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.