The American social environment has revolutionized the ways in which people express their sexual identity. Years ago it was taboo for a young lady to talk about sex or even arouse her interest about the topic. Sheltered under her parents wings a girl was not given the opportunity to explore her sexuality. Parents molded their children in their image and did not allow them much choice or opportunity for diversity. It was not as socially acceptable for a young person to be allowed to express themselves through clothes, music or lifestyle as it is today. Stuart Ewen presents an excellent point in his article First Impressions about young people and how they have come to shape their own identity . Although this article is about the influence of urban styles on materialistic impressions, he makes a remarkably strong point about the historical transformation of individual identity. Ewen states The old world of the parents was rooted in a continuity the new world on the other hand, demanded a sense of self that was malleable, sensitive to the power of increasingly volatile surfaces. Addressing the historical transformation of individual identity, historian Warren Susman describes it as a shift from the importance of character to the importance of personality (Ewen, 411). Audrey Lorde incorporated this theory throughout her book ZAMI a New Spelling of My Name Lorde takes us on a journey through her life starting with her early childhood years. As a young black girl being raised by a strong, independent homosexual mother living a hetrosexual lifestyle, Lorde shows us how she secretly takes on many of her mother s characteristics. Audrey Lorde uses her mother s sexual identity as a foundation in developing her own sense of sexuality while struggling to express herself as a young, homosexual black woman in an extensively critical society.
Audrey Lorde paints a picture throughout this book of how her mother s sexuality played a major role in allowing her to come to terms with her own sexual identity. Lorde allows us to see that her mother lead a hetrosexual lifestyle only because back in the twenties and thirties homosexuality was not socially accepted. Although her mother was different from all of the other women, she never openly expressed herself in public. Lorde being the youngest of two older sisters spent a lot of time with her mother. As a result, it allowed her to grow very close to her mother in an intimate way. Living under her mother s control and following her every demand made Lorde a very sheltered and restrained child. She was deprived of the opportunity to go out and grow as an individual. Whenever she would try to break free from underneath her mother s wings and venture off to do something on her own, her mother was quick to pull her back and bring her to her senses. Throughout her childhood, the only influence she had was from her mother. She did not have many friends growing up in New York and her older sisters did not even speak to her. Sheltered from social interaction, Lorde took on the characteristics of the only person she ever really grew to know, her mother. These characteristics helped form the basis for Lorde s identity at such a vulnerable young age. For example, when Lorde speaks of running for class president to her mother, instead of supporting her, her mother replies What the hell are you doing getting yourself involved with so much foolishness? What-the-france do you need with election? Don t bother me with that nonsense. I don t want to hear any more of it (Lorde, 61). This is just one example of how Lorde s mother controlled and dominated her every decision. By putting negative ideas in to her head, her mother was basically able to brainwash her in to becoming exactly like her in many ways. I feel this happened because her mother never allowed her to grow as her own individual person. Her thoughts and ideas were all molded in the shape of her mothers. This is a perfect example of Ewen s theory: the old world of the parents was rooted in a continuity (Ewen, 410). Her mother forced her towards becoming so much like herself that in essence, a form of continuity was established. Practices of this nature were not uncommon in those days. Mothers tended to raise their daughters to be just like themselves and left no room for individual endeavor.
Lorde s segregated childhood left her alone and unstable in her later teenage years. Knowing nothing outside of what her mother had taught her left her scared and unknowing of what to expect of the real world. Finally moving out from underneath her parents roof two weeks after her high school graduation, Lorde was out on her own. Lorde shares with us her feelings of bitterness and resentment towards her mother as she was leaving. For example, she says I began to seek some more fruitful return than simple bitterness from this place of my mother s exile, whose streets I came to learn better than my mother had ever learned them (Lorde, 104). Lorde finally rid herself from that sheltered lifestyle and went off to find herself. She began to make some new friends and met her first boyfriend, Peter. This experience helped Lorde to form her own individual ideas about life, love and sexuality. At first, Lorde felt it was only socially expected that she date a male and become sexually involved with him. That is what she believed society demanded of her. Her friends were doing it, her mother did it and now she had to do it. Because society was so apt in adhering to it s traditional values back then, anything outside of the norm was socially unacceptable. This unacceptance is why Lorde allowed her self to conform to the ways of society and fall in to the same circle her mother had been trapped in all of her life. This marked the first step in her journey towards discovering her sexuality. Her relationship with Peter only lasted a few months. Shortly after, Lorde began to sense a strong attraction towards women that she could no longer ignore. She took every enticing experience and learned form it. Lorde rapidly learned more about her self than she ever imagined existed. This was the beginning of a whole new world for Lorde. Finally free to do with her life as she pleases, Lorde took on a very different approach to life.
Lorde s life took a turn towards establishing individuality and discovering her sexual identity through homosexual relations. She always knew it was deep inside of her but she never thought she would actually have the guts to experiment with it. Her mother never openly acted upon her sexual desires and because of this, Lorde was not very familiar with expressing her homosexual side either. Although, from all of the evidence provided in her book about her younger years, I feel all of the signs were there but it was never acknowledged because it was simply unacceptable. Lorde grew very fond of women in her early twenties. She had discovered her sexuality as a homosexual black female living in a society where it was still not accepted but it was no longer forbidden either. She made many new lesbian friends along the way. Focusing more on her personality rather than character as a dyke, Lorde began to develop a sense of self-assurance and acceptance within her self. Ewens point is expressed strongly here because Lorde s homosexual lifestyle allowed her to focus on the person she wanted to be, rather than on the character society expected her to portray. I feel after she came to terms with her sexuality and began to openly express it by going to gay bars and having sexual relations with different women, she found an inner peace within herself that was nonexistent before.
Lorde s self-fulfillment came about only after she set allowed her self to explore her most inner desires. Being deprived of that as a child only resulted in her leading a corrupt and unstable lifestyle. She was never truly happy and did not find satisfaction in anything she did. I blame her unhappiness on her mother s dominating way of raising a child. Children should be set free to grow and blossom as individuals. I honestly feel Lorde would not have grown up to be such an unstable individual if it was not for her mother s harsh influence. Almost every time she speaks of her sexuality throughout this book, there is a reference made to her mother. This shows that Lorde realizes where all these feelings came from and how they grew to come about. If Lorde was alive today, I am sure she would be happy to see how much the American social environment has influenced today s youth. Homosexuality is far more accepted today than ever before. Children are being brought up in a free society that allows them to express their identity and sexuality in many different ways. This allows for them to grow as individuals and explore for themselves their intimate desires and personal preferences that will shape them in to becoming who they are later on in life. Ewen made an excellent point in his article by stating the new world on the other hand, demanded a sense of self that was malleable, sensitive to the power of increasingly volatile surfaces (Ewen, 410). This statement is true with today s society. Parents of today s generation are becoming less controlling and saving their children the resentment they felt towards their parents. Children are very vulnerable to everything that goes on around them. I feel parents today are trying their best not to stand in the way of their children s dreams and desires. Children are able now more than ever to explore.