I know it’s been a while since we’ve spoken. Though you place that “decision” on my shoulders, I can say from my perspective, you weren’t ever really listening. Only once, after a performance, I saw how your eyes lit up, and I knew you were really present and proud of me. In that moment, I felt a great togetherness. I felt this sense of togetherness, also, when you’d pick me up in your black car and it felt like you and me on our adventure, our journey. For a while after we broke up, I would look for your car and expect to see you at every turn.
As I tell my students, behind all the silence and lack of listening is fear. You don’t see it that way, but I do. It’s in the culture now, after Trump’s election, that barbaric fear.
I also know that what ultimately destroyed our relationship was fear — fear of intimacy without proper tools to address it. I can hear Audre Lorde here, speaking now, “We were two black women touching our flame, and we left our dead behind us.”
During the late ’80s and early ’90s, what I remember more than anything in the eyes of my brothers who were dying of AIDS is fear, fear that lurked around hospital beds, fear that stalked and awaited its prey.
I feel that that’s what our president-elect succeeded at — stoking and mobilizing our fear. I don’t believe that what is happening in this country now is just about racism and misogyny, though of course that’s there. More than anything he preyed upon our fear. It’s been a reality show; he picked a dormant issue and provoked it. It was done in Nazi Germany. It was done in Rwanda. One group pitted against another. Without any real language instead of arguments, intellect, and complex characters or situations, he gave us buzzwords and takeaways — bad, evil, nasty, wrong.
Shortly after you and I broke up and stopped speaking, the massacre at a gay bar in Orlando, Fla., happened; a homophobic young man burst into a bar and shot young gay people who were dancing. I wondered if you were afraid, if you had somewhere to turn, if anyone was holding you. It didn’t escape me that I once worked in bars and clubs — for years — and it could have been me or anyone I have ever known in that club. Around the time that this happened, another black man had been murdered by police, so many now I’ve lost count. I was in Chicago performing, and I just knew I had to do something in my work and words to pull all the alarms, because America, then and now, ever-increasingly, is in a state of emergency.
When all this happened, I wanted to go to you and say, “It’s time for us to lay down our weapons, now more than ever; we need to be each other’s family.” I wanted to say to everyone I had ever loved, and as Dorothy Allison might say, “ ‘Every woman I have ever warred with,’ we need to lay down our weapons, rise above the grudges, the anger, the fear, the petty stories we hold on to that have nothing to do with the reality of who another person is, and be family for each other.”
We are getting older now. It’s always stayed with me, the story that The New York Times ran on gay and lesbian seniors who’ve been abandoned and are lonely.
Recently I was looking at some of my students’ papers. I had asked them to read Nicole Dennis-Benn’s novel, Here Comes the Sun. Something stood out to me in a student paper, when they quoted from the novel. A character says, “Membah dis, nobody love a black girl. Not even harself.” I promise to do better. For me, that means daily checklists about eating well, exercise, painting my nails, how much art I’ve made or taken in, reading I’ve done, being present for myself and others, doing things that nurture my soul.
I want to end this letter the way Audre Lorde would sign a difficult letter, like the one she once wrote to feminist Mary Daly, in which she confronted her about biases and exclusion of black women in the telling of her story and myth.
With love from me, and, as Audre said, “…in the hands of Afrekete…”
We need to be each other’s family.
This comes from Letters to the Revolution, an online platform with letters from leading artists and activists aimed at providing solidarity and inspiration to those concerned with the new administration in D.C. Read more at LettersToTheRevolution.com.
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