My favorite piece of lesbian literature was Audre Lorde’s The Cancer Journals. That may not sound like lesbian literature, but it was. Everything Audre Lorde wrote was lesbian literature -- and African American literature, and feminist literature. You could read her shopping list and know here was a woman who stood for something that mattered and was not afraid to let the world know about it.
The Cancer Journals are poems and prose about Lorde’s fight against breast cancer. This fight cost her a breast, and ultimately her life, but not her ability to live full out right until the end. She demanded her life partner be allowed to help make important medical decisions, that her inconvenient friends be allowed to visit her, and that she be allowed to die the same way she lived: with dignity and with a voice.
One particularly poignant episode was when she went to see her surgeon after a breast was removed. She did not wear a prosthesis and was told that failing to do so disturbed the other patients and was not allowed. How sad that a doctor worried more about artificial “hope” and less about helping woman live in reality. I remember Lorde had a tattoo along the scar from her mastectomy as a way to reclaim that part of her body.
Lorde died of that cancer. I won’t say she “lost the fight” because we all die of something. Lorde had the gift of knowing her time was drawing to a close. Having time to make your peace and leave behind a memory of dignity and grace isn’t really losing, now is it? We should all die so well.
Lorde's legacy was not just poetry and prose. She challanged white feminists to see beyond simply opening the "system" to women. Change the system to be fair to African Americans, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered individuals -- anyone not white, heterosexual, and male. I remember the clutch in my heart when I heard she had died, and the sorrow that her voice was stilled. I did not realize then that a Bard's voice is never stilled while her words are repeated, and her words are repeated still.