Sistah Summerfest 2003
                June 6-8, 2003
An Event for Womyn of all Ages,
                               Lifestyles and Persuasions



Twenty Years . . . FemmeNoir Events Contact Coffee Klatch The Village

Pat Parker
Twenty Years . . .
The Women Gather
Since I Do Not Dare
An Ideal Partner
The Greatest of These
In The Spirit
You Were Loved
You Are Not Alone
Choose Your Label
Peace On Earth
This Life I Live
Eros, Pathos
Choice of Weapons
On My Own


Twenty Years in the Making of a Black Lesbian

I grew up on the South Side of Chicago in a middle class community of working class Black folk. Early on, I knew I was different but I lacked the vocabulary to know how I was different, I just knew. I could not share the enthusiasm or the preoccupation with boys with my female friends. My history taught me boys were not nice. I heard the stories of how my grandfather beat my grandmother, I saw my father beat my mother, I was abused by a male relative, and I experienced the fright of being thrown to a hardwood floor as if I were anything but human by two boys who sought to rape me, I endured both physical and verbal confrontations with boys and men who thought I should have been interested in them. I experienced all of this before I was 13 years of age.

At 13, I learned a lot about life. I came out to myself then, albeit without the proper terminology one would use to describe oneself. I came to this understanding when I actually pretended to be a boy, telephonically, in order to talk to a girl I liked – I’ll call her Brenda. I spent many evenings talking with Brenda pretending to be my cousin. We talked for hours. Unfortunately, our relationship came to an embarrassing end when one day, while we were talking, Brenda’s sister picked up an extension and proclaimed “he sounds like a girl.” I was devastated. Brenda tried to convince her sister I was not a girl, but our conversations ended and we stopped walking home from school together to discuss my cousin. Our tender moments, our innocent conversations, came to a disappointing end. I am sure she knew it was me, but our secret had been made public and therefore our verbal love affair could not continue.

Shortly thereafter, Brenda ditched school with a boy. I was informed of this fact while on the way home from school that same day, with one of our mutual friends – Brenda’s good girlfriend. Little did I know this seemingly innocent conversation would soon be used against me, would lead to an important life lesson, and would also become the weapon in my defense.

This good girlfriend made sure everyone knew Brenda ditched school with this boy. The next day, this same good girlfriend told the principal I was the one who spread the rumor and I was called in to discuss the “malicious” rumor I allegedly spread. Fortunately for me, my gift for debate persuaded the principal to call all parties involved to be present in her office. In this meeting, the truth came out. The good girlfriend was responsible for the school-wide rumor. I knew nothing about Brenda ditching school or who she ditched with until later the previous day when the good girlfriend told me.

When I did catch a glimpse of Brenda’s eyes in that meeting, her look of embarrassment told the whole story and that story taught me something I would carry throughout life – keep your feelings to yourself, at all cost. The whole situation was a setup. What I did not know then but learned later, there was another rumor, one which was never spoken in the principal’s office yet it was that rumor that gave everyone license and cause to punish me. That rumor was about me – the girl who called another girl pretending to be a boy. It explained why the principal chose the word “malicious” to describe the rumor. It also explained why the good girlfriend felt it necessary to spread such a rumor and to use me as the source. Using the passion of prejudice, I was supposedly “told on” to the principal and the principal acting on her fears and prejudices called me in, not Brenda or the boy, to discuss why I would do something so “malicious” and threatened suspension. The principal, a Black educated adult female, assumed the unspoken rumor to be true and therefore assumed I was guilty of spreading a “malicious” rumor, apparently out of jealousy. It was and is truly amazing how intellect wanes when prejudice slips through the door. The kids apparently knew the adult would react in this way.

When the principal finally recovered and realized how she had been manipulated by a kid, she did her job and investigated the rumor. The young man, realizing there was a meeting involving the rumor, told everything and I believe they were both suspended. No one apologized to me, however, for the false accusations and assumptions. At the end of the day, I was emotionally drained and slowly sank into a deep depression.

I realized not only did I bear the yoke of racism in a very racist city; I also bore upon my shoulders the weight of prejudice for being different. I learned people, in their feelings of righteousness, can and will relegate you to a sub-human status thereby justifying their treatment of you. And, more importantly, I realized Brenda’s actions were nothing more than an attempt to prove she was heterosexual. The weight was too heavy to bear. I understand too well the experiences of Ellen Degeneres and Melissa Etheridge.

As I stumbled through my depression placing one foot in front of the other, I used as the balm for my wounds the words of Nikki Giovanni, Maya Angelou, and Oscar Brown, Jr. Their words filled my veins, they clothed me, they adorned my body and restored my soul. I remember waiting for Saturday evenings just to see Tony Brown’s Soul to get a glimpse of any of these individuals to see them, to hear them, to be healed. I eventually emerged from my depression at 17, while in my junior year of high school. However, from my earlier lessons, I learned to be quiet, guarded and I became a loner.

When I graduated high school, I enrolled at Columbia College on Chicago’s near north side. I was a Photojournalism major and thought, after graduation, I would either do documentary films and photo essays or I would go to Paris and become a runway fashion photographer. The population at Columbia, when I started, was majority White and liberal. Students had to commute to the campus because there were no on-campus dorms.

What I did not expect in college, however, was an open acceptance of homosexuality. I had become adept at hiding my feelings, steering my eyes in opposite directions, guarding my speech to not betray my thoughts, but here it was encouraged to say what you felt, express yourself openly and no one judged you. Here is where I learned the term Lesbian.

The term Lesbian, when spoken silently to myself, felt like it belonged to me. The word spoke to my soul and as hard as I tried to shake it, I could not. I started using the term in my community with friends and acquaintances. In these conversations I would never attribute the word to myself; I only spoke it in generalized terms to see what emotions the word evoked. To the sistahs in the hood, thems were fighting words. The emotions were hostile, visceral, and their reactions were like watching Linda Blair in the Exorcist. No way did they want “one of them” to come near them. Such a woman, her very presence, would move them to physical violence. Nikki’s words resonated in my ears “my rebirth was not impeded by the master, but by the slave.”

Because of my exposure to lesbianism and feminism, at 20 I became angry and very rebellious. I got tired of not being myself. I wanted to explore my newfound identity. I tried very desperate and awkward attempts at freeing myself. I could not write for fear of betraying myself in word, so I stopped writing and I stopped poetry readings. My mother soon grew more and more impatient with me and I grew more and more impatient with her rigid thoughts and judgments. She feared my getting pregnant. I feared getting married and having children and being trapped by society’s so-called norms. And in the middle of this whirlwind of rebellion and confusion I got caught. I got pregnant. I had an abortion and when I tried to reconnect with the man who was the father of the child; my mother threw the blow that resounded in my head, my heart and my soul “you make me sick to look at you.” I was devastated and into yet another valley of depression I went.

During this time, my mother started threatening to put me out of the house. The first time I was actually locked out of the house, I stayed at the run-down, roach-infested Lawson YMCA, which was all I could afford as a full-time student with a part-time job. Aside from the roaches, it was the independence I cherished.  Unfortunately, this ousting happened during midterms and I ended up with poor grades as a result.

The second occurrence happened ironically at the end of a school year. This is when I decided getting D’s in college was not my idea of a successful college career. I had already started cutting back on the amount of units I took a semester and dropped to part-time status. Now, I had to finish the semester in yet another roach-infested, run-down hotel, and at the end of that semester, I gave up school and went to work full-time. I had taken a hiatus from school the year prior to acquire a skill just so I could get out of my mother’s house, but I wanted to try to finish college. Now, I had no choice. I took on a full-time position and left Columbia forever with regrets for not going away to school.

Like Saul who needed David’s Lyre to calm him, I could no longer find calm in the words of Nikki and Maya. I needed a Black lesbian who could share her voice with me. I first tried searching them out in women’s bookstores. After wading through the writings of White lesbians, Rubyfruit Jungle and The Well of Loneliness, I eventually found Audre Lourde and took in each word like a starving person finding food. My thirst, unquenched, I looked for more and found Ann Allen Shockley and again, I absorbed every word.

I then tried to find organizations or groups dealing specifically with issues pertaining to Black lesbians and I found one Black lesbian rap group. I waited anxiously for the day of their meeting. Naively, I appeared with my permed hair, high-heeled shoes, makeup, suit and stockings and was promptly blasted for my appearance. Many of the women there were separatists and felt I was not politically correct. Here, is where I first heard the phrase “the personal is political” and my personal did not display their political views.

As I got up to leave, one of the women left with me, took me aside and told me there was a group of women who threw parties for “women like me.” We exchanged phone numbers and she assured me she would call when they had their next party and she did.

The group, Executive Sweet, which was run by Pat McCombs and Vera Washington, threw parties at various locations around the Chicagoland area. This particular party was held at a large disco on the near north side. It was a Sunday evening and in my excitement, I arrived early, at the start time, 6:00 p.m. I took a seat and watched the place fill up. Hundreds of women filed through the doors that night. There was a private security patrol that walked women to and from their cars. Security was posted both at the doors and in the parking lot. I felt safe there. The women who came out that night were a representation of all women from the very poor to moderately wealthy, flight attendants, models, professional, non-professional, they came from varied backgrounds and every walk of life.

I eventually met the woman I would live with and love for many years at one of these parties and shortly after our meeting, my mother locked the doors on me for the last time.

Paula and I were living together for maybe three months when my mother decided to inquire about our relationship. I was not going to lie to her and I answered her questions. Coming out to my mother was the most devastating experience of my life. Our five-minute conversation cost me my family. My mother said things to me that night so hurtful, I was numb for many years after. She actually told me she wished I were dead and said it was good my father was not alive to see this. These were not the first hurtful words she had spoken to me, but the phrase unconditional love became a farce.

Later, my mother left the city without telling me. My brother invited me to the empty house so I could get my belongings and “oh, by the way, she wants nothing further to do with you” he said – another blow and then he left too and also chose not to speak to me. For years after, I walked in a silent world. Family no longer had the meaning it once did. Family became just like everyone else – as long as you were doing what they wanted you to do, you were accepted. Walk to a different drummer, do something different, change your views, become an individual; you are no longer accepted and they will turn their backs on you. And again, as Nikki would say “the women gathered.” I found Cheryl Clarke, Barbara Smith, Cherrie Moraga, and Susan Sontag, for my strength.

My mother and I eventually reconciled when I was 30 and I moved to California to live with her for a short time. I did make a failed attempt at trying to be straight but soon realized it was useless to live for her comfort and become more miserable myself. So, now, at 40 plus, I have come to the realization that I have been invisible for some 20 plus years, not only to others, but to myself as well. I have lived for the comfort of others and stopped living for me.

This month, I thank and honor those women (and the one man) who were there for me when I needed them, Nikki Giovanni who told me prejudice can come from your own people;  Maya Angelou who said "and when I cried out, with my mother's grief, no one but Jesus heard me . . . Ain't I a woman"; Oscar Brown, Jr., who said "no place to be somebody, no place to grove and grow" (thanks for the interview, talking with you made my day, my year, my life); Cheryl Clarke for Living As a Lesbian; Barbara Smith who taught me to use my voice and my words to empower; Eveyln C. White for teaching me abuse can be emotional; Cherrie Moraga for the Bridge Called My Back; Linda Villarosa for Coming Out in 1991; Pat McCombs and Vera Washington for Executive Sweet; and all the other women who promote parties at various locales, thank you. If it had not been for you, I probably would have made use of that 22-caliber long nose revolver.




The Black Lesbian
by S. Diane Bogus
Blacklight Online Volume 2, Number 1

In the April 1979 issue of "Ebony" magazine, in an article entitled "Has the sexual Revolution Bypassed Blacks?," Dr. Robert Staples stated that one of the effects of the sexual revolution is the increase in visible homosexuality. He believed it to be the one area of the changing sexual values that has significant Black participation. "However," he says, "the increase in people assuming overt Gay lifestyles is largely confined to the Black male....many Black Lesbians are deeply involved in the White homosexual community."

Chicago After Dark: Dunkin' Donuts
It's A Young Black Gay Thing.

by Ryan Lee
Blacklight Online

In the heart of downtown Chicago sits one business with two identities. The Baskin-Robbins/Dunkin' Donuts on State and Lake streets is a place where workers in the Loop, the city's business district, and tourists stop to grab a quick snack. The Southeast Indian owners have the good fortune to be in a prime location where four of the city's train lines cross, bringing in people from all parts of the city and surrounding suburbs. When the sun goes down, however, and the business people have gone home and tourists have left, Dunkin' Donuts becomes a mecca for the city's Black Gay teenagers.

Homophobia in the Black Community

by Thomas B. Romney
Blacklight Online

Debbie, an attractive college coed, makes no bones about it. She dislikes homosexuals and wants nothing to do with them. "If I found out that one of my friends was one I would stop speaking to them," she said. Ask Debbie why she reacts this way and she might reply that homosexuality is abnormal or perverted. Her answers might become vague, tinged with an emotional overtone of fear and anxiety. Debbie is a victim of Homophobia.

Black Lesbian Writers:
Words for the New Millennium

By Ta'Shia Asanti
Blacklight Online

We are all familiar with the notable writers like the Audre Lordes and Barbara Smiths of the literary world, but this article explores the words of distinguished writers that may not be household names, but are nevertheless powerful voices in the wake of the new millennium. A few of these word gurus are new-jacks; others have been around for many years without  acknowledgment from the mainstream Gay & Lesbian print media. But all are highlighting the work and lives of same-gender-loving women of color.

Invisible, Black & Gay:
When Gay Is The Part That Doesn’t Show
By Chuck Tarver,
Creator of the Blackstripe

I hate being invisible. Being both Black and gay, I haven’t developed the courage to fight on two battlefields. So I’ve chosen one by default; the obvious one, the easy one, the Black one.

Unconditional Love
By Angela D. Odom

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