—and so is a progressive agenda [(witness what people said about Obama’s inaugural speech.  “Liberal Progressive.” And we say to Obama, “Hey, bro, it’s about time.  At least be liberal/progressive.”  We also say “deeds not words.” And I suppose supporting same-sex marriage, getting rid of DOMA, getting rid of “Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell,” refusing to sell women’s reproductive rights totally down the hole is liberal progressive—but not enough). ]

This talk will speak to black queer spaces of resistance and desire, and ‘black queer trouble,’ and black feminist trouble, too.  I am taking “black queer trouble” from Alexis Pauline Gumbs,’  a queer black feminist writer, poet, educator,  online troublemaker, and founder of the Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind, a virtual school of black feminism.  Here she defines the learning outcomes of her free online course, entitled “To Be A Problem: Outcast Subjectivity and Black Literary Production”:

“We will explore trouble-making, radical performative critique and the trangsressive and embattled act of (visual, textual, sonic and multi-media)  publishing as possible responses to systemic and individual exclusions. If publishing is an act of stolen power for outcasts, this class will be a publication of what it can mean to be problematic in a society inflected by race, class, sexuality and gender norms. Our aim is not to solve the problems of classism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia as inflected by race, but rather is to create a space where it is possible to act, speak, write and think otherwise, anyway.”                                                                                    ( how dare we know)

Take that, University of Phoenix!

Can I, as a queer black trouble-maker and feminist too, operationalize revolution and/or progressive agendas?  Can I trouble the liberal same-sex status quo enough to say it’s not enough.  Can I trouble LGBT communities to feed our hungry youth–both physically and emotionally–in ways their birth families, relatives, and neighbors can’t or don’t or won’t.  Can I trouble our white LGBT allies to continue to challenge white domination and white leadership within their organizations and to share the resources you have attained because of white privilege?  As I have become more assimilable, can I trouble the carceral state by advocating for and with survivors of it, by refusing unnecessary police presence in my gentrifying and gentrified neighborhood, and by demanding professional police behavior wherever I am and they are? Can I trouble my communities of color enough to counter their homophobia and sexism and black straight respectability.  What account do I give myself in the context of the scourge of HIV/AIDS among the most vulnerable people in my communities.  Steven G. Fullwood, in his piece, “The Low Down on the Down Low,” calls for accountability on the individual and group level in the black community in chilling terms:

“If a man is on the DL, that’s his business. If he spends his time out having unprotected sex with men (or women), contracting several venereal diseases and bringing them home to his girlfriend, wife, or male lover, then that’s another story. That’s an issue of honesty, not sexuality–or to the point, homosexuality…If we can’t talk to each other across perceived sexual boundaries, the walls of ignorance will just get higher… Ignorance will continue to be passed down from generation to generation.  And perhaps, worst of all, after the dust has cleared, nobody will be left to talk about anything.” (2004,  74)

Can I sustain the trouble?  Is it enough to trouble in increments.   Am I about changing myself, the courses of events, structural power, eradicating the carceral state, inequities of race, gender, sex, politics, material resources, money, and the harsh domination of immigrants and the working classes the world over?  I turn to my sister of the plantain and the corn, Cherrie Moraga, as she defines her feminist politics in the context of her Xicanism, her Mexican/Native ancestry and the frailty or strength of coalitional politics:

“… . We make and break political alliance as we continue to evolve and redefine what our work in this life is.  As a Xicana, I find the deepest resonance in that evolutionary process with my ‘sisters of the corn,’ as Toni Cade Bambara called native women.  Indianism (north and south) gives shape to the values with which I raise my children; it informs my feminism, my sense of lugar on this planet in relation to its creatures, minerals, and plant life.  Ideally, it is a philosophy, not of a rigid separatism but of cultural autonomy and communitarian reciprocity in the twenty-first century.  It is my sure-footed step along that open road of alliance with my ‘sisters of the rice, the plantain, and the yam.’”  (2011, 31)

What rituals, legacies, praxes give shape to our values?  What does it mean to still believe the lessons of the Black Arts Movement became a large house of resistance to patriarchal culture–black and white.  Black lesbian-feminism continued its expressivity throughout the 1980′s, the era of Reaganism.  I still believe in Amiri Baraka’s 1969 dictum about literary practice, as expressed in the poem “black art”:

Poems are bullshit unless they are

teeth or trees or lemons piled

on a step.  … Fuck poems

and they are useful, wd they shoot

come at you, love what you are,

breathe like wrestlers, or shudder

strangely after pissing.

Our work and our writing, as black queer troublemakers, are fraught with disobedience, resistance, and direct language.   In these lines from her poem, “Star Apple,” Alexis Pauline Gumbs que(e)ries us:

how to tuck home into cleavage

and bring it out

flower magic

how dare we be


all out loud

and in public

and shit

Disobeying our penchant for black respectability–something we crave even as black queers–Essex Hemphill also faces off black macho culture by asserting his phallocentric masculinity in the poem “Conditions”:

In america,

I place my ring

on your cock

where it belongs.


[1]Arthur Davis was a professor of English at Howard University from 1944-1980.  He inspired and fostered a generation, including his own, of black writers, intellectuals, and scholars. He was the friend of many of Harlem Renaissance writers, such as Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen. Famously known for co-editing The Negro Caravan (1941/1970), three editions of Cavalcade:  Negro Writers from 1760 to the present (1975, 1991, 1992), and From the Dark Tower: Negro Writers from 1900 to 1960 (1974).  He alternated teaching “Negro Literature in the United States” with Prof. Sterling Brown.  Davis died at the age of 91 in 1996.