The year 1989 was my senior year of undergrad and also the year that I discovered women of color lesbian feminism. So, when I saw essays by Cheryl Clarke and Cherríe Morgaga, poetry is the first thing that came to mind.

Out/Look from the Rearview Mirror

Out/Look from the Rearview Mirror
By E. Patrick Johnson

Nineteen hundred and eighty-nine winters
Never exfoliated the hetero veneer of my dogged teeth
Gapped and yellowed, sullied by my naiveté about homosex
Until Moraga and Clarke slapped me feminist dyke happy
Bemused by my silly innocence, they
Cursed me with poems and plays
Lesbionic prose fucked me hard and I came
Out with the flurry of fairies

College senior years always awaken consciousness
An outlook on the world never
Imagined by those who dared to
Dream rather than die
Seasons change like the moods of the suicidal
Where winters are harder than spring so persistent
Seedlings slip through top soil
Blossom red, gold, green—and black like me

Sci-fi fantasies foster courage
Make one believe they have sartorial authority
Over their heretofore tacky fashions like when
I dressed like an eighties lesbian with style and lots of cloth
Billowing out to the tip of shoulder pads
Never meant for femme queens to don

My mother said my father said his mother said her
Mother was Indian, but my two-spiritedness has never been
Traceable except through that night my Lumbee friend bit
My neck and gently licked my areola before the grand thanksgiving
It was a different greeting than befell Columbus

A dab of Mab goes a long way, like
Vaseline on a humid night under a southern tree
Bearing juicy fruit popped for the first time
My refuge was not in unbreakable rubbers
Only the luxury of his promise to be gentle
Saved me from being swallowed by the raging virus

At some point one has to laugh out loud—cackle
At the remembrance of the former self that
Was so afraid of the love embrace of queerness
See things in a different light—sit
At the kitchen table and ponder over the meaning
Of what the outlook from the rearview mirror
Whispers while we sleep

  • E. Patrick Johnson is the chair of African American Studies, Carlos Montezuma Professor of Performance Studies and African American Studies at Northwestern University. A scholar/artist, Johnson performs nationally and internationally and has published widely in the areas of race, gender, sexuality and performance. Johnson is a prolific performer and scholar, and an inspiring teacher, whose research and artistry has greatly impacted African American studies, Performance studies, and Gender and Sexuality studies. He has written two award-winning books, Appropriating Blackness: Performance and the Politics of Authenticity (Duke UP, 2003), which won the Lilla A. Heston Award, the Errol Hill Book Award, and was a finalist for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South—An Oral History (University of North Carolina UP, 2008), which was recognized as a Stonewall Book Award Honor Book by the LGBT Round Table of the American Library Association. He co-edited (with Mae G. Henderson) Black Queer Studies—A Critical Anthology (Duke UP, 2005). He is also the editor of Cultural Struggles: Performance, Ethnography, Praxis by Dwight Conquergood (Michigan UP, 2013) and co-editor (with Ramón Rivera-Servera) of solo/black/woman: scripts, interviews, and essays (Northwestern UP, 2013). Johnson edited No Tea, No Shade: New Writings in Black Queer Studies (Duke UP, 2016) and he also co-edited Blacktino Queer Performance (with Ramón Rivera-Servera (Duke UP, 2016). He is currently working on a creative nonfiction text titled Honeypot: Black Southern Women Who Love Women as well as Black. Queer. Southern. Women. — An Oral History. His essays have appeared in Text and Performance Quarterly, Callaloo, Theater Journal, Biography and the Journal of Homosexuality, among others. Johnson’s performance work dovetails with his written work. His staged reading, “Pouring Tea: Black Gay Men of the South Tell Their Tales” is based on his book, Sweet Tea, and has toured to over 100 college campuses from 2006 to the present. In 2009, he translated the staged reading into a full-length stage play, Sweet Tea—The Play, which was co-produced by About Face Theater and the Ellen Stone Belic Institute for the Study of Women and Gender in the Arts and Media at Columbia College, Chicago. The show premiered in April 2010 and a month run to rave reviews. He won a Black Theatre Alliance Award for Best Solo Performance for the show. In fall 2011, the show had a four-week run at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia and a two-week run at the Durham Arts Council in Feb 2014. In 2010, he was awarded the Leslie Irene Coger Award for Outstanding Contributions to Performance by the National Communication Association, the Randy Majors Memorial Award for Outstanding Contributions to LGBT Scholarship in Communication, and inducted into the Chicago LGBT Hall of Fame. In 2014 he received the Rene Castillo Otto Award for Political Theater.

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Made possible in part by a grant from The Creative Work Fund, a program of the Walter and Elise Haas Fund that also is supported by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Also supported through UCSC by the Arts Research Institute, Arts Dean’s Fund for Excellence and Dickson Emeriti Professorship Award

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    Homepage Image Credit
    Queer Nation kiss-in at the cable car turnaround.
    © Rick Gerharter
    San Francisco, 1991.