Lez Liberty Lit: We Are Never Lonely In Language


Hey there and welcome to this week’s Lez Liberty Lit!

At the Los Angeles Review of Books, Antoniette Nwandu writes about reading Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider after Charlottesville:

“A self-described ‘black lesbian feminist warrior poet,’ Lorde had an exceptional ability to transform her ‘hopes and dreams toward survival and change’ into beautifully actionable language. Arguing for intersectionality early on, she writes that our demographic differences must be seen as “‘a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic.’ As white supremacy becomes increasingly visible in the United States — on the streets of Charlottesville, in threats against undocumented children and attacks on NFL players (to scratch the surface) — Lorde’s seminal collection of essays and speeches, Sister Outsider, proves as necessary and powerful a tool in the canon of contemporary progressive theory as it was when first published in 1984.”

Gendered terms in language can be complex for non-binary folks, writes Mariana Podesta-Diverio at Archer: “When you’re at the intersection of identities and borders, and forging a way to exist in the world that seems true and right, it can feel a little like you’re being split.” Mariana continues:

“There are elements of the tension between my queerness, and the deeply gendered language in which I think about love, that I may never reconcile. Will I continue to love and fight in binary terms? It feels like I’m only expressing myself in a limited capacity in English, but sometimes its gender neutrality makes it more versatile for self-identification.

English is far from perfect, and the binary has a vice grip on the language, but it still doesn’t compare to Spanish in this way.”

Can literature make us better people?

Fashion has power in literature, writes Rachel Wagner at the Millions.

Women were badass codebreakers.

What makes the scary little girl so sensational?

Why do people write off historical romance novels? Probably in part because they’re still dismissed as bodice rippers, which has a specific linguistic connotation, writes Michela Marini Higgs at Racked: “The word ‘bodice’ is suggestive enough to inspire pearl-clutching and awkward titters, but it still dances around frank terminology and clear conversations about female sexuality. Saying ‘bodice’ is preferable to naming what the covers are really showcasing: boobs.”

Queer horror stories have a transgressive power. Samantha Hunt and Rivera Garza talk at the Millions about producing and reproducing language, the relationship between language and sanity, how writing is tied to bodies, the border, and more:

“Books, real books, produce and reproduce language. Or better yet: they constitute themselves in the territory in which the emergence—the constant emergences—of languages both private and social is thoroughly recreated, registered, and documented. Many have said it before me, but I´d like to repeat it: language is the place of our sociality. We are never lonely in language. We inscribe ourselves in traditions we might agree with or not, so it is always better to be aware of this and position ourselves accordingly. We become social, too, in and through language.”

“My mother was a full-blooded Navajo woman, raised on the reservation, but she was never taught to speak her mother’s language. There was a time when most words were better left unspoken. I am still drawn to the nasal vowels and slushy consonants, though I feel no hope of ever learning the language. It is one thing to play dress-up, to imitate pronunciations and understanding; it is another thing to think or dream or live in a language not your own,” writes Danielle Geller at the New Yorker on the first Navajo-English Dictionary.

Read these eight books this month or these or these or these poetry books this month. Read these queer Canadian short story collections. Read these recent essay collections. Read these novels by Iraqi authors. Listen to these five queer Canadian audiobooks.

In New York on November 13? Myriam Gurba, author of Mean, will talk identity, trauma, and humor with Emily Gould and Ruth Curry at the Mid-Manhattan Library on November 13 at 6:30 p.m. You can also read an excerpt of Mean or check out Aisha’s review on Autostraddle.

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Ryan Yates

Ryan Yates was the NSFW Editor (2013–2018) and Literary Editor for Autostraddle.com, with bylines in Nylon, Refinery29, The Toast, Bitch, The Daily Beast, Jezebel, and elsewhere. They live in Los Angeles and also on twitter and instagram.

Ryan has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. I just want to say thank you so much for providing links to book round ups. I pass them along to my partner who is a high school teacher and the moderator of their GSA (and she gives the compiled lists to their librarian!). I know that when I was in high school I would have loved to have lists of books to read about people like me, rather than stumbling upon them by accident and then looking up the author in the card catalogue in the *hope* that they wrote something else vaguely queer! Also I have so many books on my to read list thanks to you :)

  2. I, too, love these roundups, especially when they include things related to queer linguistics and identity, which tend to produce long comments like the one I’m about to make (LOL).

    In the conlanging community, we have much more expressive freedom to include queerness in our languages, and it is really hard to read pieces about natlangs regarding forced gendering, &c. English’s enforced binary gender is at least somewhat restricted in what we’ve retained from PIE, but that’s not universal across PIE’s descendants. :( Language, grammar, and expression through words are such fluid and beautifully creative spaces for constructing identity, but the very things that make language beautiful can serve forces of oppression.

    I had a short Twitter convo earlier this week with someone about how freeing it is to be able to write conlang terms about queerness that were not originally used as slurs, and le was in agreement — that you get to have so much free space to put in the worldbuilding and the culture to make those queer spaces AND make them brighter than the *phobic realities we’ve inherited.

    Language naturally changes, and any attempts to make it stop are like trying to stop floods — but people try to do it anyway, and written language’s curse is that it makes it seem as if there is a correct way to exist in a linguistic space when there really isn’t. I’m deeply hopeful that queer communities can make the broad changes we need so that all of our languages can express who we are more deeply and with more acceptance. My campus’s LGBTQ office apparently offers pronoun training for people who work with students, and we’re exploring bringing them into the library. One thing I find severely limiting is my desire to use ze or le for students when I don’t know their genders, but as the Millennial femme lesbian in the office, I am fairly timid and have just been using singular “they” for most students as a stopgap.

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