June Jordan: Boundary Crosser

When asked by a friend what would I write my column on this week in celebration of Women’s History Month, I turned to him with my usual grimace of uncertainty and said, “Perhaps, it will be on one of my favorite activist, queer, literary ‘sistah-heroines’ June Jordan, who died in June 2002.” When he paused for a moment and turned to me with a grimace of asking “Who was she?” I, at that moment, chose my person.

Who was June Jordan?

June Jordan, an awarding-winning poet, former columnist for The Progressive, author of 28 books of poems, political essays, and children’s fiction, was an “boundary crosser” who died at the age of 65 after a decade-long battle with breast cancer.

As a boundary crosser both the Norton Anthology of African American Literature and The African American Review depicted Jordan as one of the most prolific contemporary African American writers in many genres.

Author and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison told the Associated Press that Jordan’s writing life would best be depicted as “Forty years of tireless activism coupled with and fueled by flawless art.” And in describing the scope of Jordan’s writings, Adrienne Rich, renowned lesbian feminist poet, wrote in Sojourner, a feminist magazine, that “[Jordan’s] flexible, swift mind was equaled by her dazzling language, her access to both the most elegant diction and the most frontal kinds of rhetoric, so that a reader is always being surprised by a riff of music here, a trenchant political insight there. Her poems describe a complex arc back and forth between manifestos and tender love lyrics, jazz poetry and sonnets, with mood-shifts and image-juxtapositions to match.”

After her eight year marriage ended in divorce, Jordan transgressing a sexual boundary that is scoffed by many heterosexuals and queers even today and came out as a bisexual woman. And in the 1970’s, an era of lesbian and gay politics that viewed bisexuals as “fence sitters” who did not want to give up their heterosexual privilege, Jordan was viewed as a weak link in the struggle for sexual equality

Within lesbian circles, the place of bisexual women within the queer women’s community was often marginal, if not non-existant, and their commitment to feminism was always suspect. Many lesbians believed that any women who had the ability to sexually love another women had a political obligation to identify as lesbian. Others believed that the compulsory nature of heterosexuality in our culture precluded all possibilities of women freely choosing a heterosexual relationship.

Jordan, however, felt differently on the topic of bisexuality and spoke about it In her keynote address, “A New Politics of Sexuality,” to the Bisexual, Gay, and Lesbian Student Association at Stanford University on April 29, 1991 stating “I believe the Politics of Sexuality is the most ancient and probably the most profound arena of human conflict… deeper and more pervasive than any other oppression… is the oppression of sexuality… Finally, I need to speak on bisexuality. I do believe that the analogy is interracial or multicultural identity. I do believe that the analogy for bisexuality is a multicultural, multi-ethnic, multiracial world view. Bisexuality follows from such a perspective and leads to it, as well.”

Jordan derived her bisexual and biracial perspectives from having transgressed two more societal boundaries – an interracial marriage with a white man and giving birth to a biracial child, both scoffed at during her time by blacks and whites in this country.

But it is Jordan’s “boundary crossings” that gave her the intellectual breath on an issue, and by extension giving us a new way to see ourselves and the world.
Bisexuals are individuals who transgress the artificial socially constructed boundary of gender identity as well as the biologically constructed boundary of sex. Called “gatekeepers” by the Dagara of West Africa and “Two Spirit” by many Native Americans, bisexuals in these cultures were seen as having a special spiritual inheritance and earthly destiny.

I think June Jordan came here with a special destiny and with a higher calling than many of us. I see the world much fuller because of her, and I give thanks for the many boundaries she dared to cross.

Published March 20, 2008 in New England Blade and The Bilerico Project.

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