“We were The Branded, the Lunatic Fringe, proud of our outrageousness and our madness, our bizarre-colored inks and quill pens. We learned how to mock the straight set, and how to cultivate our group paranoia into an instinct for self-protection that always stopped our shenanigans just short of expulsion. We wrote obscure poetry and cherished our strangeness as the spoils of default, and in the process we learned that pain and rejection hurt, but that they weren’t fatal, and that they could be useful since they couldn’t be avoided. We learned that not feeling at all was worse than hurting. At that time, suffering was clearly what we did best. We became The Branded because we learned how to make a virtue out of it” (82).
In Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, Audre Lorde provides her life story in the format of a biomythography. Throughout this account of her life seemingly non-erotic scenes can be read as erotic if analyzed through the lens of Lorde’s essay “Uses of the Erotic”. One such instance is the description Lorde provides of her friend group – “The Branded”.
This group of young women were Lorde’s lifeline in high school (despite the racism she faced within the group). As a member of this group that Lorde describes as “sisterhood of rebels” there is evidence of Lorde’s definition of erotic at play (81). Although Lorde insists that the erotic is not only for women, she is explicit about its “feminine” nature, making it important that it is with this group of young women that she begins to find the power of the erotic within herself.
Other than “The Branded”, Lorde also calls her group of friends the “Lunatic Fringe”. This terminology is important because it suggests two things, that they are crazy and on the outside of society. In her essay Lorde makes it clear that the erotic is not recognized by society and utilized to suppress women. Lorde figuring her friends as “Lunatic Fringe” places them in an erotic space because they are non-conforming to society. Hetero-patriarchal society makes a claim that the erotic is not useful, and should be suppressed, but Lorde and her friends make it into their power. Moreover, they “mock the straight set” which alludes to the queerness of their group and the way they figure themselves outside of the male gaze (82). The erotic is for self-empowerment, and “The Branded” empowered themselves by configuring themselves away from the way in which society expected young women to behave.
Another collection of words that are of importance in the way that Lorde describes “The Branded” include “outrageousness and our madness” as well as “our shenanigans” (82). In her essay Lorde discusses the origins of the word erotic, as “born of Chaos” (56). The detailed way that Lorde chooses to describe her and her friends seem negative, without the proper lens. However, using her essay to decode it I found that they coincide with the origins of erotic. Their group carried among them the very essence and origin of erotic in their behavior.
Lorde also discusses the erotic as an expression of creativity. In this group the girls “wrote obscure poetry”. The girls tapped into a creative outlet, which is required to tap into the power of the erotic. Furthermore, the erotic is about getting in touch with one’s deep feelings. The feeling that Lorde expounds the most on in her essay is joy, contrastingly it is suffering that brings together “The Branded”. They recognized that feelings were in fact “useful” and “not feeling at all was worse than hurting”. Opposed to society, they placed a value on their emotions.
The erotic is a very important component of Lorde’s work. Utilizing her essay “Uses of the Erotic” to analyze her friend group “The Branded” made it clear just how powerful the erotic can be even for young women at a young age. The erotic was important in this instance to bring together women as well as to allow them to express themselves outside of a society that rejected them.