Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Sinister Wisdom, Lesbian Imaginings in a New Time

Sinister Wisdom 93: Southern Lesbian-Feminist Herstory 1968-94 is in the mail to all subscribers! Watch your mailbox for arrival in the next 14-21 days. There is a special gift to all subscribers in the envelop--be on the look out for it!
Not a subscriber? Order a single issue of Southern Lesbian-Feminist Herstory 1968-94 here or sign up for a full year subscription here!
Read Later

Box of Sinister Wisdom back from mail shop!
The box of journals with subscription cards arrived in the mail yesterday signalling that all copies of Sinister Wisdom 93 have been dropped in the mail in Baltimore, MD and are winging their way through the USPS to subscribers here and abroad.
We changed the envelop with the issue this time because we had some problems during the last mailing with some folks receiving only an empty envelop! If that happens to you withSinister Wisdom 93, let me know and I'll get a new copy in the mail to you without delay. We are happy to replace issues lost or damaged in the mail.
When your issue arrives, take a quick snapshot of the issue, or better yet of you READING the issue!, and send it along to sinisterwisdom at gmail dot com. We'll post photos of people reading Sinister Wisdom over at our Facebook page.
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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Bendigo, a Town Touched by the Gold Rush So Many Years Ago, is Now Struggling with Those Who Encourage Islamaphobia

Would Growing Up with a Mosque in Bendigo Have Been Different

I had a typical upbringing in Bendigo: bush dances, netball, and singing hymns at the local school. There was no hate; just a missed spiritual connection that is now being addressed

bendigo and city
'Local Muslims in Bendigo are seeking a space to meet their spiritual needs.' Photograph: Bendigo Trust/AAP
My favourite memories during my 1980s upbringing in Bendigo were yabby catching, bush dancing, netball and The Brady Bunch. So much of who I am today as an adult, working professional and Australian, stems from my time in that country town with its predominantly Anglo-Saxon population.
Not surprisingly, the shrill tone of this recent "No mosque in Bendigo"campaign, deeply enmeshed in hate and irrationality, fails to resonate with the spirit of my neighbours, friends and the community leaders I grew up with.
I'm a fifth generation East African-born Muslim of Indian origin, and I grew up feeling very much a part of my hometown. I attended the local schools and can confidently say my faith was never cause for discrimination, hate or fear amongst my peers and community. While a country upbringing may be comparatively more conservative than a city one, I enjoyed the best qualities of inclusion, self-confidence and plenty of opportunities to succeed.
My Bendigo schooling saw me attend church services, sing hymns at school assembly and achieve straight As in religious education. None of these experiences placed me at odds with my faith. Instead they provided me a genuine understanding and respect for others' beliefs. My family were ardent members of the Indo-Australia Club, partaking in functions that celebrated our heritage. In school I studied the Dreamtime, Chinese culture, and learned French and Indonesian. I celebrated Easter with friends and Eid with my family, without any crisis of conscience. The naysayers and hatemongers had no oxygen when I was growing up.
I’ve wondered how my upbringing might have differed had there been a local mosque to attend, both for my own spiritual rounding and that of my classmates. My first mosque visit was in the Melbourne suburb of Preston as a 13 year old. I recall being mesmerised by its tranquil ambience. Upon returning to Bendigo I realised how much I missed that spiritual connection, which until that point I never knew I needed. Ultimately, that is the purpose of places of worship – to provide a spiritual repose for practitioners of any faith.
Thirty years on later, the political and cultural landscape of Australia has transformed significantly, without a doubt. But what I understand to be the fundamentals of Bendigo culture – understanding and acceptance – cannot have changed that much.
The anti-mosque group peddles a concept of fairness applicable only to those whom they deem spiritually fit. They have distributed hate material, given speeches and tied black balloons to the houses of pro-mosque councillors. Their strategy is to demonise the other, based on a false belief that the host culture needs protecting from being polluted and overrun. If that fear-mongering sounds un-Australian, that’s because it is.
Today local Muslims in Bendigo are seeking a space to meet their spiritual needs. In a democracy, it seems an entitlement so basic as to hardly warrant controversy. To the Bendigonians I know and love, the responses of bigots are foreign and in no way reflective of the majority view. Evidence points to a mainly externally sourced "rent-a-racist" collective, marshalled by the Q Society, who are sadly tarnishing the good name of the golden city where I grew up.
I view these agitators as extremist hate-ists, addicted to spewing forth vitriol. However, I am prompted to keep calm and recall the wisdom of my year 11 English teacher who assured me,"‘you can’t be rational with irrational people". Ah, for the wisdom of country folk; haters, take heed.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

My Lesbian-Feminism: Jacqui, Joan and Chea, 1980s

                                   Jacqui Bishop, Joan, and Chea Villanueva: Three Writer Friends on a Reading Tour,                                                           Somewhere in New England, 1980s

            La Professoressa  has departed for Adelaide to visit with family, leaving Cello and I to ramble in our memories. I have been answering several letters by women researchers trying to understand what was at stake in the deeply conflicted late 1970s and 1980s over issues of sexual pleasure and danger. I soon learned the pitfalls of looking back from my 74 years at a time when I was passionately engaged, the longings that arose again, the mistakes of memory but not of heart, I still believe. The wheel of historical interest is turning; for years women would write me asking about the bar days of the 50s and 60s, but as we become fewer and fewer, the focus now is on the early days of lesbian-feminism and the politics of our connections and exiles. That is a good thing and I know how rich are the Lesbian Herstory Archives holdings form those years.

 As I was writing to one of the researchers, trying to explain my disaffection for Women against Pornography and their tactics at the time, I remembered with a gentle fondness, my younger self''s decision to wear a black slip when I was reading my erotic writings, to put my large woman's body behind the words, an honesty of unavoidable location. Sometimes women walked out of the readings in protest both to my words and to my body, but this was how I lived my politic in Reagan America. Then I remembered that wonderful Saskia Scheffer of the archives had found this photograph of a writing- reading tour I did with Jacqui and Chea, perhaps the only image of the black slip Joan still in existence. How self absorbed this is, and how inconsequential, I think, but how moved I am by this image, all of us, the bad girls, standing before a performance with a New England weather beaten porch fence behind us. Thank you, comrades, for the embrace. I can feel the body under the slip still and the warmth of yours against me.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

In Memory, Leo Seemanpillai; in Shame, the Abbott Government--and More

Leo Seemanpillai, "the Tamil asylum seeker who died recently after setting himself alight will be buried in Australia later this week without any of his family being allowed to attend his funeral." (Alexandra Kirk, ABC News, June 14, 2014)
I wrote of the joy of playing, the simple acts of bodies touching as they chase balls or block the stumps. I knew that this moment of sun and park and loved ones, new and old, was a privilege that came with all the things that made me a recipient of safety, but all around me are bodies unwanted and yet they try so hard to make sense of senseless suffering; they try so hard to offer kindness in the face of uncaring and ahistoric judgements of their humanity.

I did not always know where Sri Lanka was or of its divided history; I first learned of its civil war when I was editing an international collection of lesbian short fiction in 1996 and began exchanging e-mails with Yasmin Tambiah, a Sri Lankan writer who had returned home after her college education in America. We could only reach each other when electricity was available, when bombs were not falling, when Yasmin was not attending the funeral of friends lost in the conflict. She wrote then, "September 1984: Three months since I returned to Sri Lanka with an American college degree. The civil war has spilled beyond the Northern Province. Metal gates to my parents' house still bear the dents of rock-throwing mobs. There are ax marks on the wooden doors. New plaster hides a ceiling charred by a burning tire. Embattled elsewhere I relive the horror of July 1983 through my siblings' eyes. It is difficult to articulate the deep loss within, the negation of familiar fictions, the awareness that exile in one's own country is even less bearable that at a distance. It is a loss compounded by my family's fear."

Yasmin and I now live in the same different country from where we started and once again are working together to articulate the world of the displaced. What first saddens and then encourages the deepest of anger in me at the politics of so- called border protection and its new twist here of using the poorest of near nation islands to build detention camps, and this is a policy supported by Labor as well as the right wing Liberal Abbott government, is the cascading heartlessness that punishes the already punished. Our newspaper that we read here, The Age, portrays the exiles that took this young man's life:

"Persecuted in Sri Lanka, exiled to India and tortured in Indonesia, the final indignity for asylum seeker Leo Seempillai--who self-immolated--is that his family has been denied visas to attend his funeral in Australia." (Konrad Marshall, June 18, 2014)

But in his short time in this country, Mr. Seempillai had made dear friends and they gathered, his family of sad knowledge. Cathy, the retired teacher holding the photograph, talked to reporters of Mr. Seemanpillai's generosity in helping other asylum seekers in the Geelong bay side town where he lived. It was she who would translate his letters from the Department of Immigration. "That seal," she said, " never failed to terrorize his heart." This man and so many like him cannot touch the heart of a rich nation, but our hope is always in the eyes of those who go beyond the closed doors, who refuse the national way of doing things. How many camps will the rich nations have to build to keep out the seekers for hope, dispossessed by histories of violence and greed our governments helped to create? How high will the walls have to be and what shriveled remains will be found on our side of the wall, outside the camps, within the gates?

Monday, June 16, 2014

To Play in such a World as this is Divine: A 74 Year Old Fem Lesbian and her Cricket Bat

Here I have learned to play new games with new friends but the old red nail polish still holds true.

Our team--La Professoressa, Oishik Sicar and Debolina Dutta behind the camera. I know my form is off but not our pleasure.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Trying to find My Way Back

  Marching once again against the onslaughts of the right wing Abbott government, this time with the workers. The Bust the Budget rally, June 12, 2014 marching from Trades Hall to Parliament House.

Their yellow vests announcing their trades, their union banners rolled out once again, their faces worn and determined.

I thought words would never leave me, but now silence is a quiet deep inside. I am aware of how many words are pouring out almost every minute on these invisible airways, I am aware that all is an answer to our feared fragility and I am aware of the great privilege of safety that I have, a quiet room on a quiet street with my love asleep and Cello curled up on his chair.

I have turned 74 since last we met. I have been inspired by the young activists of the Australian Jewish Democratic Society, I have heard young Palestinian women and men speak with young Jewish women and men, calling for all the histories of displacement to be mourned, for the Occupation to end, in a room filled with older people who did not want to hear these words but who listened. I have offered my grassroots archival skills to AJDS so for their 40th anniversary, their history is being cared for, these brave people who are the pariahs of the traditional Jewish organizations here because they are dissenters from the unquestioning pro-Israel unified public face.

I have given my first Skype lecture, through the kind direction of Karl-Magnus to a room of lesbians and queer people in Gothenberg, Sweden. Speaking in the late night darkness of our study, La Professoressa curled up in a chair, wearing her Quantas pajamas and our small fireplace burning bright, speaking from our night into a Swedish afternoon and trying so hard to bring my body to them, not wanting to let them go after an hour of being with each other in this strange way, too hard to push the red button of disconnection. Karl recorded the session and it can be found on YouTube.

                                Cello, head down, butt up, reminding us he still can play

Yasmin Tambiah and I are in the final stages of editing our guest issue of Sinister Wisdom on Lesbians and Exile. It has been a long time since I have worked putting together collected voices, a long time since working with Naomi Holoch on the Penguin collections of lesbian short fiction and with John Preston on stories by gay men and lesbians of their shared connections but working with Yasmin brought back that special kind of joy when first tentatively you share your thinking and then in a rush of mutual trust and appreciation. The issue will be out in October of this year.

La Professoressa and I are in the final stages of planning our three month trip to New York, London and perhaps Slovenia, leaving in August.

So you see, life pushes me into known directions, caring for the papers of marginalized voices, finding texts, joining others walking in the streets, saying no to the heartless Right and finding my way back to you, always thanking Maddy who works so hard to keep my connection to this technology alive.

I hope you are still there.

The palm tree I gave La Professoressa 11 years ago blooms in our front yard, a ship of a pod and cascading fruit. My offerings into the night of this reconnection.