“lesbian texts are passed from hand to hand and mouth to mouth
between lesbians. they are located on the skin, in the look, in
the geography of the palms of the hands.
lesbian literature exists in pieces: in flyers, newsletters,
magazines, chapbooks, bathroom stalls, notes, novels, e-mails,
love letters, on tiny scraps of paper.”
— tatiana de la tierra
In the age of the internet, recording queer history has never been easier; not only in sharing stories as we do at Making Queer History but in preserving stories that may otherwise be lost. Blogs, social media, videos, newsletters, and more have become the means by which we commemorate and celebrate one another and ourselves. Researching someone’s life is much easier when they’ve recorded it on their own blog, as is the case for tatiana de la tierra.
Born in Colombia in 1961, tatiana spent most of her childhood staying with different family members throughout the country; she relied on her large extended family to support her and her immediate family. Despite their support, the family made the difficult decision to move to the United States. There, tatiana began attending school.
Though she excelled academically, she was still a visibly Latina woman and faced a mix of misogyny, racism, and xenophobia. She dealt with the struggles of learning a second language, of leaving her home for a new country, of being treated as a foreigner. Her success took mountains of effort and drive. She later described her experiences:
“I dreaded those public moments that highlighted the fact that I was a foreigner. Sometimes I sat at my desk, plotting my revenge. I would master the English language. I would infiltrate the gringo culture without letting on that I was a traitor. I would battle in their tongue and make them stumble. I would cut out their souls and leave them on the shore to be pecked on by vultures.”
Though it was in writing that she truly flourished, she also studied massage therapy and received her degree in psychology. It was while in college that she began exploring her identity as a lesbian, though she knew from a young age.
After school, she travelled around the United States attending concerts with her massage table, offering her services to attendees. She met many women through her work:
“Meeting Latinas and black women in the festival circuit was the next big awakening for me. I already knew identity politics and had class consciousness, but I had overlooked the way in which race, culture and ethnicity fit into the larger picture of my lesbian identity. Thus, my woman of color consciousness emerged, along with my Latina Lesbian identity, and this shaped my alliances and actions in the years that followed. And this explains esto no tiene nombre, the next cornerstone of my life.”
Esto no tiene nombre (This has no name) was a zine composed of Latina lesbian writers with comics, interviews, reviews, and anything relating to the Latina lesbian experience. In a piece about tatiana de la tierra, Sara Gregory wrote about zines, pointing out:
“Zines matter to marginalized folk because they offer alternative, non-hierarchical spaces of healing, resistance, and knowledge. They respond to wider cultural and institutional ills with creative, radical, and celebratory fragments of truth. For queers, women, gender non-conforming folk, and POC (none of which are mutually exclusive) they creative and force open what is never offered in wider society: accurate, multiplicitous, and contradictory representations of lives lived in the margins. Zine culture resists and replaces the heterosexism, racism, ableism, and xenophobia around us with creativity, celebration, and survival strategies.”
This is what Esto no tiene nombre was for so many people around the world. Although it was shut down after nine issues, it was revived in Conmoción. This work focused on Spanish speaking populations; though it was translated into English, tatiana was clear that her work would not focus on translation and would instead fight against anglo-centrism.
Writing pieces considered too sexual for other publications, tatiana wrote openly and honestly about her experiences as a fat, chronically ill, Latina lesbian woman. Following her passion for grassroots publishing, she released several books of poetry but mostly focused on her zine and blog. That blog is still online today, giving us a wealth of work and information about her life in her own words. Though she passed away in 2012, the existence of her blog allows her legacy to continue.
Growing up in a time run by traditional publishing, even with almost completely unfettered access to libraries, tatiana was severely limited in whom she could read about. She wrote that not finding herself in print felt like not existing, something many latinx queer people can relate to.
While some credit is of course due to the equalizer that the internet can be, most belongs securely on the laps of those who put themselves out there. Who see the lack, who see the emptiness where stories of their experiences are supposed to be told, and who create. Whether it is through poetry, digital art, videos, or a blog, queer people all over the world are using the tool that is the internet to record their experiences. Something as mocked as a selfie becomes a treasure to a community whose history has been systematically erased and destroyed.
In a world that burned Sappho’s poetry, “the internet is forever” is a promise rather than a threat. Tatiana de la tierra embodies that; her life and memory kept all throughout the internet. Stories from her friends, her own blog, and photos keep her legacy alive and allow women like her to know that they aren’t alone.
[Disclaimer: some of the sources may contain triggering material]
De la tierra, T. (2002). “Dreaming of Lesbos.” For the Hard Ones: A Lesbian Phenomenology / ara las duras: Una fenomenología lesbiana. A Midsummer Night’s Press. Retrieved from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/147272/dreaming-of-lesbos
De la tierra, T. “Ode to Unsavory Lesbians.” Retrieved from https://www.lambdaliterary.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/15.-tatiana-de-la-tierra.pdf
Gregory, S. Celebrating Tatiana De La Tierra And The Latina Lesbian Zine Culture Of The '90s. Retrieved from https://bust.com/books/194419-tatiana-de-la-tierra-zine-culture.html
Guzman-Lopez, A. (2012, August 26). Friends, Family Remember Lesbian Writer Tatiana de la Tierra. Retrieved from https://www.kcet.org/socal-focus/friends-family-remember-lesbian-writer-tatiana-de-la-tierra
Into. (2018, April 20). Para Las Duras: Una Fenomenología Lesbiana–tatiana de la tierra’s Queer, Latina Love Offering. Retrieved from https://www.intomore.com/culture/para-las-duras-una-fenomenologia-lesbianatatiana-de-la-tierras-queer-latina-love-offering
Julig, C. (2018, April 26). The Unapologetically Lesbian, Latina Poetry of tatiana de la tierra. Retrieved from https://www.shondaland.com/inspire/books/a20056645/tatiana-de-la-tierra-para-las-duras/
Lefer, D. (2012, August 1). In tribute: tatiana de la tierra. Retrieved from https://dianelefer.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/in-tribute-tatiana-de-la-tierra/