Black FeminismbooksEthnographyLGBTQ

What I’m Reading :: Black lesbians don’t breastfeed!! — in ‘invisible families: Gay Identities, Relationships, And Motherhood Among Black Women,’ that is! (Video)

‘invisible families: Gay Identities, Relationships and Motherhood among Black Women’. University of California Press, 2011.

To be fair, I haven’t read this text yet. But I have done a pretty decent skim on parts of it and of course, when I first heard about it a few weeks ago via my Black Feminist Sociologist professor for the Black LGBTQ Breastfeeding independent study I’m taking, I swiftly checked it out from the library, and as you can guess went directly to the index and flipped around to find anything ‘breastfeeding,’ ‘lactation,’ ‘nursing’ but there was nothing on either one. Even though that disappointed me, I am excited to see this around. Its author, Mignon Moore, is a gay Black Feminist Sociologist and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who did a three-year ethnography on Black lesbians and their families because, as she says,  it dawned on her one day that this group appeared to be ‘invisible’.

If you don’t know me, then I should tell you that when I set my mind to something I become almost obsessed with it for some time — until I feel I am satisfied with certain results. In this case, this is what has been happening over the past several months, with wanting to get my hands on anything Black LGBTQ breastfeeding. But more than just being ‘obsessed,’ in my own ‘ lactation journey’ I realized I had never seen or heard of a unique story of Black LGBTQ breastfeeding (besides those from within my own social circle), and like I’ve said before I feel that most — if not most all breastfeeding discourse appears to operate as a one-size-fits-all approach and concentrates on getting a baby attached to a breast, without focusing on those many nuances that make up a larger structure and create the culture and sub-cultures of breastfeeding. I want to see those ‘invisible’ breastfeeders. I haven’t found anything at all that deals with breastfeeding among Black lesbians or anyone in the other sectors of GBTQ, and I am just not OK with that. And since I’m having such a hard time finding what I’m searching for, I’m that more determined to dig deeper and wherever I can.

Here’s what the back of the book’s cover says:

Mignon R. Moore brings to light the family life of a group that has been largely invisible—gay women of color. Drawing from interviews and surveys, she explores the ways that race and class have influenced how these women understand their sexual orientation, find partners, and form families, illuminating the ways in which people with multiple stigmatized identities imagine and construct an individual and collective sense of self.

And a bit more from amazon

In particular, the study looks at the ways in which the past experiences of women who came of age in the 1960s and 1970s shape their thinking, and have structured their lives in communities that are not always accepting of their openly gay status. Overturning generalizations about lesbian families derived largely from research focused on white, middle-class feminists, Invisible Families reveals experiences within black American and Caribbean communities as it asks how people with multiple stigmatized identities imagine and construct an individual and collective sense of self.

From what I see, Mignon Moore looks at what frames these ‘invisible families’ among Black lesbians and how identity operates in this context, instead of concentrating on practical aspects, for example — a couple of chapters are titled ‘Gender Presentation,’ ‘Family Life and Gendered Relations’ and (for me can) show how that site can be used to explore a more complicated scenario.

I found the video above with Mignon Moore discussing the book — she appears around the 22 minute mark. What I found most interesting besides the fact that she states how much academic work there isn’t on the Black lesbian motherhood experience, is that she says gender presentation is more obvious in Black lesbian communities than in white ones, and says that the mixture of racism in society, along with inequality and different ideas on what womanhood is (and is supposed to look like) makes these Black lesbian women (who are more ‘gender bending’) ‘brave’. I’ve thought about this before, but not necessarily in the context of Black lesbians, but I can see where she is coming from. My other thoughts that I have have mostly stemmed from bell hooks, when she discusses Black women’s gender identity in ‘Ain’t I A Woman,’ and in my mind I think about the ‘respectability’ that Moore discusses here — how women are supposed to look a certain way, yet present themselves differently– and that way I know that Black women have been ‘masculanized’, according to what history tells us and also what hooks says — how Black women were treated in public spaces that rejected their presentation of femininity. I’m not sure where to take these thought right now, exactly — though I have wondered about how this impacts Black breastfeeding, but it is definitely something that’s on my mind even moreso now. I’ll update this post when I’ve read this book in full, and tell you all what else I’ve paid attention to. 

For now, I’m happy to see this work, and even though it would be nice to see anything discussing breastfeeding in the first and only text dealing exclusively with Black lesbian motherhood that I’ve ever seen — and more than likely the first and only text dealing exclusively with Black lesbian motherhood that exists, if indeed I don’t find one single character explicitly referring to the topic, I’ll look critically into that — because the absence also says a LOT (aside from the fact that viewing Black lesbian breastfeeders in a society where Black lesbian mothers are in the periphery is not surprising). But either way, I’m thankful for Dr. Moore and this much-needed scholarship. What an incredible contribution to the field of Black feminist thought, Sociology, LGBTQ studies, anthropology and various other disciplines and discourses overall! I’m going to read this cover to cover as soon as school ends in a few weeks — when I’m spring breaking, and on my way down to sunny Southern California to see my family and friends.

And I think you should read along. 

P.S. If you identify as Black or African American and fall anywhere along the LGBTQ spectrum, consider submitting an article for the upcoming blog carnival on Black LGBTQ Breastfeeding! Having a child and nursing it is NOT a requirement to participate! What counts is how you identify and your thoughts.

[Update to this post]: I mistakingly said that Mignon Moore describes some of the women as gender bending, which makes it sound like someone is ‘rebelling’ against a certain gender category. But instead the correct term she uses is gender BLENDING, which is quite different — enough to shape how we understand and interpret what she is saying. She describes gender blending as ‘a style related to, but distinct from, an androgynous presentation of self…. Rather than de-emphasize femininity or masculinity, gender-blenders combine specific aspects of both to create a unique look.’

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