Callaloo 23.1 (2000) 394-421
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Passion(ate) Plays "Wherever We Found Space":
Lorde and Gomez Queer(y)ing Boundaries and Acting In
Part 2: Plum Nelly: New Essays in Black Queer Studies
Images of women flaming like torches adorn and define the borders of my journey, stand like dykes between me and the chaos. It is the images of women, kind and cruel, that lead me home. (Zami 3)
This now, here, was a space, some temporary abode, never to be considered forever nor totally binding nor defining. (13)
. . . you had to have a place. Whether or not it did justice to whatever you felt you were about, there had to be some place to refuel and check your flaps. In times of need and great instability, the place sometimes became more a definition than the substance of why you needed it to begin with. Sometimes the retreat became the reality. . . . For some of us there was no one particular place, and we grabbed whatever we could from wherever we found space. (225-26)
The Girl listened to the words. She tried to look again into the world behind Gilda's eyes and understand what was being asked of her. What she saw was open space, no barriers. . . . "My dream was to see the world, over time. The real dream is to make a world--to see the people and still want to make a world." (The Gilda Stories 44)
She left behind the shadowy dreams of desire and embraced the solid flesh that made dreams real. (213)
Contributors to such collections as Queer Looks, How Do I Look?, Queer Studies, Inside/Out, and butch/femme: Inside Lesbian Gender engage the need to continually problematize the term "queer." Here I do not rehearse the meanings of the word "queer," or the arguments that disclaim "queer" as exclusionary, eliding women/lesbians, anti-identity politics, playful/not serious, since that exercise has been done so often. Focusing on the positive potential for "queer(y)ing" spaces, I move beyond a strictly sexualized definition to address the deconstruction of diverse essentialized and "naturalized" differences and to explore challenges to dichotomous thinking. I trace diverse "acts" that foreground the performative nature of gender and sexuality through analysis of lesbian representations in Audre Lorde's Zami: A New Spelling Of My Name: A Biomythography and Jewelle Gomez's The Gilda Stories. Assuming complex voices and bodies from which to speak, the diverse boundaries and sites they defiantly [End Page 394] queer, transgress, blur, and interrogate include: race, sex, gender, sexuality, nationality, geography, time, life/death, the inside/outside of the body, sanity/craziness, life/art, and dream/reality. They queer the "master narratives" of "normal" traditional white, heterosexual, male power and redefine the boundaries through taking the agency of writing their own and other's experiences into reality and visibility. As well as exploding the myth of the "family romance," they challenge many other assumed norms and oppressive privileges. Theirs is a passionate engagement with life and their Foucauldian "reverse discourse" (History of Sexuality 101) connects bodies and experience in a most immediate way. Journal-writing, creative writing, and theoretical/critical endeavors, activities normally polarized and divided into artificial hierarchical genres, are queered and interwoven in their works, creating a dialogue between writers, academic disciplines, and genres.
The title Sister Outsider for Audre Lorde's often-quoted collection of essays articulates the many ways of being a "sister" to other women and at the same time "outsider" to many communities. Lorde and Gomez demonstrate their celebration of the "act" of writing themselves "in"to community--a process and an "act" of courage and determination. Such acts are essential in order to counter popular cultural images that erase, distort, or condemn lesbian experience. Lorde and Gomez represent the need for lesbians, and particularly lesbians of color, to create their own images. In The Gilda Stories, Bird teaches the Girl many things, but most importantly she teaches her how to read "first from the Bible and the newspaper...