Tuesday, May 11, 2010

legacy and lorraine in the closet

"love's the only engine of survival"
-leonard cohen

my parents, in their infinite and beautiful wisdom, named me after a woman who had real jewels for a brain. in addition to being the first black woman playwright, creating work that would have resonance for blacks and humans decades later, and being incredibly thoughtful and critical and beautifully articulate about it, she was bisexual.

i discovered this last fact only recently and the news left a residue of gloom and hopelessness in me. it's painful to come to terms with the reality that one of my heroines thought it best--and likely, safest--to remain publicly closeted for her entirely too brief 34 years.

imagine what more she could've done had she been able to be her full self--her best self-- all the time!

her era and it's people failed her--shirked their responsibility to her to allow her the space to be her best self.

and how much further along are we, as a community of thinkers and women and men and humans today?

enter gloom.

also, enter soapbox.

queer people of color in communities of color continue to be under attack within their communities. it's disheartening to be engaged in the same conversation today that people have been engaged in for the past fifty years. what's different?

what's different when two black men jump out of an SUV in the hood in brooklyn because they see two latino men holding onto each other and assume they're gay? what's different when they scream homophobic and anti-immigrant epithets while beating the two brothers, beating one of them to death? what, when the black men are sent to prison, but not for a hate crime?

what if we had allowed the sucuzhanay brothers to be their whole and best selves? what if hakim and keith were taught to be their whole and best selves? their loving selves? what if we all began to take responsibility for one another, for the type of world we're creating with our interactions?

what then?

lorraine's legacy is newly bittersweet. one that both inspires and cautions. while she publicly championed civil rights and self-determination for blacks in the political and cultural spheres, she felt that she could only anonymously champion the rights of women and gays. she was forced to siphon off her identity into digestable and acceptable pieces in order to survive. her complex analysis of the way sexist and homophobic oppression are linked was by all accounts visionary, and years ahead of her time. it's phenomenal that despite the climate of homophobia she lived in, she found a way to communicate her analysis and concern. but it's heartbreaking that her contributions to such a radical, accurate, and useful gender analysis have been largely ignored, along with her sexual identity altogether.

finally, lorraine hansberry and malcolm x share the same birthday, may 19th. though malcolm was five years her senior, they both died in 1965, a month apart.

what types of lessons about legacy does history want to teach us with these two?

was malcolm allowed to be his full and best self in ways that lorraine wasn't?


should some new-age, technologically savvy lorraine and malcolm emerge from these times, how might we treat them differently, here in the future? to what new heights might they travel, and how might we all benefit?

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