I’ve found great difficulty unearthing the queer legacy of Black women, partially because the history of African people is so shattered, but primarily because women loving women remains one of our mainstream buried secrets. The roots of homosexuality stretch far beyond my imagination, as same genders have loved each other for centuries. This article is not an attempt to summarize or trivialize those experiences. I’d rather reflect on what is swept under the rug: how some of our most powerful Black women and prominent representatives of womanism love women romantically.
How often do we read the stories of queer womanists where the discussion of their sexuality takes a backseat? When discussing these influential women, the discourse remains about their work. We praise their fierce advocacy for Black women, the strides they’ve taken on our behalves, and the obstacles they’ve helped us to overcome. While I believe that their accomplishments should be the main topic of discussion, I don’t think it’s healthy to be complacent about the manner in which their sexuality is disdained or disregarded.
As Black women, we remain uncomfortable about discussing the intricacies of sexuality and, particularly, our connection to the LGBT community. This is baffling, being that some of our favorite female activists and authors love and make love to bodies with XX chromosomes. Black queer women are legends in our histories. We see pieces of ourselves in them and, likely in majority, believe that they represent us well. Therefore, why would we have a problem with the way that they love? Acknowledging that love has the power to motivate and inspire, can we truly be at odds with the relationships that likely enthused them to be the powerhouses they are?
Our discomfort is with the unfamiliar. Homosexuality constantly is pinned under the label of being “abnormal” or apart from the high-achieving Black lineup. I remember being a young college student and discovering that the majority of my famous Black female role models were queer. Did this inspire me to pursue a lesbian relationship? No. Yet, with the constant discrimination facing the LGBT community, I definitely felt that the acknowledgment of their sexuality along with their esteemed work would help bridge the gap of ignorance. I felt empathy for these women and the catch 22 their legacies are placed under. Why must their sexualities remain unspoken or whispered? It’s about time that we celebrated the manner in which they love/loved and stopped treating it as problematic to our imaginations.
This is a tribute to the way Angela Davis, Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, June Jordan, Octavia Butler, Nikki Giovanni, and Zora Neale Hurston have loved. This is for the women who love women openly, while constantly taking a side eye from uncomfortable strangers, most of whom resemble them in appearance. These words are for the women who choose not to be open about their sexualities out of the fear of being stereotyped and misunderstood. Our sisters are our sisters. Can we accept them in whole for their intellect, beauty, and talent, without ignoring or despising their homosexuality?
As sisters, we can be contradictory, accepting the pieces of our queer role models and friends that we like while failing to address our prejudices toward their sexuality. I always say, love fully or don’t love at all. Love hard or go home. Embrace your role models for being multi-dimensional women and allow them to challenge your stereotype of homosexuality. Indeed, these women are reflections of ourselves—ones that we should be proud of. The frequency of women loving women in our community has a more familiar face than you would imagine. It remains a powerful source of Black love that is rarely discussed. Look at what these relationships have produced. I pray for more Angelas, Alices, and Zoras in the future. Loved women are powerful women, regardless of which gender does the loving.
Homosexuality is not a discount or defect. These women are just as strong, role model worthy, laudable, and worthy of being the faces of Black womanhood as any heterosexual woman. When we raise our daughters, we should not fear telling them the way in which these women loved. It is an aspect of their personhood, one that should be respected and shared as an example of the power of love.