Last week, the hashtag #BlackGaySlay was trending on twitter. I don’t know if you caught it, but I was nearly in tears at it all. Y’all are too cute! I even threw in a couple of selfies myself, but it wasn’t enough. In honor of my new favorite hashtag, I decided to dig up an old essay I wrote on one of my idols, Audre Lorde. Here it is!
Audre Lorde: Warrior Poet
Born 18 February, 1934 in Harlem, New York, a young girl like Audre Lorde was destined to face some strife. As if being black was not hard enough, Audre was also a lesbian, a poet, and the youngest of a cold and unfeeling family. She was raised by a woman who praised colorism, a man who was emotionally absent, and two sisters who envied her chance at childhood. It was no surprise that life for Audre would be tough, but somehow she managed to overcome it all.
Audre’s mother, Linda, was a Grenadian woman who was taught that her fair skin was equivalent to superiority. She accepted this rule, and shamelessly lived by it, subscribing to the stereotypes that surrounded those with dark skin. She taught this to her three children, Phyllis, Helen, and Audre. However, this did not mean that she trusted any relations, sexual or otherwise, between blacks and whites. Linda made it very clear to her daughters that she’d have “none of that kind of stuff in her house” (21). This prejudice was very hard on Audre, who had been the first black child in an all-white Catholic school. Over time, she found company in a group of outcasts that called themselves “the Branded”, but Audre could not fully connect with even them due to the race barrier. The first girl she truly connected with was Genevieve Johnson, “a sensitive, troubled girl” who would spark her sexual curiosity (29). Genny was her best friend and first love, until she killed herself at fifteen.
As she grew older, Audre would have many lovers, live in surprising places such as Mississippi and Mexico, and even come to live somewhat content married to a white man named Ed, also a closeted homosexual. Though their unity seemed like a recipe for disaster, they both understood that “they loved each other but were not in love, and that they could make the marriage work despite what others thought” (76). Ed had no sexual interest in Audre at all, but she “believed in the conventions of marriage and that they could raise children in a new kind of family” and encouraged Ed to perform sexually with her (74). He was resistant at first, but he eventually gave in. Audre and Ed would come to have a daughter and a son. They both had wanted a family, but Ed, especially, wanted his children born in wedlock, for fear that he would seem somewhat of a racist if he did not choose to let Audre birth them herself.
Throughout her life, Audre was constantly told that she couldn’t. She couldn’t do this, she couldn’t do that. Too black, too gay, too feminine, too masculine, Audre was always too much for something, which has always been my problem with society. Growing up in a mainly black Baltimore was very hard as a fair skinned girl, but the move to white washed Laytonsville was not any easier. In Baltimore, I was far too light to understand the struggles of truly black people. In Laytonsville, I was far too dark to ever be considered one of them. As a bisexual, I have had a hard time finding people who do not view me as either straight or gay, I am neither. At marches, rallies, or even our own gay straight alliance, I have been belittled and mocked and branded a poser. In more social settings, my queerness is erased, and I am frequently told, that I am “not really gay”, as if that somehow makes me straight. I have never been feminine by society’s standards, but I am too “prissy” to be considered “one of the guys”. On a much smaller, and socially acceptable scale, Audre and I have known the same pain.
There were several points within Audre’s life where she lost touch with her main love: poetry. In her early childhood, her parents encouraged art only as a party trick at family gatherings, and nothing more. My family has always been very supportive of my music, and they love to show me off at social gatherings and such. Even still, when they ask me what I want to do with my life, and I answer “music”, the looks of disapproval are clear on their faces. Art is a hobby, not a career. In high school, Audre was rejected time and time again for various writing or editing positions in her school newspaper, though her race likely played a part in that. While I do not believe that it was the color of my skin that lost me so many opportunities, I have definitely drawn the short stick on several occasions when it came to solos, places in ensembles, and other things of the like. When Audre was unable to write due to injury or busy schedules, she felt unfulfilled. Any extended amount of time where I am not doing something musically is usually spent complaining. In high school, I was enrolled in four different music classes, and I still dreaded the forty five minutes in between playing time. After a long day at school or work, I would come home and spend hours at my piano. Audre Lorde would not be Audre Lorde without her poetry, and I can say with confidence that the same thing goes for Nailah Mae and her music.
Behind every great struggle, there is a great art, and if anyone knew struggle, it was Audre Lorde. She constantly encouraged her students to write about what bothered them personally, as that is what she did herself. I cannot say that this works for everybody, but it is surely what has kept my music alive. By writing about my own experiences, I have written many pieces, and seen many opportunities. I hope as I grow as a person, my music will grow with me, and I will someday be comparable to Miss Lorde. While our experiences do not match up to the tee, I feel greatly connected to Audre. Getting to know her has opened my eyes, and has definitely given me some insight on where to go from where I am now.
Audrey Geraldine Lorde, known simply as Audre Lorde, was a woman with a story to tell. The struggles she faced will not be well received by many people of this generation, but I believe that I understand a bit of what she was going through. Of course, I cannot relate to everything, seeing as how overt homophobia and racism is not as accepted in present day Maryland, but I do understand discrimination, and it has touched me personally. However, I will not let that deny me of my right to happiness. In the words of the great Audre Lorde, “I am a Negro woman and a poet—all three stand outside the realm of choice” (79). Though her poetry is told through words, and mine is told through melodies, we are one in the same. I wonder where we would be without our art.
De Veaux, Alexis. Warrior Poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde A Biography of Audre Lorde. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004. Print.
— Nai (@PhenomenalNai) February 11, 2017