Thursday, June 10, 2010

Words from Daniel for my 70th birthday

It is three weeks ago now that we celebrated my 70th birthday. I want to share with you what my friend Daniel wrote for the occasion--my 31 year old friend. Many years ago now, I co-edited a book with John Preston called "Sister and Brother: Lesbians and Gay Men Talk about Their Lives Together." John died from AIDS before he saw the finished book which was not a success then back in 1995. Neither many lesbians or gay men bought the book, each I imagine thinking the other was other. I dedicate these words, Daniel's words about our life together, to the memory of John.


This is your birthday, so this is my love letter for you.

I first met Joan when I was writing my PhD at the University of Melbourne.
She had come from New York, a stranger to the city.
I too had come from far away and our connection was instant: two strange shapes that felt out of place but drawn together through our queer sense of the world.

Of course, I had first met Joan through her writing. Eve Sedgwick introduced me to Joan through the pages of "Epistemology of the Closet."
In this book, Sedgwick calls out Joan's name and the other courageous pro-sex survivors of the sex wars as pioneers. These writers, say Sedgwick, challenged feminist orthodoxies of the time which pitted lesbians and gay men against one another. For Sedgwick writing in 1990, these challenges themselves "led to a refreshed sense that lesbians and gay men share important though contested aspects of one another's histories, cultures, identities, politics and destinies." (37)

Although it may sound too grand to say in this public place, in the privacy of our relationship I know that I have been privileged to experience that sharing, that intersection and that mutual implication with Joan in a profound and personal way.

That sharing, that intersection, that mutual implication. When Joan would read my dissertation drafts she would always say, "why do you always write in threes?" From the start Joan could always read my rhythm. I want to say that it's kind of like that old Bette Midler song from "Beaches," I know you by heart, because our friendship is just about as camp and as dorky as that.

Ever since our first meeting at the restaurant when I went fumbling through your clothes looking for you lost ear-ring while the English Department sat around us lunching to our endless obsession with pyjama parties--we have fun. She makes me feel young again.

In our current writing project, we have been reflecting on intergenerational perspective on queer archiving. And perhaps it wasn't until I had been to New York to visit the ephemera files, the books, banners, posters, badges and spunky dyke volunteers who worked at the Herstory Archives that I really understood Joan's Australia. For Joan, those archives were her compass--here Joan has had a chance to look at life from different eyes, out of space, out of time. And at times this reorientation has been scary but it has let Joan see life from a wholly different side. Joan is often wont to say that I introduced her to the language of post-structuralism, to queer theory and Foucalt--but it has been an honour of my life to constantly bring Joan back to the fact that her work, as Sedgwick makes clear, has helped lay the foundations of queer studies today. As her friends we have all helped her reorient herself to her histories, to herself, in this new land. And I have seen how Joan's relationship with Di here in this beautiful home they have created has inspired Joan to paint life across a new canvas and to find new languages for her life in this vivid, different world.

And we are all here today because Joan has captured our hearts. The way her eyes glisten when she smiles, so full of such a celebration of life and its pleasures. The way her jaw changes position beneath her soft cheeks as she rails against war, oppression and violence. Joan is like a power source. Knowing her, we know how she organized all those lesbians across New York City to get the Archives happening. She can hustle and she can schmooze and she can carouse. And she can certainly make me swoon.

During my PhD years, Joan and Di did the bureaucratic dance of visas and immigration and when the bureaucrats weren't smiling on Joan's application to remain here I remember doing the gentlemanly thing and offering my hand. As it turns out, she turned me down, but she did it so tenderly.

In a world of managerial universities, Joan has been a true academic mentor. She has nurtured me and kept believing in me and it is only now that I have an academic job that I can look back on all those years of uncertainty with a real and deep appreciation for her love and encouragement. People all over the world can tell stories about how you have inspired and driven them and on behalf of all those people who can't be here today, I want to say thank you.

Joan is a friend in both the summer and the winter, embracing the pleasure and facing life's hardness. Through our more recent times in hospitals you have been a rock. Who knew that sudoku and the letters of Rosa Luxemburg could get you through the eye of the storm? Thank you Joan--you have a gift for making a path out of the debris.

When Joan prepares for a public speaking engagement, she will spend weeks collecting clippings and fragments from here and there to rustle through and read from. A narrative emerges from the constituent parts, so, to close, I have two:

from Walt Whitman's "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"
"What it it then between us?
What is the count of scores or hundreds of years between us?
Whatever it is, it avails not--distance avails not, and place avails not,
I too lived, Brooklyn of ample hills was mine
I too walked the streets of Manhattan island, and bathed in the waters around it,
I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me..."

Second, this is from a 1995 song by Chris Knox:

Seems like you and me are stuck together
Feels like we've never been apart
Seems like you are my skin of supple leather
Feels like your blood pumps through my heart

Seems like you and me are one another
Feels like we couldn't be un-joined
Seems like I am your sister, you're my brother
Feels like a phrase yet to be coined

Seems like I am to you a vital organ
Feels like you are to me the air
Seems like without your night I'd have no morning
Feels like you'll always want me there

It we should ever be untethered
If somehow we should end
If we could not go on together
Apart you'd be my good and trusting friend.

Happy Birthday, Joanie