Mira: A Lesbian Graduate Student’s Grappling with Intersectionality and Identity
Another graduate student, Mira, also a lesbian-identified female, was in my same special topics in technical and professional communication course. In one of her discussion posts, Mira describes the difficulty of intersectionality in identity—in her case, being both lesbian and black. She writes, “What must be understood is that there is a box for every lesbian to fit in and going outside these boxes seriously harms your luck with the ladies.” She goes on to describe lesbian roles like butch, femme, lipstick lesbian, and so on. She expresses a certain sense of betrayal from both the black community because she's a lesbian and from the lesbian community because she's a black woman.
What is so strong about Mira’s example is that she talks openly and honestly (again in a professional-writing class) about sexuality and race in spaces that have historically discouraged or even actively oppressed such expression both in society at large and in the academy. Mira went on through the semester to mention several times that she felt the need to talk openly and honestly about her sexuality and race even in spaces where it felt discouraged. For Mira, participation in these ways is not optional; she needs to speak about it in order to process her own identity and feel whole. One week she wrote on her weekly discussion-board posting in class:
As an African American lesbian, I would say that my ethnic community and even my lesbian community has at times treated me worse than others outside my community… For example, many lesbians in the white culture have no problem accepting me as I am, yet for those within my community (other black lesbians) the lesbian I am is not good enough… There is never a time I long to be White, but the pressures to perform as an African American lesbian make me wish I was a White lesbian; the path seems easier.
Processing feeling like an outsider within her own communities and yet feeling the need to push herself to speak about it shows, again, that in places where participation is difficult or even discouraged, students will sometimes make spaces (or stay silent). In my course, in part because of my own outness from the first day, I encouraged all students to have space to share and develop sexual literacies.