ANOTHER MOTHER TONGUE: Gay Words, Gay Worlds by Judy Grahn


Email this review


For lesbian poet Grahn, homosexuality is not a behavior (""scratching is a behavior"")--but ""a way of being. . . that can completely influence a person's life and shape its meaning and direction."" Blending research in mythology, etymology, and history with personal reminiscence, Grahn examines the components of gay culture: the words (dikes, fairies, faggots); the symbols (finger rings, camp clothing, the color green); the participants--including a drag queen; the history--among the Greeks, the American Indians, in Africa and China. While not all is news, much informs and delights. Discussing the homosexual underground, Grahn alters Adrienne Rich's concept of ""compulsory heterosexuality"" to the ""illusion of heterosexuality""--citing a medical-lab incident in which one of six workers told an anti-gay joke and all six laughed, though all but the teller were gay. ""The walls of the closet are guarded by the dogs of terror, and the inside of the closet is a house of mirrors."" Terror also permeates Grahn's tales of military life (she was discharged from the Air Force) where the pleasures of physicality were offset by anti-lesbian spying and purges. Much of the book, by contrast, is a joyful cultural reclaiming--partly reminiscent of Mary Daly's Pure Lust. The color purple, symbolic of dawn-into-dusk transformations, stands ""at the gate between the land of the material flesh in one world and the land of the spirit or soul in another."" The word ""dike"" means ""balance, the path"" from the goddess Dike of Greece, whose social function was to keep the balance of forces. ""In times when men were challenging the old woman-oriented traditions, Dike was a warrior/avenger against those who broke the old traditions."" Grahn hopes to see lesbians crossing over ""into religion, science, and technology, taking other women as well as pro-woman and pro-nature perspectives with them""; but she also makes a convincing case for the distinctive, continuing quality of gay culture: ""at its heart [it] is continually. . . trying to reveal the other side, sometimes just to reveal the fact that there are sides."" Presented without apologies or defenses: accessible and interesting to gays and straights alike.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1984
Publisher: Beacon