Bettina Judd | Author of Patient

Bettina Judd

Art. Feminism. Femme Fire.

We Never Noticed She Left: Cave Canem Reading Statement

A few people have asked to read the short statement I made at the AWP Cave Canem reading in Portland back in March. This statement is in response to the aftermath of the outing of Thomas Sayers Ellis as a habitual abuser and predator within the poetry community—and more specifically as it relates to young Black women poets. Here it is, posted below. (With some edits, I wrote it on my cellphone the night before.)


This taking to task, shedding of light might appear to be “railroading” as I have heard what happened to one of us be named, because we cannot imagine, do not wish to imagine or accept that there is an abuser among us. We believe in community so we say, “You, the survivor, are separating us.” Abusers cannot be (as in should not and therefore cannot have been) one of us. We say, “This person accused of being an abuser is one of us.” Excision is the real sin—it is the terror of not belonging that drives this response. To be disowned within by the harm this man has caused puts us in crisis. So, we must remove the accusation. 

Accusation is the rupture seen, the rupture felt, the rupture experienced firsthand. We cannot imagine that it is anything but an excision, but a rupture, because an abuser cannot be one of us, cannot be me. This is a lie. We are so imperfect.

The rupture, the real rupture happened in the dark, stowed away for our plausible deniability. That rupture distracted if not outright silenced a young poet’s voice and we never noticed. I deign to say we never cared. I think we want to be understood as a community who cares. If one were to ask us right out if we cared we would be shocked at the gall of the question. Of course we care—but we never noticed. 

It never seemed odd to us that the air sucked out of the room when his name was said—when he entered it. We mistook what was menacing for magnetism. We fixated on him and didn’t notice who was choking, who was gasping for air. We never reflected on the overrepresentation of women in our workshops and the underrepresentation of them on our bookshelves, our readings, prize panels and recipients of those prizes, the national stage. When we listened to what we called, “women’s poetry” we never thought of what could be written if that writer didn’t have to, return always, beautifully, and fearlessly, but constantly to the site of their terror. 

What could she have written instead of that poem that gutted us beautifully and with her splayed flesh on the page? What could she have written otherwise? We never noticed. We never thought to imagine.

What ever happened to...? 


You seen her? 


She sure could write a poem.


Imagine a world where that beautiful language could be used for the intentionally frivolous. For anything else but the site of our unseeing.

the break

Statement: I feel the need to give some context for this piece because we are in difficult times. It is hard to know who to trust. This poem is about grief. Grief is our inheritance. It is not the only thing that we have inherited. Feel what you must feel about today. Anger, grief, angst, fear, all of these are valid and appropriate responses to the election of Donald Trump and the affirmation of hatred that his being elected signals.

There is no "but" after that. You will know what to do. The grief will tell you.  

the break

there have been days worse than this

something which may be of
is no comfort to you now
but is still
very true

there have been days
that could not have possibly had an end
and yet the sun
set just the same

there were nights with no moon
& someone held
the promise
of you close

even if they did not know it

what I mean is
and it has been said before:

you are the prize of the Ones that did not die
you are the ready student
the conditioned body
you are possibility’s possibility
and no ancestor before you
would have been more ready

what I mean is
this will be hard

a fact
but fair

I’d like for you to remember
that today’s terror tastes
feels like
That of yesterday’s 

it has only now
called ahead
before visiting your door

there will be days
worse than this

which is an awful thing for me to say
when I want so much to encourage
when I need it myself

but it is

so many things are possible.

So many
things are possible.


Mary Spears’ Death Reminds us that the World Isn’t Safe for Women

“Leaving my house is a political act.” 

 — Gwendolyn Brooks

Mary Spears was murdered this past weekend during homegoing celebrations for a family relative in Detroit. According to witnesses, her killer asked for her name and number, which Mary Spears refused to give. 

Spears’ death is the nightmare of so many women who find themselves approached by men in public. After news broke of her murder, my timelines were full of women proclaiming, “This is why I will never date again,” or “I’m never leaving the house.” It is an unsafe world out there for us, and Spears’ death reminds us of that. 

That a simple “No,” won’t be enough (because so often our words have not been enough) is something most women have already known, and in response, we have created and shared tools that got us out of a situation more than a few times. 

I went to a college for women, and the topic of student safety, particularly as it relates to street harassment and sexual assault, was a part of orientation. It included a little talk by the head of student safety (campus police for many institutions) who gave us the number of the security office on campus. It was suggested that we use it as our own when asked for our number on our jaunts about town. We were also given a whistle that could fit on our key chains. I was sure that it wasn’t needed, and was directly proven wrong on my first trip out. This was the first of many lessons. It was in my late teens that I took up the habit of adopting a name other than my own when pressed for it, that I learned to smile sweetly and walk swiftly. (I was always “late to work.”) It was at school that I learned the hard way that responding, “I’m not into men,” was heard as an invite rather than a rejection. This was a particularly rude awakening when Sakia Gunn was murdered in 2003 for stating just that in response to a man’s advances.

This is the thing: Never dating men again won’t save you. That presumes that queer women, and gender non-conforming folks are not subject to harassment, or the added threat of corrective rape. Saying that you have a man won’t save you. Being in the company of friends and family won’t save you. Mary Spears said and did and said all of the things that many of us know to say and practice as routine safety measures. But street harassment, and its hype boy, hegemonic masculinity have already written the rules for engaging with women. Within those rules, women are property and if HM is feeling gully enough, it doesn’t even matter that you belong to another man (as per the rules of hegemonic masculinity to respect another man’s “property”). At that point, you are collateral damage in a potentially deadly dick fight that your harasser is having with himself. 

Sometimes, the tactics for self preservation work. Sometimes they do and interactions with brothers on the street feel like slight annoyances. Sometimes they take a toll on my spirit and wreck my day. I end up replaying all of the ways that I could have not been grabbed, groped or berated for rejecting a man I just met. Sometimes it creeps on the inside and I start to contemplate my value — sometimes. 

As for these orientations, for the talks with girl children — they are bogus. They are bogus insofar as they are asking us to play at a game we’ve already lost by even having received the so-called catcall. I know that I am echoing what many advocates against street harassment have said, but if recent public discussions on this are any indication of having been understood, I suppose another iteration won’t hurt:

Take the burden of “keeping safe” off of women. We aren’t safe. That’s done. We were unsafe before we left the house. Sometimes we are unsafe in our homes. Shrugging of street harassment as “men just being men,” and characterizing it as flattery only reinforces the rule of HM that women must be, at all times, at the mercy of the men around them. This is an opportunity for men and masculine of center folks to check yourselves, your friends, your brothers, and your family members on how you and they interact with women. 

Hegemonic masculinity doesn’t relegate itself to men interacting with women. It also operates when men interact with men. It is the little voice that says, “I ain’t no punk.” (Peep the homophobic slur.) Hegemonic masculinity mandates patriarchal order and by definition, patriarchy demands that men and masculinity rule. HM must rule the bodies of women, and the bodies of men perceived as weaker. The very idea that a woman’s attention should be towards a man who hollers at her off of the street on the sole basis that he hollered is an example of how this rule operates: You better come when I call you.

The assumption that one has the authority to control the movement of bodies is the work of hegemonic masculinity. It is the same assumption these police officers had when they busted the car window and tased a passenger in front of small children after being stopped for a seatbelt violation. Hegemonic masculinity works on all of these levels and controls and affects all of our lives. You better come when I call you.

Okay, so you wouldn’t do such a thing. You wouldn’t kill a woman for rejecting your advances. You, dear police officer, wouldn’t tase an unarmed man. That ain’t the point. We don’t know that. And why should we? We don’t know that you won’t resort to violence in order to salve your ego. Just as I am sure that Mary didn’t know when she did all of the right things not to get killed that day.

Mary’s family is in need of donations for her funeral costs. At the time of writing this, they have almost met their goal. You can donate here:


Resources for the weary (but not by any means exhaustive):

Find out more on stopping violence against women of color at

For updates and testimonies, follow the hashtag #YouOKSis on Twitter. has a great list of international and US resources here:

Want to learn more about hegemonic masculinity? See Byron Hurt’s Hip Hop Beyond Beats and Rhymes and Jackson Katz’s documentary Tough Guise.





What is more intimate than a secret?

DC Queer Studies Symposium

April 25, 2014

:: My body is visible. Confident. High femme. ::

What if gender had the blues? By this I mean, what if gender was affected the social life that we know is responsible for the development of the blues as an art form? As much as we bring attention to the conditions of Black folks on the basis of race in the blues, (we talk about a blues people having blues bodies) what of the conditions of being gendered Black folk? 

I am being a bit facetious here. Of course gender was affected. Of course gender was affected. There are songs about love—songs that tell us something about the differently gendered conditions of the lives of Black men and women. There are even blues that tell us something about the conditions of romantic love between women and women, men and men. Some blues even hint at other genders.

Here, I take up the blues as an aesthetic practice and gender itself as something that has the blues. I do so by focusing on the erotic in the blues aesthetic.

In the blues, worrying the line means to highlight a phrase by changing its pitch, breaking it up—maybe even hollering through it. To worry the line is to operate within a frame of fixed structures: notes, phrases, and rhythms to take up a universe of meanings. These meanings circle around the structure. The song continues. Meaning is amplified.

BINDING is a metaphor for an aesthetic practice of loving. It takes up the core concept of Audre Lorde’s erotic and love as a navigating force in this practice of the erotic. Love, as in Irigaray’s formation of “I love to you,” or Sandoval’s, “subjectivity [that] can become freed from ideology as it binds and ties reality,” also operates as a politic of self-shaping and self-definition in the context of lesbian gender. A politic that is altogether erotic, altogether aesthetic in its circling round and round the body of the lover. The act itself is a process of shaping bodies into something closer to truth. At each turn, both are changed. These changes are gendered. The change is yet another kind of intimacy. 

I begin the book with a excerpt of a lecture I have been developing on Queer Femininity in the Blues Aesthetic:

So now, it is about time that I present my thoughts on exactly what this gender thing is, why WOAmn is so important to thinking through gender and how I am doing it here. WOAmn is a signpost of the function of the sexual, the erotic in our lives. WOAmn is an archetype, a practice, a goal (not particularly inevitable, not always attained but certainly learned). WOAmn is a manifestation of the erotic as an aesthetic practice. An aesthetic practice that has to, like the blues, do a lot of work, as she too is rooted in her own survival. Survival of her body, harmony of her mind, and keeping of her spirit.




Oh dear.


What I want to say now, I cannot say in this way without it turning into nothing. So from here on, let everything be just between us.


:: play videos with intermittent text ::




When I say that I love you, I mean that I am caught in the rapture of our dance, that I adore who I am with you. The way that I feel myself touching you. How you allow me to make me with you and our adoration of this making. At every turn of this dance, I am succumbing to centrifuge and there is a core at which we may meet. My twirling—the way I pull my fingers through the length of my locs, the careful touch of my own skin in the morning (whether you are watching or not) how my thumb nestles in the tuck of my waist is a note in the song I sing of desire. You may hear it.



(Cixous, Davis, Lorde)


:: Read from the final poem, Gravity. ::

"The thing that split apart the marble/ which blew up the stars, drew them close to each other, dancing in violent heat..."

Purchase a copy of the entire eChapbook below.


A multimedia eChapbook. 

B̶I̶N̶D̶I̶N̶G̶ considers how love shapes gender, how gender shapes love. Debuted at the 2014 DC Queer Studies Symposium (Queer Intimacies).



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