Homage to Black queer writers 

I have not always had unlimited access to books, particularly before the advent of Amazon and electronic books. While I was free to use the school library during the school year, the limited access to books in Ethiopia meant that I used to rent books for 60 cents a day just so I would have a constant supply of new books to read during the summer. And scarcity had taught me to devour whatever reading material was on my path.

My arrival in the US and then a job at a library changed all of that. It was during the summer and my boss had asked me to shelve books and to go through the library shelf by shelf to ensure that all the books were shelved in the right place as we prepared for the fall semester. This meant that I all of a sudden had access to as many books as I could possibly read and was learning the luxury of browsing books. I would often pause to read the backcover of the books that I was shelving and would read a few more pages and even check out the book if it caught my fancy.

I came across Sister Outsider and the cover – a Black woman wearing a scarf with a western African print fabric – made me stop. Her words made me stay. I had never heard of Audre Lorde. I was just a young Ethiopian woman who had yet to make sense of being Black in the US and who was clear that she was attracted to women but had yet to claim lesbian as an identity.

Almost none of what she wrote was something that I had considered and so nothing had prepared me for her words. What was even more captivating was the unflinching and uncompromising manner of her writing. It felt as if she was daring me to think, to imagine and to be. Audre Lorde taught me to speak. To refuse to be silent.

After I was done reading Sister Outsider, I went in search of other Black women writers and thinkers. Audre led me to Pat Parker, June Jordan, Barbara Smith, Beverly Smith, Jewelle Gomez, Cheryl Clarke and so many others. They were all unapologetic Black women whose writings were so powerful that it altered the trajectory of my life. It created a seismic shift not only in my thinking but in how I saw myself. My coming out was informed by their words, I developed a politicized identity that brought all of me to the table: Black, immigrant, lesbian, … Their words then moved me into action. These women birthed an activist, one who has continued to refuse to be silent about any aspect of her life and who is always already ready to fight against any injustice directed at any one.

I owe my life to these Black women. They – along with so many other women writers of color – allowed me to use the bridge they called their backs. I am who I am because they guided and challenged me. I am who I am because I continue to learn from so many more Black queer voices.  

Black History Month is my history.  Happy Black History Month.

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