Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Listen to the Seen

Denver, Joan Nestle and Mabel Hampton looking out over Rocky Pond Pond in New Hampshire, Deb Edel's family vacation home, c. 1979

I have been trying to sort my images, recreating the slide shows I with the help of comrades presented through the 1970s until the 90s, for the Lesbian Herstory Archives. All will be given to LHA to be available, but as I click the images over, through the years, I pause and feel the touch of lives, of love.
I could use this space to rail at the uglinesses of our times, but in other places, these words are being said, by so many, and that is good. Here I will touch the past and what my life is like now.

Cello and Joan, on the deck at Dayehnu, Anglesea, Victoria, Australia, 2016 with my knitted blanket, the only thing I can knit

Cello, age 16, a dear friend, West Brunswick, Australia, 2016

Intent, filled with their own lives, losing vision and strength in limbs as us, they look as hard as they can at the world around them--understanding what we will never know--but willing to sit beside, with horizons out of their control. An unseeing gaze that gives complete attention.

From another time, another place:

Marching, bare breasted down Fifth Avenue, NYC, after Giuliani threatened to arrest any woman          who removed her top, Gay Pride, NYC, 1980s with images of Sonny Wainwright, writer, founder of                                                       Feminist Writers Group and Mabel Hampton held high

Oh Cello, the stories we could tell. Listen, listen.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

So Much...

So much has been happening, like one blow after another. I have been reading all your words, thinking of the old Village and my old bar, the Sea Colony, and all the years in between and now--do not think you are invisible, only we can make ourselves disappear with silences, with our own fears. Take to the streets, with banners--Lesbians Against Fascism, Lesbians Against Trump, Lesbians for Gun Control like we did when Reagan spread his ugliness--these are anxious times and we grow anxious about our own histories, until we take to the streets, the meeting rooms, the cultural events at LHA, look into the faces of our dear ones like Carlson and Michelle and so many more and join with others shouting our visions of just life into the cities, on whose streets we found our public selves, our desires singing in the hot night air--from the 50s and before until now and beyond.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Remembered Women's Words: Thank You, Geraldine Robertson for Your Dedication

‘The peoples, as well as the Governments, have sown the wind of misunderstanding and of hate and are reaping the whirlwind,
and we must bring in the soft breezes of sweet reasonableness, of charity, of clarity to the considerations of social and industrial problems.’
Letter from Vida Goldstein published in the Woman Voter, Melbourne, 18 December 1919.
It was referring to the First World War, particularly to the signing the Versailles Treaty at the Paris Peace Conference, 28 June 1919.
6. Versailles signing Paris Peace Conference
Also from Vida and published in Woman Voter 11 May 1917:
The WPA (Women’s Political Association) and the Women’s Peace Army will be remembered in Australian History
as the one band of workers who never wavered for an instant in the Australian fight for internationalism,
which the WPA began on 7 August 1914.


Geraldine Robertson
Tel: 03 9486 1808 Mobile: 0412 8653 10

Women's Web - Stories, Actions
Women Working Together suffrage and onwards
Prejudice and Reason

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Where hope springs. Lepa reports in May:

"Dear Lesbians, 
here's again your East European reporter!
yesterday was a beautiful day in TIRANA!
dont forget they have the best president at the moment in the entire Balkan region, one Socialist and painter~!
anyway, this is 5th bycicle ride against homophobia in Tirana!
photo1: in the first row is XHENI KARAJ, she i THE LEADER OF THE LESBIAN AND GAY MOVEMENT IN ALBANIA, in the red shirt!!!  She is the main reason why there are so many people behind her, a charming queer feminist leader!! and then Kris Pinderi, a great gay activist in blue shirt.
When I was in Tirana, he wanted his mother to meet me and brought me and his partner to a dinner, it was moving... i listened about  life in socialist absolutist Albania, his mother ... waiting in the row for bread as early as 5 o cock in the morning... untill 1990 they had only the basic items for life.  just so that you can imagine where did these young beautiful people come from.  And then the third in the front row, the butch with a cap and blue moto on the very right, KEO, she is a passionate motorcycle rider...  and i am one of her amazone mothers by choice!!!! on the third photo with white jacket is Delina Fico, legendary feminist activist & professional, who is making history of freedom for Albanian women!!
i love them all...  you can imagine this is a big gathering for Albania, we are all so happy...    BRAVO!!!
(the bikes are rented for free by a friend who does it every year, now fifth time!)

Robert Kagan's Drawing of the Picture

   Like so many of you, I am trying to find a way to understand the Trump ugliness of spirit that seems so popular to so many now in my old country. I read, l listen, I think, and hear the echoes of other times when a government used economic fears and the desire for national purities to come to power.                     

  This is How Fascism Comes to America
 By Robert Kagan May 18 at 7:09 PM

Robert Kagan is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a contributing columnist for The Post. The Republican Party’s attempt to treat Donald Trump as a normal political candidate would be laughable were it not so perilous to the republic. If only he would mouth the party’s “conservative” principles, all would be well. But of course the entire Trump phenomenon has nothing to do with policy or ideology. It has nothing to do with the Republican Party, either, except in its historic role as incubator of this singular threat to our democracy. Trump has transcended the party that produced him. His growing army of supporters no longer cares about the party. Because it did not immediately and fully embrace Trump, because a dwindling number of its political and intellectual leaders still resist him, the party is regarded with suspicion and even hostility by his followers. Their allegiance is to him and him alone. And the source of allegiance? We’re supposed to believe that Trump’s support stems from economic stagnation or dislocation. Maybe some of it does. But what Trump offers his followers are not economic remedies — his proposals change daily. What he offers is an attitude, an aura of crude strength and machismo, a boasting disrespect for the niceties of the democratic culture that he claims, and his followers believe, has produced national weakness and incompetence. His incoherent and contradictory utterances have one thing in common: They provoke and play on feelings of resentment and disdain, intermingled with bits of fear, hatred and anger. His public discourse consists of attacking or ridiculing a wide range of “others” — Muslims, Hispanics, women, Chinese, Mexicans, Europeans, Arabs, immigrants, refugees — whom he depicts either as threats or as objects of derision. His program, such as it is, consists chiefly of promises to get tough with foreigners and people of nonwhite complexion. He will deport them, bar them, get them to knuckle under, make them pay up or make them shut up. That this tough­guy, get­mad­and­get­even approach has gained him an increasingly large and enthusiastic following has probably surprised Trump as much as it has everyone else. Trump himself is simply and quite literally an egomaniac. But the phenomenon he has created and now leads has become something larger than him, and something far more dangerous. Republican politicians marvel at how he has “tapped into” a hitherto unknown swath of the voting public. But what he has tapped into is what the founders most feared when they established the democratic republic: the popular passions unleashed, the “mobocracy.” Conservatives have been warning for decades about government suffocating liberty. But here is the other threat to liberty that Alexis de Tocqueville and the ancient philosophers warned about: that the people in a democracy, excited, angry and unconstrained, might run roughshod over even the institutions created to preserve their freedoms. As Alexander Hamilton watched the French Revolution unfold, he feared in America what he saw play out in France — that the unleashing of popular passions would lead not to greater democracy but to the arrival of a tyrant, riding to power on the shoulders of the people. This phenomenon has arisen in other democratic and quasi­democratic countries over the past century, and it has generally been called “fascism.” Fascist movements, too, had no coherent ideology, no clear set of prescriptions for what ailed society. “National socialism” was a bundle of contradictions, united chiefly by what, and who, it opposed; fascism in Italy was anti­liberal, anti­democratic, anti­Marxist, anti­capitalist and anti­clerical. Successful fascism was not about policies but about the strongman, the leader (Il Duce, Der Fuhrer), in whom could be entrusted the fate of the nation. Whatever the problem, he could fix it. Whatever the threat, internal or external, he could vanquish it, and it was unnecessary for him to explain how. Today, there is Putinism, which also has nothing to do with belief or policy but is about the tough man who singlehandedly defends his people against all threats, foreign and domestic. To understand how such movements take over a democracy, one only has to watch the Republican Party today. These movements play on all the fears, vanities, ambitions and insecurities that make up the human psyche. In democracies, at least for politicians, the only thing that matters is what the voters say they want — vox populi vox dei. A mass political movement is thus a powerful and, to those who would oppose it, frightening weapon. When controlled and directed by a single leader, it can be aimed at whomever the leader chooses. If someone criticizes or opposes the leader, it doesn’t matter how popular or admired that person has been. He might be a famous war hero, but if the leader derides and ridicules his heroism, the followers laugh and jeer. He might be the highest­ranking elected guardian of the party’s most cherished principles. But if he hesitates to support the leader, he faces political death. Opinions newsletter Sign up In such an environment, every political figure confronts a stark choice: Get right with the leader and his mass following or get run over. The human race in such circumstances breaks down into predictable categories — and democratic politicians are the most predictable. There are those whose ambition leads them to jump on the bandwagon. They praise the leader’s incoherent speeches as the beginning of wisdom, hoping he will reward them with a plum post in the new order. There are those who merely hope to survive. Their consciences won’t let them curry favor so shamelessly, so they mumble their pledges of support, like the victims in Stalin’s show trials, perhaps not realizing that the leader and his followers will get them in the end anyway. A great number will simply kid themselves, refusing to admit that something very different from the usual politics is afoot. Let the storm pass, they insist, and then we can pick up the pieces, rebuild and get back to normal. Meanwhile, don’t alienate the leader’s mass following. After all, they are voters and will need to brought back into the fold. As for Trump himself, let’s shape him, advise him, steer him in the right direction and, not incidentally, save our political skins. What these people do not or will not see is that, once in power, Trump will owe them and their party nothing. He will have ridden to power despite the party, catapulted into the White House by a mass following devoted only to him. By then that following will have grown dramatically. Today, less than 5 percent of eligible voters have voted for Trump. But if he wins the election, his legions will comprise a majority of the nation. Imagine the power he would wield then. In addition to all that comes from being the leader of a mass following, he would also have the immense powers of the American presidency at his command: the Justice Department, the FBI, the intelligence services, the military. Who would dare to oppose him then? Certainly not a Republican Party that laid down before him even when he was comparatively weak. And is a man like Trump, with infinitely greater power in his hands, likely to become more humble, more judicious, more generous, less vengeful than he is today, than he has been his whole life? Does vast power un­corrupt? This is how fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes (although there have been salutes, and a whiff of violence) but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac--

Another way--our Women in black Vigil in Melbourne, 2016

Friday, May 13, 2016

My 76th Year

A year I never expected to reach, not from my starting point in the fractured Regina Nestle family, or from my own precarious life, precarious with the need to support myself from my teens and in the later years because of my bouts with cancer or perhaps dance is the better word. I do not beat upon cancer, I await it, I thank it for giving me years many more then I ever thought possible and I thank the doctors and nurses and the health care I have been able to access in two countries. I thank Deb and Di who shored me up during hard times and still do. It is the arms of women who have kept me walking this earth.

Yesterday was my birthday. How did I spend it? First, Di came into my room and presented me with two gifts, a silver bracelet with the word "cherish" in braille imprinted on it and a warm throw made here in our neighborhood of  West Brunswick. Cello came up on the bed and gave me a kiss. In the mailbox was a card from Deb and Teddy.

At mid day I joined La Professoressa at the Law School, where she and Ali Miller where holding a symposium on "Exploring the Structures of Gender Written into the Yogyakarta Principles." The room filled with students and colleagues and I took my usual place in the last row--a stranger to Law but known as Di's older partner who often haunts her presentations and learns, learns. Three students who have become my friends as well--Debolina, Oishik and Maddee--were there and part of the gifts of the day was holding them in my arms. Debolina and Oishik will soon return to Calcutta and continue their thinking there, beyond my reach. Maddee is a young writer, thinker, activist who the flow of life will move beyond me but for now she is willing to share her writings with me and even throw a ball around with me in the hallway of the Law School, a high bouncer that I always carry with me, the ball of my Bronx days, perfect  for Hit the Penny, Stoop Ball and just plain catch. How can I explain the joy I get from throwing and catching, the knowledge that there is  friend at the other end who will join me, the pleasure when my eye and hand work together and I snatch the ball from the air.

Home so I can work with Alexander, my 13 year old friend from across the road. We read the second act of Romeo and Juliet together, talk about his school week and I take in with great delight his treasure trove of new words he has gathered for our session. Dear Alexander who gives me once again the pure happiness I find when I can be of help to a learner, and in the process I always learn more about our human selves. I speak to him as the poet he is, a poet of soccer and struggle and together we give examples of how our lives are haunted by paradox--one of his new words.

Then I put Mendelssohn on, his trios. I have time before Di will come home and I will return to reading Ta-Nehisi Coates' memoir, "The Beautiful Struggle." As Mendelssohn's heart fills the room, I think of how some have said because of my anti-Israel occupation stance, I am not Jewish enough. Sometimes I have such a need for Yiddishkite in my life, for the diasporic old world, a taste, a sound, an atmosphere I can almost touch--my Bronx days again, my mother's worker face, the sound of Indian nuts cracking in her teeth, her Chesterfield cigarettes. So long gone to me, the only parent I knew who hardly could do that deed but somehow between standing with me when I was ten in front of the bronze plaque to the women who leaped to their death in the Triangle Shirt Waist Fire and between cracks of her nuts, telling me of the wonders of Paul Robeson, somehow this woman who turned tricks for money to pay the rent and to ease her need for touch, gave me the strength to stand alone, to make a life for myself without support, to be a queer in the late 50s and all the years beyond, somehow she gave me the life force to take on the lonelinesses that came from deviant political positions in 1950s America and beyond. Somehow. somehow.

All of this comes to me as I turn the last page of Coates living voice of life. He often feeling too fathered until the Knowledge takes him in its arms has been with me all these last days. Others have raved about the honesty, the vitality, the love, his determination to break open the American silence about what it means to be a Black man-child in this century, still, still. He breaks it open into a beautiful center of reclaimed knowledges giving back strong histories of kingdoms and poets, of organizers and resistance fighters and most of all, in the dogged determination of his father to save him from the loss of mind and heart, of life, that America turns its back on, thus encouraging the loss of generations. I kept thinking of James Baldwin, as did Coates, of the essay I taught so many times, "Native Son," in which the young Baldwin tries to flee the father who knows his history too well until Baldwin turns again to the thin harsh man in the doorway, barring his home to the white well meaning teacher, not my son, not my son--and the writer collapses into the arms of his father's history, never to be escaped, never to be run from but to be understood, the history and the man so bruised by its weight and by his love--fathers and sons trying to hold onto meaning they must dig up from the unspoken, the buried, the long withheld, the greatness of a people.

On this day that will never come again I sit with these texts, the music of Mendelssohn, the words of a man named for a newly resurrected kingdom of accomplishment, his sentences symphonies of life on the page heralding another America yet again, I sit with a young man struggling to learn, his eyes big with the push to make connections and find the words for them and I sit with the paradox that haunts me in these my last years, how did the Jewish people end up with a state in their name that imprisons children, that suffocates a whole people, that sells its history of suffering as an excuse to escape accountability. that tries to silence those who dissident, how? how?

From Israeli singer and songwriter Chava Alberstein's 1989 modern version of Chad Gadya sung at Passover:

Why are you singing this traditional song?
It's not yet spring and Passover's not here.
And what has changed this year.
On all other nights I ask the four questions, but tonight I have one more:
How long will the cycle last?
How long with the cycle of violence last?

The chased and the chaser
The beaten and the beater
When will all this madness end?
I used to be a kid and a peaceful sheep
Today I am a tiger and a ravenous wolf.
I used to be a dove and I used to be a deer,
Today I don't know who I am anymore.

Another year of dissent, of loving, of teaching and learning, of the beauty of the sea and the ancient cliffs, of Di in my arms, of Cello prancing in the face of fading life, of friends who share my days and the dreams that come at night, the dreams in which sometimes, my mother, Regina, all I had once, lives again.

With Lana and Maddee at Women in Black Vigil, 2016

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Hopelessness as a Tourist Attraction

Last month I read an article entitled "Israeli Settlers Skew Focus to Tourism" (The Age, April 23, 2016, p. 40) by Middle East correspondent Anne- Marie O'Connor reporting from Havat Gilad, the West Bank. Even as I write this long introduction of the whos and wheres, I feel the anger, the heart break rising at its contents. It has taken me a month to believe again that words can do anything in the face of such heartlessness, with all the blows Israel strikes daily at Palestinian aspirations, with its control of revenue ("Israel Freezes Palestinian revenues," Jan 5, 2015) as punishment for Palestinian attempts to join the International Criminal Court, with its control of ocean, air ways, border crossings, knowing all of this, the cynicism of turning the settlements into tourist attractions stopped me cold.
   "They are offering a sampling of 'the good life', with fine wines and artisanal cheese on hilltops...wine tastings are a new weapon against a two-state solution...Holiday chalets are the new facts on the ground...The 1.5 million annual visitors to the West Bank now encounter 15 new multilingual visitor centers, 20 boutique wineries and some 200 bed and breakfasts (to be found on Airbnb). A settler says, 'When people come here, they experience a different side of us: nature, music, olives, lemons. The reporter says, 'But not Palestinians?'
'It just won't fit,' the settler replies. Karni Eldad, the co-author of Yesha is Fun, a guidebook about vacationing in the West Bank gives an explanation. 'The 1970s and '80s were the settlement era, when we had to build as much as we could, otherwise they would give it back to the Arabs. We had to block the Palestinians.'

Oh, and that they have. Children lie in the rubble while tourists eat cheese in the hill tops of another people's land. Never, never say this is the nation of the Jews. This is a national policy that builds villas on the bodies of the unwanted, that turns settler colonization into a quick freeze new history. And those who book their beds on Airbnb, who pile into the buses escorted by Israeli military to the mountain tops to breath in the 'new'air, how empty are both their hearts and minds. I keep seeing the crowds that laughed as the Nazis played with their Jewish victims in the streets-- this is not a Jewish state, but a despotic State that will do anything to keep its hold on power, a bankrupt state that only knows the tools of humiliation and torture when it turns its eyes to the people Israel displaced. This Jew says build me no such States but the other way of being, the way represented by the peace activists of Israel and around the world, the inclusive way that does not dance on the mountain tops of displacement and genocide, that refuses all religious claims to exceptionalism from what one human being owes another.