Know your past live your future

Audre Lorde by Tanya Compas

Audre Lorde by Tanya Compas

Illustration by Amir Khadar

Tanya Compas is a freelance writer, case worker for LGBTQ+ youth, mentor and head of youth engagement at UK Black Pride, committed to existing loudly.

When I think about the first person that helped me to explore my identity, as a queer woman of mixed Black descent, the first person I think of is Audre Lorde. I didn’t begin to question my sexuality until my early 20’s and I didn’t have the words or the language to articulate what was going around in my head. So I turned to books. I googled Black Lesbian writers and Audre Lorde was one of the first writers to come up, with a recommendation of her book ‘Sister Outsider’. I immediately bought it on Amazon and I remember indulging in the book on holiday in Portugal, on the beach and I read the book back to front, in the space of two days. I couldn’t put the book down. There I was, openly reading a book written by a Black Lesbian writer in front of my family. They were none the wiser, they had no idea I was dating a woman at the time, nor any idea that I was going through somewhat of an identity crisis and that was okay. I was free to explore my identity on my own terms, in the safety of literature, in the warm embrace of the words of Aude Lorde, or as I like to call her, Auntie Audre.

During periods of self-reflection or periods in which I feel lost within myself, I find myself turning to Audre Lorde. Whether it is picking up one of her books, reading an article online or just skimming through quotes that I’ve saved on my phone, I always seem to turn to Auntie Audre. As the first openly queer person in my family, I have never had an elder to turn to for advice about love, life or relationships from a non-heterosexual lens, let alone somebody to speak to about activism and community. Audre Lorde became that person for me, through her work I had questions answered and worries alleviated. I felt comforted. These are some of my favourite quotes from Audre Lorde that I have found myself turning to, time and time again over the years and the lessons I have taken from them…

What rings loudest in my ears every time I get scared to speak up is Audre Lorde’s ‘Your silence will not protect you’. This has been a big lesson I had to learn, as someone who would prioritise other peoples feelings over that of my own, I found myself biting my tongue and staying quiet when I felt hurt, offended or discriminated against. The truth is, staying quiet didn’t help, it just allowed people to become comfortable in their ignorance. The thing is, you can never control how somebody else will react to what you say, but staying quiet doesn’t serve you, as it didn’t serve me or Auntie Audre.

As someone whose gender expression is fluid, I found it really hard when I first ‘came out’ to find my place in the LGBTQ+ community because I wasn’t femme and I wasn’t a stud. Audre Lorde reflected upon her own experience in her biomythography Zami: A New Spelling of My Name : ‘I wasn’t cute or passive enough to be “femme” and I wasn’t mean or tough enough to be “butch”. I was given a wider berth. Non-conventional people can be dangerous, even in the gay community.’ Reading that from Lorde helped me to realise that it’s okay to be ‘non-conventional’, it can make many people uncomfortable because it’s different from the norm and outside our binary way of thinking about gender and relationships even within the LGBTQ+ community itself, but that doesn’t mean you should conform. Their discomfort around your identity or gender expression is only a reflection of their own insecurities, they see it as dangerous but it’s only because it challenges their ideas of the ‘norm’.

Being queer isn’t all rainbows and glitter and the past few months in particular have reminded me of this. Audre Lorde writes “I remember how being young and black and gay and lonely felt. A lot of it was fine, feeling I had the truth and the light and the key, but a lot of it was purely hell.” When I first read those words, I stopped. And I breathed. The truth is, a lot of it can be hell or at least feel like it. She goes on to say “We do not have to romanticise our past in order to be aware of how it seeds our present… we are powerful because we have survived, and that is what it is all”... we have survived. I have survived. There have been days where I didn’t think I would survive, days where I didn’t want to survive and wanted to give up because I was scared of the unknown. The truth is I’m still scared of this new chapter of my life because it is still very much the unknown. Coming out as queer just a few years ago has changed the way I see the world, how the world sees me and has significantly changed my relationships with family and friends. I feel like I can never fully prepare myself for what is to come and that scares me, but as Auntie Audre says “When I dare to be powerful- to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid”.

Lastly, I always think about what I would say to Audre Lorde if she was still alive and I think in all honesty if I met her, I would be so star struck I would be rendered mute. So I’d probably put it into a letter instead which would probably read something like this:

Dear Auntie Audre. Your words have comforted me when I didn’t know I needed comforting, your words have lit a fire within me, that have kept me warm on nights where loneliness was at its peak. Your work has enabled me to find myself, find my voice and find my power. Power in my words, power in my existence and power in community. Thank you Auntie Audre. To the aunt I wish I had, the family I have never met, my chosen family. Thank you.

Amir Khadar is a Non-binary (they/them) West African multidisciplinary artist from Minneapolis/Baltimore, whose main mediums are poetry, fibers, and digital art. For them, art is a space to rationalize their feelings as a marginalized individual, address oppression and facilitate healing. Afrofuturism, beauty, bitterness, hair, and spirituality and running themes in their work. Currently, Amir is a sophomore in college at the Maryland Institute College of Art, where they are pursuing a B.F.A in Fibers and Illustration.  

Anne Lister by Edie Campbell

Anne Lister by Edie Campbell