HERitage is a month-long, four-part series exploring the lasting legacies of Black lesbian, trans, and/or queer womyn.

Revolutionary poetry has been a key part of the lesbian lexicon since 600 BCE. Poetry has constantly been a mechanism for oppressed people to speak truths to power and to one another in a form that is relatable and digestible—as an expression of artfulness and love for community. Pat Parker, Black Lesbian Feminist, wrote poetry that was as relevant to the womyn who were its subjects and the vast amounts of other feminists, Black people, and lesbians who were its audience.

Born in 1944, the youngest daughter of a working class family in Houston’s Third Ward, Pat Parker’s relationship to class privilege greatly influenced her relationship to writing as a career. When asked how she managed to earn money as a poet by Diane Vozoff of the newspaper Lesbian Tide, Parker replied, “I play a lot of games, juggling monies around… I finally decided I’m going to make money as a writer or starve to death.” Parker left Texas for California, earning degrees from Los Angeles City College and San Francisco State College. Far from having a singular focus of activism, Parker was an active member of the Black Panther Party and worked as the medical coordinator of the Oakland Feminist Women’s Health Center from 1978 to 1987.

Parker’s recognizable poetic legacy is one characterized by carefully crafted poetry meant for the voice and works that draw heavily from personal experience. Her poetry reminds us as Audre Lorde notes in the forward to Pat Parker’s Movement in Black “for all women, the most enduring conflicts are far from simple.” Parker’s poem about the death of her sister at the hands of her brother-in-law, Womanslaughter, serves as a testament to using writing to process and document deeply traumatic experiences for the purpose of healing from and raising awareness about violence against womyn. She effortlessly turns a personal truth into a political one in the poem when she states:

Men cannot rape their wives.
Men cannot kill their wives.
They passion them to death.

Pat Parker’s life and works confirm her refusal to separate her complex identities. When asked by Audre Lorde what revolution meant to her, she replied, “If I could take all my parts with me when I go somewhere and not have to say to one of them, ‘No, you stay home tonight, you won’t be welcome’…The day all the different parts of me can come along, we would have what I call a revolution.”

– Cyrée Jarelle Johnson

Cyrée Jarelle Johnson is a Black Femme dyke writer, scholar, zinester, and poet. Cyrée Jarelle is committed to relocating Femme culture from margin to center using writing, non-formal education and communal publication. Ze remains a crippled Jersey Grrl abroad; in hir swollen feet ze is a wanderer, but hir heart is in the foodcourt at the Woodbridge Mall.

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Your go-to resource for all things empowering, thought-provoking, and pertinent to Black queer and trans women and non-binary people.

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