The Black Lesbian
By S. Diane Bogus
In the April 1979 issue of "Ebony" magazine, in an article entitled "Has the sexual Revolution Bypassed Blacks?," Dr. Robert Staples stated that one of the effects of the sexual revolution is the increase in visible homosexuality. He believed it to be the one area of the changing sexual values that has significant Black participation. "However," he says, "the increase in people assuming overt Gay lifestyles is largely confined to the Black male. Despite a Black male shortage, relatively few Black woman have joined the community of overt Lesbians. Like the Black male homosexual, many Black Lesbians are deeply involved in the White homosexual community."
When I first encountered Dr. Staples' statements, I was enraged. I was then, and remain now, an overt Black Lesbian, of the many with whom I associate. I took personal exception to his unsubstantiated claim that in their smallness of number the countable majority of Black Lesbians were attached to the White homosexual community.
I wrote "Ebony" a fiery self-proclamation. I wanted the public to know that one sister did not want or need the association with group Gays. In addition, I wanted it understood that Dr. Staples' article was numerically negating and categorically misplacing the lives of many sisters and brothers.
Despite the many books written on White sexuality, many of them best sellers, there is not yet one book on Black sexual patterns. Thus it is small wonder that the American Psychiatric Association, whose figures reflect pragmatic studies and surveys, reported in 1972 that there were 11.4 million American homosexuals, and of that lot, 9% were Black men, and 13.5% were Black women. Yet, New York's Mattachine Society reported in 1975 that there were 13.5 million Gay people the United States and of that populace 9% were Black men and 14% were Black women. What is interesting to note is, conflicting figures abound where information on Black sexual patterns is non-existent. Therefore, the numbers are still not true computations of overt Black Gays, male or female. Because I exist openly and independent of the larger Gay movement it can be assumed that other Black Lesbians do also. Not all Black Lesbians know about or wish to be connected with the larger Gay movement.
That some Black Lesbians don't know about the movement implies that there are some people are who media retarded, politically blindfolded, and living in social vacuums. These sisters go from day to day living out the drama of their lives seeing, hearing, and interacting only with those people immediately involved. As players in a soap opera, there is no world outside of the one which they create.
In an earlier period of my life, circa 1965-1970, my self-identity was totally Black. The Black nationalism of that period made it a traitorous act to be attached to any White organization. Thus, when Gay groups began springing up, that feeling of Black loyalty and White distrust made me reluctant to become a part of thje Gay movement.
Yet in another stage of my own development, I did actively seek out organizations involved in White Gay liberation. However, I found that, just like being immersed in a all Black consciousness, the "All Gay" consciouness also narrowed one's self expression. It appeared to me that once one is a part of an identified group, Black, Gay or whatever, all of one's perception, self-definitions, and energies have to flow through the filter of the group ideal. I could never be wholly enmeshed in a single group ideology. I have come to prefer not to spend all my time defining or explaining my right to be Black, Gay or whatever. I am of varied interests, both Black and beautiful and Gay and proud.
Beginning in the 1950's, Blacks began standing up to the racist institutions that stood between them and living free lives. They declared pride in the very Blackness that society had denigrated. However, so all-encompassing this ideology has become that a student at Columbia University, who was spokesman of its Afro-American Society, was quoted as saying: "In a time when Black people are working to create a nation of men and women, we don't have time to wallow in the mud with people who cannot decide if they are men or women."
It is this thought that is oppressing many Black Gays. Once visible, a Black Lesbian, like all open Gays, will be a sinner in the eyes of the church, sick in the eyes of the psychiatrists, and perverted in the eyes of society. If she presently is able to function without being attached to a Gay organization, or involved in an ongoing consultation with a psychiatrist, she no doubt considers herself well off.
And to the open Black Lesbian, being well off might be living with another woman, going to work, maintaining a household, and partying within one's Gay clique. It does not involve making one's self obvious to one's straight coworkers and neighbors. Yet it is not living in the closet for any of the above are free to inquire as to your sexuality, and receive an unfettered, "Yes, I'm Gay."
However, a Black Lesbian does not make herself obvious a great many times because those very coworkers and neighbors are members of the Black community. The Black community is an ideological oppressor. If there are other Black Lesbians like myself who are keeping Black Lesbians an unseen reality, then it is not due to society at large but our own people who are struggling to maintain a unity hellishly gained during the riotous 1960's. But it is this very unity, this new Black Nationalism, is the Black Lesbians' as well as the Black Gay male's circumscribed oppression. And it is from this oppression that we must be liberated.
From Blacklight, Volume 2, No. 2