Learning from the Past and JET’s 1953 Cover
Often when we think of the 1950s, we have images of women meeting their husbands at the door clad in pearls and kitten heels, dinner in hand. For those of us that are less romantic, we might hearken images of Civil Rights, church, and family. Whichever the vision, one thing that is consistent is this idea that society, particularly black communities were highly religious and conservative. However, when we explore media from the time, we learn that this Victorian image is less accurate. From Audre Lorde’s depiction of her exploits in the queer world of the 50s and 60s in Zami: A New Spelling of My Name to Claude Brown’s firsthand account of urban culture of the 40s and 50s in Manchild in the Promised Land, we get another glimpse into the spectrum of social mores of the time.
One piece that spins this romanticized notion of the past is the 1953 JET magazine article “Why Lesbians Marry.” This article theorizes that lesbians marry not to eschew their sexuality, but more likely to secure social standing, protection, and companionship. Implicit in this proposition is the idea that sexuality is both fluid and biological. The author asserts that same-gender-loving people have some “degree of bisexuality” and are able to “free the heterosexual elements in their character” to maintain a marriage. At the same time, the author asserts that those that “enter marriages with the groundless hope that in it they will find escape from their aberration [have marriages] that rarely last.”
Such an idea that sexuality is something beyond choice or a reaction to past abuse is only now gaining traction sixty years later as contemporary society hotly contest the cause of human sexuality. Reporting to Huffington Post in June 2012, Natalie Wolchover quotes a study from the United Kingdom that says “lesbianism is at least 25 percent genetic” but that women have a greater tendency for “erotic plasticity,” fluid sexuality responsive to social, cultural, and personal experiences.
The fact that JET magazine reached this same conclusion decades prior affirms that black communities can move beyond a conservative position that sexuality is a conscious choice with those displaying behaviors outside of the majority as shirking God’s plan for a family. We see evidence that there can be dialogue about the complexities of sexuality and alternative family structures in a way that don’t demonize, but instead creates opportunity for tolerance at minimum. We see the black communities’ capacity for acceptance, a less-publicized but substantiated viewpoint as we blacks increase our support of gay brothers and sisters (Demby, The Huffington Post, May 23, 2012). Finally, we learn that as we look to the future for increased embracing, we can also look to the past for a prototype of how to achieve it.
- Aleia Mims
Aleia Mims is a mother, daughter, and sister for whom writing is a form of liberation. She shares her journey so that others may name their own experiences and realize their higher truths. Her commitment to self-empowerment was a key feature of her eleven years as a classroom teacher, and remain as such with her current work at an education non-profit in New York City. Follow more of her journey at liberationtheory.wordpress.com and on Twitter @liber8ntheory.