“lesbians leave their footprint on other people’s faces”

I just finished reading For the Hard Ones: A Lesbian Phenomenology by tatiana de la tierra, a fantastic collection of poems (prose poems? a manifesto [sic]? a “wishful thinking”? tatiana de la tierra admits herself that it is hard to classify this book [65]). More accurately, I read half of the book, for the poems are in one half English, and in the opposite half (the flip side of the book), Spanish. I do not know Spanish well enough to read through a collection of poetry and understand it, so I only read the English.

I found tatiana de la tierra’s poetry bold, refreshing, and erotic. Sometimes I cringed at the way that she portrays lesbianism as automatically subversive, as automatically an authoring of the self outside of societal scripts. But this is a minor point, because I think most of her poetry conveys powerful understanding/insights into the discourse of sexuality/sexualized bodies.

de la tierra writes often of naming — including the naming of oneself. To name oneself as a lesbian, she writes, is “to speak the truth”:

to speak the truth—I am a lesbian—is to name the imprint that being a lesbian leaves. as a consequence, there is no space for questioning. no one will ask: is she?

to silence or deny the truth is to leave a trail of lies. people will surely ask: is she? (27)

Lesbian for de la tierra is about a re-scripting: rejecting the scripting that most people take for granted and follow without criticizing and writing one’s own script. Though, as I alluded to above, I find the “writing one’s own script” somewhat problematic, I also find the way de la tierra describes this process, this reclamation of the self… well, poetic.

This passage that I just quoted, I believe, serves to help understand the marking of sexualities, the interpellation of bodies: even if one does not claim the word “lesbian,” one is marked and read as such, and questioned and called such. Announcing oneself as “lesbian” (or gay, trans, queer, faggot, and so on?) is, as has often been noted, a speech act. But here we see it is not just a statement of “I am,” but also a statement of impact: “I am impacting you.” I am not sure if I agree with “truth” and “lies,” or even the desire for “no space for questioning,” but I do agree with her portrayal of self-naming as “imprinting” on others.

As de la tierra writes later:

each person who sees a lesbian is marked: lesbians leave their footprint on other people’s faces. (47)

de la tierra, tatianna. For the Hard Ones: A Lesbian Phenomenology / Para Las Duras: Una Fenomelogía Lesbiana. San Diego, California: Calaca Press, 2002.

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