Audre Lorde - black, lesbian, feminist, warrior, mother, activist, writer, and lover. This woman I came to know through her words – rendered a resting force in a mirror; a catalyst for my own voice. Lorde is a half-mirror for women like me: black, queer-feminist, and aspiring to change the world. I write in the present tense for she lives still through her words even though her body has ceased. How important it is to have mirrors to aspire to grandeur, not of wealth or beauty, nor fame but, to aspire to magnificent, strenuous voice and ideals? How important it is for a dark-skinned woman like myself, often deemed ugly, invisible, dangerous in the south, and, hyper visible, hypersexualized and exotic in the north, to embody reflections of a diverse ray of possibilities for existence…? An existence that could transcend all kinds of asymmetry, identity asymmetries such as dark-skinned, woman, fighter, queer.
I wrote once in a video essay:
“born scarred with double asymmetry,
oppression cuts through the skin,
two times two”
three times three
This metaphor is tragic, but it is not the end. What is to be done with such truths? Is it really truth? Is that all? Is that all I am? To be compared and embody a dark scarab holding a hard carapace? Then we have a myth. The black woman myth of the unbreakable carapace, unbreakable back. That black woman that never falls yet she falls to the gutter of the world, systematically, institutionally… Another myth holding truth? We do break hard! However, we do get up even stronger! And when getting up, we must roar! Lorde tells me…
In Lorde’s words I found my own, restless and hidden away in layers of fear, as if I have regained consciousness of them and of the place where they hide and the genealogies of the reasons why they hide inside. Histories of fear blemishing the body. In Lorde’s words I found a space for leaving a specific kind of silence that kept bringing me down and kept rendering my intellect, my identity, incomplete, for, one is not truly whole if hidden in the false comforts of silence. And when I speak of silence, it is a produced silence that replaces opportune language. Lorde whispers at me “Silence will not protect you”. I inhabited silence. Language only living on paper and then I hid those written or typed sheets from everyone. Paper served as limited, unsatisfied release where I would vomit my anger, disappointment, desperation… But I needed more. The body perhaps activated by rhythmic remembrance processes arisen by an eternal seeking of purpose got to find expression and imagination in performance and dance, yet I needed more. My voice ought to be found too. I ought to find myself in language fully.
In Lorde’s Sister Outsider collected essays, in chapter five The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action which was based on a talk she gave at Modern Language Association's "Lesbian and Literature Panel" in 1977, she writes blatantly about the dangers of silence. She examines the action of abandoning the cold silence that becomes quasi-comfort, this silence never really protecting one as one thought it would from the idea that speaking up will put you in trouble and leave you vulnerable, or would kill you. She brings light onto that fear of not calling out on bias, on lies, on usurpations of the body, on oppressions, on restrictions, on temporary prisons, on cultural constructs and social positions we endure in unfelt slavery: gendered, racial, sexual, political, religious, economic, classist. Lorde embodies language as tool for self-revelation and transformation as in re-creating herself differently, temporarily, in contingent spaces and resisting to certain discourses, dominant discourses. She writes:
“What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you sicken and die of them, still in silence? Perhaps for some of you here today, I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am woman, because I am Black, because I am lesbian, because I am myself – A Black woman warrior doing her work – come to ask you, are you doing yours?”
That last question echoed in my mind for days, nights raising other questions. Am I doing my work? Am I denouncing injustice enough? Am I declaring the struggles I experienced with inhabiting queer spaces where I was expected to act in a certain way? Am I proclaiming certain conflicts in inhabiting heteronormative spaces? White spaces? Coloured spaces? White feminism? Trans-intersectional-coloured-feminisms? Am I problematizing harassment and sexual abuse as it ought to be problematized, in spaces where silence reigns? Am I opening my eyes even where there is an advantage for me if I choose in the end to close my eyes to certain discourses, norms made into culture, injustices made into everyday life? Do I call out on misogyny noir even if that means bringing a brother down to rescue a sister? Do I call out on white men exotifying my black voluptuous lines? Or women? In an immediate repudiation of the perversity of men whenever my sex, my body and my colour, adored by its curves and hyper sexual connotations, those being assumptions, naturally, blend in distant fantasies that are not my own, yet do I ever see myself accepting them? I cannot feel my female energy appreciating the devouring stares and lip-licking and almost erected phalluses while I dance bouncing my curves and spreading the fragrance of my perfume through my provocative décolleté in the dark. So, when I am sexual in my own body spreading hormones and sweat does that mean I put myself in a position of objectification? Do I dare to initiate dialogues surrounding these imaginary positions to be inhabited? Do I call it out if it shames me? If it destroys me?
After reading chapter five for five times, I cried with the thought, of the embodiment of the thought that this chapter was written for me. I did not only read it, I have masticated it. I have imprinted it in my own voice, even if this voice shrieks, even if this voice stammers, even if this voice is still taken by silence at times.
“We can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired. For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us”.
Lorde, my black-heroine-reflection where I see myself remembering those days as a child when I would write coded bits of secrets in napkins I left behind in homes, restaurants, cafés, for, it was the only way to adopt language over fear, and her, only writing and speaking in poems never articulating or verbalizing spoken everyday language as we know it, with the conscious thought of doing it. I still recollect those days at times in the present unable to fully articulate my thoughts and reflections to others.
I still recollect those days when I had a vision lasting fifteen minutes altogether because of a 24-hour session of stillness while listening to Beethoven’s symphony 9 but as a 24h stretch of it therefrom, I saw this aborigine boy aged between 11-12 running in the jungle in the south pole. I have personified this boy in the present and, so I was not able to speak as I speak today. I spoke with the primitive body, with the full body into action, with hands and sounds and smiles and with movements of the body swimming in the water; I spoke with the untouched body that western societies would reject. Perhaps I have been this boy long ago. Perhaps the reason why I dance today as in reformulating languages is because I have been this boy in a previous life. And this body-memory tells me that I have the possibilities to reinvent myself within different languages and, so I do not have the necessity any longer to occupy a space of silence because I can speak in various languages, but I must choose the right one in the right context. So today I reclaim my voice here in a linguistic manner for that has been lacking at times.
The body of the present, the body I speak of, aspires to return to this pure state of nature, erotic nature despite my love-hate and attachment to the social western world, yet in Lorde, I find a bridge between these realms of emotional, erotic-nature existence, away from the trauma of white patriarchy, intergenerational trauma, or colonialism, falling into the arms of a consolation of self-love, of self-creation and adjustment. I heard love yesterday through a distance, through words of a black woman who loved and raged too, and learned. I needed to feel this love pouring out of me as simple as it could be coming from a deep place that I forgot I contained in me. Transcendence.
Evolution not annihilation
Love over hell – a confinement of pain and loss within the human soul
Transformation over death
Lorde’s Sister Outsider has been a literary healing potion to me these days. First before most, it became a revelatory force for my ongoing self-searching yet also consolatory in the cruellest times of my life. Times where I was raging until I bled. Times where I could not accept my anger, however, this anger kept on growing. This anger was a result of many things, not only my personal heartaches but a forgotten anger, consequent of injustices. Becoming suddenly racialized and/or sexualized and being targeted as a cliché of a stereotype. Being reduced to ill assumptions and distortions. I raged until I understood that I would burn myself to the ground if I kept raging like that in silence or unseen explosions. Yet I needed to acknowledge my anger first and accept that I have a right to carry it, but it must be poured out of me otherwise when it lives too long, the body will rotten.
“Anger is a grief of distortions between peers, and its object is change” (p.129).
And so, my journey first began working through that anger demolishing silence. Lorde writes that we must examine difference together dismantling these distortions that history has created for profit. We must always ask who is profiting from these distortions, for those separate us.
Sister Outsider spoke to me again in a loud striking voice making me realize that the erotic is a self-connection force needed to be reclaimed outside the typical pornographic realm. This realm being a plasticized sensation without sentiment, no imaginative, organic corporeality… After a lucid dream where bodies, mine and that of another I used to know, and others, strangers connected through energy not linguistic language, eye stares and dance, not hatred, whose remnants I still feel embodied in my heart. Such moment brought culmination of joy, and this joy I speak of, is that joy that Lorde reveals in the name of the erotic –
“the erotic connection [functioning as an] open and fearless underlining of [a] capacity for joy (…) and sharing of joy”with others
And that lucid dream is a vision of that, not as fantasy but an ideal dream I thought I could never dream of. It’s a vision of a utopia perhaps, although I feel it in my heart as something possible, something beyond the imagined, something about to take over me completely and transform me. This image becomes a reclamation of the erotic in terms of how Lorde defines it:
“The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognizing its power, in honour and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves”.
The erotic embodies a cultivation of joy and wellbeing - love; it speaks of a dialogical relationship between the spiritual in terms of the psychic and the emotional human spheres but also, the political... The erotic is that bridge “which connects them - those physical, emotional, and psychic expressions of what is deepest and strongest and richest within each of us, being shared: the passions of love, in its deepest meanings”. And I embrace this idea of the erotic in my own being, creating, writing, performing, dancing, for that is my own expression of self-love, and my own process of dismantling silence. Creating enables me to find these bridges, these expressions and spheres between the social world and the imagined, and the spiritual.
Lorde has gifted all of us with Sister Outsider as an ode to liberation and self-creation providing a space to re-imagine blackness, womanhood, sexuality, and unity between different social groups through an acceptance of the self as an erotic being, with an unapologetic idea of becoming whole through language, through personal voice and action. Sister Outsider is a piece of sublime activist resistance towards inflamed discourses of difference, hatred and oppression. Sister Outsider is an act of love where distortions of difference embedded in constructions of sex, gender, sexuality and race become transcended through academic rhetoric analysis, empathy, and transformation. Lastly, she writes:
“we use whatever strengths we have fought for, including anger, to help define and fashion a world where all our sisters can grow, where our children can love, and where the power of touching and meeting another woman’s difference and wonder will eventually transcend the need for destruction” (p.133).
 Audre Lorde in Sister Outsider, (2007)