Sunday, May 7, 2023

Collage created for the American Launching of "A Sturdy Yes of a People"--Jan 2023

Collage of Writings from A Sturdy Yes of a People, for American and Australian book launch, 2022 -2023 1. From Stonewall to Soweto, the people are resisting, and that chant and this struggle have brought us into new lands. History is not a dead thing or a sure thing. It lives with our choices and our dreams. It is the story of our glories and our sadnesses. It is at different times a lover, an enemy, a teacher, a prophet. It is always a collective memory as complicated and as contradictory as the people who lived it, but it is always a people’s story. Let our tale be marked by our knowledge of what had to be done, and let it shine with the passion of our attempt. (1988) 2. Of it all, it was your loneliness I could bear least: you who wanted touch so much became so diminished in your passions. I always saw you coming home from work so tired, so burdened. I wanted desperately to be able to call in from the other room your young husband full of strength and safety. Then, as I grew older, I wanted you to accept the love of women. Finally I wanted you to accept my love, but you did things your own way, like a tenacious farmer, chopping earth away from stone. 3. People are moving all around this globe in unprecedented numbers—following jobs, fleeing catastrophes, finding new air to breathe. There is a great intermingling of ideas, religions, languages, desires. Some are comfortable with this multitude of choices; others are rushing to shore up the boundaries of the known world by reasserting a politics of exclusion and deprivation. When all else fails, they reach for guns. 4. You were lying against the pillows, your hennaed hair spreading across them, your lipstick making the blue of your eyes even sharper. I get caught on those eyes; I think I see in them the seas I will never see—the endless blue on the map surrounding the continent of Australia, a blue I fear because it is as vast and unknown as death itself. You turned toward me when I entered, your body urging me to hurry. “I want you,” you said as I bent over you, taking you in my arms. I was deeply moved by your direct request and by my knowledge that I could meet your need. I kissed hard and then light, kissed your neck and shoulders and throat. I wetted your nipples, my mouth pulling on them through the sheen of your nightgown. I buried my head in your hair, pushing your face to one side with my cheek. I just wanted to touch you, to taste you, to make up for years of fear, of deprivation. Your breasts swelled to my mouth and I pulled them free of the gown, rounding them in my hands, resting my head against their swell. Here was an ocean I could survive. I slowly caressed the wetness out from between your drawn-up legs, opening you up, making love to every fold and crevice of your sex, knowing just what I was doing, and letting you know that I held your need in my hand. I was making love as much to your belief in me as to your body. 5 “’I’m Mabel Hampton, I was born on May the second 1902 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and I left there when I was eight years old. ‘Miss Hampton when did you come out?’ What do you mean? I was never in! I had a couple of white girlfriends down in the Village. We got along fine. At that time I was acting in the Cherry Lane Theatre. I didn’t have to go to the bars because I would go to women’s houses. Like Jackie [Mom’s] Mabley would have a big party and all the girls from the show would go. She has all the women there.’ 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. Ms Hampton’s address at the 1984 New York City Gay Pride Rally. ‘I, Mabel Hampton have been a lesbian all my life, for eighty-two years and I am proud of myself and my people. I would like all my people to be free in this country and all over the world, my gay people and my Black people.’ 6 This is the history I wanted; a conversation of possibilities, of lineages, of contradictions. 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 this last shared dinner. Feeling a little tired, I sat in the backyard, taking in the scents of the warm night air, the night sounds of Jerusalem. One by one, the students and their friend came to sit around me. They wanted stories of the body, wanted tales of how we survived the bigotries of 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 their bare arms. ‘Come back to us,’ one of the young women said, ‘when the occupation is over.’ But I do not think I will be able to make this journey again, and so this book, brought into being by the generosity of so many, is the way I honor all those in Palestine and Israel who bare themselves in the face of history and ask for an end to dispossessions, walls and exiles. 7 They called you freak and me whore and maybe they always will, but we fight them best when we keep on doing what they say we should not want or need for the joy we find in doing it. I fucked because I lied it, and Joan, the ugly ones, the ones who beat me or fucked me too hard, they didn’t run me out of town, and neither can the women who don’t walk my streets of loneliness or need. Don’t scream penis at me, but help to change the world so no woman feels shame or because she likes to fuck. 8 Things are not really the same. I am at the end of my life, not the beginning. I am not afraid of disclosure and only rarely ashamed. The end of the century is not the same as the middle of it. I know now that the eyes of the watchers are cold stones even when the sun of their convictions is riding high in the political sky. I know now that surveillance is the weapon of the insecure, the frightened, the pinched. I still fear, however, the human act of policing thought and speech, of hands holding pens to take down our words, never allowing themselves to enter into the messy world of debate. I still fear those who enter rooms cloaked in silent power and, while we speak, plan their retaliations. Surveillance is not seeing; it is the quiet planning of prisons. 9 Dedicated to my trans women, my women, friends The light from the naked bulb under which we worked flashed over Chelsea’s face, a strong chiselled, with thin arching eyebrows and a prominent bony nose. As she spoke of her days on the street, when she was always running from the police, and her constant search for a place to spend the night, all the years in between those gritty times and the present seemed to melt away. I listened not only to her words but to the turn of her head, the softness of her demeanour, the passion of her vision. Here I was in my late fifties, witnessing once again the power of memory t inform conviction, the conviction of one’s right to survive. Still haunted by the realities of street life, Chelsea had asked not to be left alone at the Archives in case the police showed up, as they sometimes did when some door or window was left open triggered our building alarm. Chelsea’s words poured into the steamy basement, demanding that room be made for another layer of history. 10 This is now my battle: to win back from the specifics of medical treatment—from the outrage of an invaded body where hands I did not know touched parts of myself that I will never see—my own body, so marked by the hands and lips of lovers, now so lonely in its fear. Touch my scar, knead my belly, don’t be afraid of my cancer. Enter me the old way, not through the skin cut open, but because I am calling to you through the movement of my hips, the breath that pleads for your hand to touch the want of me. Heal me because you do not fear me, touch me because you do not fear the future. Cancer and sex. One I have and one I must have. 11 Hope Wearing my voluminous flannel nightgown, I knelt before the small wood-burning stove, trying to see why the fire was so fragile. I felt hug and awkward in that position, aware of my rump and falling breasts, but the cold night air demanded that the fire be encouraged to burn at a brisker pace. My younger lover, small and tight in her body, sat on the couch watching me. I did not like what I thought she saw. I did not like the bigness of my ass, the weight of my body on my knees, and the just as I worked very hard to accept my lac of appeal, she said in a low firm voice, “You look so fuckable that way.” 12 Ten days had passed, ten nights of late-night telephone calls to her Havana hotel, just to hear her voice. Sometimes she would take the telephone out to the balcony—so I could hear the ocean, she would say. I pictured her, standing in her nightgown, the dark, warm night lifting the gown’s edges, her breasts outlined by the wind. Ringlets of hair weighed down with the wetness of the night. The sounds of that ocean never did reach me, but I knew what I was supposed to hear, and I could see, in the darkness of my room, the white heads rolling onto the beach, the curving sea wall that enclosed the people suffering in their beautiful city, suffering from the vindictiveness of my own government. She told me, as I yearned for her, that at dusk young lovers drape themselves over the sea wall, their bodies hard with want. In all the cities of the world torn by war or hatred, crumbling from bullets or embargoes, citizens search for the alley or rooftop that will harbour their love. I want the governments to know this, to know that this century is marked by people’s struggle to survive the deadliness of officials, young men and women, the lovers, proclaiming their hope in the grips of flesh. Havana, all torn by history and hope, was home to my lover, and I was jealous of its hold on her. My own history was crumbling and I, too, wanted my love to hold back the emptiness of disaster. But countries are larger than hearts, and so the days passed, and I did my days. 13 When we march in the streets, hundreds of thousands strong, we carry with us the lonelier courage of those who risked all because they said to someone of their own sex, “touch me here.” This small voice is still enough to rule us out of heaven, but whatever power comes to us in 1984 and beyond, we must not forget that for us passion is our politics. (1984) Think of what they fear from us—love and desire, rebellion and difference, play, tenderness, touch, freer children who do not call each other faggot, girls who strive for their own glory, men who do not have to hate softness. All their words and reasons for exclusions, all the tumult of their No, will fall into the shadows of history. You—my queer comrades—have given me a world where my words could live, where my love was kissed by the sun, where my anger turned to visions of possibilities. These are hard times, but necessary ones, these are the times when we BE, a sturdy Yes of a people. [Typed up on a dark night in April 2023 with Di away in New York city and I on the verge of another journey.] Thank you Julie for all.

"Desire So big It had to Be brave: Ann Bannon's Lesbian Novels" written in January 1983

It has been three years since I have written on this blog and yet, it is still here and I can see some of you whom I will never know make your way to older postings. Thank you. I am now using the blog to make avialalbe some of my orphan writings that have never been published or have been in books now no longer available. If this helps a young scholar or student or anyone, I am very pleased. Desire So Big It Had To Be Brave: Ann Bannon’s Lesbian Novels Joan Nestle, Jan. 1983 (With gratitude to the Lesbian Herstory Archives and Saskia Scheffer for so quickly finding this unpublished essay. Typed on a typewriter, the mss had the following handwritten across the top: “Ann Bannon. Odd Girl Out, I Am a Woman, woman in the Shadows, Journey to A Woman and Beebo Brinker. All available from Naiad Press Inc., at 3.95$ each.”) Ann Bannon has come home, and I have waited twenty years to greet her. The author of the most read Lesbian paperbacks of the fifties and early sixties has resurfaced thanks to the efforts of Barbara Grier who had the ability to ferret out pieces of our herstory like a Lesbian retriever. When I first heard the news, I felt immediately vindicated for those times I had taken a leap of faith when I had answered, “No, Ann Bannon was not a man” after discussing the Lesbian paperback section of the Lesbian Herstory Archives slide show. I had already met Ann Aldrich (aka Vin Packer), March Hastings (aka Randy Salem) and knew they were part of our community. A staunch and wonderful woman, Valerie Taylor had already visited the Archives bringing with her the censored copy of Whisper Their Love that South Africa had declared too upsetting for their racist shores. I had seen photographs of Paula Christian speaking at one of the Lesbian writers’ conferences in Chicago, and Claire Morgan’s jacket photographs clearly announced her as a woman [retyping this in 2023, of course, we now know much more about Patricia Highsmith]; the only unknown still remaining in the pantheon of Lesbian paperback authors was Ann Bannon. When I was a fem in the fifties looking for Lesbian novels to read, I never questioned who wrote them if they gave me what I wanted: a world I could recognize and sex that I could respond to. Ann Bannon’s books did both. I had read The Well of Loneliness when I was sixteen and loved it as an upper class adventure story. I was fascinated by its European ambiance, its world of villas and mansions with their horse barns, its Paris salons and Welsh ambulance ladies but Stephen and her world were vacation from the realities of life. As a working class daughter of the Bronx who had been making love to Roz J. since I was ten years old, I knew I never stood a chance with Stephen but Beebo—well, maybe. Bannon’s books were of lives I could touch and of places where I walked and in the late fifties, I needed both these books—the emotional grandeur of The Well and the Village bar scenes of the Bannon world. In our archival presentations we have often referred to these early works as ‘survival literature,’ meaning that in their times they gave some of us something we could get anywhere else. Finding, buying and keeping the paperbacks was a political act. Called trash by the literary world and pornography by the commercial world, these books were hidden away on the pulp racks of the more sleezy drugstores. To pick the books out, carry them to the counter and face the other shoppers and the cashier was often tantamount to a coming our declaration. But all across the country, Lesbians were doing it; our need was greater than our shame. The books became parts of the personal caches of Lesbians, lent out only to special friends or to a young woman entering Lesbian life. The appeal of these novels is a complicated cultural issue; they were filled with hidden messages for me, not about depression or self-hatred which I filtered out because I knew it was the societal line and because my desire was greater then my despair, but about women straying off the beaten paths, about a visible sexuality, about a romantic energy, about a bravado that supported me in those young Lesbian years of the fifties. Now Ann Bannon’s five book series is available in an inexpensive Lesbian produced edition that will allow the Lesbian reader of the eighties to recreate an historical journey. The novels revolve around the adventures of three major Lesbian characters, Laura, Beth and Beebo Brinker, the Village butch who earned her living delivering pizzas and running an elevator so she would not have to wear a skirt. The fourth main character is Jack Mann, a friendly protective gay man who offers shelter to all three women at different times throughout the series. The first four books are about the education of Laura and Beth who move from sexual naivete to full Lesbian lust. Scattered throughout the novels are straight women who want a Lesbian experience, confused straight women who just want to be good friends and bisexual women who seem to be able to cause problems in both worlds. These shifting surfaces of women relationships does reflect the unpredictable world of female bonding in the fifties. But I am not getting to the essence of the books, how they start in a college dorm in Illinois, move through Chicago and end up in Greenwich Village, down the stairs of a fictious Lesbian bar called the Cellar, how they capture the sexual tensions of the times without ever using clinically specific words. In I am A Woman, particularly, Bannon creates a relentless world of desire, confusion and risk that is almost physically exhausting to read. The novels help to recreate a social history of pre1970 Lesbian life. In Odd Girl Out (1957) the only word used to refer to deviance ( the term of the time) is ‘homosexual.’ In the next novel, I Am a Woman (1959) Laura learns the terms, ‘gay,’ ‘ butch’ and ‘cruising’, and gets into a fight about the word ‘queer’ with Jack who is baiting her. Little by little, she learns about parts of her culture; she is told , “wear those pants, desert boots or car coat and men’s shirts and you are in business.” Bannon in one of the novels describes in a brief sentence the police clean up campaigns that went on regularly in the Village, “sweeping old dykes off the streets so young housewives would not be offended.” Most of all, Laura learns that there are women places called bars where women flirt with each other, pick each other up and make love. In whatever towns or cities these books were read, they were spreading the information that meant a new hope for trapped and isolated women. Beebo Brinker, the last book written in the series (1962) but out of sequence in the narrative development of the other novels, introduces us to a character we have already met in the earlier books as a passionate, sometimes jaded, sometimes, confused, butch. In this novel we see Beebo as a baby butch who hits the Village after being kicked out of a school in a middle American farm state for being too different. The cover of the original paper back shows a young, tired woman clutching a worn suitcase and leaning against a streetlamp that lights up the street’s name: “Gay Street.” Beebo soon masters her new city and goes on to become a Village regular. We will see her age, grow bitter, do some destructive things (for which Ann apologized in a recent Gay Community News interview) and eventually become a home for both Beth and Laura. There are sad moments, ugly moments in these books; they do not follow the eighties Lesbian feminist script. They were written in a different time by a housewife who hung out in the Village still not sure which one of these characters she was. Not revised memories, the novels are raw data, period pieces that are now finding themselves awake in another time, just as, in a way, the author is. The fifties were not a time that rewarded either difference or desire, The most prevailing literary metaphor for Lesbian life then was walking in the shadows. These novels ironically were blinking lights in that time of judgment; it is a delight to see Ann Bannon’s face in the light of day. Notes: for more information, see Maida Tilchen’s interview, “Ann Bannon: the Mystery Solved” in GCN (January 8, 1983, 8+ and an older article by Andrea Lowenstein, “Sad Stories: A Reflection on the Fiction of Ann Bannon” in GCN (May 24, 1980). Also Naiad press has reprinted some of Valerie Taylor’s early novels.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Just a Street

A quiet place to be, this small window, for fragments of thought and touch. Here is the color of my next over street, people's gardens throwing light on a gray day. Streets so different from my New York streets. Old streets still but no bustle, particularly now in our curfew virus time, but so tender it all feels, reminding me of the sweetness of Collodi's narrator in Pinocchio,when he replies to the excited children, the bambini, no, not a story about a king, my little ones. A tale about a piece of wood, just a simple piece of wood, un semplice pezzo da catasta, from the woodpiles that warm our winter nights. I do not know what will appear on these pages, or why at 80, sentences, expressions, cling to me. Non mi picchiar tanto forte! Do not hit me so hard, this same piece of wood says on the next page as the carpenter tries to chip away at him to form a table leg. I cannot get those words out of my head. Please do not hit us so hard.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Old Legacies, New Solidarities Presentation, 2018

Face Book is becoming more and more problematic. At 80 I will try to return to my writing here.  First I want to post the last public performance-talk that I gave for a queer conference here in Melbourne in 2019 before the virus hit. Thank you Daniel Marshall, Ann Vickery and Emma Whatman, the conveners of "Queer Legacies, New Solidarities," and to Hecate (44. 1&2, 2018) for publishing moments of the conference.

Added notes, August 16, 2020. This talk- performance has become very important to me. It is the last outing of this kind I will be physically able to do. For one last time I drank deeply of the joy of shaping a drama with people unknown to me for the most part, with offering the energy of thinking, artifacts, words that fitted no outline. Before this presentation, I had asked two friends, lesbians in their late 20s, how would they want to be spoken to in a public presentation--thinking of the static drone of most conference proceedings. "Don't tell us what to think" Ang said. "Help us ask questions." And that is why there are so many bits and pieces here, thrown out for conjecture and even fabrics to feel, bearing imprints of bodies, of stories. Two other background waters. First the physical challenge I had in getting my body with my cane, my suitcase of books, garments to the conference site. Having the thinkers, creators who had given life to my thinking all these years present, piled up on stools for all to see seemed necessary to me and so once again I became a schlepper. Last, I started the "talk" with the story of Lee and his kind words because of the tension one of the speakers had created between herself and the trans community. Lee gave me the gift of new solidarities and it seemed just the right time to share it.  The joy, the aliveness I felt, the love for what we were all trying to do together in that rather cold room, brought back all the LHA slid show presentations, the one woman erotic reading shows, the endless talks I have given and my teaching days on that cold hill in Flushing Queens on which Queens College stood. Now on this lifeless page, one more time. Thank you for listening.

  Reflections on Legacies and Solidarities from the Perspective of a 50s Fem: Fragments of Stories, Encounters, Perils and Cries of Possibilities  
                                       Acknowledgement of country: 

I acknowledge that we are meeting on the traditional country of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nations and pay respect to Elders past and present. I acknowledge that for 61 years on another continent, I walked the traditional country of the Lanapi people and I wish to pay my respects to their elders past and present. I acknowledge that the sovereignty of both these countries has never been ceded. This primary, brutal dispossession is at the heart of the brokenness of our human solidarities.

                                    Re-Creation of a Talk Setting:
   I set the room with many movable parts, all speaking to memory, encounters, geographies that have shaped my life, to old histories and new ones. From the speaker’s podium, I hang two garments: my old black slip in which I did erotic readings for three decades, the fabric still showing my large woman’s shape, and my black cotton Women in Black t-shirt that calls for an end of the Israeli occupation in three languages, Arabic, Hebrew and English that I wore at our weekly demonstrations here in Melbourne. These represent desire and engagement, perhaps another way of saying legacies and new solidarities. 
    On the wall behind me, moving from the left to right, the enlarged cover photograph of Urska Sterle’s book, Vecno Vojno Stanje—An Endless Struggle—which depicts seven young, Slovenian lesbian women with exhausted faces sitting in front of their small cafĂ©, their lesbian gathering place, which had been firebombed in the night. They sit in a protective vigil with their dogs lying at their feet. On the wall of the charred building are the words, “Death to Queers.” 
   Next come three panels of butcher block paper on which I have attached headlines and sentences, largely from newspapers in the days before the conference. Bulletins of queer concern, of irony and trepidation: 
...“Australia Better Off After Same Sex Marriage”: “…one of our most historic events. Now, one year on, our country is better. Thousands of couples have married, there is more commitment and mutual responsibility, our social fabric is stronger and there is more love” (Wilson).
... “Australia Battler Party”—“Right Wing Party Wants Migrants Put on Bonds” (Jacks). 
...“Gay Brazil’s Fears—‘the gates of hell have been opened’” (Phillips): “I would be incapable of loving a homosexual son. I’m not going to be a hypocrite: I’d rather my son died in an accident than showed up with some bloke with a moustache” (Lyons); “Where there is indigenous land…there is wealth…” (Sengupta). Words of the new Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro. 
...“Fringe Party Targets ALP Over Safe Schools”: “A glossy brochure claiming Labor is enforcing a school anti-bullying program that encourages young children to change their biological sex is being distributed to hundreds of thousands of Victorian homes…The colour leaflet, headlined ‘Stop Harming Our Children,’ attacks the Safe Schools program for its ‘dangerous agendas’” (Carey). 
...The Voices of Rise Up Australia and The Coalition Against Unsafe Sexual Education: “The newest most dangerous development in this program is to encourage children—separated from parental guidance—to act on impulse to ‘change’ their biological sex…” Translated into Mandarin, Arabic, Hindi, Punjabi, and Greek. 500,000 copies distributed (Carey). 
...“Gay teachers ‘more acceptable far from school’”: “It’s not just a matter of one’s attribute—it’s what one does with it that makes a difference.” “The archbishop said schools did not care whether staff identified as gay, lesbian or transgender but were concerned about ‘the public nature of what someone might say’” (Koziol). 
...From Vashti’s Voice, No 1, 1972: “On International Women’s Day, March 8 1972, 2000 people marched through the Melbourne streets demanding women’s rights. This must indicate the enormous potential power of women’s liberation as only a few years ago the movement was virtually unheard of…Women’s liberation is no fixed organization with a rigid platform that its members must adhere to— it is a state of mind” (Vashti Collective, 3). 
...“No, the gender pay gap is not a myth…” (Irvine)
... “Vice Chancellors rail against ‘death of a thousand cuts’”: “I think universities are in a very precarious position—more precarious than  we have ever been.” Vicki Thomson, Chief Executive, Group of Eight. “Vice-chancellors are also reeling about a planned ‘national interest test’ for research grants…[to] preclude projects deemed to undermine Australia’s security, foreign policy and strategic interests.” (Koziol)
...  “Millions for LGBTI tourism, but no mention of Safe Schools”: “The state Coalition has promised if elected…to establish Victoria’s first LGBTI business roundtable to be chaired by the premier, provide $500,000 in funding to support Joy FM in becoming one of the first tenants in the Victorian Pride Centre to be built in St Kilda, as well as $50,000 annually to digitise archives and ‘preserve the history and role of LGBTI Victorians’” (Precel). 

On the central panel is The Uluru Statement from the Heart, an excerpt of which is as follows: Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands and possessed it under our own laws and customs. This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial,’ and according to science more than 60,000 years ago. This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature,’ and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown. How could it be otherwise? That peoples possessed a land for sixty millennia and this sacred link disappears from world history in merely the last two hundred years? With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood. 

   Under it are these words by Bruce Pascoe: 
     "Many readers of the explorers’ journals see the hardships they endured, and are enthralled by their finds of grassy plains, bountiful rivers, and sites where great towns could be built;  but by adjusting our perspective by only a few degrees, we see a vastly different world through the same window. 

   Finally, a slide of a call to action by the New York Lesbian anti-Trump activist collective, Rise and Resist: 
   Rise and Resist is a direct action group. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. We are also, essentially, a grassroots direct action LABORATORY for democratic community-based change. Come meet with us, come find your activist people, come workshop your ideas, come find out where the action is already happening around your concerns for a democratic society. Come plug in. BRING your enthusiasm and commitment to making social change happen. GET support and training to be your best, most courageous self. FIND your voice. LOSE your fear. (Rise and Resist)
     On a small table, I stack the books that have informed my thinking for this time together: a living bibliography: Coranderrk: We Will Show the Country, the play based on transcripts (1881) created by Giordano Nanni and Andrea James (2013); tattered copies of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave Written by Himself, (1845) (1960) and Albert Memmi’s The Colonizer and the Colonized (1965), my companions for over 40 years; Voices of Vashti Anthology: Melbourne Women 1972–1981 (1986); Collected Poems of Pat Parker (2016); Gay American History by Jonathan Katz (1976); Memory for Forgetfulness (2013) and Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone (2006) by Mahmoud Darwish, and Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe (2018). As Pat Parker remarks, “Books don’t say much about what I did but I was there and I kept moving” (1999).  

                                                         The Talk --Story One
     Just a moment to share with you—last week, on a very cold morning, white head bent low, 30-year-old red coat, buttoned tightly, pulling shopping cart with cane in the other hand, coming home from our Asian Taste take-away on Grantham Street with wonton soup for Di and me—my legs hurting. I start one way and then turn the other, a little confused—a young man perhaps in his early 40s steps aside to let me pass. I say, a little embarrassed, “Changed my direction.” And he says with a little laugh, “It’s your prerogative.” I, ever on the alert for a feminist moment, say, “For men and women.” He answers as I pass him, “I agree with you a 100%, Joan.” I stop short. “How do you know my name?” Now all drops away and I am looking into a smiling, gentle face. He says, “Joan, I know your work. I want to thank you for all you have done for us. My name is Lee, I transitioned some years ago, but I lived in New York for several years and heard you speak many times.” I stand a little straighter, so touched by this accidental meeting here on this struggling street in West Brunswick, with a cold wind snapping at our heels. Thank you, Lee.
    That this is a space where feminist and queer cultural workers share their histories, their public thoughts in the same place, that sex workers are welcomed as an integral part of our movements—how exciting, how necessary, how a sign of our awareness of the danger of the times. I want to thank you all for the caring you have given my work, since I became a part of your communities 18 years ago. All of us here, many of us from endangered peoples, together where we need to be, a very powerful corroboree. 
    This conference honours the founding of ALGA (Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives) at the Fourth National Homosexual Conference in 1978 and the vision of Graham Carbery who housed his refusal of historical exile in the specially-dug basement of his home. This is the time too for honouring the work of the women who founded the Victorian Women’s Liberation and Lesbian Feminist Archives in 1983. I have an early memory of sitting with Jean and others deciding what to do with the collection that had taken over her home. I know this passion. Almost 50 years of pubic collecting of queer history—what will we do with it? What does it mean to have a history or histories; what are the critical intersections of all our stories? 
    "The colonized draw less and less from [their] past. The colonizer never even recognized that [they] had one: everyone knows that the commoner whose origins are unknown has no history. Let us ask the colonized: who are [your] folk heroes? [your] great popular leaders? [your] sages? At most, [they] may be able to give us a few names, in complete disorder, and fewer and fewer as one goes down the generations. The colonized seem condemned to lose [their] memory." (Memmi, 2003, 146–7)  (I changed Memmi's "He and his" to be more inclusive)
                                                                    Story 2

    It is a warm summer night in 1957. I am sitting in Tam Tam’s on Sixth and 8th in Greenwich Village—a grungy well-lit hole in the wall, bad coffee, but open to all the freaks—no need for IDs. The mirror lining its doorway often used by young lesbians to check their DAs, the favoured butch hairstyle of the day. This night it was only me and an older woman maybe in her 30s, I was 17 at the time, sitting diagonally across from me. I had been walking the Village streets, looking, yearning. I sip my coffee and then she speaks the words that gave me a world. “How are things over at the Colony, slow? But the night is still young.” My first public recognition, as a lesbian, as a queer. She had read me, she knew. I had never been to the Sea Colony, only heard of it as a tough, working class lesbian bar. I squared my shoulders and tried to sound knowledgeable—“Yeh—looks like it’s going to be a good night.” Before I was a lesbian, a fem, a feminist, I was a freak. 

     Legacy is a big word that can slide too easily into legitimate, into legalities, into lineages of power. Perhaps another remembering is what we choose to keep alive from the rawness of our beginnings, the ways of being that gave strength to get beyond the bleak, the limiting, the narrowing, the taken.  

                                                                     Story 3

In a conversation around the Lesbian Herstory Archives dinnerwork table in 1979, a Jewish woman in her 60s says, “I had a chance to read The Well of Loneliness that had been translated into Polish before I was taken into the camps. I was a young girl at the time, around 12 or 13, and one of the ways I survived in the camp was by remembering that book. I wanted to live long enough to kiss a woman.” 

Perhaps legacy is the shout of resistance from those not supposed to have a voice: "Things back then were horrible and I think that because I fought like a man to survive I made it somehow easier for the kids coming out today. I did all their fighting for them. I’m not a rich person. I don’t have a lot of money; I don’t even have a little money. I would have nothing to leave anybody in this world, but I have that—that I can leave to the kids who are coming out now, who will come out into the future. That I left them a better place to come out into. And that’s all I have to offer, to leave them. But I wouldn’t deny it. Even though I was getting my brains beaten up I would never stand up and say, ‘No don’t hit me, I’m not gay; I’m not gay,’ I wouldn’t do that… . (Matty, speaking of her life in the 1950s, (Davis and Kennedy).

 Perhaps it is a memory of dispossession, of a world taken away in a legal decision, in the service of the colonial illusion that the right to possession was a white European legacy, in the continued belief that “the tide of history” flowed in their service (Olney. The killing “blatant confidence,” as the Maori writer Linda Tuhiwai Smith has argued, “to see ‘others’ as tools” for their ascendancy (Pascoe 5). Legacies of arrogance, of a convinced right to power, to another’s home. 
    Can poems be legacies? Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, forced into a permanent absence from his own home, wrote: “The poem is what lies between a between. It is able/to illuminate the night with the breasts of a young woman/It is able to illuminate, with an apple, two bodies/It is able to restore,/with the cry of a gardenia, a homeland!” (Darwish, 110). 
      Are legacies cries from the centre that go unheard, can they be the refusal of a refusal? Is there a relationship between power and legacies, can a legacy be a plea to us to be more, to change the tides of history, to demand equities, to learn from the archives and to change them? 
     The archives must be a wild place—a borderless place, reflecting the anxieties of the present, questioning the certainties we called into being, because we were so sure we knew what we were seeing, who we were, who we wanted to be, certain of who and what endangers us, of where safety lies. Let our legacy be one of questioning our own blatant confidences. Power is coming our way; some nation states want to kill us, others court us. Now is the time to build our wisdoms of solidarity, our intergenerational listening, our appreciation for differences within our own communities turning away from closed borders. We all here have helped make the past, now we must with tenderness, integrity and community take on the future. 
    When I look over my 79 years, I bend in homage to three lifegiving forces: grassroots liberation struggles, communities of progressive thought, and always, our subversive bodies. Thank you all for listening one more time to this Bronx-inflected voice. I have learned so much under your Southern skies, histories that make me weep and solidarities that fill your streets and my heart. 
   Inclosing, KL, a new young friend from the Bootblack community I had met earlier at the conference, rose and read the Uluru Statement from the Heart. 


   Carey, Adam. “Fringe party targets Labor, backs Coalition, over Safe Schools.” Age, November 11, 2018. Retrieved 22 October 2019. .
    Darwish, Mahmoud. Memory for Forgetfulness: August. Beirut, 1982. London: U of California P, 1995. ——. Why Did You Leave the Horse Alone? Brooklyn, NY: Archipelago Books, 2006. 
    Davis, Madeline D. and Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy. Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community. NY: Routledge, 1993.
    Douglass, Frederick. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. [1845] Cambridge, MA.: Harvard U P, 1960. 
   Hall, Radclyffe. The Well of Loneliness. London, Jonathan Cape, 1928. 
Irvine, Jessica. “No, the gender pay gap is not a myth, and here's why it matters.” Sydney Morning Herald, November 15, 2018. Retrieved 22 October 2019. < >.       Jacks, Timna. “Life coach with sights on upper house wants 10-year bond for migrants.” Age, November 15, 2018. Retrieved 22 October 2019. 
   Katz, Jonathan. Gay American History. NY: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1976. 
Koziol, Michael. “'We are under assault': Major universities go to war with Morrison government over research cuts.'” Sydney Morning Herald, November 12, 2018. Retrieved 22 October 2019. ——.
    “Gay teachers 'more acceptable far from school.'” Age, November 20, 2018, 11. 
    Lyons, Kate. “Far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro wins presidential vote—as it happened.” Guardian, October 29, 2018. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
    Memmi, Albert. The Colonizer and the Colonized. London: Earthscan publications, [1957] 2003.        Nanni, Giordano and Andrea James. Coranderrk: We Will Show the Country. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies P, 2013. 
     Pat Parker:An Expanded Edition of Movement in Black. Ithaca: Firebrand Books, 1999. ——. The Complete Works of Pat Parker. Edited by Julie R. Enszer. Brookville, NY: A Midsummer Night’s, P, 2016 and Dover: Florida: Sinister Wisdom, 2016. 
   Pascoe, Bruce. Dark Emu: Aboriginal Australia and the Birth of Agriculture. Brunswick: Magabala Books Aboriginal Corporation, 2014. 
    Phillips, Tom. “Brazil’s fearful LGBT community prepares for a ‘proud homophobe’.” Guardian, October 28, 2018. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
     Precel, Nicole. “Millions for LGBTI tourism, but no mention of Safe Schools.” Age, November 18, 2018. Retrieved 22 October 2019. .
    Referendum Council. Uluru Statement from the Heart. 2017. Retrieved 22 October 2019. 
    Rise and Resist. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
    Sengupta, Somini. “What Jair Bolsonaro’s Victory Could Mean for the Amazon, and the Planet.” New York Times, October 17, 2018. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
    Sterle, Urska. Vecno Vojno Stanje. Ljubljana: Vizibilija, 2010. 
   Vashti Collective. “Editorial.” Vashti’s Voice, No.1, 1972, 3. Vashti Collective. Voices of Vashti Anthology: Melbourne Women, 1972– 1981. Brunswick: Vashti Collective, 1986. 
Wilson, Tim. “A year after the same-sex marriage vote, Australia is a better place.” Sydney Morning Herald, November 14, 2018. Retrieved 22 October 2019. same-sex-marriage-vote-Australia is-a-better-place-20181114- p50fyw.html

Friday, June 28, 2019

Thank you, Shebar, for getting this page back again. I will write more soon but here is my, our, dear Cello a few years ago. We said good-bye to him last week but like all who love and taste deeply of life, he will live. What times these are--50 years celebration of lesbian, queer, Pride in a city where Trump towers over all, in a country where yearnings for a better life drown in policed waters. 

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Words, Again

I have missed this little pocket of screen that some how feels it is just you and me, Joan as a writer in small places. Face book is the posting of my work, my projects, my sending on of calls to action and thank yous to all who live there. Here I am the the aging woman, the writer who never did another book but yet it feels as if I have never stopped writing. A 78 year old woman with yet another body mystery--a mass in my left lung that is not cancer, but a rare disease known as granulomatous inflammation--a word I cannot really pronounce. An autoimmune misreading, trying too hard to protect, it has created a hardness of cells that can be systemic but for now seems confined to my lung. The mysteries of the body misreading itself, a tenderness for its fallacies, when it errs on the side of protection. How human that all is--to create difficulties from too much vigilance.

I am still in Melbourne, still with Di, Cello still walks beside me, he and I slower, more crooked. We slant like Emily Dickinson's famous line, but I am afraid no truth seeps in. Other then the changing body, the changing abilities, the changing time one remains vertical. I am deep in helping to edit the Sinister Wisdom issue celebrating LHA's 45 years of existence along with wonderful LHA-ers: Red, Shawn, Morgan, Saskia, Deb, Maxine, Flavia. From 23,000 miles away, collaboration.
A Flame Robin, an Emblem of Passion, 2017, Anglesea, Australia

Like this pulsing heart of life, my heart, my head sometimes feels like bursting as I follow Trump's bellowing, the easy cruelties, the rush of money because Capitalism does not care who lives behind barbed wires or cocked guns-the overstatements of intent--I watch my NY Yankees, a daughter of the Bronx, I still am--and the the Boston Red Sox's sweat shirts assert "Do Damage"--not just simply win or do the best you can. The new Supreme Court Judge, a strange child man whose face pouts much like Trump's when he feels wrong done by, now a life time of power. Democrats demonized as the extreme left--we predicted this so many years ago when "liberal" became too scary for its progressive attachments--the center does not hold, it does not exist. But and the but is needed, we march, we get arrested, we write and create and vote and get others to vote and will never give up this resistance. 

I am very cold often and tired but books clothe me--my watercolor pencils take me into Cezanne's world, I miss my old friends and wish they were closer-- a kind of loneliness has been a companion my whole life, now intensified by this great distance from my historical home. I fool myself, this loneliness is in my bones.
A wonderful Visit with Morgan and Saskia, 2017