, 14 tweets, 6 min read Read on Twitter
Thread on naming, claiming, anachronisms, community, & queer identity:

Y’all know I stan for @OctaviaEButler but she wasn’t a lesbian. She died in 2006 when it would have been relatively acceptable for her to be out, even just privately, as a lesbian.

People read Butler as lesbian/queer because she was a tall, dark-skinned, deep-voiced woman who valued her writing more than romantic relationships. I appreciate that folks want to claim her. We love her. Hell, if I could find a way to claim she was my distant cousin, I would.
But to retroactively apply the label of lesbian to a person who did not choose that term & who left no evidence (see her papers at @TheHuntington) of sexual/romantic relationships with women, does not help anyone.
When we call Butler a lesbian, we erase her identity as a masculine-of-center black woman. We collapse gender expression & sexuality. We allow the absence of public relationships w/ men to signal lesbianism rather than asexuality or another term that wasn’t yet available to her.
This is why I am very adamant that we must talk about Butler as queer, as being outside of the gender & sexuality norms of the time, without forcing a contemporary label on her THAT SHE DID NOT CHOOSE IN LIFE. We must recognize the variety of ways we can be queer, especially POCs
“But Sami!” you say, “What if she was just closeted? What if she did love women & only women but was afraid to be out as a black sci-fi writer?” Good question, friend.
I spent a month in her papers & remain close with several other scholars like @AyanaAHJ, @moyazb, @bahngerama, @drcljones & @ShelleyStreeby who have also done research there. There is no clear evidence that she was a lesbian, closeted or otherwise. However, let’s say she was...
What is the value in claiming her specifically as a lesbian? To whom does this labeling provide hope & whose identities are obscured by it. I think everyone can label & define their sexuality as they would like. Butler also deserves that.
We must read her identity or lack thereof in the context of her time AND her other identities as a black woman with a disability raised by a working class single mom. We can’t fully know her reasons for not being public about her sexuality but we can respect her choices.
So next time you see something circulating claiming OEB or any artist who has passed, especially a POC, as a lesbian or queer icon without evidence of their chosen identity or relationship practices, consider what that labeling is accomplishing as well as who/how it is failing.
For myself, I choose #queer. But at one point in my young adulthood I chose #bisexual. I’ve never chosen #pansexual. These are my terms for my sexuality. I want them respected & will respect the terms others choose or refuse as well.
Additional note: For further evidence of how our sexuality identity terms & preferences change over time, in part bc of our own growth & in part bc of the growth of the world around us, see the incredible queer journey of @JanelleMonae who has been inspired by Butler’s work.
Sometimes, we lay the groundwork for others to be more fully themselves even when we cannot yet be.
It would be great if @lgbtqnation would change the title of this article. Or interview folks like @AyanaAHJ & @moyazb who have been thinking & learning about Butler for years now.
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