Twenty years ago, Lisa C. Moore cast her net to collect, save, shape, and share the stories of Black lesbians finding their voice and accepting their sexuality. The result, Does Your Mama Know? An Anthology of Black Lesbian Coming Out Stories, brought together a wealth of experiences in one collection that has become a touchstone for many in their coming-out process.
The anthology allowed women to express their unique coming out stories in ways that honored the diversity of their experiences. In her introduction Moore wrote, “Black women have a rich oral history of lesbianism. But I realized that these stories weren’t written; there was nothing that a young black lesbian could go to for reference, to know that she’s not the only one…So I believed this book was necessary. I think that by making these stories available, black lesbians will become aware of their history and feel comfort and strength from that knowledge.”
Moore revised the original collection of stories in 2007 and added a few more submissions. The additional stories strengthened an already strong anthology. Standout submissions include “that beat” by Sharon Bridgforth, a poem that evokes a jazzy feel and “Miss Ruth” by Terri Jewell, an interview with Ruth Ellis, who transitioned in 2000. At that time, Ellis was widely known as the oldest surviving open lesbian and LGBT rights activist at the age of 100. The book even includes a solitary white woman. Moore said her selection assisted her in another aspect of her personal coming out so it became part of the collection. The decision to illustrate the coming out process through poetry, prose, interviews, and fictionalized accounts demonstrates how everyone’s stories may be different in format and response from family and friends, but the results of coming out on the other side is the same.
The contributions also touch on generational and cultural differences, which is an added strength to the collection. Standout selections from Roxane Gay and Staceyann Chin relate how their Caribbean backgrounds influenced their ability to express their sexual identity, and are important because they give voice to experiences that are not often recognized. Moore is to be commended for her dedication to amplifying so many voices in this collection. Too often the coming-out narrative is defined by other demographics. It is a pleasure to experience voices that seem familiar yet allow the reader to consider a different experience.
Moore aspired to create a body of work where lesbians of color could find themselves. I would submit that Does Your Mama Know achieved its goal and will stand the test of time for another generation to find themselves among its pages.
Reviewer: La Toya Hankins
La Toya Hankins is the author of SBF Seeking, and K-Rho: The Sweet Taste of Sisterhood. She is a native of North Carolina and currently resides in Durham, NC. Hankins considers writer and fellow Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. member Zora Neale Hurston as her role model for her ability to capture the essence of the African American Southern experience and living the motto, “I don’t weep at the world, I’m too busy sharpening my oyster knife.” You can connect with LaToya on Facebook and Twitter.