Lorraine Hansberry: To "The Ladder," May, August 1957

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"I'm glad as heck that you exist"

by Jonathan Ned Katz. Copyright (c) 2008 by Jonathan Ned Katz. All rights reserved. Reedited by Katz from Gay American History (1976).


The publication of the lesbian periodical The Ladder provoked two anonymous letters from African American writer Lorraine Hansberry, which convey this New York woman's response, in 1957, to this publication. Hansberry writes:


I'm glad as heck that you exist. You are obviously serious people and I feel that women, without wishing to foster any strict separatist notions, homo or hetero, indeed have a need for their own publications and organizations. Our problems, our experiences as women are profoundly unique as compared to the other half of the human race. Women, like other oppressed groups of one, kind or another, have particularly had to pay a price for the intellectual impoverishment that the second class status imposed on us for centuries created and sustained. Thus, I feel that THE LADDER is a fine, elementary step in a rewarding direction.


Hansberry ends the same letter by asking:


Considering Mattachine, Bilitis, ONE, all seem to be cropping up on the West Coast rather than here where a vigorous and active gay set almost bump one another off the streets-what is it in the air out there? Pioneers still? Or a tougher circumstance which inspires battle?[1]


In another anonymous letter, Hansberry connects antihomosexuality and antifeminism.


I think it is about time that equipped women began to take on some of the ethical questions which a male-dominated culture has produced and dissect and analyze them quite to pieces in a serious fashion. It is time that 'half the human race' had something to say about the nature of its existence. Otherwise--without revised basic thinking-the woman intellectual is likely to h d herself trying to draw conclusions-- moral conclusions-based on acceptance of a social moral superstructure which has never admitted to the equality of women and is therefore immoral itself. As per marriage, as per sexual practices, as per the rearing of children, etc, In this kind of work there may be women to emerge who will be able to formulate a new and possible concept that homosexual persecution and condemnation has at its roots not only social ignorance, but a philosophically active anti-feminist dogma. But that is but a kernel of a speculative embryonic idea improperly introduced here.[2]


References

  1. Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. (NY: Crowell, 1976), page 425: Letter signed "L. H. N." (Lorraine Hansberry Nemiroff, her married name), The Ladder, vol. I, no. 8 (May 1957), p. 26, 28. Barbara Grier (Gene Damon, pseud.) identifies Hansberry as the author of this and the following letter in her column "Lesbiana," The Ladder, vol. 14 nos. 5-6 (February-March 1970), and in her introduction to the Arno Press reprint ed. of The Ladder. "The Ladder, Rung By Rung," dated May 1975, no pagination, in the single volume containing The Ladder, vols. 1 and 2 (N.Y.: Arno 1975).
  2. Letter signed '”L.N ." [Lorraine (Hansberry) Nemiroff], The Ladder, vol. I, no.II (Aug. 1957, page 30.


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