Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Fragments from My Archives, San Diego, 1992. Sophia, Gail, Rose and the Poet, Bob Flanagan

Journal Entry: Monday, June 1, written in 1992, San Diego, typed in 1999

    A sunny day in this new city--new in its self discovery it feels but old in its geography--the long swells of the Pacific at one end, the canyons, now jumped by housing, at the other. Sophia and Gail [of the Lesbian Writers Tour fame] and I had our buddy trip down here from Los Angeles. After I took leave of Lee [Hudson] at the airport--I love her more now then I have ever before--we piled into some one's car and took off. Sophia weakened by sickle cell anemia and epilepsy, Gail also a sufferer of the same illness and me, dizzy, but we laughed holding our breaths as Gail swerved from lane to lane at 80 miles an hour, the ocean dangerously sparkling. Down at Camp Pendelton we stopped to eat at Denny's--America's mass food cheap and piled on our plates--large blond and black men surrounded us, their heads shaved in the way only executioners and military barbers do, their bodies shaped for intimidation. I thought of gay men and feared for their lives. I realized it is mostly other men who are the victims of over developed masculinity until such creatures get into places of power and then we all suffer. Three sick queers--we piled back into our rental car and swerved our way into San Diego.
   We found the place I was staying, the Keating Guest House, a lesbian owned and staffed boarding house where we were instantly made uncomfortable by the over worked and tired woman in running shorts who opened the door to us. Sophia and Gale huddled in my room and then we set out for the world famous San Diego zoo. Thousands of people and panting animals, most with the sad red E imprinted on their explanatory cards--gentle creatures for the most--large black birds with warm brown eyes and stone like out-croppings on their heads--gazelles and grazing animals all sadly exiled from their homes of earth and forest and water by us. They look as if they would ask for so little and we teem by--eating too much, taking too much while these beings stand dazed in an Eucalyptus prison.
   Other memories--sleeping on the floor of Barbara Cruikshank's and Judith Halberstam's [Now Jack] apartment so happy to be away from the quaint guest house whose unhappy manager snapped, "what do you think I am, your servant," when I asked where the tea was. Her other memorable line was about the fog on the horizon, "At least it blocks out Mexico." Speaking to Judith's class at the University of San Diego after they had read my book [A Persistent Desire, newly published, or A Restricted Country] and then the slide presentation in the large auditorium to three hundred people, meeting enthusiastic Chinese students and finally, off into the scented night air, my work as a touring lesbian writer done for that night.
  The next day a visit to the Lesbian and Gay archives in a small square building, a walk on the beach and home to LA by the train, reversing the trip down in a calmer less dramatic but far less life enhancing way. Petite and kind Rose, the dominatrix lover of the poet and performance artist Bob Flanagan, picked me up and regaled me with stories of her children's shame at their mother's reputation. Sweet boyish, black haired, cow licked, choppy Bob, who had to travel every where with oxygen so he could pull air into his cystic fibrostic lungs, whom I visited in the hospital the next week, more oxygen being forced into his lungs, he trying to reassure Rose, so thin herself. "You know," he told her proudly in short gasps of breath, "I am living much longer with this disease then anyone is supposed to." Bob, the performance poet, who hung by his foreskin daring audiences to tell him what pain he should endure, who turned hospital rooms into stage sets as he literally hung himself out to dry--a sweet suffering man who offered his poetry and his body doing impossible things to his times. Last year he died, (1998), leaving me with the memory of his thin body leaning against the folding doors of the huge cavern that housed the American Booksellers Association convention that year, his head, a back banner against the beige walls, his cowlicks leaping off his skull.

2017: My queer, lesbian, feminist times gave me gifts. Books to travel the country with, shared communal undertakings, ironies galore, and then the brave ones, the different from the different ones, who let me be with them for a short time, me sometimes a little uncomfortable but trying not to show it, grateful for the discomfort. Now the years sift down their gifts and Bob and Rose stay with me, his slim book of poetry pressed so many years ago into my hands, his body, his breaths of unconquered self, living in all my years that followed.

Monday, June 12, 2017

A Recognition of a Terrible Sadness, a Demanding of an End to the Injustice of Occupation

AJDS (Australian Jewish Democratic Society) statement on 50 years of occupation.  The statement can also be found on the AJDS website

As we reach the 50 year milestone of Occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, the AJDS is devastated by the realities of the ongoing military occupation of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. It is both painful and tragic because we believe it can end.  In presenting the historical background and detailing the ongoing devastation we acknowledge the Palestinian dispossession and hope to shift the narrative, one that has not shifted enough in 50 years. In the context of our own history it is incumbent on us to shout ENOUGH. We refuse to stay silent or participate , not in our name,  we are witnesses who choose not to be bystanders.
Whilst the dispossession of Palestinians from their lands did not begin with the results of the 6 Day War – which is called the Naksa in Arabic, the Setback – the war played a significant role in emboldening messianic expansionist elements in Israeli society and amongst Zionists throughout the world, which has strongly impacted settlement expansion throughout the occupied territories, and ensured that years of “negotiations” have resulted in neither justice nor peace for Palestinians, or Israelis. While what is commonly termed ‘the Occupation’ began fifty years ago, we recognise that the history of violence against Palestinians in Israel and Palestine has its roots long before 1967.  What is known in a Zionist narrative as the War of Independence of the State of Israel, is known to Palestinians and others as the Nakba, or Catastrophe in Arabic. It saw the mass dislocation of Palestinians from their land, with up to 800,000 Palestinians being forced to flee their homes and land and refused the right to return.


As a result of the occupation, every aspect of Palestinian life is controlled by Israeli administration:  through checkpoints, refusal to grant development permits, home demolitions, arbitrary military arrests, curfews, collective punishment, tightened control of economic and development opportunities, and innumerable other practices.   In Gaza, which has been described as an open air prison, Israel controls the entry and exit of all goods. A 2015 UN Conference on Trade and Development reported that at current trends Gaza may become unlivable by 2020. In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, life is controlled at a minute level, and everyday extreme violence is enacted in order to remove Palestinians from their land. The Occupation, and those who enforce it, is incredibly creative and resilient, always able to find and invent new ways to hinder Palestinian life and work against Palestinian resistance (even as that resistance resolutely continues). The Israeli military industry and its global arms sales, relies on the Occupation. The Israeli economy is completely bound up in the Occupation.
Sadly, Israel’s policies have made it a pariah state in world opinion, with increasing international pressure to pursue action to end the occupation, including from a growing number of Jews and Jewish organisations outside Israel, who can no longer align their identities with a state for the Jewish people which repeatedly and systematically acts against their ethics and values.


The occupation which has occurred since 1967 is a continuation of a systemic dislocation of one people for the sake of another.  It is an occupation which has always been, and continues to be, carried out by all levels of Israeli society.  It is an occupation which has been widely condemned by the international community.  It is an occupation involving the construction of Jewish Israeli settlements which are deemed illegal according to International law and have created a clear obstacle to peace and justice. It is an occupation which relies on a conscription army and a national population who refuse to see, or interact with, Palestinians as fellow humans.


As hopelessness intensifies in the face of what seems like an intractable situation, and as the international community repeatedly fails to bring about a just resolution, we encourage people to take action in their communities and within global movements, in coalition with, and led by Palestinians, to understand, educate and oppose the actions of the occupation and the broader dispossession of Palestinian people.  As a Jewish organisation we stand resolutely against the policies of occupation, dispossession and oppression.  Instead we highlight the Jewish and universal values which call us to stand against such injustice, and foster Jewish identities that contribute to a world in which such violence ceases to exist. We call on the Israeli government, and Israeli society, to show that there is a partner for peace who can meet with Palestinians in order to bring about a just peace in the region. We call on our Australian Jewish communities to join us in refusing to support the ongoing occupation, in order to be part of a global movement which will ensure that there is not another 50 years of such violence. 

Some brief facts on the occupation (there are many more, of course. The occupation is dynamic, flexible, and comprehensive)

  • In 2011 the World Bank projected that the Palestinian GDP could have increased by $3.4 billion a year if it weren’t for restrictions Israel imposes in area C of the West Bank.
  • The Palestinian Authority, the governing body of Palestinians in areas A and B of the West Bank requires the consent of Israeli authorities on all decisions.
  • The West Bank is littered with Israeli checkpoints controlling the movement of Palestinians. Each Palestinian town or village in the West Bank has a barrier at every entrance which the Israeli military can close without warning. The entire Palestinian society in the West Bank can be prevented from moving around within twenty minutes.
  • A military court system applied in West Bank, which tries thousands of Palestinians every year.
  • Israel restricts development and access to land in the West Bank, denying building permits and enacting home demolitions
  • Whilst the figure of 2% is often spouted as the amount of land taken up by settlements, this does not take into account the infrastructure and adjacent lands seized to accommodate the settlements, and the lands that fall under settlement regional land management authorities, amounting to around 36% of the West Bank (according to B’Tselem). Lands which do not have settlements on them are still controlled by settlers and the settlement regime: there are roads throughout the West Bank on which only settlers can drive, and the army – together with settlers – will forcibly remove Palestinians from areas around settlements.
  • The army regularly declares public spaces, and private homes, Closed Military Zones, in order to close off Palestinian access to spaces.
  • Jewish settlements built in East Jerusalem (which is cut off from the rest of the West Bank) surround the Palestinian region.
  • In East Jerusalem Palestinians are forcibly removed from their homes for Jews to move in.
  • Israel controls who can travel in and out of the occupied territories, as well as controlling travel in between villages in some instances.

Gaza

  • A 2015 UN Conference on Trade and Development reported that at current trends Gaza may become unliveable by 2020.
  • Since June 2007 Israel has maintained control of all border crossings except Rafah in Egypt, which is not suitable for transport of goods, only people. Israel also controls sea and air space, forbidding Palestinians to build air or sea ports, and bans almost all export out of Gaza.
  • 95% of water is non-potable
  • residents receive electricity for a few hours each day.
  • Since 2007 three wars have been launched on the besieged population of Gaza with thousands of casualties and a large civilian death toll.

Kind regards, 
Yael Winikoff
Community Organiser, Australian Jewish Democratic Society

Friday, June 9, 2017

"Beautiful Military Equipment," the Erotics of Trump

"Our relationship is extremely good," Mr Trump said at the beginning of the closed-door meeting [with the ruler of Qatar]. "One of the things we will discuss is the Qatari purchase of lots of beautiful military equipment." (The Age, June 8, 2017) Beautiful military equipment. The erotics of national death dealing, for the turn of a coin. "Beautiful military equipment." Kiss the bombs, embrace the land mines, stroke the missiles, mount the launches. We deserve to loose this earth, this precious earth, so in love with the death of others we seem. "Beautiful military equipment." Tenderness goes into the shadows.

Monday, May 29, 2017

My first public talk here in Melbourne, 1999

Now I see how it will be, As I sort papers, my history really, I will post here what calls out to me--not because of its rightness but because of  memory's fragility.

E-Mail
From: Joan Nestle
Date: Tue, 19 Oct 1999
Subject: Hatespeech
To: Crusader [owner with Rolland, his partner, of Hares and Hyenas, the queer and progressive bookstore here in Melbourne. Crusader and Rowland have remained friends and supporters since my first days here.]

Dear Crusader,
I am going to type in my speech--I tried to send it to you through a cut and paste attachment but I have not mastered that technique without Di [Otto, my partner now of almost 20 years] it seems. This may take two e-mails. Thanks for wanting it.

Background: What follows is the text of comments I made on the topic of Hatespeak for a panel at the 1999 Melbourne Writers' Festival. David Crystal chaired the discussion and Kim Scott and Ghassan Hage were co-speakers. We each had ten minutes to approach this very complex topic.

      First I want to thank the Melbourne's Writers' Festival for being so generous to me and my work; I am a visitor here and not a famous writer. You have brought me new friends and a renewed sense of wonder at the kindnesses between strangers that language--the speaking of it and the hearing of it--can engender. With all this tenderness in my heart, it is sadly but somehow fitting that this, my third and last time to speak with you, is about what we have come to call "hatespeech."

     I want to share with you why I think I was asked to speak on this topic. I am not an academic who has studied the twists and turns of language, and I am not a philosopher who delves into the meanings of linguistic utterances. I am a Jew born in the Bronx of New York city in 1940, a lesbian who came out in the late 1950s and has been active in my queer community for over thirty years, and perhaps most pertinent for this discussion, a writer of erotica that often has earned me the label of pornographer. thus I am both the recipient of hatespeech and some would say the creator of it.

    I come to you this afternoon with fragments of information, and with quandaries about this topic of hate and how to control it in our societies. I speak as an American, a citizen from a country whose wealth was built on slave labor, whose very land was stolen from indigenous people, the land where the KKK was born, where Japanese Americans were forced into relocation camps during the Second World War, where some of the most powerful men of business and politics have been and are virulent anti Semites, the birthplace of Joseph McCarthy, a politician who made unorthodox thinking so shameful, that thousands of people lost their jobs, their social safety and some, their lives.


      A piece of information: Just as I was preparing for this discussion, I checked my e-mail to see what my friends back in New York had been up to. I discovered an urgently forwarded message informing me that action must be taken. In a Times magazine internet voting poll for person of the century, Hitler was running 3 in popularity. White supremacist advocates, whose hatreds include all people of color, Jews, Catholics and homosexuals were flooding cyber space with their voices.


   My quandaries about how to approach the civic challenge of hate speech come from the contradictions I find when I use my queer perspective. Anti-discrimination laws, yes; challenging the laws that uphold heterosexual social dominance, yes, and of course, anti-violence legislation, yes--but as Judith Butler has pointed out--the assumption that speech is the same as action leads to some unfortunate positions. For instance, the national policy of keeping gays under control in the military is based on this same belief--that conduct and speech are one so to declare one's homosexuality
becomes the same as performing a homosexual act, resulting in the loss of freedom, not the protection of one.


      My history as a queer--and I use that word consciously not as a signifier of queer theory, but as an act of reclamation, as an act of anti-hate speech, because that is the word that haters used in the 1950s and that is now the word that stands in the fullness of our own culture--has shown me that one of the best ways to fight hate and its speech is to refuse the victim category on which it is so dependent. From the 1950s on, gay people in America organized culturally and politically to limit the effect homophobic words and actions could have on their lives. A homophile civil rights movement was born, small journals were published, with articles debunking the onslaught of religious, legal and medical hate speech and then in 1969, a ragtail group of drag queens, bull dykes and their admirers turned the discourse of hate on its head. From the Stonewall Rebellion on, gay people have poured their energies into lessening the impact of hate speech in their lives and on their psyches, while at the same time pushing  at the state to include us in the Bill of Rights.


     A quandary--the most powerful example of the magical loss of distance between speech and action are the words of the same forces of the state that we want to empower to protect us form hate speech. "You are sentenced to die," and death does enter the room. "We declare war on you," and whole cities fall. In the hands of the conservatives or reactionary forces, protective legislation becomes a weapon against those labeled obscene or socially suspect.

As a Jew, I face another quandary--I know my history, I know that like racism, anti Semitism is one of the most powerful forces of hatred in the world, and yet I do not agree with the laws that want  to control the hate sites of the internet. I have read the words of hate on my own computer screen--words that say the only problem with Hitler is that he did not finish the job, that say Jews control the world, that Jews are Christ killers, that the Holocaust is a figment of the Jewish imagination. I have read the words that in an  eerie way sum up my life--with a few adjustments--"Kill the mongrel Jew commie pornographer sodomites." Just as  I have read "if we are all lucky, all homosexuals will be dead in ten years."

   I do not believe that this kind of hatred, this transforming hatred that becomes an altered consciousness, can or should be hidden away or that it can be legislated out of existence. I want to know that these words live still, that there there are Americans who say they are willing to kill Jews to protect the Christian white way. I need to face this reality, to know how much more work has to be done, to know how we as progressive forces must organize in the face of consuming hatred. We must take action, and we must make connections--between other genocides and turned backs--I am thinking of Rwanda--but if a man wants to say the death of six million Jews did not happen, what purpose is served by making him a criminal, by passing laws that make it illegal to speak or lie about history? If the deaths mean nothing to him, how do we strengthen our own freedoms by enabling the state to police our statements--in this case, a statement that seems insane, but in the next instance, one that we hold dear. I am afraid the issue is too complex for such a response.

    Some final comments.  I do not want the state to have the power to silence what it considers painful speech. I do want the state to be challenged for its support of systems of power, systems of exclusions that engender the need to hate. I more fear the hate speech of the powerful, our religious and military leaders, because it is not seen as such, because it is delivered as if it is rational policy, right and moral thinking, patriotism.


    I will do battle with the anti Semites, with the queer haters, with the women haters, by engaging in cultural work and political struggle that will, I hope, make their voices meager things. I will join with others in the creation of narratives of liberation, narratives fed by all the cultural and political voices of the world in which the desire to live with understanding of difference speaks louder than the need to hate.

    Sometimes the words we think we cannot say are more powerful than the ones we do--like the word, sorry.


(Crusader, I typed fast so there may be some editing that needs to be done--like I spelled quandary wrong in part 1.)

Now it is a late cold May night here in Melbourne in 2017. So many years later, now in the Trump time where poses of hate and ridicule are America's face of government. 

Two Letters, 1964 and 1976


I am in the process of sorting papers for the two archives in my life, LHA and ALGA. All goes piano, piano, slowly, slowly,  each year a growing column of talks given, of lives touching mine, of Australian moments which will live in Brooklyn while NYC streets will find themselves in Melbourne. Two letters stopped the sorting process, stopped the illusion that memory can be assured. The first from the first woman I loved, Carol Betty Lipman, We met in our last year at Queens College while I was living on Sixth Street on the Lower East Side --1960, perhaps, and Carol was still living at home with her family in Jamaica Estates in Queens---two separate worlds. I cannot tell the whole story here, I would never stop writing; just to say we became lovers even though she had to disobey her therapist at the  time who warned her, "if you allow yourself to kiss a woman, you will be lost." Such warnings, such refusals to obey were part of queer life then. We did kiss, on the chewed up sofa in my one room flat, a kiss, a wanting I will never forget. Can words forget? There is no marble strong enough to hold on to that moment, only bodies that have already left. Carol and I lived together for a few years, and then she fell in love with another woman and I moved out of our shared two room apartment on the upper West Side, back to the lower East Side. A New York story, a lesbian story, deep enough for a lifetime. Written on a single sheet of lined pad paper in blue ink.

Dear Joan-
    Every day, I think to myself- how is Joan-what is she thinking? I wonder if I can ever really be happy, Joan. there are always so many problems. I would have called you tonight but every night I say to myself-she will ask why do you call. And whatever I answer means nothing to her anyway. If I say, I was worried about you--you would say you don't have to worry about me Carol. and if I said I was thinking of you, you would remain silent. And whatever else I might say would certainly upset you-so you see, I do not call you. I try not to be selfish although I would like to hear your  voice and I miss you.
    I wish our lives could meet sometimes but when they do, it is then that we are most apart. I think we are together in our separateness. It is quite sad to think that but I know it is true. I feel so much a part of you at times Joan.
    Please stay well Joan.. In spite of what you may think, I still love you in my own way and I think you know that.
                                                                                      Carol

Carol died of ovarian cancer in 1966.


The second letter, also in hand, the bookkeeping sloping script of my mother, Regina.

Dec/21/1976
 Joan Dear=
      We received your card. It is quite difficult to communicate at this time. Somehow, when I permit myself to remember beautiful happenings I live the Christmas 2 years ago--I think it was then, when Mabel [Hampton], Lillian [Foster], I, you and Valerie had that fantastic day--so real, so beautiful, one can't live on past feasts, and it is impossible to reconstruct the past to the present.If I sound maudlin or depressed, that could be the gift I give myself to be truly emotional for all the beauty that one has experienced. Possibly in the future, I will recall the beauty that exists now--I don't know--I shall hope I can salvage and create my own myths. Do I sound despondent--Not so, just feeling all emotionalities and longing for the sight and feel of you. I love you so much. I am enclosing a check for $20. have a feast or a drink on me--Also am enclosing a $10 bill. Send it to Mabel and Lillian for their wine or whatever. I salute all of you, your beauty and your love.
                            Regards to Debbie, Valerie, all.
                                                       Mother

                                                        Regina Nestle, 1958 (?) NYC

My Jewish working class mother, under deep strain trying to protect her grandchildren, Lisa and Robin, from the violence of their father, writes from California, cherishing her time back in 13A in an apartment filled with lesbians of all ages and the becoming collections of LHA.

I carried these frail papers with me, from NY to Melbourne, almost 20 years ago,  my documents of being, and now I prepare to send them back to where it all happened, to LHA , but really to you, to ask you to cherish your markings of love, and to give heart comfort room, as Hopkins said, for complicated lives lived outside the more rewarded, more known, territories.

                                                                Lillian Foster, 1938





                                                           Mabel Hampton, 1980, at 13A