Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Belgrade, Our Lesbian Family in Belgrade, Our Communities in Belgrade, The Divas Belgrade,Hope in Belgrade, Lepa's Belgrade

with Adriana, Women's Studies Professor
with Nina, one of our translators, at the Rex event
For once, words are not coming easily to me. Our time in Belgrade, under Lepa's guiding hand and heart, our talks and walks, our listenings, the courage we found, the faces, the voices, the touch of so many, women's bodies doing huge things--in Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Heznegovia, Slovinia, Macedonia, histories gathered in the meeting rooms of the old hotel Majestic at one end of Republic Square, in the viewing room of the left leaning Ritz Theater with its carefully ordered plastic chairs, in the lesbian cafe on the corner of a street in Lepa's neighborhood, the old Jewish quarters of Belgrade, in darkness such light, the feel of bodies I had, we had, already grown into love by that last night when we spilled out of the Rex cinema space, into the soft night, not wanting to let go of each other. La Professoressa and I, speaking, listening, leaning into the voices of our translators, Nina and Tanja, a new kind of intimacy where they became part of us, English whispered into our ears, our words flowering into the Serbian of Tanja, our stories of lesbian histories, of women's struggles in times of war and national divisions, we listened and saw the maps of loss, of these women's journeys in a region struggling to find possibilities of hope--these women who take on fascist forces when they walk in the streets, when they refuse nationalistic demands with their bodies, with their organizing. Ideas and bodies, politics in the largest sense and in the most intimate--I know some of you will read these words and the more to come, I write to you directly, I sing of your gifts of touch, I write still feeling the warmth of your lives on my skin, I sing of the Divas all, of the students intent on wresting their life's desires from the difficulties surrounding them, in their determination to think their way through the challenges of the region, through understanding women's histories and the new thinkings of gender, through the challenges of 19% percent unemployment--the official count, I sing of Queen Latifa soaring through the streets of Belgrade in her taxi, facing all the discriminations that Romany People endure every day and more because she loves women, Lepa's final wave, lasting, lasting forever, as she and Queen rode back into their histories, into their daily actions of change and sometimes, just the hugeness of survival. I sing of the wonders of Lepa's kitchen table where old friends from Women in Black in Belgium and Nela who now lives in Zagreb and whose face will always be with us sit and we eat pasta late in the night--with Lepa's beloved cats jumping on to the window ledges to peer into the garden's wonders and somewhere beyond a curve in the street flows the Sava into the great Danube. For now, these words will have to stand for all the wonders of our time in Belgrade, with the women of Belgrade's lesbian communities--more and more will come. I only want you all to know, every one whose hand or cheek I touched, every hugged body, every embrace, every conversation, every book placed in our hands, or who sat by me, by us, in bar or cafe or gathering rooms, I carry you with me, all you revealed to me.

Now we must prepare for yet another journey. La Professoressa is giving a keynote talk at a university a few hours from London so we are renting a car and setting off. Lepa, dear dear Lepa, thank you and all the others, the women of Labris and the Women's Reconstruction Project and for the Women Studies Department for all you made possible.


  1. Dear wonderfull Joan,

    Five of us are sitting in the kitchen of the Autonomous Woman’s Center after the long day shared with women who suffered hard life and came to us for the beam of dignity and empathy. We are talking about how we felt your depth of warmth allouding us and our lives in you and your face that gave us caring, powerful, intense presence that filled the entire hall of Majestic and Rex, the streets of old Jewish quarter Dorcol we walked together, the cafe space full of light

    We remembered the moments of the first day in a room dense of lesbians when you talked about your love life; recalling the passion in our bodies listening for the first time in our city, in our countries such vivid colorful erotic poem out loud for us only. Experiencing fluid between you and Diana throughout the night.

    Your words we cherish, they made us cry, made us smile to each other hours after your have stopped talking. The traces of craving in us. We heard your stories about lesbian desire and sex in such descriptive and beautifull way we have never ever pronounced before, your words with endless respect and love about moves of your body and your lover’s body wishing pleasure ... Gleaming faces of ours... nearness we felt with each other and with you, your stories that we shall repeat again and again and again with delight.

    Your letter.
    First Shebar sent it to us today. Zorica and Ana read it together in the small office of the Center in between the work, secretly, then after the work Tijana read it to Lepa, and then she printed it and we sat in the kitchen and invited Slavoljupka, and then Ana read it out loud ... pure excitement in our eyes, in our shining trembling hearts… Your spilled gift of touch for us.

    With you and Di
    Ana, Lepa, Slavoljupka, Tijana, Zorica

  2. I got the e-mail to translate from Aleksandra Nestorov who was present both Joan's Days in Belgrade, and here is what she wrote:
    Joan Nestle is evoking such unexpected flow of emotions that are trembling me, as tender waves floating through the body, I am incredibly thrilled that I have ever met her.
    P.S Meeting you and talking with you was WOW experience that made me feel alive, finally !

  3. I'm moved to tears reading the enormity, strength and joy of all you have shared.
    Janet xx

  4. Dear legendary Joan,

    It was our enormous pleasure and honor to have both you and Di as our guests on Lesbian Week. Your lecture about the history of LGBT activism, butch and femme, lesbian desire and the Lesbian Archive was an important, moving and extraordinary experience for all of us – and all the women who came there to listen to it later told us about what a big impression this left on them. To us as a lesbian organization, the great energy – positive lesbian energy – and solidarity gives us strength and resolve, and a renewed feeling of purpose for our activism. On the other hand we were also reminded of the value of archiving lesbian history in the region – to continue and expand the Labris lesbian archives.
    You and Di will be our cherished guests any time you decide to come back to Serbia.
    Jelena, Sandra, Sashka, Jovanka, Danijela, Sonja i Nina

  5. Lepa from 'Lepa's Belgrade' is full and happy. Joan and Di have spilled seeds of lesbian joy in lesbian community. Everything is easier now, discussing, organizing, preparing translation of essays of Joan's work, attempts to archive... Lesbian movement before and after the courage we found and touched in Joan's words life.

  6. ps. Lesbian movement before and after the courage and love we found and touched in Joan's words life.

    lepa mladjenovic

  7. dear Joan and Di,

    thank you for everything. Even though I usually can do things with words, there was something there that could and perhaps should not be described. Something powerful openned that night and we all will have yet to learn what and in what ways... Your words about Belgrade are a continuation of that great experience, so please do continue to remind us!

    with love