the GENDER issue / THE EDITOR'S LETTER
Gender In the Time of COVID-19
by Bettina Judd
Black feminist thought has taught me to expect apocalypse.
That is, the analytics that are grounded in Black feminist critique on the structures that shape our lives have already told us that the foundation upon which we so foolishly build our lives—our economies, our governments, our means of production, and the abhorrent treatment of the planet are unsustainable and if we expect justice or freedom, or any of the good things to come from heaven or earth, we should expect the end of this particular way of being.
I do not know if COVID-19, the unseasonable storms, or the locusts in Kenya mark the beginning of an ending. I’m not sure that natural or supernatural disasters are where efforts to alter or halt apocalypse by human power are best allocated. These events are what they are, and I suspect they could be experienced differently if this particular way of being we have become so accustomed to—or rather—have been forced into custom—were different.
If we have learned anything in the past few months, it is that our issues, our problems, obsessions, and failures with gender are more exposed. The concept of intersectionality, the means of analyzing the intersections of sexism, racism, classism and other forces of control on our lives, is exceptionally useful here as we fix our eyes on how our current crisis affects us:
Care workers such as nurses and hospice staff are largely women. Women of color in particular work on the front lines of medical care. In the U.S. Black people, and that is inclusive of Black women are at higher risk of death from complications from COVID-19. People of African descent globally have been made both scapegoat for the spread of the disease, and been eyed as guinea pigs for its vaccine. Health disparities for trans* communities continue and are, no doubt, exacerbated by the pandemic and this quarantine. Black, queer, and trans* communities are already at higher risk for the unhoused and the toll that COVID-19 has had on the unhoused has yet to be numerated. All of this, as we know, is not a new approach to our way of being, but a damnable continuation of ways some have touted as old.
We also know that gender dynamics in the home which are so often gendered, are heightened. Survivors of domestic violence—hopefully still surviving—are cooped up in the homes with their abusers and resources for shelter and safety are strained. The safety of children is also a threat—for if we could not assure them safety when they came to school with all of the mandated reporters, what can we do for them now? Though the world seems to have stopped, it has not—gender and our way of being continues.
As much as Black feminist thought has taught me to expect apocalypse, the poet and scribe who once wrote those also said that, “life compels an optimism.” In the wake of 9/11, June Jordan reminded us that despite all efforts “some of us did not die,” which now, at worst, seems a cruel thing to say, and at best, a tenuous assumption as we are not out of this season just yet. But I echo Jordan by asking, “what shall we do, we who did not die?”
I have no real answer for that but this issue might be a testament to what it means to live in the wake. Those of us who were tending to this issue have lost loved ones and pondered the importance, efficacy, purpose of writing to our lives—let me not speak for us all. I have pondered the importance, efficacy, and purpose of writing to life. I have not at all come to a decision about what must be done, but here we are, publishing this issue anyhow. Because, yet, there is life. And in that fact there is meaning.
We started accepting poetry, prose, and interviewed folks before the pandemic, before so many absolutely frightening global catastrophes. (Remember the possibility of nuclear war back in January?) And yet, if we know anything, we know that these threats were already teeming under the surface of our lives. Reflecting through the substance of the writing in this issue we may see what of gender emerges through our current state of emergency. This issue takes up gender in its emergences through coming of age, violence, sexuality, desire, labor, and family. Gender in the ways that we live—nay, survive and continue to survive in our complexities and through its gaps. This palimpsest has its gaps on gender for sure, we hope you will forgive by adding your own words—submitting to the journal for future publication and engaging us as we continue this much needed conversation.
Wishing you health and joy!
June Jordan, “Some of Us Did Not Die,” in Some of Us Did Not Die: New and Selected Essays (New York: Basic Books, Perseus, 2003), 9.