In July of 1999, I received an e-mail from Lepa Mladjenovic, a woman I did not know and who now is part of all that makes the human world, with all its armor and hatreds, a place of hope.
My name is Lepa Mladjenovic, and I am a feminist lesbian from Belgrade, Serbia. I've been wanting to write to you for some time.
I think the first time I thought of it was a couple of years ago, around the wa in Bosnia, and I was e-mailing with Women in Black from Israel, Haya Shalom, Gila Svirsky, and I saw your name on one e-mailing list, I saw your name there, ah!!! It was such a beautiful moment. It was such a feast! I was saying in my mouth, your name, my lesbian was rising...and my body was excited. In the middle of a working day in the Center [for women victims of war and other forms of violence]. I did not write you.
Now I have A Fragile Union on my pillow and I must write. So first I ask you how are you, and I send my greetings that I entered in your home, and then I wish to let you know that you are present in me sometimes, in some other lesbians in Belgrade and then in this region as well.
I remember that the first what I read from you was "My Mother Liked to Fuck," it was around 1988 and I was only becoming a lesbian with identity and I read that, and it was a shock to all my senses and my mind, and that was that!...So we translated it, at that time in Belgrade there was a small group of us who were making feminism and even smaller who were lesbians among them.
I bought "A Restricted Country" many times and gave it to many... Particularly it was during the Bosnian war time that I needed to read and reread you. From the beginning of wars in this region from 91 on, I felt that I have to invent Ten Thousand ways to let my lesbian desire breathe...At some moments during the last eight years it was not easy for me to put into words how do I feel when making love with a woman and in the back there is a radio with the news of war. Killed or expelled or other fascist acts. In my room, I would not be able to stand up from the bed, leave the desired bodies and swith off the news, also because I thought the respect to the killed I will show by not switching off the radio.
In one of the short articles on anti-war, I Mentioned at the end that reading Adrienne Rich, "Litany for Survival" by Audre Lord and essays of Joan Nestle kept the light of my soul alive in wartime alive. And you know what, in those times "The Gift of Touch" we read and re read in our lesbian group and translated and read agin, and photocopied and printed in our feminist notebooks that has 1000 copies and goes to women's groups to all the states of Former Yugoslavia free.
Dear comrade Joan,
I send you tender regards,
Belgrade, 3 of July, 1999
I have received many letters about my work over the years, but this letter from a woman who is a tireless worker for peace, these words from my now dear friend, words perhaps never said allowed before in a time of war, testifying to the strength of lesbian desire as a life force in the midst of national atrocities, live inside of me, honor me as a writer, the small writer I am, honor all who write of the yearning body in times of armored nationalisms. I think of the women of ASWAT, the Palestinian Lesbian group, I think of the Israeli butch-femme community I met that night in Jerusalem, of the queers of Israel and Palestine, of the transgendered people of war torn lands --words of embrace, of touch, of delight in the small curve, the flick of a tongue. And in that place, others too will find their bodies, remember the fragility of their flesh and know that free deep breaths are so simple and yet are made so impossible. Words, my friends, words, from a different mouth--find them in the shadows of the power brokers and you will have another history.
"After four years in operation, the Shushan pub, the only one for Jerusalem's gay and lesbian community, has closed down...Shushan is the only place in Israel where the Haredi [ultra-Orthodox], Arabs, religious and secular could sit together and have good time...when they left Shushan, each returned to his own ghetto." Reported by Jonathan Lis, Haaretz Correspondent, November 12, 2007
Here I must tell you that a wonderful and brave group of Israeli women are in the act of translating a selection of my work into Hebrew and a brave man will publish it. Words, words--may they touch and honor you.