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Queering the borders: Lorraine Hansberrys 1957 Letters to The Ladder
Unformatted Document Text:  Queering the Borders: Hansberry’s Letters to The Ladder, 19 same time as she is willing to sacrifice revolutionary politics to the pragmatics of political expediency). Hansberry rejects the notion of sexuality as a non-political and private issue in several other texts including her play The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, in her unpublished letter to One, and in her August letter to the Ladder. In the letter to One, for example, Hansberry explicates her notion of political intersectionality and explicitly links homosexuality to other forms of political oppression. She writes: “It is true that all human questions overlap and while our understanding of a trial in Israel or an execution in Vietnam may not momentarily be rapid-fire, life has a way of showing up why we should have cared all along. Men continue to misinterpret the second-rate status of women as implying a privileged status for themselves; heterosexuals think the same way about homosexuals; gentile about Jews; whites about blacks; haves about have-nots.” 57 Although Hansberry does not take up the issue of lesbian assimilation elsewhere in her published writing, she does acknowledge briefly in her August letter a June Ladder essay on “Transvestism” which deepens the political analysis Hansberry had begun. 58 “I am now pleased,” writes Hansberry in her August letter referring to this essay “to see that there are those who have given and are giving good attention to the question in a most serious way.” In the essay titled “Transvestism – A Cross-Cultural Survey,” Stephens sketches both political and psychological dimensions of women’s cross dressing including what she calls “defensive transvestism” as resistance to sexism and the sexual objectification of women. In other words, by shifting the discursive ground about lesbian dress from the terrain of “passing” as straight to an issue of gender conformity as compliance with gender oppression, Stephens thus articulates the centrality of sexism to lesbian experience. And this, to Hansberry --20 years before lesbian-feminism emerges as a movement -- is a laudable move. For example, Stephens lists the uses of transvestism as a“barrier against possible sexual assault,” and “the rejection of the ‘super-sex cult… In this day of the glorified pin-up girl there are some who would rather be rated on their character and 57 Lorraine Hansberry, “Unpublished Letter to One,” in Stephen R. Carter, Hansberry’s Drama: Commitment amid Complexity (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991), 6. 58 Barbara Stephens, “Transvestism – A Cross-Cultural Survey,” The Ladder, June, 1957, 10-14.

Authors: Lipari, Lisbeth.
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Queering the Borders: Hansberry’s Letters to The Ladder, 19
same time as she is willing to sacrifice revolutionary politics to the pragmatics of political expediency).
Hansberry rejects the notion of sexuality as a non-political and private issue in several other texts
including her play The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, in her unpublished letter to One, and in her
August letter to the Ladder. In the letter to One, for example, Hansberry explicates her notion of political
intersectionality and explicitly links homosexuality to other forms of political oppression. She writes: “It
is true that all human questions overlap and while our understanding of a trial in Israel or an execution in
Vietnam may not momentarily be rapid-fire, life has a way of showing up why we should have cared all
along. Men continue to misinterpret the second-rate status of women as implying a privileged status for
themselves; heterosexuals think the same way about homosexuals; gentile about Jews; whites about
blacks; haves about have-nots.”
57
Although Hansberry does not take up the issue of lesbian assimilation elsewhere in her published
writing, she does acknowledge briefly in her August letter a June Ladder essay on “Transvestism” which
deepens the political analysis Hansberry had begun.
58
“I am now pleased,” writes Hansberry in her
August letter referring to this essay “to see that there are those who have given and are giving good
attention to the question in a most serious way.” In the essay titled “Transvestism – A Cross-Cultural
Survey,” Stephens sketches both political and psychological dimensions of women’s cross dressing
including what she calls “defensive transvestism” as resistance to sexism and the sexual objectification
of women. In other words, by shifting the discursive ground about lesbian dress from the terrain of
“passing” as straight to an issue of gender conformity as compliance with gender oppression, Stephens
thus articulates the centrality of sexism to lesbian experience. And this, to Hansberry --20 years before
lesbian-feminism emerges as a movement -- is a laudable move. For example, Stephens lists the uses of
transvestism as a“barrier against possible sexual assault,” and “the rejection of the ‘super-sex cult… In
this day of the glorified pin-up girl there are some who would rather be rated on their character and
57
Lorraine Hansberry, “Unpublished Letter to One,” in Stephen R. Carter, Hansberry’s Drama: Commitment amid
Complexity (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991), 6.
58
Barbara Stephens, “Transvestism – A Cross-Cultural Survey,” The Ladder, June, 1957, 10-14.


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