Monday, December 12, 2011

Maddy Fixed It!

Dear dear neighbor Maddy came by, in fact she is sitting by my side right now--and magic happened. I, we, are back!

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Just to let you all know. I can't get into my blog on my google account. I do not know if this is deliberate or just my own problem, but please feel free to use my work, to send it on to others who might be interested. I am using La Professoressa's university associated web account.. I send my love and support to all my friends in so many places who are struggling with oppressive states.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Talk for the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives Yearly Meeting, November 16, 2011

                                                          Archives in Times of Need, in Times of Change

(Note: The talk was given in two parts, first about our time in Palestine/ Israel and then in Belgrade; images followed each section of text to bring the images of dissenting bodies live to this archival gathering space, the rooms of ALGA.)

I sit amidst gold, orange and deep blue--splendors from small things in a Melbourne back yard garden, the lobelia lining the fish pond, the clack of the resident wattle bird--sitting high in her native frangi-pani tree, her head thrown back, her body growing slimmer it seems by the moment as her crackle gives way to a series of knocks and them almost against her will, her own lyric emerges--as if the hard knocks had to come first and only after, came the song, perhaps when some kind of safety had been won.

I am sitting out of the sun to gather my thoughts about our archival projects--the queer archives--and I use "queer" as an all embracing word--a project which seems to take on new meanings, new importances with every decade of my life or even more, with every journey out of the safe confines of known territories into places of national and regional contestations. (The realization hits me that you define your archives as a national one--a thought to keep in mind if one defines the archives as a possible site of nationalistic co-options.)

A gentle wind, distant relative to the vast blows we have recently had, has just gentled the sun's sting, and I grow in my gratitude for the freely given vagaries of this moment.

This image, of a lesbian bar in Slovenia that had been fire bombed the night before and its wall painted with the words, "Death to the Queer," and the returning lesbians early the next morning, reclaiming their ground, is the cover of a book written by Ursak Sterle, the woman standing by the open door and given to me at one of our meetings in Belgrade. This image was being shown as the audience quieted down for my talk.

Palestine/Israel, 2007

Since last I spoke to you, I have been an archives traveler to two places in the world where ultranationalisms make dissenters doubly queer: Israel and Belgrade. In 2007, I was asked to speak to queer and women's peace groups in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. I carried lesbian history, stories of queer touch, into occupied territories both within Israel and without. In my first formal meeting--with 50 women gathered in L'Isha L'Isha, the Haifa Women's Center, I met Rouda Marcos and the other women of ASWAT, the Palestinian lesbian association which meets at the center. At that center, always battling for the right to exist, for the funds to exist, Palestinian, Ethiopian, Jewish, Christian, Druid, non believers, young and old, straight and gay, work together for new visions. Here is one of the rare places in Israel where a dissenting community struggles to sustain itself as a voice of opposition to many of the Israeli government's social and political policies. The newest project, I was told the next day, was an archival joint project with the Palestinian women's center of Nazareth, documenting the role of women, straight and queer, in the peace struggles of the Middle East.

On the ASWAT t-shirt are the words:
"My Right/
To Live/
To Choose/
To Be"

When I said I would speak of archives in times of need, I did not mean financial or resource gathering needs. I meant the need for the archival presence, or eye, to be a living moment of the conscience of memory, to be present when nationalisms declare war on unwanted bodies or utterances or histories, to let the embattled know that another spirit of history is present, that it is seeing beyond the dictated hatreds of a nation's public discourse, to make sure that those who risk every thing by saying no to national brutalities will see their  reflection again and again where ever other possibilities of more just human communities are discussed.

A Document From my Archives, written in 2008: "The conversation next continued in a classroom in Tel Aviv where I spoke about 'History, Passion and the Body' as part of a series of programs sponsored by Gay and Lesbian Studies, the Queer Theory Reading Group and the National Council of Jewish women's Studies Forum. It was here that I met a younger group of queer people, mostly women, part of the Israeli/Palestinian butch-fem community, many of whom had also been members of Black Laundry, a new generation's version of Women in Black. Because of my work the Lesbian Herstory Archives, I am a carrier of voices from what I call our survival time, and I shared some of those voices that afternoon, including the story of Jul Bruno, telling of her life as a young Italian working class butch in NYC in the late 1950s, speaking of her erotic adventures in the Greenwich Village bars, her run-ins with the police who would often arrest her as a nuisance and keep her handcuffed in such a way that she could neither sit or stand--and in a lighter but just as important, the story of the first time she uses a dildo. An older Israeli butch woman was in the audience, she knew my work, and said loudly that she did not not like my opening thank yous to the Women in Black members I had stood with in Haifa and Jerusalem. 'Why do you need to put politics into our story?' she said.

At the end of the two hours, a group of fem women came up to talk with me about the difficulties they faced, the judgements from all sides that accompanied their lives. As they spoke and I comforted, I saw their beauty.

That night we spent in the Jerusalem home of peace activist Gila S. and her partner Judy; the following day, we stood vigil against the occupation and then Gila took us through the streets of Jerusalem. At one point we crossed over the Green Line, going into the West Bank, and then we traveled along the Wall surrounding Bethlehem, stopping at a checkpoint controlling Palestinian entry and departure and finally we plunged into the frantic histories of the old city.  A long hard day. In the evening, another communal sharing of food; many of the young people who had been present in Tel Aviv had made their way to Gila's house for the potluck. Feeling a little tired, I sat in a chair in the backyard taking in the scents of the warm night air, the night sounds of Jerusalem, and one by one, the students and their friends came to sit around me. They wanted stories of the body, wanted tales of how we survived the bigotries of the 1950s, how we found each other and tried to imagine another world. We leaned into each other and again I saw the beauty of the unarmed human body, their hopes for another kind of future held in bare arms. 'Come back to us,' one of the young women said, "when the occupation is over.'"

The Occupation, 1948--

Checkpoint at Crossing with Jordan, 2007

Member of ASWAT, in L'Isha L'Isha , the Haifa Women's Center

The ASWAT Office in L'Isha L'Isha, Haifa, 2007

Words on ASWAT T-Shirt: "My Right/To Live/To Choose/To Be," 2007

Talking in Jerusalem with Butch-Fem Peace Activists from Black Laundry, 2007

The Fem Body in a Contested Land

Archival Dreams: "Come Back to Us When the Occupation is Over"
Gila, Lesbian Peace Activist at the Wall, 2007

Belgrade, Split, 2011

In April of this year, thanks to the efforts of Lepa Mladjenovic and so many others, Di and had the opportunity to meet with lesbians, queer people, feminists who had traveled from Croatia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia to Belgrade. Once again, I carried stories and images from LHA into a conflicted place, but even more importantly, we heard their stories and touched their bodies of resistance.

From my archival documents: Belgrade, 2011

Times are tense now on the streets of Belgrade as the chosen time for the Gay Pride march grows near. Armed conflict at the Kosovo-Serbian border has inflamed nationalist angers. Lepa as always tells me of the messages that fly across the country.
September 28, 2011: "'From the Independent Police Syndicate Trade Union: We invite members of the Organization Committee of Belgrade Pride to postpone this year's demonstration because certain groups are preparing not only attacks, but as well are promising a demolishing under the title, 'Belgrade on Fire.' According to our knowledge, hooligans are planning--in all suburban communities in Belgrade as well as in bigger towns is Serbia--to destroy and burn on Pride Day.'"  She writes later in the day, "I have received a letter from T. this morning about several small attacks on lesbians and gays in Vojvodina. It is obvious that these kind of statements like the one from the Police Trade Union has given the green light to gangs of young men to walk around town and threaten different looking people in the search for excitement, especially in the evening and night. The fear is obviously present."

I think of the women we have met, of their work, in the region, in small and larger towns, and my worry grows.

On September 29th, 8:36 AM, Lepa writes, "The fear has been extended in the lesbian and gay community, I can't tell you how much...I am observing that threatening will have its effects because the police do not have political backing, not one political party has openly supported  the police! so why should they send 5000 policemen to be hit and beaten by ultra-nationalists men to protect the lesbians and gays who are the ones supposed to be beaten, if they don't get anything in return? No extra salary, no political points. So we are talking today and we expect more and more the police will say no. We shall see. And second is this issue of Kosovo and they see it as a shame to involve the State and the police in Faggots' issues while Serbia is already burning on the border of Kosovo! OK. Enough"

On the same day, 9:59AM, Lepa writes: " More attacks in Novi Sad, T. is non stop active there. Lesbians from Novi Sad decide not to come to Belgrade Pride. All night they met to discuss this. Too much pain. We need to see what we can do. One ultra fascist organization had announced at a press conference last month, they would actively work to stop the realization of Gay Pride Belgrade 2011. They are active nonstop. I think they are behind the police statement. Every day the town sees new fascist posters that we take down during the rest of the day..."

Monday, September 19, 2011
From Lepa, "The latest news here is that in one small town in Serbian, Jagodina, where the mayor is drastically homophobic explicitly against Pride, saying, "We don't have these people in our town," this graffiti has appeared, in English!  The Lesbians of Jagodina Strike Back!"

On October 1, Lepa writes me that the State has banned Gay Pride Belgrade 2011. The community feels a mixture of relief, anger, sadness and resolve. Already endless meetings, plans for action are taking place in Belgrade. This is how I want to end this entry, with the images of hope and the refusal to hide, with an image of gay people from the region picnicking in the Belgrade park, sitting on a rainbow flag that offers its defiant message while giving comfort and the parting image from our last night in Belgrade, where young lesbians laughed and celebrated their freedom in the night air. That bar, so wonderfully perched on a street corner, in the old Jewish neighborhood, near where Lepa lives, is gone now--the economics were too hard--but this is the wonder of it all, the persistence of resistance in the face of national hatreds.

What is happening here is of the greatest importance, it seems to me, for it is here that ultra nationalisms and a homophobia are emblazoned on the walls, it is here, at these deeply contested national spaces where the threat of violence is so real, that gay liberation takes on its deepest meanings in our times. It is here where the State and the Queer Body stand in the clearest opposition--not the here of Serbia only, but the here of so many countries where we are marked as bringers of shame to the national narrative of power and cultural purity. I think of American where the problem seems different. There wealthy gay men rush into the arms of the Republican party to pay them back for supporting gay marriage, for unquestioning support of the nationalism of Israel, where we thank the State for letting us once again be good soldiers, this time without secrets, this time openly queer participants in the mass murders known as War. The State and the Queen Body, the Border and the Queer Body, the Policing of Others and the Queer Body, Nationalisms and the Queer Body. Oh my young thinkers, you have much to ponder, while the people are in the streets.

Belgrade, Croatia, 2011

Ultra Nationalist Graffiti, Belgrade, 2011

Gay Demonstration, Belgrade, 2011
Gay Pride March, Split, Croatia, 2011
Nela and friends, voices of Lesbian Defiance, Croatia, 2011
Lepa Speaking at Split Gay Pride, 2011

Listening to Each Other's History at the Rex, with Nina, the translator
Lesbian Joy: Our Last Night in Belgrade at a Lesbian Bar, Closes a Month Later, 2011
The Birth of a Gay Ritual, Belgrade, 2011

Lesbian Graffiti, Jagodina, Serbia, 2011

Support Demonstration in Budapest, 2011

Always, these are our bodies, sometimes tired with the need for vigilance aganst homophobia and killing nationalisms but still in the streets.
How good it is to bring these bodies to you, in this home of Australian lesbian and gay history, the living history of queer resistance shining from these walls. The living archival memory that will not stay in its place, that sees into its own present and nows the need of that sight to give hope.
Now just a few words about the second theme of tonight, archives in times of change. When Daniel asked me to speak tonight--something I am doing less of--I had two pressing thoughts. The first, the need for the queer archival eye as a living present in social change struggles, as living promise of the comradeship of memory. I am thinking now about who is documenting the queer presence in the Occupy Melbourne movement. The other, as so clearly faces me in the mirror every day, the changing of generations in our archival movement. The first generation of queer archives dreamers and doers are now archives materials themselves. We have always spoken of the archives as places of intergenerational conversation; now comes the challenge of intergenerational handovers. The archives movement as we have known it grew out of the social surges of the 60s and got on its feet in the 1970s, that is over 40 years ago. I suspect all kinds of changes to the archival project are in the wings, technology just for starters. Just last week I watched an archives come into being over night--on face book when Susie Bright launched a quest for "On Our Backs" contributors, and there it all came into the light once again. So quickly, so far reaching. And I farsee a growing conversation about nationalisms and our archives. What kind of dreaming awaits as concepts of gender reshape themselves, what does the future hold in the relationship between queerness and prevailing economic structures, in the collapse or in the tyrannies of capitalistic excess. I will not go on--but even though this was a two themed talk--need and change--I see the connection between these two subjects. In our archival work, in whose ever hands it falls, this voice from the early time, says to you always remember the tenderness of the exiled body, the wonder of queer people of all sorts taking to the streets that do not want them and the need to tell the story of how the journey continues. Thank you for listening so patiently to this American voice.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"Quite Simply, We are Afraid of Them...This is Our Bus"

The Expulsion of the Palestinians, 1948

The Expulsion of the Bedouins from the Negev, 2011

I have neatly placed the articles about the latest cruelties visited against the Palestinian population by the Israeli authorities by my computer; every day as they come in, news of the latest insanities of a nation which behaves as a ruthless armed child, a favorite child of the mighty,  on these pieces of stacked sheets. From the newspapers, from Jewish Peace groups, both in American and Israel, and e-mails from my friends in Haifa who have struggled so long for another kind of Israel, the words pour in, the images inescapable. And always I think who am I to think that my words can make a difference, and then I remember that I have eyes that see and a heart that feels, that I have learned never to run from history, one's  own or another's, that it means something if one voice and then another, says I saw, I knew, I said no, no, no.

Tonight as I sat to try to write of all I had in front of me, the final moment of absurdity came: a New York Times article saying how insulted the American Jewish community was by the Israeli ad campaign to woo Israeli expatriates back home. Insulted these groups were by the arrogance and cultural disrespect of America that these ads revealed and behold, "the reaction of American Jewry, a crucial mainstay of support for Israel, clearly caused alarm." A spokesman for Mr Netanyahu said it all: We are very attentive to the sensitives of the American Jewish community...when we understood there was a problem, the prime minister immediately ordered the campaign to be stopped." Here it all is, the power of the "American Jewry" to stop Israel from doing killing things and this is what gets its attention! A slighting of the diaspora. If ever proof was needed that Jews outside of Israel could play a role in humanizing this country, in stopping its brutal intrusions into the lives of more and more of its own dissenting citizens and of the Palestinians who struggle against the daily punishments, exiles, evictions, arrests, trying to hold on until more of the world wakes up, trying to find every way possible to make their hidden-- behind walls and armed- check- points- faces seen--here in an almost comical way we are given all the proof we need.

Do you remember Hagit; when she was visiting from Israel she stood with us in our monthly Women in Black vigils here in Melbourne, a small woman works tirelessly for peace in Israel. You have met her in earlier journal entries.
Headline from the Guardian, Nov 9, 2011: Israeli Peace Activist's Home Vandalised with Death Threats and and Swastikas
"Police confirmed they were investigating the attack on the Jerusalem home of Hagit Ofran, who works for Peace Now, an Israeli organisation that monitors settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Ofran said the perpetrators were trying to intimidate activists. 'The discourse in Israel has become truly dangerous," she told Haaretz newspaper. Where is the outrage of the American, Australian "Jewry" at such undemocratic behaviour?

Our letter to Hagit after reading about her ordeal:
Dear Hagit, We want you to know that your sisters from Melbourne's Women in Black are with you and your family in this time of ignorance. We remember your visits with us, standing on those Melbourne steps, the talks over cups of coffee and tea, but even more, we remember the integrity of your positions, the strength and courage of your vision. I wish, for all of us. that we could take this ugliness out of your life, that your dedication to the best of Israel would be seen as the national gift it is. I know I speak for the thousands of women and men who stand in vigil for peace in the Middle East when I say your spirit and passion for a compassionate compromise will always be with us. With love, the women of Women in Black, Melbourne

Hagit's answer, Nov 11, 2011

Thank you!!! dear Joan
I was really moved. Your kind words give me strength. It is not simple but we have no choice if we want a better world to live in.
And each of us has to know we have to do it and not wait that someone else do the job for us.
Love to you all and send kisses from me to everyone.

Over 40, 000 Bedouin's are being forcibly removed from their homes by the Israeli Defense Force to make room for settlements as I write this. Where is the outrage of American Jewry.

Or the Guardian article about how Israel refuses to give Palestinians the right to leave Gaza to pursue legal actions against the Israeli military for wrongful actions--where is your outrage, at this nation you so like to call the only democracy in the Middle East. How power is used to protect the powerless is one way we judge the democratic intentions of a nation. Where is your outrage?

Or the disappearing faces of women from public places in Jerusalem as the ultra Orthodox gender cleanse their streets. Where is your outrage?

And when the NYT,  the oh so powerful newspaper, changes history by censoring the word "expulsion" from its description of what happened to millions of Palestinians in 1948 so as not to hurt the feelings of influential people, forgetting the world of human suffering it has just turned its back on. Of course, no outrage.

As part of this so-called American and now Australian Jewry, I call out in outrage at the never ending stupidity, arrogance, ignorance, brutality, racism of these actions, actions and inaction which endanger the whole world for such unquestioning acceptance of another people's suffering, such championing of the brutal wielders of colonial power for that is how Israel treats its occupied territories, will be punished eventually by the larger forces of history. Oh my people, do not turn from the faces of the exiled, the detained, the beaten, the evicted, the humiliated, they once were you. And you know how you yearned for freedom.

And so I read the Israeli woman's statement when she was interviewed riding the segregated bus that refused to carry Palestinians from the West Bank to the entry to Jerusalem, while she watched the IDF soldiers drag the new Freedom Riders from the bus. "We are afraid of them...this is our bus." No sense here; those with all the power, those who abuse this power, think themselves powerless and continue to do all they can to make their world and ours a more brutal place, a more unjust place, a more dangerous place. Outrage is hope.

When will we wake up? Will it be too late?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Dear Friend, Your Buddy Misses You

Denver the dog, Joan and Mabel, at Rocky Bound Pond, New Hampshire, 1970s, c. LHEF

Dancing in #13A,c. LHEF

Singing in New Jersey, 1970s, c.LHEF

At Rocky Bound Pond, 1970s, c.LHEF
Work night at the old Archives, c. 1980 with Irare, Linda, Morgan, Beth, Jan, Deb, Sam, Judith, Joan, c.LHEF

with Deborah and Rota Silverstrini-Pardo, 1970s, c.LHEF
at the First March on Washington for Gay Rights,c.LHEF

Mabel,Joan, Deborah, Judith, in the early days of LHA at #13A, c.1977, c.LHEF
At a rainy Gay Pride March, NYC, 1984 where Ms. Hampton gave her speech, "All My People" c. LHEF

"My Buddy"
(written by Gus Kahn/Walter Donaldson)

Life is a book that we study
Some of its leaves bring a sigh
Tshere it was written by a buddy
That we must part, you and I

Nights are long since you went away
I think of you all through the day
My buddy, my buddy
Nobody quite so true

Miss your voice, the touch of your hand
Just long to know that you understand
My buddy, my buddy
Your buddy misses you

For all those who were lucky enough to hear Ms Hampton sing these words and for all those who find wonder in this story 

Please use this post as a jumping back point for "'I Lift My Eyes to the Hill': The Life of Mabel Hampton" (1902-October 1989) and for a visit to the Lesbian Herstory Archives

"'I Lift My Eyes to the Hill: The Life of Mabel Hampton," 1902-October 26, 1989: An Introduction

Ms Hampton, and her beloved dog, Liberation, doing archives work at #13A, c.1977

What precedes this introduction in 7 installments is a recreated version of the talk I gave in 1992 on the life of my friend and icon to the New York lesbian community, Mabel Hampton, who died in October 26, 1989. When I was told that I would be the recipient of the first David Kessler Award for Life-Time Achievement early in 1992, I was overwhelmed by the honor and the responsibility of the public talk I was expected to give under the auspices of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. I could speak about anything, but I knew that what I wanted to do was another kind of lesbian history, one that highlighted the  material realities, the cultural  richness and the social struggles of a working class lesbian woman. Discovering and preserving these histories so often overlooked in our infatuation with the Paris circles and the ruling elites was always at the heart of my dedication to the work of the Lesbian Herstory Archives. This intellectual focus came second to my inability to accept the loss of Ms. Mabel Hampton, a woman whom I had known almost my whole life up to her death, a woman who along with her partner or wife as Ms. Hampton called her, Ms. Lillian Foster, had passed their judgement on my first lesbian passion, Carol, as we sat around tables at one of the fabled gay balls held in the Bronx in the early 1960s. The talk was a presumptuous one in some ways. Using Ms Hampton's papers that had been left to the archives, the oral history tapes I had made with Ms Hampton over the years and the photographs we had taken of our shared activities, I set out to, in a little over an hour, recreate the main themes of Ms. Hampton's life as an African-American lesbian woman born at the beginning of the twentieth century in the deep South. The evening became with a singing of the African-American national anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing," which is what Ms Hampton would have expected and then I delivered the talk, "'I Lift My Eyes to the Hill': The Life of Mabel Hampton as Told by a White Woman" with a large framed image of Ms Hampton on the stage with me. When the words were over, a screen was lowered and the slides I had made of the material documents of Ms Hampton's life, along with her bequeathed photographs and those I and others had taken of Ms Hampton in the last years of her life when she was very active in the lesbian and gay community poured into the packed room, all set to a tape of appropriate music created by Paula Grant, a friend of Ms Hampton's and of the archives. Thus into the room came the voices of Florence Mills, Josephine Baker, Marion Anderson, Paul Robeson, Nina Simone and Ms Hampton herself. I do not know how to share that music with you, but I have tried to share all the rest, now almost 20 years later. This is a work in progress so I will be adding more images as the weeks go by. In typing in the old text and ordering the images, I realized that many histories were being touched on--the history of the archives in its first home, apartment #13A at 215 West 92 Street, the site of our dinners, our adventures, our mutual care- taking; the history of Arisa Reed, a young woman, a "daughter" of the archives as we called the young women who spent long days in 13A, whom we could not save from her own despair; the history of the archive family with Ms Hampton often at its center, and primarily, the history of this indomitable woman whose voice still rings in my ears--"I would rather go for drive then eat when I'm hungry," "It was terrible, Joan, just terrible," "Oh, she was a good lookin' girl!" "What do you mean, when did I come out, I was never in!" and in the deepest of ways, "If I give you my word I will be there, I will." And she always was.

I offer you this portrait of Ms Hampton and Ms Lillian Foster in honor of all who shared their journey--all who visited with Ms Hampton on the work days at the archives, all who marched with her down Fifth Avenue on Gay Pride Days, all who helped in her care, who arranged speaking moments for her, who became her good friend, all who knew she was their history. Here you will see images of  Deborah Edel, the supreme papa in Mabel's eyes, Morgan Gwenwald, Paula Grant, Georgia Brooks, Linda Levine, Ms. Hampton's new family in her later years and always to the Lesbian Herstory Archives, where you can visit with all the originals of the materials you will see in the preceding sections and so much more.

I know there are errors here and I will work to correct them. I know those words written 20 years ago are not always the best, and please remember, I had an hour to tell a life, but I offer it all to you, to do better, to do more, to keep lesbian history growing more complex and rich with the wonders of these lives.

James Weldon Johnson--author of "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing"; also known at the Black National Anthem

Lift ev'ry voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring.
Ring with harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise,
High as the list'ning skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chast'ning rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet,
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till not we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by thy might,
Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, forget Thee,
Shadowed beneath thy hand,
May we forever stand,
True to our God,
True to our native land.

Ms Mabel Hampton, c. 1920s

Friday, October 28, 2011

"I Lift My Eyes to the Hill: The Life of Mabel Hampton" (1902-October 26, 1989) Part 7

Georgia Brooks, Arisa Reed and Mabel Hampton, LHA at #13a, c. late 70s, c.LHEF

In our history of Ms. Hampton, we are now entering the so-called conforming 1950s, when white, middle-class heterosexual women, we have been told, are running in droves to be married and keep the perfect home. Reflecting another vision, Ms. Hampton carefully cuts out and saves newspaper articles on the pioneer transsexual Christine Jorgensen. From 1948 until her retirement in 1972, Ms. Hampton will work in the Housekeeping Division of Jacobi Hospital, where she earns for herself the nickname "Captain" from some of the women she works with, who keep in touch with Ms. Hampton until their deaths many years later. Here she meets Ms. Jorgensen and pays nightly visits to her hospital room.

From Ms. Hampton's saved documents: Daily News Article, December 1, 1952:  "Ex-GI Becomes Blond Beauty," contains a letter written by Jorgensen explaining to her parents why there is so much consternation about her case. She concludes, "It is more a problem of social taboos and the desire not to speak of the subject because it deals with the great hush, hush, namely sex." 

Ms. Hampton begins the decade earning $1, 006 for a year's work and ends it earning $1,232. Because of lack of money, Ms. Hampton was never able to travel to all the places in the world that fascinated her, but in this decade she adds hundreds of pages of stamps to her overflowing albums, little squares of color from Morocco and Zanzibar, from the Philippines to Mexico.

Throughout her remaining years, Ms. Hampton will continue with her eyes on the hilltop and her feet on a very earthly pavement. She will always have very little money and will always be generous. In the 1970s, Ms. Hampton discovers senior citizen centers and "has a ball," as she liked to say, on their subsidized trips to Atlantic City.[Throughout her later years, Ms. Hampton stayed at #13A and delighted in disappearing for days at a time on jaunts to this New Jersey casino- world on the sea.]

Lillian Foster and Mabel Hampton on Hudson
River Boat Trip with their Lesbian Community, c. 1971
Ms. Hampton in her Eastern Star dress with LHA's image of Ms. Lillian Foster in the background, c. 1980

While Ms. Hampton and Ms. Foster had been living with us at 215, Ms. Foster had showed the first signs of heart failure, that sadly claimed her life in 1978.

Lillian Foster in her Bronx home, 1977

After almost drifting away in mourning, Ms. Hampton found new energy and a loving family in New York's lesbian and gay communities. She will have friendly visitors from SAGE and devoted friends like Ann Allen Shockley, who never fails to visit Ms. Hampton when she is in town.

Ms Hampton's telephone book
Ms Hampton with SAGE friends, 1984

Ms. Hampton will march in Washington in the first National lesbian and gay civil rights march. She will appear in films like Silent Pioneers and  Before Stonewall.  Through the mid-80s, Ms. Hampton attended several all women festivals and camps, such as Sisterspace, loving the women's bodies all around her and met with many members of lesbian and gay organizations and marches in the yearly NYC gay pride demonstration. In 1987, she accompanies  Deborah Edel and her partner, Teddy Minucci, to California, her first airplane trip, so she can be honored at the West Coast Old Lesbians Conference.

 Reading Azalea, a journal of African-American lesbian writings, 1980

Drumming with Amazon Autumn women, c. 1980s

With Lee Hudson doing home repairs, c. 1980s

Marching, 1979

She will eventually have to give up her fourth-floor walk up Bronx apartment and move in with Lee Hudson and myself, who along with many others will care for her as she loses physical strength.

Outside #13A, 1988

The directions of care for volunteers who shared Ms. Hampton's care in her last days, 1989

On October 26, 1989, after a second stroke, Ms. Hampton will finally let go of a life she loved so dearly.
Ms. Hampton never relented in her struggle to live a fully integrated life, a life marked by the integrity of her self-authorship. "If I give you my word, she always said, "I'll be there," and she was.

On her death, her sisters in Electa Chapter 10 of the Eastern Star Organization honored her with the following words: We wish to express our gratitude for having known Sister Hampton all these years. She became a member many years ago and went from the bottom to the top of the ladder. She has served us in many capacities. We loved her dearly. May she rest with the angels."

c. 1980

Class and race are not synonymous with problems, with deprivation. They can be sources of great joy and communal strength. Class and race, in this society, however, are manipulated markers of privilege and power. Ms. Hampton had a vision of what life should be; it was a grand, generous vision, filled with good friends and good food, a warm home, her Saturday afternoon opera broadcast from the Metropolitan, and Lillian by her side. She gave all she could to doing the best she could. The sorrow is in the fact that she and so many others have had to work so hard for such basic human territory.

"I wish you knew what it's like to be me" is the challenge posed by a society divided by race and class. We have so much to learn about one another's victories, the sweetnesses as well as the losses. By expanding our models for what makes a life lesbian or what is a lesbian moment in history, we will become clearer about contemporary political and social coalitions that must be forged to ensure all our liberations.

A communal dinner at #13A with Deborah Edel, Ms. Hampton, Arisa Reed, Batya, and Mary, c. 1980 

We are just beginning to understand how social constructs shape lesbian and gay lives. We will have to change our questions and our language of inquiry to take our knowledge deeper. Class and race, always said together as if they meant the same thing, may each call forth their own story. The insights we gain will anchor our other discussions in the realities of individual lives, reminding us that bread and roses, material survival and cultural identity, are the starting points of so many of our histories.

In that spirit, I will always remember our Friday night dinners at the archives in #13A, sometimes with a life size portrait of Gertrude Stein propped up at one end of the table; Ms. Hampton sitting across from Lee Hudson, my partner then, a midwesterner; Denver, the family dog, right at Ms. Hampton's elbow, and myself, looking past the candelight to my two dear friends, Lee and Mabel--all of us carrying different histories, joined by our love and need of each other and of a more just world.

Ms. Hampton's speech at the 1984 New York City Gay Pride Rally:

Ms. Hampton, #13A, 1979

Ms Hampton. still marching, with Terry and and Nancy, NYC, c. 1981

Ms Hampton in the hands and hearts of new generations