cover image A Fragile Union: New and Selected Writings

A Fragile Union: New and Selected Writings

Joan Nestle. Cleis Press, $14.95 (230pp) ISBN 978-1-57344-040-0

A leading light of lesbian and gay history (she founded the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn), Nestle presents a collection of her writings over the last 10 years. An effort to chronicle the lives of working-class lesbians lies at the heart of Nestle's work, and her essay ""The Life of Mabel Hampton as Told by a White Woman"" shows why the pursuit is so important: Hampton was a black lesbian from the South who worked most of her life as a domestic but also participated fully in her community and culture. She did not have to ""come out"" because, Nestle tells us, she was never ""in,"" and so provides us with ""the vision of an integrated life."" In ""On Rereading Esther's Story,"" Nestle shares her new ""understanding of butch and fem, of the drama of gender"" with regard to a Puerto Rican taxi driver named Esther, whom Nestle had years ago thought of as ""merely butch."" Some of Nestle's stories of lesbian erotica are included, and Nestle recalls that, during the 1960s, many lesbians were as shocked as heterosexual women by her boldness. Some of the best writing in the volume appears in Nestle's moving accounts of what it is like to live with colon cancer, as she not only tells of the extended and painful treatment but also includes poetic (and erotic) tales of sexual desire and its frightening ebb, and of sexual fun in the midst of devastating illness. Nestle is by turns earnest, pedantic, funny, bold and courageous; her collection is, clearly, the work of an irrepressible, principled woman. (Dec.)