Recent Comments

    Sharpening the Pencils

    By Jewelle Gomez–

    We are moving into that fateful period that leads some folks to make January 1st promises to themselves they rarely keep. I prefer to think of this as a time to sharpen my pencils.

    Who uses pencils anymore?! So, I know I date myself. But my dear friend, poet Cheryl Clarke, gave me the pencil sharpener she had when she was in high school. I’ve held on to it and I keep a couple of #2 Ticonderogas on my desk so occasionally I can enjoy the satisfaction of their smooth, lead glide across yellow, lined paper—framing a fresh start as an active, useful event reminds me that we all have work to do. 

    Recently I had two stories rejected by anthology editors. It was not especially surprising for any writer, but coming close together, it was startling. It made me think about my writing in general: are my pencils sharp? Am I still exploring vital ideas that engage readers? Admittedly, I was trying a new (non-vampire) genre, so no surprise: I might need a bit more sharpening around the edges. I’m excited to try something new, even though my non-vampire, comic novel about Black, 1960s student activists in their middle years has been wandering in the woods for a decade, looking for a publisher!

    Both editors had good feedback and I heard things that will help my stories as well as my poor, wayfaring novel. In my mind, it’s all about keeping the pencils sharp.

    Another aspect of “sharpening my pencils” refers to my social change perspective. Recently, someone reported a rumor to me that they’d heard I had, at some time, been anti-Trans. They were checking in, not accusing; but it was a shock of cold water. I was sad that a Transgender person felt wounded by a position they thought I’d held and I felt hurt that my life’s activism could so easily be dismissed. But it’s hard to know how to respond to a rumor.

    I knew I’d never taken an anti-Transgender position, but who knows what might have been interpreted as hurtful. I’ve had lively discussions with Transgender friends when we didn’t see the world the same way, but I feel like those kinds of conversations need to happen in our community for us all to stay sharp.

    As a multi-ethnic, lesbian feminist femme, I know I still have to battle to be recognized as human. I keep looking at all facets of the world from multiple perspectives to see how we fit together. And I work for all Queer people to be recognized. Part of keeping the pencils sharp is learning new ways of being in the world. It was a dangerous road from Mrs./Miss to Ms.; and now a bit bumpy to get to she/he/they. But we can’t be too embarrassed to try or even stumble.

    About twenty-five years ago, I was on a grantmaking panel with Transgender activist and author Kate Bornstein. We happened to be alone briefly in the meeting room and she gave me that gorgeous smile and said something like, “We’re the women they didn’t expect.” And even though it was a Queer funding panel, Kate was right. A woman of color and a Transwoman were still, even in the 1990s, the odd ones out. I understood then that those of us out on the margins must actively secure that bond to make our movement strong.

    So, listening to rumors and receiving the literary rejections I’m going to use them as an opportunity to sharpen my “pencils”; to be fully conscious in the work I’m doing both in my writing and my activism. 2022—bring it on!

    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 December 16, 2021