happy for the darkness

April 30, 2017

The year was 1945. It was during the war. I was about 15 and we were having one of our blackouts, manoeuvres – I forget what they were called, but we had these blackout practices, and we were sitting in the dark, me and my friend Minnie.

We were sitting on the stoop in Brooklyn and I had my arms around her because it was dark. I wasn’t scared; I was happy for the darkness, because I was able to put my arms around her and smell her. She had a very particular and beautiful smell. And so I was sitting like that with her, and she was embracing me too, when the lights went on, quite suddenly, or so it seemed, because I was oblivious to the time. And there was a woman who lived in the building that we were sitting in front of and she saw us holding each other that way. That was the first time I heard the word ‘lesbian’. She said in a very typical Jewish way, she said, ‘Look at this! A couple of lesbians.’ That was the first time that I heard that word.

The very next day I ran to the library, and I looked up the word ‘lesbian’ and I felt so proud of myself because it talked about the Isle of Lesbos and it mentioned something about Radclyffe Hall, who wrote something called The Well of Loneliness, which I took out that very same day and read and reread and reread.

So that was my first experience in hearing that I had a label: besides being a girl, besides being Jewish, I was a lesbian. Yippee!

From an oral history tape made with Sandy Kern, a Jewish, working class, butch lesbian, at the Lesbian Herstory Archives, New York, 1984

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