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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, 25 everybody. So I would say it is definitely a Negro play before it is anything else.” 72 The search for truth - - historical, embodied, particular -- is therefore central to Hansberry’s political and moral imagination. Hansberry’s August Ladder letter closes with a tentative exploration of the link between homophobia and sexism: “In this kind of work [women’s intellectual labor] there may be women to emerge who will be able to formulate a new and possible concept that homosexual persecution and condemnation has at its roots not only social ignorance, but a philosophically active anti-feminist dogma.” 73 This theme is recapitulated in her letter to One where Hansberry also links the oppression of homosexuality to the oppression of women. “The relationship of anti-homosexual sentiment to the oppression of women has a special and deep implication. That is to say, that it must be clear that the reason for the double standard of social valuation is rooted in the societal contempt for the estate of womanhood in the first place. Everywhere the homosexual male is, in one way or another, seen as tantamount to the criminal for his deviation; and the woman homosexual as naughty, neurotic, adventurous, titillating wicked or rebellious for hers.” 74 Not all black lesbian scholars, however, agree that lesbian sexuality is privileged over gay male sexuality “everywhere” – particularly in black communities. Ann Allen Shockley, for example, describes the special hostility directed toward Black Lesbians in the Black community during the 1960s and earlier. “Combining with the stereotypical concepts and Black male power thrust of the sixties was the sexism displayed by non-Lesbian Black females toward their Black Lesbian sisters. ‘Fags’ to Black women are cute, entertaining, safe, and above all tolerated. Males are expected to venture sexually from the norm.” 75 Although she is careful to contest the idea that black communities are more homophobic than other communities, hooks echoes Shockley: “In the particular black community where I was raised there was a real double standard. Black male homosexuals were often known, were talked about, were seen 72 Lorraine Hansberry “Make New Sounds: Studs Terkel Interviews Lorraine Hansberry,” American Theatre, November 1984, 5-41. (The article is a transcript of a radio show which originally aired in Chicago May 12, 1959.) 73 Hansberry, August 1957, 30. 74 Hansberry, 1991, 6-7.

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Queering the Borders: Hansberry’s Letters to The Ladder, 25
everybody. So I would say it is definitely a Negro play before it is anything else.”
72
The search for truth -
- historical, embodied, particular -- is therefore central to Hansberry’s political and moral imagination.
Hansberry’s August Ladder letter closes with a tentative exploration of the link between
homophobia and sexism: “In this kind of work [women’s intellectual labor] there may be women to
emerge who will be able to formulate a new and possible concept that homosexual persecution and
condemnation has at its roots not only social ignorance, but a philosophically active anti-feminist
dogma.”
73
This theme is recapitulated in her letter to One where Hansberry also links the oppression of
homosexuality to the oppression of women. “The relationship of anti-homosexual sentiment to the
oppression of women has a special and deep implication. That is to say, that it must be clear that the
reason for the double standard of social valuation is rooted in the societal contempt for the estate of
womanhood in the first place. Everywhere the homosexual male is, in one way or another, seen as
tantamount to the criminal for his deviation; and the woman homosexual as naughty, neurotic,
adventurous, titillating wicked or rebellious for hers.”
74
Not all black lesbian scholars, however, agree that lesbian sexuality is privileged over gay male
sexuality “everywhere” – particularly in black communities. Ann Allen Shockley, for example, describes
the special hostility directed toward Black Lesbians in the Black community during the 1960s and earlier.
“Combining with the stereotypical concepts and Black male power thrust of the sixties was the sexism
displayed by non-Lesbian Black females toward their Black Lesbian sisters. ‘Fags’ to Black women are
cute, entertaining, safe, and above all tolerated. Males are expected to venture sexually from the norm.”
75
Although she is careful to contest the idea that black communities are more homophobic than other
communities, hooks echoes Shockley: “In the particular black community where I was raised there was a
real double standard. Black male homosexuals were often known, were talked about, were seen
72
Lorraine Hansberry “Make New Sounds: Studs Terkel Interviews Lorraine Hansberry,” American Theatre,
November 1984, 5-41. (The article is a transcript of a radio show which originally aired in Chicago May 12, 1959.)
73
Hansberry, August 1957, 30.
74
Hansberry, 1991, 6-7.


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