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The River Diaries

Monday, June 26, 2000

Again I must go back—to Gay Pride weekend here in New York City. I was too ill to walk on Saturday night in the Dyke March, an event that is fast outstripping the Sunday march for its political fierceness and vital new energies. Friends visited and reported on the events. On Sunday, the nausea having relented and responding to an early morning phone call from Deborah Edel exhorting me “to give it a shot,” I joined my Lesbian Herstory Archives comrades at 53rd Street and Fifth Avenue. I had been in Melbourne last year for gay pride weekend and so it was wonderful to see everyone, our red convertible leading the way. I walked only 12 blocks, until we passed the silence of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, so isolated in its closed-mindedness, the avenue teeming with tourists and queer people, but for the block of the cathedral only barricades and police with folded arms. No life, no sound. Such a huge stone silence. Until we passed the thronged steps of the New York Public Library, the place where over forty years ago I had learned that I was “deviant” and “pathological.” My energy gave way here, but it was a fitting place to leave the river of my people, for in the intervening years, we had transformed that library and its perspective on our histories.

I stood on a side street and watched the Archives’ contingent flow past, signs bobbing, faces of my friends carried by other friends—Audre Lorde, Mabel Hampton, Sonny Wainwright, Pat Parker, all present in their archival images—past me they went, carried away on the current of a community’s march into new times. It was hard to turn my back, to walk away from all the celebration, but I needed to rest, to think about it all.

Before I continue, I want to say that if you read these diaries you will be part of my landscape of illness, part of many other things as well, yes, but through it all will be the weather reports of what I was capable of doing that day, or what my fears are or the tumult of resistance.

Thursday, June 29, 2000

Perry happy that we are back on track. The river all gray today, but the two families of Canadian geese with their offspring do not seem to mind the heaviness of the air. I notice one pair is missing a gosling: where there were two fuzzy new ones last week, there is only one now. I think what could have taken this mean toll—a cat, a careless boat pilot, a weakness. Even on this patch of domesticated river, risks are every where.

We walk our way down the road; in the near distance, I see a large man, his back against the railing, pulling a small woman against him. He looks both ways as he positions her just the way he wants. I first feel anger at his unquestioned power, start to worry if the woman is being coerced into her position; I also feel the fullness of his loins, the weight of want. I feel every thing but her. I keep my eyes on them, seeing if she needs my help, but her face is buried in his chest. I continue walking, thinking all the time of how desire lives so close to danger. Where I saw danger, did this woman grasp at pleasure? I think of the times I touched my butch lovers in public, against similar railings, leaning into their pleasure, swelling with my own need, pushing my breasts into their hands, wanting them to take me right there in the open, my hands curving around their backs and always, at my back the fifty’s fear, that a violent hand would smash into this fragility of lesbian flesh. I had made my own way back to the woman I could not see, but I had not dispelled my distrust of the man or his power.

Perry, his tongue hanging out in the humid air, wanted us to turn around and so we did. He asks for less these days, but still on every trip he finds a grassy place on which to throw himself down, leading with his muzzle, and roll in delight, his paws waving in the air.

Perry in last fall's shadows


© 2000 Joan Nestle

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