Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Anna's Touch

She came to the door. a small loaf of her oven baked bread in her work worn hand.

Monday, February 12, 2018

In my hand...

I know. I have been away for along time. Using face book to tell the story of my days and heart's doings, of my love and loved friends. but I am back. Getting my papers together for their voyage back to LHA, working on two boxes of my writing self. I come across 6 yellowing index cards " from 1963. My first woman lover, the first woman I loved, not always the same thing, is dying of ovarian cancer, so young, so wanting to live. I wrote these in the shortest form I knew of, haiku, but more, because the pain was too deep for more.
The illness of my young friend
Makes me a dry pod
In an autumn field.

Her death snaps me.

The poet slept with song
And sucked her swollen breast
The poet walked with night
And stared (not finished)

Winter tiredness
Oceans heavy with grey
A silent gull
Carries my strength away.

The human body
falls into disrepair
The soul takes up residence
between a sunrise and a tear

My dear dear Carol, all these years I have carried your image with me, the photo of you golden against a blue sky, with the words you wrote to me, in that small, tentative script--"To Joan, who make me feel big enough for all." All these years I have felt your lips on mine.


Friday, February 9, 2018

2018--A gift of memory

Yesterday I received this letter from Tanya Visceglia, an old SEEK student of mine.

For Joan

When I was twenty-one, the only thing I knew for sure was that while “being myself” was a nice
idea, it was clearly not one that was meant for me. Gay and lesbian members of my Italian
Catholic family were hushed up when visitors came, pitied when we were alone, and
scapegoated in the heat of an argument. My Brooklyn neighborhood had been immortalized by
its appearance in “Saturday Night Fever” as the epicenter of hotheaded, blue-collar despair.
Bay Ridge’s only lesbian bar had an unmarked entrance and blacked-out windows to avoid
unwanted attention from passers-by. Even that failed to deter the occasional pack of drunken
cugines from wandering in and pulling down their pants to “show us what we were missing”.
When that happened, most of us didn’t fight back. We hung our heads and waited for them to
leave. Most of us weren’t out – either to our families or at work, and we couldn’t risk any
trouble or possible exposure, particularly those of us who worked as police officers or as
teachers in Catholic schools. Back then, an out cop was often a dead cop, and a lesbian
schoolteacher was fired with no explanation. Gay pride hadn’t even occurred to me then – I
would have happily settled for the absence of gay shame.
Having recently returned from Madison, Wisconsin, I had seen the promised land, where
Queer Theory reigned supreme, and spiky-haired undergraduates quoted Judith Butler in one
breath and harmonized Indigo Girls in the next. Yet the same women who reverently quoted
passages such as “what is most important is to cease legislating for all lives what is livable only
for some, and similarly, to refrain from proscribing for all lives what is unlivable for some” bluntly

dismissed my desire for masculine women as “imitation of patriarchal norms”, and my lipstick
and high heels as “too straight”. My fantasies of a strong butch lover with rough hands that could
rebuild an engine were confined to Saturday nights, which usually found me pinned up against
the wall of the bad girls’ bar on the outskirts of town.
My return to New York marked the year of the “lipstick lesbian”: girls who loved dressing
up and hooking up with other girls who loved dressing up. New York Magazine’s article on ‘90s
“lesbian chic” celebrated the death of “the old lesbian stereotype... she is humorless, wears badly
fitted mannish suits, cannot sustain relationships and is hopelessly unhappy” and heralded the
arrival of “the new, improved lesbian -- a party girl of much sex, lingerie and sophistication.”
While femme style had made a comeback, butch-femme relationships were still left out in the
cold. “So retro”, the DKNY pantsuits at Julie’s lounge bar would sniff, between sips of their
Cosmopolitans. “If I wanted a man, I’d be with a real one.”
One day, browsing in Judith’s Room, which has since gone the way of most independent
booksellers, I happened upon a book of essays called “A Restricted Country” by Joan Nestle, a
self-described 1950s femme from the Bronx. “In “Butch-Femme Relationships: Sexual Courage in
the 1950s”, she wrote: “Although I have been a lesbian for over twenty years and embrace
feminism as a worldview, I can spot a butch thirty feet away and still feel the thrill of her power.”
And “Butch-femme relationships, as I experienced them, were complex erotic statements, not
phony heterosexual replicas. They were filled with deeply lesbian language of stance, dress,
gesture, love, courage, and autonomy.” Reading those words for the first time, I cried right there
in the aisle. Finally, I had been given permission to be myself.

In 1992, when I heard that Joan would be teaching the first course in Gay and Lesbian
Literature ever to be offered at Queens College, I was so overcome with enthusiasm that I had
read every book on the syllabus before the first class. In that course, we were all hungry: for
images of ourselves, for testaments to our own experience, and for a place in which our own
issues occupied the center of discourse without “throwing our sexuality in people’s faces” or
“making an issue” where none need exist.
Our syllabus didn’t revolve around any particular theoretical perspective, period or
theme. We needed it all and cast our nets wide: “The Well of Loneliness” by Radclyffe Hall, Walt
Whitman’s “Calamus” poems, “Maurice” by E.M. Forster, James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room”
Kate Millet’s “Sita”, and Audre Lorde’s “Zami: A New Spelling of My Name”. We read Leslie
Feinberg’s “Letter to a Fifties Femme” and excerpts from Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America”,
which was then running on Broadway. Twenty-five years later, I’m collecting snapshots of that
course from memory, and offering them to you, Joan, with thanks and with love.
I already knew many of the students who showed up on that first day from the campus
Gay and Lesbian Alliance. We were buzzing before Joan arrived, looking around for new faces. I
walked in with Frank, a leather daddy who was preparing to enter the police academy. As I sat
down next to my friend Helen, the razor-sharp but fragile daughter of a Tanzanian diplomat, I
greeted Shirley, who taught me how to salsa dance, and whose visual impairment never once
slowed her down. Across from me sat Rhonda, a fireplug of a woman best known for strident
proclamation of her love for butches. Dee, a Latina MTF with a wicked sense of humor, arrived
breathless from her race across campus between classes on rollerblades. Others I knew only by

name or face: Anna, Harold, Diane, Todd, and a slight, blonde woman who never spoke during
class discussions, but occasionally shared her poetry in a soft, trembling voice.
Joan’s kind blue eyes and genuine interest in every one of us slowly drew us out and made
room for us to unfold the whole world of our experience -- from humor to desire to despair. In
one class, while discussing “The Well of Loneliness”, I asked Joan why she had included it in the
syllabus. She replied with the story of a woman who had survived a concentration camp by
remembering the Polish translation of the story she had read, which sustained her hope to live
long enough to kiss a woman. In another class, Frank acted out a traffic stop scene from John
Preston’s “Mr. Benson”, squaring off in his academy uniform and mirrored police sunglasses. His
performance met with wolf whistles of approval from students and Joan’s dry response: “Frank,
now I see why you want to be a police officer.” In the last class of the semester, we read our own
poetry aloud. Our quiet classmate shared a poem that was written to a woman with severe burns,
who ran her local newsstand. “Seeing her every day/with strips of skin like loose bandages/I
wanted to ask how she could be so brave/ wearing her scars on the outside/when I have so much
fear/wearing my scars on the inside.” When I shared my poem about a friend who had recently
died of AIDS, I felt cocooned in shared grief, knowing that over the past ten years, every other
student in that room had also been crossing friends’ numbers out of their phone books.
Outside of class, we made a banner for our road trip to the 1993 LGBT National March on
Washington. On the day of the march, the escalator at Dupont Circle was so packed with queers
that it ground to a halt, overwhelmed by the sheer weight of us. A huge cheer rose from the
crowd, followed by a chant of “We are everywhere!”, and the waving of small rainbow flags at

strangers from side to side of the Metro station. Looking around me, I drank in the first day I felt
that the whole world was queer. We were a proud, open and unstoppable force.

    To celebrate the end of the semester, Joan invited us to her apartment for a potluck,
where we saw our history displayed on every wall, bookshelf and end table -- the huge collection
of letters, papers, and periodicals in the Lesbian Herstory Archives had not yet moved to its Park
Slope brownstone home. Balancing plates on our laps, we clustered around Joan, asking her to
read from her own work. First, she read: “Stone butch, drag butch, baby butch/leaned me back
against the bathroom door/tuned for the intrusion, you sucked my breast/Alert and wanting, we
made love in a public place/because territory was limited.” This was followed by the essay I had
first read in Judith’s Room: “The erotic essence of the butch-femme relationship was the external
difference of women’s textures and the bond of knowledgeable caring. I loved my lover for how
she stood as well as what she did. ... these gestures were a style of self-presentation that made erotic competence into a political statement." Hearing those words read aloud, surrounded by my queer classmates and the lovingly catalogued proof of our collective existence and persistence, I knew I had come home.

     Joan's gift to us--the gift of shared history and purpose, remains with me and sustains me to this day. It walked by my side when I came out and stayed out in a rabidly Christian work environment. It deflected the pain of my mother's hissed whisper: "Why do you have to go around telling people you're married? It's none of their business." It gives me the strength to speak up for my partner in the thousandth performance of the tired old play "Excuse me, sir, this is the ladies' room." They may not know who I am, but now I do. And that is enough.

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.


  • 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