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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, 28 community, or contest. In fact, critical interrogations of marginalized rhetors will in the end serve to contest such easy and reductive celebrations. As Joan Nestle writes about African-American lesbian Mabel Hampton “Ms. Hampton’s lesbian history is embedded in the history of race and class in this country; she makes us extend our historical perspective until she is at its center. The focus then is not lesbian history, but lesbians in history.” 80 Thus while valuable, the contributions of critical historiography that appropriately destabilize notions of the mythic individual are misappropriated when used to further erase or silence the contributions of marginalized speakers. Similarly, critiques of identity politics fail us when they are used to forclose inquiry into the rhetorical formation and historical production of queer discourse, despite the myriad theoretical problematics of the category “queer.” For example, in discussing the dual tensions between the political necessity of recognizing and articulating the lived materiality of queer experience on the one hand, and the insufficiency of identity categories such as “queer” on the other, Judith Butler asks us “to affirm the contingency of the term [queer] so that it can become a discursive site whose uses are not fully contrained in advance.” 81 To affirm the contingency of the term “lesbian” in this case would be to recognize both the complexity of Hansberry’s historicity as both a rhetor witnessing political persecution and as a person of history experiencing it. Further, affirming the contingency of Hansberry’s Ladder letters means reading Hansberry the way she read the world – from a historically grounded intersectional perspective that denies no question its due. 79 Gomez, 316. 80 Joan Nestle, “I Lift My Eyes to the Hill: The Life of Mabeel Hampton as Told by a White Woman,” in Queer Representations, ed. Martin Duberman, (New York: NYU Press, 1997), 258-275. 81 Judith Butler, Bodies that Matter (New York: Routledge. 1993), 230.

Authors: Lipari, Lisbeth.
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Queering the Borders: Hansberry’s Letters to The Ladder, 28
community, or contest. In fact, critical interrogations of marginalized rhetors will in the end serve to
contest such easy and reductive celebrations. As Joan Nestle writes about African-American lesbian
Mabel Hampton “Ms. Hampton’s lesbian history is embedded in the history of race and class in this
country; she makes us extend our historical perspective until she is at its center. The focus then is not
lesbian history, but lesbians in history.”
80
Thus while valuable, the contributions of critical
historiography that appropriately destabilize notions of the mythic individual are misappropriated when
used to further erase or silence the contributions of marginalized speakers. Similarly, critiques of identity
politics fail us when they are used to forclose inquiry into the rhetorical formation and historical
production of queer discourse, despite the myriad theoretical problematics of the category “queer.” For
example, in discussing the dual tensions between the political necessity of recognizing and articulating
the lived materiality of queer experience on the one hand, and the insufficiency of identity categories
such as “queer” on the other, Judith Butler asks us “to affirm the contingency of the term [queer] so that
it can become a discursive site whose uses are not fully contrained in advance.”
81
To affirm the
contingency of the term “lesbian” in this case would be to recognize both the complexity of Hansberry’s
historicity as both a rhetor witnessing political persecution and as a person of history experiencing it.
Further, affirming the contingency of Hansberry’s Ladder letters means reading Hansberry the way she
read the world – from a historically grounded intersectional perspective that denies no question its due.
79
Gomez, 316.
80
Joan Nestle, “I Lift My Eyes to the Hill: The Life of Mabeel Hampton as Told by a White Woman,” in Queer
Representations, ed. Martin Duberman, (New York: NYU Press, 1997), 258-275.
81
Judith Butler, Bodies that Matter (New York: Routledge. 1993), 230.


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