SJ (Susan Jill) Kahn, 71, died in the Oakland home she shared with her wife of twenty years, Jay Sky, and their ten-year-old son, Makani, on November 18th, 2019, six months after being diagnosed with a rare cancer. Along with her wife and son, she leaves behind her sister, Laurie, brother-in-law Michael, and niece Emily Rose. She also leaves a host of dear friends and intimates, and many communities in which she was a key participant.
SJ was born December 15, 1947 in New York. She identified as a Jewish fat femme lesbian for most of her adulthood and projected a sensual enthusiasm in everything she embraced.
Her involvement in the lesbian and feminist movements began in the early 1970s, when she met Linda Shear in a teacher training class and came out with her, then worked at a center for at-risk youth and on Chicago’s first lesbian paper, Lavender Women, hawking it on the city streets and participating in the paper’s communal dialogue. SJ is featured in a chapter of Michal Brody’s 1985 history of those Chicago years, Are We There Yet, in which SJ analyzes the life-changing difference between working on the left (doing scut work for leftist organizations) and becoming a valued thinker in lesbian groups. She left Chicago in the early-70s with several friends and lovers, ending up in Oakland, California, where she lived the rest of her life.
In Oakland, SJ worked as a laborer for the city for several years as well as at the California School for the Deaf in Berkeley. Athletically inclined, she was a member of an Oakland softball team in the early 1980s (as she was earlier in Chicago). After injuring her back while using a jackhammer for the city, she went to the New College of California and received her Masters in Family Therapy, after which she opened offices in San Francisco and Oakland. Hundreds of clients benefited from her compassionate, insightful therapeutic skills over thirty years of practice rooted in her dedication to lesbian community and her political understanding of marginalization issues. She was on the faculty of The Women’s Therapy Center from 1997 until her cancer diagnosis, “helping new clinicians find their own authentic, wisdom infused style,” in her own words, and developing practices that dealt with class, race, fat oppression, gender identity and ableism.
Michigan festival goers will remember her office support and work on the kitchen crew, as well as her open-hearted commitment to the land, where she spent working vacations for many years while expanding her political and friendship circles. She was a valued member of the Sinister Wisdom editorial group from 1987-1994.
When SJ and Jay became parents to Makani, they whole-heartedly entered into new circles of support and friendship, including Camp It Up (A Queer Family Camp), Pact (an adoption alliance serving adopted children of color) and Head-Royce School, infusing new communities with their shared political and emotional wisdom and commitment to their son.
We will cherish and honor her presence in all of our lives forever. – Jay Sky
Several of us in the LAGAI community knew SJ as part of a lesbian group in Oakland with Duck and Pat in the late 1970s. Some of us knew her from the Oakland women’s dojo. As the Oakland lesbian community blew apart, many of us lost touch with each other, beyond the occasional encounter over the years. SJ was a force to be reckoned with, a dyke of great humor, warmth, and ferocity. We will miss her in the world.