Wednesday, February 11, 2009


So. I was happily reading this Racialicious post about some archived images from Jet and Ebony from the 50s and 60s, when these magazines actually mentioned LGBTQ African-Americans and in fact covered the drag balls in New York and Chicago. (The pictures are great, check it out.)

In the comments, people began discussing the question of why these magazines used to cover such things and now they don't. And then I hit this comment:

As you allude to in your post, during the Black Renaissance the LGBT community wasn’t just tolerated, we were a part of the community. I mean Zora and Langston were major players.

It’s just so sad that we haven’t continued along that trajectory of acceptance. Imagine where we’d be now

I had to read it twice. Because while I studied both Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston in high school, nobody ever thought to mention to me that either of them might be anything but straight. And it has never come up since then, even though they as writers have certainly cropped up.

I did a couple quick Googles, as the kids say, and while clearly there's some doubt about Langston (though speculation seems to be sort of fun for people the way it is about Shakespeare), it seems like the case for Zora is more settled (though, interestingly, much less discussed). So, yes. There we have it.

And I am shocked. Not at their sexualities; at the fact that nobody ever saw fit to mention it. Black men and women who identify as LGBTQ have a tough enough time getting their intersectional identities recognized without having their communal histories erased. I can't help but ask why it was necessary to erase the gay identities of two such beloved luminaries of black literary history; and why the topic seems to be more acceptable to giggle over for the man than for the woman. (References to Hurston's lesbianism crop up almost exclusively in scholarly or literary works made by and/or for lesbians. It's enough to make a person storm the Wikipedia page.)

I'm sure part of this is that I haven't delved into black literary history or the lives of any of its stars. I have to acknowledge the white privilege at work there--though part of it, honestly, is that I'm not very into ANY literary history--and I'm certainly glad that high school had me read what bits and pieces it did. But again, nobody mentioned it, and I am still mulling over the ramifications for my understanding of Their Eyes Were Watching God. Would that not have been worth discussing, given the protagonist's highly convoluted relationship to men as romantic partners, and to gender norms (by the end)? Or was that too "edgy" for the ninth grade? (Because teenage pregnancy and marriage, sexual abuse, death, violence, and slut-shaming are just squeaky clean.)

As commenter to the Racialicious post A.D. Nix wrote: that is some violent invisibility.

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