By Frank Miller
In my initial reading of Gloria Anzaldúa’s letter, “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter To 3rd World Women Writers,” I was reminded of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, and the claim she made regarding lesbianism. “The lesbian appears to be a third gender…a category that radically problematizes both sex and gender as stable political categories of description” (144). Anzaldúa appears to be making a very similar claim when speaking of “women of color” and “the lesbian of color,” which literally takes on, as well as transcends Butler’s argument. Anzaldúa writes, “the beginning woman of color is invisible both in the white male mainstream world and in the white feminist’s world… The lesbian of color is not only invisible, she doesn’t exist,” (165) and later writes, “man, like all other animals, fears and is repelled by that which he does not understand, and mere difference is apt to connote something malign” (166). Meaning that Anzaldúa’s lesbian of color, “problematizes both sex and gender” for man in his “stable” world of political categorization, thus making him “fearful” of what he cannot easily categorize or “understand.” Though Butler’s piece draws on Anzaldúa’s argument, what it lacks is the raw emotion and strong sense of womanhood that jumps from the page in “Speaking in Tongues.” Anzaldúa’s desired form: a letter, allows her to “approximate the intimate and immediate” relationship she shares with her hermanas as women writers, of color. Though their titles suggest it, women of color and lesbians of color, cannot be easily “categorized.” They are comprised of everyone and anyone who has been told to “scrape the dark off of [their] face…bleach [their] bones. Stop speaking in tongues, stop writing left-handed…to make it in a right-handed world” (166), permitting the ambigious group to transcend and even further “problematize sex and gender as stable political categories of description.” Her words are concise, and her plan, direct. Her words come from her experience with oppression, “we can’t transcend these dangers, can’t rise above them. We must go through them and hope we won’t have to repeat the performance” (165). To conclude her thoughts of the non-existent lesbian of color, she writes “our speech, too, is inaudible. We speak in tongues like the outcast and the insane” (165), providing readers with a taste of her own struggles and frustrations with the political categorizations in effect.
Anzaldúa calls out Third World women to take an assertive stance in their writing, in a very “Wretched of the Earth” Fanon-like white hot incendiary fashion. “We cannot allow ourselves to be tokenized. We must make our own writing and that of Third world women the first priority” (168).
Anzaldúa likens the act of writing to life, asserting that “what validates us as human beings validates us as writers” (170). In addition, she explores writing as a tool to measure the importance of life over death (what I interpreted, you can replace the word write/writing with live/living), “I write because I’m scared of writing but I’m more scared of not writing” (169) and also explores it as simply living, “forget the room of one’s own – write in the kitchen, lock yourself up in the bathroom. Write on the bus or the welfare line, on the job or during meals, between sleeping or waking…When you’re depressed, angry, hurt, when compassion and love possess you. When you cannot help but write” (170).
Anzaldúa concludes her last letter with: “Find the muse within you. The voice that lies buried under you, dig it up” (173). In Kitty Kelley’s Oprah: A Biography (for Veeser’s Biography course), Oprah speaks of “the voice” in reference to her failing show, The Women of Brewster Place. She states, “I thought I could make [the series] all right because I wanted it to be all right….But I wasn’t ready for it. My mistake was that I didn’t listen to the voice. Me! The one who always preaches ‘Listen to the voice,’ ‘Be guided by the voice,’ ‘Take direction from the voice,’…. The voice was speaking loud and clear and I didn’t take heed” (240). And as one of the most powerful women of color of the twentieth century, it seems as if listening to “the voice” is the smartest thing one can do.