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    Jewelle Gomez: Leave Signs

    By Jewelle Gomez–

    (Editor’s Note: We are proud to welcome to the San Francisco Bay Times renowned author, poet, critic, and playwright Jewelle Gomez. She is the author of eight books, including the double Lambda Literary Award-winning novel, The Gilda Stories (Firebrand Books, 1991). Her personal involvement in Black and feminist political and social movements is often reflected in her works, such as her remarkable plays that include Waiting for Giovanni (about James Baldwin) and Leaving the Blues (about Alberta Hunter).

    She was on the original staff of WGBH’s Say Brother (later titled Basic Black), one of the world’s first weekly Black television shows. Former president of the San Francisco Library Commission, Gomez additionally previously served as the director of Cultural Equity Grants at the San Francisco Arts Commission. Her diverse background is extraordinary. More about it and her works is at http://www.jewellegomez.com/index.html

    This issue marks the launch of Gomez’s new column for the Bay Times, Leave Signs, a powerful and thought-provoking title that she explains in her first article.)

    “So … don’t be taken in your sleep now./Call your assailant’s

     name now./ … Leave signs of struggle./Leave signs of triumph./

    And leave signs.”

    The section from a poem by Black Lesbian writer Cheryl Clarke is one of the calls to arms that circles in my mind when I sit down to write. We all have our stories but historically those stories have been deliberately hidden or discounted. I’ll never forget the adventure faced by the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York City in the 1980s when they received a desperate call from a woman in the Midwest. All the memorabilia of her lesbian aunt was being sent to the dump by relatives anxious not to have the “shameful” secret discovered.  But one young woman relative knew whom to call so Archives volunteers hopped in a van and drove hours to rescue the letters and photographs from a fate worse than death.

    Even though today the times seem more sophisticated and open, for those of us living in any of the “bubbles” we, as a community, are still isolated and invisible to a large part of the population and to each other. And our history remains spotty. How many potential lesbian hip hop artists languished in the closet waiting for Queen Latifah to come out?

    As a Lesbian/Feminist I want to leave signs so that those who are uncertain of their significance or who feel invisible or don’t see their political resonance can find themselves in my writing and go on to express themselves independently. My great grandmother who raised me used to say there was nothing new under the sun. But we also know that often in order to be it we need to see it. Repressive forces have always understood that, which is why representation of lesbians was banned for a long time on Broadway or why Georgia just elected its first African American representative ever.

    This has been an extraordinary time in U.S. history: those who would like to be sure that not all voices are heard and not all people are seen have been emboldened by too many in the previous administration. Which means that we need to hear even more voices and see even more of our faces. 

    Gay Pride was online, Frameline Film Festival was virtual (do I miss those Hot Cookies!), along with almost everything else. Most of us did not buy stock in Zoom, so we just have to set our lighting and backdrops carefully to grin and bear it!

    But pictures have made this one of the most interesting years ever. 

    Seeing the words “Black Lives Matter” stenciled on an Oakland city street made me teary. To me it was as powerful as the photo of the young woman refusing to back down in front of Chinese tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Say what you will, but sharing photos of distant friends has been moving for me: The snapshot of Sandra, one of my best friends back in New York City, using a snowblower to dig herself out of a blizzard! The posting of a former neighbor’s kids growing faster than 12 months would account for! The photos a dear friend took of the treasures left behind when his mother passed away, leaving him in isolation in more ways than one, were both heartbreaking and heartwarming.  All of these made me feel closer to them as I took advantage of transmissions arriving through whatever mystical invention it is that carries the internet email!

    Many of my friends who aren’t on Instagram (and there are still a bunch of them) have started including pictures of themselves whenever they email. There is something comforting about seeing and being seen. I keep finding articles online that specialize in photographs like the AP site’s prize-winning photographs that bring the lives of others up close.  Or the Library of Congress digital archives, which make history come alive.

    I value the way we can reveal ourselves not just to the world in general but also to each other. Whether they are snapshots, snatches of poetry, or films; those of us who have the privilege of recording the world can make sure we don’t disappear as some would like us to.

    There is enough ignorance and fear out there to make every one of us angry or full of despair. So, in this space I’d like to share some of the ideas, information, and images that have made my days both challenging and exciting and that make us all resilient. 

    Cheryl Clarke’s poems are just one of the things we should never forget. https://www.cherylclarkepoet.com/

    Jewelle Gomez is a lesbian/feminist activist, novelist, poet, and playwright. She’s written for “The Advocate,” “Ms. Magazine,” “Black Scholar,” “The San Francisco Chronicle,” “The New York Times,” and “The Village Voice.” Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @VampyreVamp

    Published on February 11, 2021