Struggle as Activism? A letter from Aunt Lute Co-founder Joan Pinkvoss
It’s been almost two weeks since Aunt Lute’s well attended event at La Peña: the Simple Revolution reading, and a community dialogue which centered on the topic “Struggle, Then and Now.” After taking several days to digest the ideas presented by the readers, round table participants and audience, I wanted to find a way to extend the conversation.
Immediately, to those who attended the event, I owe a personal apology for the manner in which the open discussion proceeded. As the head moderator, I am clear now that I didn’t do the work of setting ground rules or giving an overall context for the discussion.
Since it was the first question which followed the round table comments—concerning transgender women and their acceptance into the activist women’s community—that created a contentious situation, I need to say that Aunt Lute unequivocally supports gender diversity and personal choice.
Our commitment to social justice is inclusive and based on a desire to understand each other across our differences—in a manner that is thoughtful and moves us forward; in a manner that gives us a place to stand in which we can respect ourselves, a position from which we can respect others. Through our books we attempt to do just that, and our intention at La Peña was to provide a respectful forum in which to speak about and understand differences in the lesbian and queer women community across generations.
Where the evening was successful, there was a respectful discussion—or the beginning of one—about difference. And a number of clarifying statements about the importance of issues which varied across generations; across class and race; across gender diversity. Where the evening faltered briefly was when someone’s anger indicated an unwillingness to listen to different viewpoints but rather to aim hostility and demeaning statements towards others.
Both the success and failure were edifying. And they lead me to want to ask questions of those who come to the Simple Revolution blog. Because the large majority of Aunt Lute authors are women and lesbians, and because Aunt Lute identifies itself as a grassroots press trying to make ourselves available to those women who feel without voice, we too are attempting to understand what the future needs are…what social change needs to happen to meet needs not being met in the larger society. That’s the discussion we wish we’d had time to have.
For me, the best outcome of the “Struggle, Then and Now” evening is the certainty that dialogues need to happen—many dialogues need to happen. What is it like to get old and go to senior centers where your lesbianism becomes a liability again? What is it like to make a choice to transform one’s gender, in a myriad of possible ways, and be vulnerable to a hateful, murderous society? What is it like as a 20-year-old woman of color lesbian who is rejected by her family? Can we as activists address all these inequalities and dangers? And how? Do we need new alliances?
And will this activism look different from 40 or 50 years ago? Will our activism, for instance, have an element of spirituality? Some heartfelt way of allowing ourselves to bridge difference? (This is a subject that both Judy Grahn and Gloria Anzadúa have written about extensively in their later work.)
With all of these questions on my mind, I’d like to pose—for discussion on this blog—one of the thoughtful questions written by an Aunt Lute staff member: one of the questions we’d planned to ask on April 26th, had there been time:
How do people relate to the word “struggle” and to this model of activism that seems to apply some form of opposition? Is it a struggle for, a struggle against, a struggle with? If so, for/against/with whom? We often hear how activists “burn out”. Are there alternate words or models to “struggle”?
I think a wider discussion about activism and methods of struggle might better help us frame some of the very difficult and complex issues faced by women, lesbians and transgender women today. I would like to continue the discussion and hope you will too.
Co-founder of Aunt Lute Books