Rev Irene Monroe

June Jordan: Boundary Crosser

Filed By Rev Irene Monroe | March 20, 2008 10:21 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Marriage Equality, The Movement, The Movement
Tags: African-American, bisexual, June Jordan

When asked by a friend what would I write my column on this week in celebration of Women's History Month, I turned to him with my usual grimace of uncertainty and said, "Perhaps, it will be on one of my favorite activist, queer, literary 'sistah-heroines' June Jordan, who died in June 2002." When he paused for a moment and turned to me with a grimace of asking "Who was she?" I, at that moment, chose my person.

Who was June Jordan?

June Jordan, an awarding-winning poet, former columnist for The Progressive, author of 28 books of poems, political essays, and children's fiction, was an "boundary crosser" who died at the age of 65 after a decade-long battle with breast cancer.

As a boundary crosser both the Norton Anthology of African American Literature and The African American Review depicted Jordan as one of the most prolific contemporary African American writers in many genres.

Author and Nobel laureate Toni Morrison told the Associated Press that Jordan's writing life would best be depicted as "Forty years of tireless activism coupled with and fueled by flawless art." And in describing the scope of Jordan's writings, Adrienne Rich, renowned lesbian feminist poet, wrote in Sojourner, a feminist magazine, that "[Jordan's] flexible, swift mind was equaled by her dazzling language, her access to both the most elegant diction and the most frontal kinds of rhetoric, so that a reader is always being surprised by a riff of music here, a trenchant political insight there. Her poems describe a complex arc back and forth between manifestos and tender love lyrics, jazz poetry and sonnets, with mood-shifts and image-juxtapositions to match."

After her eight year marriage ended in divorce, Jordan transgressing a sexual boundary that is scoffed by many heterosexuals and queers even today and came out as a bisexual woman. And in the 1970's, an era of lesbian and gay politics that viewed bisexuals as "fence sitters" who did not want to give up their heterosexual privilege, Jordan was viewed as a weak link in the struggle for sexual equality

Within lesbian circles, the place of bisexual women within the queer women's community was often marginal, if not non-existant, and their commitment to feminism was always suspect. Many lesbians believed that any women who had the ability to sexually love another women had a political obligation to identify as lesbian. Others believed that the compulsory nature of heterosexuality in our culture precluded all possibilities of women freely choosing a heterosexual relationship.

Jordan, however, felt differently on the topic of bisexuality and spoke about it In her keynote address, "A New Politics of Sexuality," to the Bisexual, Gay, and Lesbian Student Association at Stanford University on April 29, 1991 stating "I believe the Politics of Sexuality is the most ancient and probably the most profound arena of human conflict... deeper and more pervasive than any other oppression... is the oppression of sexuality... Finally, I need to speak on bisexuality. I do believe that the analogy is interracial or multicultural identity. I do believe that the analogy for bisexuality is a multicultural, multi-ethnic, multiracial world view. Bisexuality follows from such a perspective and leads to it, as well."

Jordan derived her bisexual and biracial perspectives from having transgressed two more societal boundaries - an interracial marriage with a white man and giving birth to a biracial child, both scoffed at during her time by blacks and whites in this country. But it is Jordan's "boundary crossings" that gave her the intellectual breath on an issue, and by extension giving us a new way to see ourselves and the world.

Bisexuals are individuals who transgress the artificial socially constructed boundary of gender identity as well as the biologically constructed boundary of sex. Called "gatekeepers" by the Dagara of West Africa and "Two Spirit" by many Native Americans, bisexuals in these cultures were seen as having a special spiritual inheritance and earthly destiny.

I think June Jordan came here with a special destiny and with a higher calling than many of us. I see the world much fuller because of her, and I give thanks for the many boundaries she dared to cross.

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

AWESOME post Rev Irene ! THANK YOU !

You bring SO MUCH to Bilerico which we really don't get from anyone else.

You continue to lift up aspects of the movement of the Spirit in herstory /history which it enriches us to know.

You are no doubt a gift to many.

You are surely a BLESSING to me !

Thank you for your witness and your ministry here and in all your other good works.

Holy Thursday Blessings to you and yours,

Deacon Keener

Hi Rev. Irene,

Thanks for the tribute to June Jordan. Her work has had such an impact on me. I remember reading her book "Affirmative Acts" when I was an undergrad. It made me think about what coalitional politics really means. The speech you mentioned was certainly one of the things that contributed to that.

Her death is such a loss.

Peace and blessings,

I'd never heard of her. Thanks for introducing us. I'll be sure to look up some of her books.

Thank you for posting this. I've only recently heard of June Jordan, and did not know about her position on bisexuality/biracial identities. As a queer person of multiracial descent, it's good to feel like others are out there validating my experience, just as much as I validate myself every day.