Alice Walker on
By Sidney Brinkley
Award-winning novelist Alice Walker delivered the keynote address at the 1997 Black Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum's 10th Annual Conference in Long Beach, California.
I covered the conference for the Washington Blade and when I sent her a request for an interview I sent along a copy of the interview that Audre Lorde had conducted for Blacklight in 1984.
Walker had just become famous and her picture appeared on the cover of the "New York Times Book Review." Talk was going around that Walker was a Lesbian and she was asked about it but always denied it. During her interview, Audre Lorde said she was happy for Walker's success but she felt Walker's insistence that she was not a Lesbian had been "a real factor in her acceptability."
When I spoke with Alice Walker the night before she delivered her keynote address at the conference, I asked her about Audre's comment.
"I thought it was the most strange thing I ever read," she replied. "It was one of those double things. She said she wished it was her but if it couldn't be her 'I was glad it was Alice,' on the other hand. Audre and I had to work some things through. She didn't like the fact that I called myself 'womanist.' She thought I was trying to get away from being a Black feminist."
Ms. Walker was very charming the evening I met her. She was in a hotel suite, sitting on a sofa next to poet and author June Jordan, who had just delivered her own dynamic speech. By the time we met Alice Walker had "come out," and I asked at what point did she realize she was Bisexual?
She answered she did not like the labels of "Lesbian," or "Gay," or even "Bisexual," because they were limiting.
"I always felt that if I loved someone, I could make love to that person," she said. "I've always found it difficult to 'fix' myself with a word or label. It would limit my freedom. And to me, freedom is the most important thin. Freedom is the most sensual thing."
Walker said she came out to her family as soon as she realized her attraction to other women.
"I feel very strongly that as soon as you find something new and wonderful about yourself, you should just tell your people," she said. "My favorite brother died recently. He was very much the Archie Bunker type. I have a lot of brothers and they're all rednecks and it was such a delight to tell him that I had fallen in love with a woman and to watch him kind of...pause.
He started to smile because he didn't 'get it.' His brain didn't catch up to what I had just said and that smile dropped and he just sat there for a few minutes. But he loved me. He loved me silly from the time I was born. So, what was he gonna do?
To the people that we love, I think the greatest gift we can give is to be who we are, as we find out who we are, right or wrong. That is the greatest gift. That was my moment of what it would be like to be face-to-face with the person I most care about.
Actually, you don't care what most people think about you. But my brother...I loved him and what was he going to say? I wanted him to still love me."
In her speech the following day she again referred to her dislike of labels as she spoke of the "Decolinization of the Spirit."
"What does 'Decolinization of the Spirit' mean to Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, or Two-Spirited people? It means we begin to realize we must surrender our autonomy to no one. Though we might exist in loving solidarity with others, in fact, we have a one-on-one relationship with life.
We learn that labels can be boxes that eventually cramp both the body and the soul. We begin to think, feel and comprehend the way we did before colonization forced us away from common sense. We know in our hearts that if we liberate our spirits, our sexuality, like our love itself, will follow with joy."
Photo of Alice Walker copyright Craig Bailey/cbe