“As a woman, as a lesbian, as a Jew, I know that much of what I call history others will not. But answering that challenge of exclusion is the work of a lifetime.” (From A Restricted Country). I wrote these words in 1986 and though historical attentions have shifted somewhat since then, they still embody my dedication to creating a more inclusive story of women and Jews. I am now 65, living in a conservative America, in a world torn by war, by such desperate needs for safety that difference is a fearful thing. More than ever, I believe in a feminism that does not run from the full complexity of women’s lives, from the vital differences between us as well as the connections that bind us. A Jewish women’s history that seeks respectability at the price of our full story will disinherit some of our most embattled women. The Lesbian Herstory Archives is a place of remembering, of refusal of historical exile, where as a Jew from working class roots and a femme feminist from the queer 1950s, I could help ensure that shame and assimilation did not win out over our wondrous complexities. The archives must be a home big enough for all of us.
Joan Nestle was born in 1940 in the Bronx. She became involved in grassroots activism at a young age, protesting against the House Un-American Activities Committee, the Vietnam War, segregation, and apartheid, and supporting civil rights, women’s rights, and Gay Liberation. After graduating from Queens College and receiving her M.A. in English from NYU, she began to teach writing. In 1972, Nestle helped launch the Gay Academic Union, and in 1973, she co-founded the Lesbian Herstory Archives, a rich collection of documents and memorabilia of lesbian history and culture, including photographs, recordings, buttons, and publications donated by American lesbians. In 1979, Nestle started writing erotic stories and later became a pro-sex activist, combating the anti-pornography movement which had targeted her writing. Nestle’s publications include Women on Women: An Anthology of American Lesbian Short Fiction; The Persistent Desire: A Femme-Butch Reader; and A Fragile Union. She currently lives in Australia with her partner.