Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name

In the excerpt we have of Zami, Audre Lorde predominantly reflects on her relationship with different women throughout her life, and her relationship to the New York Village lesbian community in the fifties. The first chapter focuses on Audre's problems being fully accepted into the lesbian community. She was one of the few Black lesbians at the Bagatelle, the club she went to. She was also less accepted because she didn't want to role-play people she wasn't, and she was a college student. Her intersectionality made her feel like an outsider in every community she was in. If she was in a lesbian setting, she felt alienated for being Black. If she was at school, she felt like she wasn't even able to be gay there, and was an outsider for her race.

In the next few chapters she details her relationship with Muriel, a schizophrenic white lesbian. Muriel used to work the same job as her, and "wrote poetry," a euphemism for being a lesbian that is used for a few chapters. Much of their relationship was sustained through poetry and literature, both things they wrote or things they borrowed or stole to share. She also reflects on a terrible job she had as a "secretary" to an insufferable female accountant. As her relationship with Muriel gets more and more serious, the job becomes the worst part of her life, and the chapter culminates in her being fired for trying to take off to spend a day with her lover.

Lorde's former roommate, Rhea, was a progressive white woman who liked having affairs with men in her political circle and tried to pretend she didn't know her roommate was gay. Audre would have parties with her lesbian friends while Rhea was out with a man, and apparently didn't tell Rhea about them. Though Rhea was progressive, she frequently said that gay rights were not part of the political movement, which seemed to have a big effect on alienating Audre from the progressive movement. Rhea decides to move out to pursue a political job in Chicago, and shortly before leaving discovers Audre and Muriel in bed together. She cries over this, and Audre wonders if she is crying for the fact that Audre is gay, or the fact that her gay roommate is happier in love than her.

The next chapter revolves around the different intersectionalities of Muriel and Audre. Audre is Black and lesbian, Muriel is mentally disabled and a lesbian. Muriel insists that all lesbians are "niggers" for how they are treated by mainstream society. Audre demonstrates through her narration that she doesn't agree with this, but doesn't argue because she can understand why Muriel thinks that. Audre also seems to let Muriel have her way in arguments because she doesn't want to upset her schizophrenia, which I feel has some problematic elements to it. Audre sees some of the "gaps" forming in the relationship, but her joy at being in love and living with a lover make her want to insist that love will fix everything wrong in their lives.

In the last chapter of the excerpt, a mutual friend of Audre and Muriel's came to live with them, Lynn. After some time and much discussing, they decide to attempt a polyamorous relationship. Audre talks about how revolutionary they felt about this since no one talked or wrote about it. They had to establish their own rules and boundaries with nothing to guide them. Eventually, though it was never spoken about, everyone came to realize that Lynn was just the visitor, the guest star in a threesome as opposed to an equal participant in a triad. The chapter ends with Audre and Muriel coming home to find that Lynn had left and taken their entire savings and the house keys with her.

1 comment:

  1. This excerpt from Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde is particularly interesting to because it demonstrates the “either/or” mentality of society. She either can be part of the progressive movement or be a lesbian. She obviously struggled with the mentality of fitting into only one category or another. This excerpt is about the intersectionality of her identity as a black feminist lesbian. She cannot separate any part of it from herself, and to ignore one aspect would be doing violence to herself. She demonstrates that this “either/or” mentality does not work and cannot fit everyone or everything.

    Her roommate, Rhea, seemed to be stuck in that mentality, that she was doing everything the way one was “supposed” to do it. She had relationships with men one at a time, but her relationships fell apart. Lorde, who was breaking all of the “rules” was happy in her queer relationship. This and when Lynn enters their relationship trouble the idea of a heteronormative relationship with a masculine dominant half and a feminine submissive half being the only type of relationship people should aspire to have. With Lorde's relationship(s) with Muriel and Lynn, there is no hierarchical binary, and for some time, it seemed to work for them.

    I like the connection you make about poetry, and the idea that she and those that she had relationships with communicated through poetry is beautiful to me. I do not see it as a euphemism for being lesbian though. I thought of poetry as a medium through which Muriel and Lorde were about to connect, as something they both loved and wanted to share with each other. A preconception I have about contemporary artists is that they are on the fringes of society, that they explore unspoken issues, and that they live in a way totally different from mainstream society. I think of Lorde and Muriel as also on the fringes of society by virtue of their identities, as a black feminist lesbian and a disabled feminist lesbian, and added to that they are both artists makes it more obvious that they do not follow the rules of mainstream heteronormative society.