Friday, November 7, 2008

Old friend

Thank you, Lee, dear old friend. I am sorry I do not know how to respond to comments in a more private way -so forgive this shared moment. You and I and so many others of the "old" times are the lucky ones--we have lived long enough to see great changes and to have a deep sense of what still must happen, not just for queer people but for all, on all the continents of our sad earth who cannot fully lift their heads.

Far from the streets of San Francisco, I saw a small Congolese boy, his eyes wide with terror, his small body trembling, eyes so wide with loss and fear, he could not blink, staring into the camera of the British news gatherer while another reporter, kneeling before the barefoot boy held the child's small hand in his own. So still his hand, his young young life almost at a standstill--he had lost his parents as they all fled for their lives from the approaching gun men. His eyes looking out at us, at me, sitting in my chair, safe. Oh dear child, oh dear boy, what have we done to you, to all the children who duck or swerve or huddle--their newly lived bodies shattered by our failures. I will not forget your eyes, the trembling of your limbs, the hand without will, lost lost in an exploding world. May you find your way home, dear boy. And we must never stop seeing all of you.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

But Sadnesses as Well

All day I have been thinking about this new time in the world but as the day wore on, and I listened to American commentators all dismissing the votes against Gay marriage as just the same pesty, unimportant issue, I grew angry--not at Obama, but at a nation willing to scapegoat one community--here we will show our intolerance and it is ok, here we will take an unbending stand on a morality issue, and it is ok, here we will show Obama's win was "not ideological," the commentators kept saying over and over. I thought of Mabel Hampton and all the other Black gay people I know and have known who wanted all their human selves to be justly treated, and of all of us queer people who worked hard to change this country, while so many in the country were willing to write off our rights as citizens of this same country. We have become the expendable community--I have no desire to involve the state in my relationships with anyone--but I think of Marie and her partner, celebrating their marriage for the short time they had, coming home from their ceremony to find hate literature against their union on their doorstep. Hugeness of national insult impedes the national dream of a just society. We will not stop haunting this country and others until queer people walk national streets in safety and are given the same rights as all others to conduct their family lives as they desire. Obama named us as part of this nation, calling us into being in that Chicago night; our struggle continues as we continue to give gifts to our nations.

How Long the Journey--How Deep the Victory

Mabel Hampton and her wife, Lillian Foster, c. 1950s
In an old Melbourne pub with Democrats Abroad, watching the returns, 2008
On a bright lit morning, I sit gathering in all the words of embodied hope, the pure joy of having lived long enough to see this day, yes, Obama, yes, to the best of America, yes to the courage of a people who never stopped pushing at the ugly barriers of racial restrictions, who did not not let state violence on so many levels, expressed in a myriad of soul crunching ways, deter them
from their path of resistance, yes to all of us who struggled to make our country another kind of place--and I know all of you who knew Mabel Hampton know that this was the day she lived for, and that she must be with us today. Oh what a man, she would say, my what a man!
Di, Daniel, Joel, Mitch, Declan and I joined over 200 ex-pat Americans crammed into a 19th century Melbourne pub named for a famous Maori Chief to join Democrats Abroad for a day of election returns watching. Far from Times Square, we were found ourselves, exiles from California, Rhode Island, Florida, New Jersey and New York in this small corner of the world, screaming our hearts out every time the numbers changed in our man's favor. I was far from the old school gymnasium on 92nd street on the Upper West Side where I had voted for over 30 years, far from what many consider the center of the world, sitting with new Australian friends whom I had dragged into my history--which now is all of our histories.
We pulled the shades over the windows to block out the full morning sun as we watched that American night so far away, drawn together by our isolation and our need to focus on the screen, to see through separation into the real heart of things, a people reclaiming a national dream made up of many histories and one desire--the return of a political and national dignity
for all of us.
Throughout the hours, I sat taking in the Australianess of this American night--the big glasses of beer, the endless platters of fish and chips cooked pub style, nothing fancy and plenty more chips then fish. We were a group of what they call the "battlers" here, plain people, a little lost perhaps, some wearing funny American hats, others, older, like myself, sitting hour after hour, hardly breathing at times, friends traipsing down the stairs to bring back lemon/lime and bitters so we would not have to fight our way down the old staircase.
There were other gatherings around town, we found out, in the higher priced sections of town where you needed an invitation to get in--but not at the Maori Chief. Everyone was welcomed and little by little all three floors of the old place filled up, heads turned up to TV screens that usually were dedicated to the soft tones of test cricket or the quick moving displays of physical courage known as Aussie Rules Footy. Soon the tv cameras showed up to document this strange gathering of fans of another kind. A room of strangers except for our place of birth gradually became an island of political intimacy, knees touching knees, arms around each other's chairs, new friends shouting drinks for each other--no one got drunk and lemonade as well as beer flowed freely--heads turning to each other to ask what did they say--our voices drowning out the CNN endless talking, to ask did he get Florida yet--and then some remembering together about that famous night when we went to sleep thinking Gore had won Florida to discover the country had been stolen over night--not this night, not this our day.
Finally, as I was speaking to Marge on the phone, the whole room rose as one, arms upstretched, cheers so loud I could hear nothing--that little square of numbers had reached the magic number and one version of the past had died and Chicago, once the scene of a red-necked nation turning on its own youth, filled the screen, thousands of Americans with so many histories, turning to the new one being born. You were there Mabel and Lillian, you and your communities all over this country had brought this night, our day, into being.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Now is the Time

Now is the time--memories must wait, for now we have the end of a present and the beginning of a future in our hands. Now is the time for us to declare what kind of America we will be--there is hatred in the air, there is fear of new thinking on public policies, there is a desire for a simplistic national myth--the "real " American, gun in hand--a simplistic economic myth--prop up the banks and the market economy will right itself, fight more and more wars, invade more and more countries and America will be safe--BUT there is another air to breath, where not too much is very simple--people are loosing their jobs and their homes in huge numbers even while the banks soak up dollar after dollar of redistributed wealth--from us to them, where we take responsibility for our international actions and begin to understand how we author hatred-Millions it seems have found this oxygen of hope; now if one more vote can be squeezed out for Obama, let's find it--if one more cynical non voter can be pulled into the conversation, then pull, pull. In our window here on Fitzgibbon Avenue, I have put up downloaded Obama signs--and the would-be bumper sticker, Another Jew for Obama. Lonely, they look out at an Australian street, the face of another nation's dilemma, but they are my contribution to the blooming bottle brushes and kangaroo paws, my own flowers of a brave national dreaming that have accompanied me across the oceans.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Nancy's Visit in My Dream Time--2

Nancy Johnson's Poster for LHA, "Mary Jane Taylor: Friend of Mabel Hampton, 1930,"/In Memory of the Voices We Have Lost/Enjai Graphics, 1980
Death takes away people's lives so quickly, friends whom we assume are getting on with their lives and then the word comes, "Nancy Johnson died in Sweden." So many years later. I knew she had been doing healing work overseas, in the northern countries. Then a packet of photographs left at LHA from Dinah, the few fragments of our friendship. And last night, after not sleeping well and after weeks of not feeling well, in my early morning sleep, Nancy enters a large almost empty house, I am sitting in my chair--and she drags suitcases by me, "aren't you going to help me?" and feeling immediately guilty, I leap up and follow her out the door, determined to lighten her load, but it is too late. The next moment Nancy is lying on a pallet, close to death, a cancer death, and I am bending tightly over her, seeing the toll so much has taken on her--her face, pinched and wide eyed, almost touches mine. Here in Australia, into the early morning I see my old friend when I did not see her, in her extremity, this woman who had struggled to rescue so many, now I see in her depleted need. And I think of how many times she needed to be relieved of her burdens and I was not there.
And all day she has been with me. All the Nancys I knew--her laugh, her belief that some divine spirits can walk above the earth, her pitching in to cook for mobs in the New Hope kitchens, her body, large breasted and slim waisted, with whom she did not always feel at home, her scars from too much of one thing and not enough of others--her determination to take on her "missions," her love of her sisters and their children, of her own found children. Her down home turn of a phrase. I remember the visit, in the 70s I think, I made with Nancy and Dinah to Salt Lake City to meet their families or what remained of them.
Nancy speaking of her childhood, what she had to flee from and her rage at a cousin who sat me up on one of his palomino horses, an under- exercised horse bursting with life, and let it run wild with me on a race track--a massive animal power under me, muscles bursting out from oaten skin, a hundred times I almost died, my whole body thrown over the horse's shoulders--but somehow the man had had his fun and caught up with us and slowed his vibrant animal down. I can still remember the terror in my thighs as I willed myself not to let go, not to fall head over head under the animal's hoofs. Perhaps he was showing this New York gal what real life was like. And the vet, who held Nancy's cat by the scuff of his neck, as he slashed the abscess open--"never met a Jew," before he said. The extreme domesticity of her mother's life, the doilies, the cakes, the cookies, the never ending cooking, the thick limbs from hard work. From Selma, Alabama to the Lower East Side of New York, from the first walk the three of us took together as I showed them the gay Village, to the doors of the old Firehouse on Wooster Street, through the thick organizing years of the 70s and early 80s, to the streets of Parkslope and Nancy and Dinah's rough hewn apartment with the sleeping loft, so dangerous in its own way, through all the years passing down until this morning in West Brunswick, Melbourne, Australia.
I once extolled the gift of touch, and I still do--Nancy layed on hands to ease the human heart and now far from old friends, and through the motes of memories, I cherish her. When I saw that image of Nancy, the one you have seen, with her arm around me, and heard of her death, I knew both that all the years of separation were real and yet there I was, back on 9th street, sitting at the round wooden table listening to Nancy, her long legs tucked under her, telling me tales of the West and the hopes she had for their sojourn in the East. This journal, my writing, means nothing if it does not keep alive those human spirits who in their courage and difference, in their play and their visions, in their touch and in their stumbles, brought all the wonders of life to me.

Nancy Visits in Dream Time

Mabel Hampton at the LHA table, c.1980

Nancy Johnson and Joan at a

meeting of the Lesbian Illness

Support Group, NYC, 1970s

I learned from Mabel Hampton to honor the visitations of the dead in our dreams. She swore by the power of the elements--whether they be a house number or white cat or a book left open--that made their way into her sleep, her time of real visions. I do not have Mabel's dream book, the one that helped her decipher the nightly messages--and often led to just the right number being played--but Nancy's presence was so strong last night, I do not need another text. So much pushes at me to write about on this miracle of shared remembering--the contemporary rending of the heart as I read Mamoud Darwish's writing and enter deeper and deeper into the anguish of exile, the hurly burly of the elections, the wonders of queer history--but as my friends become my dreams, as I count my losses--Joyce Warshow, Sonny Wainwright, Max Feldman, Mabel, and always Carol--I think I must touch them into life again. And now Nancy, Nancy Johnson, a friend I met in Selma, Alabama on the civil rights march into Montgomery in 1965--and her partner then, Dinah--of whom I will not speak because she might not desire it.

I will write a longer piece about Nancy, the first Mormon lesbian I had ever met, a Mormon on the run from the homophobia of her Utah world but who maintained a connection to the world of her spirits her whole life. Nancy, the printer, the first woman I knew who worked the huge presses and had to fight for every job--Nancy who designed and printed LHA's first and only poster at her own small designing firm, EnJai Graphics. Nancy, the foster mother of two generations of lost children, Nancy, the healer who embraced her ill friends as she is doing here--who fought her own cancer by fighting for all of us. I remember one evening in the 70s it must have been--I am lying on the kitchen floor--ill with Chronic Fatigue--and Nancy is conducting a long distance healing session via the phone. She has gathered the white light of many friends and is sending it all to me, she says right into my ear. Now as some of you may know, I am no believer in such things, even scented candles drive me up a wall, but for Nancy I would lie on any floor and put my body in her hands.

The glorious years when we all lived in that wonderful tenement building on East 9th Street between 1st and Avenue A--the late 60s. Dinah and Nancy on the top floor and me on the first, our bathrooms in the hall. The Christmas mornings when these two Western women would invite me up to open the holiday gift box from Nancy's mother which always included sweets for me, their New York Jewish friend. Before 9th street Nancy and Dinah lived with me in my small apartment on 6th Street--where robberies were more frequent then pay checks. We were lesbian adventurers doing new things--opening bookstores on streets that had never seen one before, forming lesbian consciousness raising groups, launching new political and cultural groups. Over the years, our lives took different turns. The last time I remember seeing Nancy was when she visited with two small rambunctious children, the sons of Crystal, if I remember correctly, Lee and me at Black Slip Hollow in the western Catskills. Nancy loaded down with diapers and baby food, wearing the form hugging short shorts she fancied and her tank top--I must post this now before I loose it--to be continued

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Reader

A rare moment of green and stream, outside of Melbourne, in a town called Warrandyte
Thank you, Rose, for your response. Yes, I am here--you can always reach me--here and worried and hopeful as so many of us are--these will be a very long two weeks. Joan

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


the shed at the back of the garden with Ceil's sign and the old farm window La Professora found for us and the visting parrots feasting

Professora and Cello on the St Kilda bay wall, last week

I can barely breath sometimes when I am watching American news here--this election results is so important, that Obama and Biden be elected is so important I can barely breath--I have volunteered with Democrats Abroad--Australia calling ex-pats to make sure we all have received our absentee ballots--hearing those American voices, all with huge hopes about this election. When my own ballot arrived in the mail, I handled it carefully, as if it were a huge check or a slightly feared medical report--that official looking envelope carrying my minute of participation in the vote, the small white oval waiting for my mark--in the bright light of our Australian kitchen--my mark to be made along with so many of us who live beyond the borders of our country of birth, of citizenship. Then after rereading and rereading the instructions to make sure I had done nothing wrong, I sealed the envelope, called out to Cello, took up my cane and together, my lurching, he waiting, walked the four blocks, crossed busy Dawson Avenue with its rumbling trams to the red post box. It all seemed so simple in the bright morning light, but as my vote became another piece of daily mail, a sadness came over me--so tangential I was to one of the biggest dramas of my country, of my time--what will this America be in the next years, what face will it wear--the old air force pilot just aching for a fight as an admiring William Bennet glowingly described McCain on the Fox propaganda channel or the "too professorial" man who walked Chicago's needful streets as Obama was summarized by another commentator. An old fight or new thoughts, fighting or thinking--never this simple, but how one form of American masculinity describes its yearnings--I thought of another man, another presidential candidate, who was defined as too professorial, Adelai Stevenson, his worn shoes up on his desk as he leaned back in his office chair, reading a book. Too thoughtful and America turned away. Not this time! I let the envelope fall into the red mouth and pressed the traffic button to signal the cars to stop long enough for Cello and me to safely cross. Sadness at distances is useless at times; my vote is in the air. That is all that matters.

A group of us will watch the election returns at a pub here set up for day long and early evening vigil. Your night will be my day, and the sun and stars will watch over our very real dream time.

On Redistributing the Wealth: As McCain and others of the Right went on ranting about Obama's plan to tax the rich, I thought America has always redistributed the wealth--never more so then we took the very land that became America from its indigenous peoples. When we kidnapped, bought and stole Africans from Africa, we redistributed the wealth--productive citizens of African nations became forced labor for the production of wealth of this one. Just think a little more.

I have just found waiting for me on our front verandah the books I have ordered from the States--the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian poet--his titles alone call to our hearts: "Memory for Forgetfullness," "Unfortunately, It Was Paradise," "Victims of a Map." I am preparing for another public talk at the Brunswick Library, like the one I did two years ago on difference--this one is to be about the concept of home and reading--but I have found my reading taking me to the theme of exiles--two poets, Oslip Mandelstam and Mahmour Darwish, will be my text--the exiled Jew and the exiled Palestinian.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Behind me the rising hysteria of the CNN commentator fills the house: I keep CNN international on now during the day so I am never far away from the international news, the spilling over of the flood of economic decline. Being an American, a New Yorker in a different part of the world right now is a disturbing experience. New York's Wall Street is often seen here as the epicenter of all that went wrong: Bush's White House was a joke but now the whole world seems to be falling into the sink hole of American greed. Many I speak with here shake their heads in disbelieve that so many would even think of voting for McCain and Palin--I just left the computer to see a screaming mass of Republican Americans calling on McCain to go "nuclear" on Obama. The language of mass destruction is now the language of our Democracy. Our country is divided by this election to a dangerous extent. American Fascism is the blue shirted trooper warming up the Palin-McCain crowds, inciting hatred of the Afro-American candidate whose middle name is Hussain. All the makings of a massive national failure of democratic vision are here--and like at other times, alliances are formed for the worst of reasons, like the Republican Jewish Coalition, throwing all senses of history to the wind, and aligning themselves with the largest haters of difference in the country--just as long as they say nice things about Israel. I think as a Jew, every time Wall Street becomes the code word for all that is wrong, Jews are not far away. How can we be making alliances with those who have so profited from national arrogance. Again, I am pulled into the lounge--the reporter says that the racial hatred that is pouring out of the McCain crowds, has gone too far--voices calling out "kill him! kill him!"

I am on the other side of the world now, but all I have cared deepest about in my lifetime is up for grabs now--a madness of fear and anger, a country so used to being the most powerful, to having the largest armies, the largest houses, dropping the most bombs--may not be able to find its humane self in such a moment of profound national and international failure. No matter how far away I am, I am there on New York's streets with all of you, a 68 year old fem queer woman who knows a crack in the earth's surface of shared human dignity when she sees one.
I have a dear friend, a young artist, Jeanine Olsen, who will take to the streets of New York to breath another kind of air down the city's canyons: The Greater New York Smudge Cleanse. Another air to breath, the gift of artists, our moments of hope. Join her if you can--if not take pleasure in her act of creation.

Contact: Jeanine Oleson
September 31, 2008 New York, NY The Greater New York Smudge Cleanse, a public
art project by Jeanine Oleson, will waft through the streets of New York City. Witness the
world’s largest sage smudge stick ritualistically cleansing evil from New York City at four
different sites in October and November. This traveling public art project applies the ancient
practice of smoking out dormant bad energies to contemporary challenges including
environmental pollution in Greenpoint and Gowanus Canal, Brooklyn; gentrification driving queer
communities out of Manhattan’s West Village; and pre-election anxiety/U.S. economic
imperialism on the steps of Federal Hall. Each event will include a procession followed by a
gathering with food and community organizations, activists, researchers and performers including
the Gowanus Dredger's Canoe Club, Newtown Creek Alliance, and a tea party at the Stonewall
Inn. Each event will last about three hours.
Sat., Oct. 11 Greenpoint, Brooklyn, 1 pm
Meet at the corner of Norman Ave. and Apollo St.
Sat., Oct. 18 Gowanus Canal, Brooklyn, 1 pm
Meet at 2nd St. and Bond St.
Sat., Oct. 25 West Village, Manhattan, 1pm
Meet at Pier 45, east picnic benches
Mon., Nov. 3 Federal Hall, Manhattan, 1 pm
Meet on the front steps, 26 Wall St.
Maps and up-to-date information including rain dates will be available at the website:
Smudging is an ancient practice of cleansing space with smoke from bundled sage Oleson’s
project seeks to cleanse New York and it's residents of eco-destruction, election anxiety,
gentrification, heterosexism, U.S. imperialism, classism, racism and greed. The world's largest sage
smudge stick was built in New Mexico, where sage grows plentifully. It is 10 feet long -
"Supersized" to combat negativity in contemporary times. Before this momentous series of
events, the smudge stick was exhibited in shows at John Connelly Presents (NY) and L.A.C.E.
Jeanine Oleson is an artist whose practice incorporates interdisciplinary uses of performance,
film/video, installation, and photographic work, often collaboratively. She attended the School of
the Art institute of Chicago, Rutgers University, and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture.
Oleson has exhibited at venues including: Lump Gallery, Raleigh, NC; Monya Rowe Gallery, NY;
Samson Projects, Boston; John Connelly Presents, NY; Bates College Museum of Art, ME;
Pumphouse Gallery, London; and Art in General, NY. Her work has been recently published in
Performa: New Visual Art Performance, DAP 2007, Cryptozoology: Out of Time Place Scale,
2007, and LTTR V: Positively Nasty, 2006.
For more information, contact Jeanine Oleson at 917-453-0235 or nycsmudge@gmail.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Our Streets

Thank you, my femme sister. It is late here tonight in an early spring Melbourne--La Professora walks our Cello down gum tree lined Fitzgibbon Avenue, a very short avenue it is--running three blocks from Dawson Street to Union--I know streets that mean nothing to my old world--all our streets. I have finished calling ex pat registered Democrats to make sure they have gotten their absentee ballots--the debate on CNN, doing shallow breathing the whole time--so much rest on this election. Read all of Sherry's forwarded progressive statements--signed the petition asking the Republican Jewish Coalition to stop spreading their hatred--my people, my people--how has it come to this--Brooks, Kristol, all the Jewish conservative nice boys--full of their respectabilities and their fears of losing privileges--showing how Rovian they can be--these are not the Jews I grew up with--with so little of material comfort but rich in rages at economic and racial injustices--my menches. Still alive in the spirit of those who are organizing the schlepper campaign--schleppe to Florida if you have grandparents there, and counter the fear campaign against Obama--have a cup of tea, and talk talk about the manipulation of Jewish fear.

I am tired too night, but I just wanted to let you know, sublime fem, that I have received your words. Responses to my writing are rare and so I thank you for the time you took to read and write. And Lepa, you are always in my heart--your streets, the streets of Belgrade and Sarajevo, connect to my little avenue in my heart, in my sense of history.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A gift from Lepa--her blooms
[my computer failed-I continue Lepa's letter of Ocober 5, 2008)

Bosnian mountains, and then it meant we were stuck for two more hours, so we travelled 7+2=9 hours to Sarajevo. ok. We arrived there to see that all the bus and tram stops in town are filled with huge posters against homosexuals as devils of this society! Just like Jews in 1941 in this same town! ah!!! I wanted to tear them done but they stuck the walls, impossible. They had done their work seriously.

...The next day, I entered the local bus to go to the first Q opening event, young boys were shouting at the back of the bus, and I was frightened again. In that moment I found your words in my pocket. The young shouting boys left at another bus stop, and I was so fixed to the idea they were going to the same event as me to beat us up, that I could not believe that they were not!

I am writing it all to you because the mechanisms of fear are incredible, you work on them days, monthys, you work on them for years and still they pop from your fragile body, the threats are so effective.

The rest you know generally. The opening of the Srajevo Queer Festival was a success!! around 300 people came and this was the first time in history that such an event happened!! These 300 were generally young and alternative, artists, etc, most of them hetero supporters. All of us LGBT guests were well organized ot leave that place that was surrounded by 150 fascists (half soccer fans, half religious fanatics ready to beat us up) so we went by the back door and took taxies. But obviously it was not like that for ordinary citizens--10 were injured.

...The four lesbian organizers were all totally exhausted, they had not slept for three days--and many more things afterward, first of all many threatening letters after the event, then they had to move out of the flat where the office was, then 2 of them had to leave the flat where they lived...3 of them are worried for their mothers who are worried for them! 3 mothers are worrying day and night.

Generally I think the situation is calming a little bit now. They have some support--but who undertands lesbians and queers--other then ourselves?

Through my friend's words, through her "ah!" I hear our history being made, our history living its connections to other wars, to other shunnings, to other bodies. Those so tired young women, threatened in so many ways, are a part of all of us now--whatever safeties we have, their fear must be our concern.

The Bruising of Our Hearts

So much happens that pushes at me--public things I am speaking of. In the "old days", I spoke of the push of my lover's hands; now I live in the storm of my times--Lepa's words from Belgrade and Sarajevo, Hannah and Dalia's imagined words from Haifa, the American politicians' words of dead hearted patriotisms, words carrying the bruised lesbian-queer body, the bruised generous Jewish self that sickens at the sight of Palestinians living behind caged balconies and cemented closed doors so that a few hundred settlers can have comfort while thousands of others are trapped in their homes, the bruising of the hopes of women in places where a bullet waits for a woman who has stepped out of line by serving her country--lighten up a friend says and I wonder if my living of these moments is self centered--but I must hear these words, and I must tell them--the stories of threats and resistances, the bruising of the human heart in my time. I though I would write every day--but sometimes the weight pushes me away from the little screen that opens to such a hugeness of human space--and so many of you are writing so smart, the keys flying under your fingers as you parse the imbecilities of power.

On Sunday, October 21, Lepa writes (after the beatings of gay people in Belgrade):

I was thinking non stop about the phase we are in, at least in this region in relation to our lesbian and gay bodies, about our queer politics and non-hetero decisions and lives.

Last night the party was well organized because
1: there was more police then before
2. everyone left in groups in taxis, because we don't have cars among us here, a mostly young population so safe organizing meant
--police protection
--organized returning (because they wait until we are finished to beat us up--this was the case in many towns in the last few years, after the parades, the events

So this morning woke up thinking, ok,that's what we need to do. Politicians when they go to their conferences also have police around them and enter their cars after their conferences, that's livable. It is not what we want, but that's better then broken bodies!
And I got a two pages of instructions for safety during the First Queer Festival in Sarajevo next week! They are so scared there, bomb threats have been announced, etc, etc, so we practically are not allowed to walk in Sarajevo during the festival.

You know, the first reading of any danger to lesbians I read in your butch-femme essay, I was so young then and did not imagine why it would be a danger at all--so reading those images how butches and femmes took the back streets to lesbian bars...was impressive, ah!
For my buba mara Bronx para siempre, Lepa

Sunday, October 5, 2008, 6:31 pm

Ah dear friend,
It was like this: before the Sarajevo conference, different journalists who wrote positively about the queer festival got threatening letters together with organisers--4 young lesbians who never organized anything similar. The threatening letters said that "they will not be safe in workplace, on the street nor in the family or when they are awake or in sleep" !!!
So of course, some women were too afraid and did not come to Sarajevo, from the lesbian guest list, and of course, the organizers could not sleep afterwards, but felt that maybe the "enemies" would appear through the door, the window, the help! then, they sent us the letter to inform us about his--and I read it before going to Sarajevo, and entered myself into fear for one entire day. I knew as a counselor that his is my old fear, and that this is a passing emotion, but nevertheless it took me some time to soothe it!

Then we travelled to Sarajevo, five of us, and talked in the bus in a good mood---there was an accident on the road in the beautiful rainy

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Night in Belgrade

Lepa has just sent me this letter--and again, I must rush it to all of you--we must all know.

Dear dear Joan,

I am writing to you now while waiting for T. and Z., two lesbian antifascist feminist friends, who went to the police to report today the attack by 10 neo-fascist men who at 10pm last night attacked a group of people walking back from the Fourth Queer Belgrade Festival, just around the corner from my home.

Yesterday was the opening day, and there were about a hundred of us, a big number for Belgrade and a success, there was no violence other then announced already by the neo-fascists on their websites, so we thought "ok, good"...but tonight, the second day, they waited until the last group of people had walked out from the place...and they beat up this guy, his hand is broken, and he's hurt very much, and then they beat up 4 women from the group..

T. and I were at home in the kitchen working, we were not there, when Z. phoned from the urgent medical center at 11pm last night, just 3 hours ago!

So I felt like in the warzone again, remembering anti-Milosevic actions in the nineties, the massacre-parade in Belgrade in 2001, at the moment almost I got the feeling I was in one of the stories of Nadezda Mendelstaim who was writing about the illegal anti-fascist life of hers and her friends in Russia in the times of Stalin in her book "Fear and Hope,"...

So T. and me were phoning , first Stasa from Women in Black who knows all the lawyers, etc...and others, writing the info, then I made tea and sandwiches and T. went of with Z. to the police. I am waiting now until they make report to the police and we can finish the info for the public and I can send it out.

It is 2:30 in the morning here, and I am writing to you, because in these moments of violence one remembers close friends. It all becomes to important!! all the anti-fascist work we do, the little we can make for all of us who chose to love people of the same gender, that is definitely not a choice that nationalists can bear! a non-nationcreation love!

--for lesbian desire, my anti-fascist screams tonight
--for all lesbians and gay men, for queer and other non-heterosexuals, warm songs to sooth the fear

With love, Lepa, the anti-fascist lesbian in the night shift in Belgrade, 20 of September, 2008.

Carol, My Knight in a Red Convertible, d. 1965

You never lived to see these times, my dear Carol, these ways in which we can place loss in a larger place. Oh, those times in your small car in the parking lot of Queens College, when we cut classes to pour dreams into each other. I have carried this image of you throughout the life I was given beyond yours, up and down many stairs, many streets, and over oceans and continents. You have been my deepest loss, but here all your tender strength shines on and you are strong.

Queens College, 1961, where I learned so much from so many

Mark Levy, with whom I taught in the early days of SEEK, kindly sent me these images of an early demonstration on the Queens College campus. Mark is writing an article about the involvement of QC alumni in the civil rights struggle. Mike and Carol lead the way and marching next to me is Harriet. How deeply these friends, who knew much more about organized politics then I did, taught me.
Dear Ones,
Perhaps I have descended into some form of insanity--to be so soothed by my own images of the past. Another kind of intergenerational discourse--the old self with the young. The Palin affair knocked words out of me. Just when I thought a window was opening on the stifling airless room so much of American politics has become, a new national ugliness was thrust upon us. I have added my outrage to the all the swirling posts, I have signed all the petitions and as always I have been moved by the fierce intelligence that sparks throughout the cyberwaves--by the creative political endeavors of the You tube progressive generation that use all their talents in video film making to animate the absurd machinations of the Right. Now all we knew about the myth of the "free market" has proven a home grown truth--workers will bail out the super rich, too big to be allowed to fail--proving Hitler's maxim--if you tell a big enough lie often enough, it has the power of truth, a national truth. If you make enough money often enough, the rest of the nation will come to pay for it. Bush walks out of the bushes, mumbles a few words and disappears back into the bushes. He seems a broken man--he has taken a nation and a large part of the world with him.

I keep thinking of the single mother, the other single mother, who is filmed getting up at four in the morning, taking her child to a neighbor's home so she can go off to one of her three jobs to keep her family in shelter. No one comes to bail her out, too small her life is judged, too small her loves are judged, too small her dreams are judged. Katrinas over and over again. America went Rovian and the ruling classes counted on our obedience. Security, security, security, fear, fear, fear, profits, profits, profits--enough is never enough, too much for too few is how to run a country--keep the rest worrying or even better, dying on too many battlefields. We did not take to the streets when Bush stole the first election--what will we do now? How to best serve an imperfect democracy? The Palin affair and the crises on Wall Street, the language of war our government's only way to speak about security-- what will we do? The Palin affair--a woman, a small time politician, drafted to make McClain look young--a woman, drafted to appeal to other women who feel left out of the national narrative, a small time politician who sees some daylight ahead of her, a small time politician, Palin, who stumbles across the national stage in a big time moment--I will not be in my country of birth for this election--I await my absentee ballet in the mail--but that night when we would all sit around the TV together, my old New York friends, my Arizona friends, I will be sitting with you, with breaths too deep for how deep we could fall or how high we could climb.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Yes, that is your old friend. Try my website again so we can find a way to speak more directly. She is still in New Jersey and doing well. Happy birthday.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Joan at three, holding her left hand in the secret way to ward of violence and in her right, a blue linoleum, red spotted pony who would stay with her

The only surviving image, 1943 c.

My Rarities

My mother and father, Jonas, whom I never knew, on their wedding day, 1926, I think.
This is the only photograph I have of my father.
He died in 1939, six months before I was born.
Regina Nestle, c. 1960s, my only picture of her from my years, in the last apartment that made sense to her, on 18th street and 6th Avenue, so she could be close to her work place, a sportswear company, and its boss, with whom she slept on Friday nights before he went home to his wife and children.
I am at that time when memory becomes history, moving away from the body that lived it, taking up residence in what we call documents and theories and investigative searches, in worn photographs and taped messages. Younger friends have taught me how to use blogs, digital images, to trust the web of human concerns. I do. I have so few documents of my early life, ironically, for someone who gave most of her life to building a home for a people's images, but it is this paucity that moves my heart. I offer them now to an endless stream of human lives in this boundless world of shared cyberspace, a living heaven without gods. The woman who has spoken to you on this site, the woman who cannot live with Palestinians loosing their homes to jack hammers and exclusionary national strategies, the woman who stands with all those who know the terrible pain of the Holocaust cannot be succoured by the death of another people, the woman who has loved other women and queer men, the woman who struggled against the bullies of every decade of her life--at least what she perceived to be the uncaring face of power or of narrow minded certainties or the fear of shameful things, the woman who taught and taught and loved the moments when in that classroom of over 30 years, wonders would walk through the doors and we all learned together the force and courage of words, in the books and from their hearts. My lovers who had to leap over so many of my impediments. My friends, whom I wear down. My words, my words.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Miles High--from Colorado to Fitzgibbon Street

(Myself, 1966, looking into the world)
Daniel and I sat--you have already met him--he is my confidante, my pal, my techno teacher, his youth my bridge forward--together taking in the wonders of the human face when it is moved, when it is hopeful, when it is unfettered from ghettoes and niches, when it can see the past and the future as human ways, not edicts of power. We were watching the Democratic National Convention waiting to greet Barack Obama; my tears have not stopped flowing from when Kennedy marshaled all his strength to walk one last time to a political podium to usher in a new time--as a cancer survivor myself I knew what his thin white hair signaled--then Michelle Obama's speech, a new woman on the national scene speaking of her father and his weak but always loving hands --I know why we are told these stories but they are real lives and so much better then the cold blooded grin of Karl Rove--and then Hilary Clinton, a woman I have never warmed too but, boy oh boy, I did these last days. She rose above herself, the most when she stood next to David Patterson, surrounded by the New York delegation, calling for the unanimous nomination of the man who was putting the Clinton time in the past, how much I missed my city then, how proud I felt of that staunch group of New York faces. I know I am gushing, but for so long those of us who found ourselves, our deepest and in some ways bravest selves in the 1960s have listened for so long about the end of that time of social dreaming, the end of the visions of equality and collective possibilities. How often have I said, we were not all stoned, we were doing things! Marching across bridges and mountains to end the war, we faced the bayonets around the Pentagon and I was lucky enough to be one of the marchers out of Selma--the second time around--when hundreds of us passed over the Petty Bridge on our way to Montgomery. We have come back, in that Colorado gathering, 80,000 strong to hear a 47 year old man tell us America can lift its head again, out of the torture chambers and the corruption of K street, out of a war in which we are not even allowed to see the coffins of the dead, out of the sneers and arrogances of the Cheneys and Rumfelds, we can see higher and deeper into our shared humanity. Daniel, 32, and from a working class family in south Australia, and me, weeping into tissue after tissue, his 68 year old lost New York pal, sharing this time, Obama's words, the faces looking up at him, Daniel's hand reaching for mine to comfort, to hold this shard of time together in our intergenerational bond. I must return to New York if Obama wins, to this new land. Oh Paula, I was talking to you in my head, saying look at this girl, will you look at this!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Democratic Convention in Melbourne

Here it is a gray Melbournian winter day, around 1:30 in the afternoon. I have just turned off CNN's coverage of the Democratic Convention--profoundly saddened by the endless refrain of the commentators: the Obamas have to prove that they are like every body else, over and over, as if African-American lives are a foreign substance in the American imagination. This is the performance of other that has no basis in fact--African-American culture is American culture, African-American families are American families, African-American struggles for economic security are American struggles. The Obamas are not freaks of nature that have to continuously prove how like "us" they are--this mythical "us." From this distance I see how hopelessly mired in self admiration and lust for blood this version of the US media coverage is--and CNN is countries ahead of Fox--others have said you can for tell the ruin of a culture by its sexual practices, I say a much more accurate gauge is by the popular success of killing propaganda machines like Fox "News." But then I would--being a queer pinko Jew.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

August 22, 2008--Queer History on Two Continents

Daniel, Val, Liz, Joan (with Obama button)
On a cold night in August, the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives had a wonderful 30th anniversary celebration in the cavernous space of the Fitzroy Townhall. Now I know I am writing for some who do not know the streets of Melbourne or its municipalities, but it was very generous of the Fitzroy council to make this large and historical meeting place available to the queer community. Over 300 people attended, sitting at tables decked out with pink balloons, cheering on the bubbling voice of Julie McCossin, a leading radio talk show celebrity here, who tirelessly lead us through the evening of interviews with founding members of the archives, slide shows, queer history highlights with Dennis Altman, Daniel Marshall and Esther Singer, Kaye Sera's uplfting drag performance, dinner and finally a few words from me and Graham Willard, the president of ALGA. As happens here, the evening began with welcome to country, conducted by Annette Xiberras, a Wurundjeri elder and her young daughter. These welcomes remind us all that we are occupiers of another people's land and it with their kindness that public events proceed.

One of the queer elders I met that night was Val, a woman in her 80s who was the hostess with the mostess for the camp (the Australian term for queer in the pre60 days) community, welcoming lesbians and gay men to Val's Coffee Lounge on Swanston Street from 1951-52. The place to meet, as it was known, had two levels with seats for 80 patrons on each floor; a royal blue carpet and mauve walls set the scene and Val herself was often seen wearing a black Hamburg, a mannish suit and sporting a silver-topped cane. She was never intimidated out of being herself, she said in an interview for a soon to be published book on Melbourne queer history. Val and I were introduced to each other by Liz Ross, an archives volunteer who is also writing a book on the queer left movement in Australia. As I addressed the crowd, looking over the enlarged documents from the archives collection that hung around the chamber, I felt how lucky I have been in my life to be part of two groundbreaking historical projects, LHA and ALGA; I saw so clearly the connections between histories, the moments of personal delight that outlasted bigotries, the strength of communal projects that changed laws and the fragile cultural artifacts, once despised, now a people's heritage.

La Professora and I left before the dancing started--it had already been a long night. She kept me steady as I labored down the steps, my leg just not working; as we slowly made our way to the car, a handsome slim man drawing a luggage case after him, stopped and asked if we needed help--"You're Kaye Sera, aren't you--we enjoyed your performance so much," I said. He nodded bashfully and we all kept walking into the night.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Colonizer and the Colonized

Many young Palestinian women and men are losing assured places in international universities because the Israeli government is refusing them the right of passage out of Gaza. No argument can be made in support of this heart-breaking stance. As a writer, a teacher, as someone for whom education meant all in my life, I ask you to be part of this campaign to end this most cruel and un-Jewish embargo on the right to learn. Go to to sign a petition. And more, think about the impact of all these cumulative acts of institutionalized cruelty on the Israeli psyche, on all of us.

I want to thank every one who has written me to tell me of the typing error that made linking to petition site impossible. I know you are there. I will take up writing again--but first I want to commemorate the passing of Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian poet who wrote of exile and yearning for place, for a return to his heart-known land. I did not know of this poet before his death; La Professora and I went with Alex to a viewing of two excellent films, "The Land Speaks Arabic," and "The East Jerusalem Story," sponsored by Women for Palestine and Australians for Palestine and there Sonya, a tireless repesentative of Women for Palestine, called our attention to the death of the poet with a short film she had made in his honor, so for the first time I heard his words. I have come to realize that we must know each other's poets, that it is easy to dehumanize a people when their beloved poets are hidden behind our walls of cultural certainty. How little I know of Palestinian culture, I realized, of Arabic culture generally. I have heard the war cries from both sides; now is the time for the poets.

Darwish was born in a Palestinian village destroyed and "cleansed" by the Israeli army.
In Jerusalem
by Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008)
Translated by Fady Joudah
In Jerusalem, and I mean within the ancient walls,
I walk from one epoch to another without a memory
to guide me. The prophets over there are sharing
the history of the holy...ascending to heaven
and re turning less discouraged and melancholy, because love
and peace are holy and are coming to town.
I was walking down a slope and thinking to myself: How
do the narrators disagree over what light said about a stone?
Is it from a dimly lit stone that wars flare up?
I walk in m sleep. I stare in my sleep. I see
no one behind me. I see no one ahead of me.
All this light is for me. I walk. I become lighter. I fly
then I become another. Transfigured. Words
sprout like grass from Isaiah's messenger
mouth: "If you don't believe you won't believe."
I walk as if I were another. And my wound a white
biical rose. And my hands like two doves
on the cross hovering and carrying the earth.
I don't walk, I fly, become another,
transfigured. No place and no time. So who am I?
I am no I in ascension's presence. But I
think to myself: Alone, the prophet Mohammed
spoke classical Arabic. "And then what?"
Then what? A woman soldier shouted:
Is that you again? Didn't I kill you?
I said: You killed me...and I forgot, like you, to die.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

An Archival Moment, 1979, Rota, Joan, Deb and Mabel

Because I am so far away from home which means far from my history, I prize even more the gifts of the Lesbian Herstory Archives, now in Borooklyn, NY. Saskia, who so lovingly cares for our slides and photographs, recently sent me this image of dear, dear friends from the early days of the archives--Rota Pardo, wonderful poet whom I met in the second year of my teaching in SEEK, myself, after my beginning years living with Chronic Fatigue, Deborah Edel, my partner at the time and co-founder of the archives, and Mabel Hampton, an old old friend and early supporter of the archives. In the background is part of the book collection in my old apartment on 92nd street. I cannot say thank you enough for the return of this past vision of friendship and love.

Moments of Petty Thievery

I have turned into a petty thief in my old age, but not all circumstances bring it out in me. My fall into crime, and believe me, coming from my benighted family, it was not a long way to fall, but I have walked the straight and narrow ever since I was a kid in the early 50s living with my aunt Mimi and uncle Murray in Bayside, Queens and was tempted by a bowl of little red and blue plastic ponies. While my aunt was in the back of the shop--some sort of auto repair place,I seem to remember--I couldn't resist cheering my orphan self up with a handful of these ponies, stuffing them down my sweater--but I was undone by my early chivalrous lesbian leanings. As my aunt and I were about to leave the shop, I with many new bumps under my sweater, a lovely woman entered and dropped her bag. I immediately bent down to pick it up for her and all the ponies tumbled out of their hiding place onto the gray-squared linoleum. I don't remember anything around me at that instant, no shop, no woman, no aunt only my huge shame and panic; I bolted from the shop, much as the ponies would have if they could, and fled as far into the fledgling neighborhood of Bayside as I could. Many many hours later, I found my way back to my foster home. Ponies and women, an early fatal mix.

Scarred by that early betrayal of conflicting desires, I was never tempted again until in my 68th year, when I accompanied La Professora into a home furnishing emporium here in Melbourne so she could pick out book shelves and desks for our study back at 4 Fitzgibbon. She has all the money now, my American teacher's pension fastly losing spending power and doctors' bills taking the rest, so I am a mere bystander as La Professora so kindly upgrades our home. As she bent over blueprints with a nice young man, I wandered about the place, wanting to take a closer look at the paperback books it was using for display purposes only to show off its various wood particle shelving. I was enjoying seeing old friend detective writers when I came across a yellow and blue book with the words, Courage Classics, on its side--I raised my eyes to look closer and there it was, "Collected Poems of Emily Dickenson." For display purposes only. How could I leave that poet, so far from her New England home, so needing of human touch, so rich in her interrupted lines, as mere book shelf dressing. As La Professora negotiated a hefty fee, I simply took Emily, holding her in my arms, and left the store. She now sits next between May Swenson and Auden. It all made perfect sense to me.

And then the other night, La Professora decided she wanted to go to a home renovating workshop in St Kilda. We arrived early on a dark cold night and took our seats in the waiting area where tea and coffee were being served, which my darling scorned in favour of a glass of house red, and platefuls of cookies that were too delicious to resist. I asked the waitress if they could be purchased and she said no, so before we left the lounge, I did something I had learned from Ms Hampton, a dear friend who always made the most of what was available, I simply wrapped a handful of the contraband in a napkin and slipped it into my bag. Once inside the lecture hall, I dozed a little as the speaker talked about large sums of money and property, property. On the way out, I noticed a jarful of blue plastic ballpoint pens; one quick grab and a handful went into the bag. I was beginning to see a connection here--anytime large sums of money are being discussed, I immediately avail myself of what ever is free, or at least, under valued.

We ended the night with a chicken soup and stuffed cabbage dinner at the Scheherazade Cafe on Eckland Street, now for those among you who do not know the realm of the bay side of Melbourne, I will tell you that once Eckland street was the eating, talking place of many European Jews who had fled to Melbourne and this cafe so sadly soon to close was a favorite gathering spot, so think a mix of the Lower East Side and Coney Island. Alix was waiting for us and we caught up as we delighted in the specials and potato salad. Slices of dark pumpernickel caught my eye. Not easy to find in our part of town. As we payed the bill and prepared to leave, I used the old napkin trick again and departed with several slices of this so homey bread in my bag. For one instant I was back in the 60s in the old Ratner's on Second Avenue where I and my other student friends would pretend we were going to have a meal we could not really afford and sit just long enough to kidnap a few of the bagels that garnished every table. Bread in the bag, poetry in the bag, cookies in the bag and finally those blue pens. How can I explain this relapse into antisocial behaviour? Riding back across town, the palm trees of St Kilda growing more distant, La Professora who had seen it all, said "Joan, what have I turned you into?" I looked out at the still foreign landscape, a 68 year old petty thief, my contraband warm across my lap.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

From Broadway to Broccoli

Part of our winter crop, 8 brocolli, 6 cauliflower and many carrots. Parrots above, a new home below, and worlds within

Thank you, Hannah and all

With a cover photograph by Tee Corrine, the Hebrew translation of my selected works: Literal translation of the Hebrew: "Forbidden Regions: Lust, Body and Stories of Resistance"

Official English title: "Restricted Countries and Fragile Bodies: Selected Writings of Joan Nestle

Publisher: Pardes Publishers, 30 Massada St., POB 45885, Haifa, israel 31458

Two Israels or Perhaps More

I learn from every e-mail concerned people forward to me, I learn how little I know and how much others do. I hope I am not breaking any e-mail rule but I want to share with you--if you are still there--a piece from http://themagneszionist.blogspot entitled "The Magnes Zionist: Israel and 'Jisrael" and then I can go to bed tonight. Posted July 13, 2008

Don't you hate it when you accept an invitation to a wedding or a bar mitzvah, and then remember that you have tickets for something that same night?...

Well, after my wife and I purchased tickets to this evening's screening at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, we realized that we had also accepted an invitation to a bar/bat mitzvah celebration. You know, family friends from the U. S. on a bar/bat mitzvah tour...So my wife, who is native Israeli, went to the Cintematheque, and I, the native American, went to the Bar/Bat Mitvah event.

Geographically, we were ten minutes walking-distance from each other. Psychologically we were in different worlds.

I was in the world or country that I shall call 'Jisrael'--Jewish Israel. Jisrael is a country that exists in the consciousness of Jews living outside of Israel, and those Anglos who come to live here. It is the Israel of the English-speaking subculture in Jerusalem, Raanana, Beit Shemesh...In Jisrael, Hebrew is spoken, if at all, with an Amercan accent. Most of the inhabitants of Jisrael nowadays are orthodox. In Jisrael, nobody is surprised when the bar and bat mitzvah from
America give speeches celebrating their heroes, King David and Gloda Meir. Everybody expects them to profess their love for Israel and Eretz Israel, and their father to speak with that American religious-zionist twinge of guilt for living in Suburban Maryland and not here.....

Most importantly, in Jisrael the only Arabs are street cleaners, construction workers or terrorists. They aren't doctors, lawyers, teachers or professionals. They aren't the people you socialize with. My wife, ten minutes away, was in the county of Israel. She was quite literally sitting in Gehenna, since the Jerusalem Cinematheque is in the valley identified by archaeologists as Gei Ben Himmon, the Gehenna of the New Testament... but emotionally she was sitting in another Gehenna, because she was watching ten short films on Jerusalem, sponsored by the Jerusalem NGO, Ir Amin.

While I was singing Hava Nagila and Oseh Shalom Bimromav, my wife was seeing films about four Palestinian brothers who support their families by selling chewing gum to Jewish motorists at intersections. She saw a short film about Sai al-Haradin, who wakes at the crack of dawn each day to embark upon a journey of several hours to get to al-Quds university in Abu Dis--a ten minute walk away from his refugee camp. Or a documentary by a Palestinian film student about how an Arab cab driver took into his home a Jewish woman with her family after they had been evicted from their flat.

The most powerful film was about the hideous 'creatures' that for years have terrorized Palestinians, destroying their homes, building walls around and through their lands and making life miserable for them. Last week, for the first time, the same creatures turned against the Jews. I refer, of course, to the Caterpillar bulldozers.

The films were not, on the whole, heavy-handed or propogandistic. There were no films about Israeli soldiers beating up Palestinian civilians or about suicide bombers or about Shin Bet infiltrators. The emphasis was on how normal people abnormal lives in the shrinking Gehenna that is Palestinian Jerusalem.

What would the Jews from Jisrael had felt had they attended the film screening? Some would have been deeply affected and deeply perplexed. Others would have pointed fingers at the Palestinians and would absolve the Israeli Jews of responsibility. But moat would have great difficulty recognizing Israel because of the Jisrael they had created.

What room was there for hope? Only this--the Jerusalem movie theater was filled with Jews and Palestinians, speaking to each other, relating to each other, talking about their experiences. My wife could not remember ever attending any event in Israel where Palestinians and Israeli Jews mingled freely, on the same footing. It gave her some hope for Israel.

As for Jisrael--well, I lost hope for that 'imagined country' a long time ago."

When Australian Jews here say to me in a whisper, "you know, you really should not say anything about Isrsael--you don't live there," I say, yes, as an American Jew I do live there--in so many symbolic and political ways. I thank the man who wrote these words, the woman who forwarded them to my and you for listening; now to my bed.

Alex in Blue Scarf and La Professora in St Kilda

Monday, July 14, 2008

How Long Will It Take?

I have been sitting at my desk in our study for an hour now, an hour after I received Alex's message from Israel or better from Palestine because that is where she is now. On this same desk sits Jonathan's request that I write something about gay history for the CLAGS website, the folders filled with the papers Daniel and I are generating as we push ahead with our new book, all my printed messages from the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, from Sherry and Dorothy summoning my attention to new important words, and all I have been able to do is play game after game of solitaire. I am numb with the import of Alex's words, with my rage and sadness at our mass inaction--so different from when so many of us saw the brutal images of African-Americans in Georgia beaten down on a country road as they tried to cross a bridge on their way to vote, saw the image of a middle aged black woman held down on the ground with a police baton under her throat and a white man in his uniform of power straddling her. Then in the thousands we refused to accept that image and so many others like that as the face of our America--and we gathered in a huge community of civil disobedience to force change. I write now as a Jew about a country that stands on the international stage as representative of all Jews. Where are we?

E-mail, from Alex Nissen, Monday, July 14, 2008, 5:59

"G'day All,

Well I guess it's time to write just a short note on my trip to Israel, mainly because I think it's important for people to know the truth. This trip has been full of meeting people who Israel would define as the enemy. Something I don't really care about. It has also had a profound effect
on the way I see things and as a result of my experience this time I have changed. I often hear many stories about how badly Israeli soldiers behave so this time like so many times before I went to a demonstration in a small Palestinian village called Nil and of course met many Palestinians who wanted to tell me their story.

The demonstration was against the confiscation of their land to build a wall right through the middle of the village. Before we started the demonstration, we all sat down and were warned about what would happen and what we should do in case of injury. Instructions were move in either groups or 2 or 3 people so if someone gets wounded they are not alone. Carry and onion or alcohol against the tear gas. Look up to see where they are shooting the sound grenades and tear gas so you don't get hit in the head. If tear gas explodes next to you, don't panic, look where the wind is blowing and move in the opposite direction. There were many more instructions that I won't go into now.

So with all this information, off I went with everyone else and a strong feeling that things had changed and that this was not going to be in any way a safe demonstration. I knew from the stories of other people what to expect but I had to witness was going on. There is power in witnessing what happens.

So as we reach the hill, we see the soldiers standing in small groups spread out on the hill top opposite us. And then without any warning, they started to shoot at us, first sound grenades, then tear gas. I watched in horror as they stated shooting and remembered to look up at where things were landing. Tear gas sends smoke clouds so you know to run in a different direction. 3 people were wounded, a Palestinian man got hit in the head by a tear gas.

I looked at the soldiers form a distance and watched them aim at us just standing there doing nothing, and I could not believe what was going on. People scattered in different directions. I tried to talk to the soldiers from a distance as I couldn't get close to them, but really it was a waste of time and energy.

As we began to leave, they fired 6 tear gas canisters in our direction. I looked up and saw that they landed a distance from where I was was and then did not see any smoke. As we were leaving a heavy cloud of gas came over us, there was no warning, there was no smoke, the Palestinian man told me to start running up the hill, but I could not run, I could not breath, my eyes, mouth and face were on fire. I was trying not to move fast because I did not want to breath in the poison mouth was full of gas and I kept trying to spit out the disgusting taste--it's hard to move when you are struggling to breath.

We eventually got out and I have to say that with great sadness I left behind Palestinian people who do not have the luxury of escaping this violence perpetrated by the Israeli army...every week it's the same story, innocent people abused by stupid politics.

I don't know how I got home, but I do know that what I witnessed and felt has changed me forever.

Alex Nissen, Women in Black"

Gas! in the nose, in the mouth. How powerless I feel here. Only these words for now. Let me tall you about Alex--shorter then me, about five feet tall, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, Hebrew speaker, who spent many years in Haifa and helped begin Women in Black there. Alex with her sometimes purple hair always believes she can charm hard men into reasonable human beings like the security man hired by the Jewish community here who took our names and address at one of the Women in Black vigils, she stands in front of huge burly men and gets them to smile, to see a human being instead of an enemy. Alex who always has hope that all people really want is to live in peace. Soon I will hold Alex in my arms and find out what has shifted in her heart--but this is what is happening behind every wall, behind every policed difference, bodies are broken and our own visions of human warmth are turned to stone. The anonymity of it all--that is what the police, the soldiers, the governments count on, tell me one name of one Iraqi citizen killed in the war in our name, tell me one name of one Palestinian in an Israeli prison for ten years, one Palestinian fallen in the dust of her own town, her own home. Americans hardly know the names of our own children lying in the dust--we are not even allowed to see their coffins. I ask anyone who reads this journal, please tell Alex's story, tell your friends, your organizations--at least let us bear witness and let us call for a movement where thousands of Jews and others take to the streets demanding the end to military brutality behind closed doors, behind stone walls, behind ignorance and fear, behind dictated hatreds. Feminists, queers, progressives, civil rights activists, my old lovers, new friends--please pay attention.

How Long Will It Take?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Pink Heels in a New Land

The wonderful 1990s photograph by Morgan Gwenwald that was used as the cover image for "Persistent Desire: A Femme-Butch Reader" has taken on new life--as an invitation to a butch-fem gathering in Tel Aviv in 2008. The slip I still have.

Lepa's Words by the Bay, 2008

Lepa Mladjenovic 's Speech for the San Francisco Dyke March, June 28, 2008
Dear lesbians whose love for women is kissed by the sun, embraced by the moon, brave lovers of women who were never meant to be, as our lesbian poet told us 20 years ago, here we are--here I am among you--where do I come from? My homeland was a small country called Yugoslavia which fell apart through the war into seven smaller countries during the 1990s. And I come from one of them, Serbia, whose previous regime started and carried out that war.
In wartime--what did we lesbians see?
Of many things, we saw that the moment the universal soldier takes a gun to kill--he makes many enemies and lesbians are among them. War reduces one's identity to only a few symbols, to the nationality of one's name, to religious or tribal symbol. War reduces women's bodies to a battlefield and leaves zero space for lesbian desire.
What did we learn?
--that we lesbians need to be in the anti-war movement, that we must collaborate, ally ourselves and get together with feminists, peace activists, anti-fascists...and some of us did exactly that. Together with Italian, Spanish, Israeli feminists we created the network of Women in Black against War and many women around the world joined in.
--we learned that women's solidarity and lesbian solidarity can be a fact of every day life. Throughout the Yugoslav wars, lesbians and anti-war activists were crossing borders, arriving at odd places to support our voices of resistance. I would not have survived all those years of pain if there had not been many lesbians and activists who came to protest with us, who sent us books of poetry and lesbian cartoons, who came to bring us chocolate and coffee and listen to our stories.
The war in the region is over,
where do I come from?
From Europe and then a little further--South Eastern Europe..
where countries are less regulated by the rule of law and are less supportive of lesbian rights.
I come all the way from Eastern Europe to agree with you, to say:
yes, we need dyke marches,
to say,
we over there need you to be here, so that we over there can feel more powerful and less alone!
We need dyke marches to point out that lesbians are discriminated against as women first of all, and that every discrimination crosses through our women's bodies--our direness, our disability, our race, our nationality...and makes each discrimination feel especially humiliating as we still live in a man's world.
We need dyke marches to remember:
--in the city of Chennai in India, two women, who loved each other from the age of 18, living under hate and pressure from their families, on the 17th of May 2008 embraced each other, poured kerosene on their embraced bodies and set themselves on fire. A week later a group of brave feminists organized a press conference and announced that from January of this year, six other lesbians have set themselves on fire in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and that in the last 10 years in the neighboring state of Kerala, 35 lesbian couples have committed suicide.
We need dyke marches to support each other:
--in the town of Bishkek in Kirigizstan, on the 8th of April 2008, five policemen interrupted the meeting of the lesbian group Labrys and interrogated them for four hours. We who have lived through totalitarianism know the only purpose of the police in this case is to produce fear in disobedient citizens. Aren't we those ones? Disobedient Kyrgistani lesbians, disobedient African lesbians, disobedient Latina lesbians...
We need dyke marches:
so this dyke-togetherness, this fantastic feeling of energy from today's march can inspire us to invent unconditional friendship for ourselves, so that we create our own best friend inside ourselves who will tenderly accept every emotion that arises and with an open heart and open mind gently take care of ourselves. So that we can breath out homophobia and cherish the wild Amazon in our soul:
We need the San Francisco Dyke March;
--and I will remind you of hundreds of lesbians from small towns on all continents of the world who will be sitting in dark internet cafes, on the last computer by the wall, in a corner, scared and excited, watching all of us here on youtube--celebrating their lesbian desire as we celebrate our courageous love today.