queericulum vitae at antidote (to the poison of cultural industry) zine - issue #1
I feel a particular attraction for people and collectives who have specific targets, who do not hesitate to expose themselves, who's presence is consistent and who engage with not so common issues. This personal attraction, combined with some queer parties and queer teas, along with different conversations between me and people involved in queer issues, led me that evening at the pedestrian street of Tsamadou, in Exarchia. That's where I met members of the qv collective; they all speak in one voice and that's how they want to sound through their magazine. Qv raises many intriguing and tough topics and I was very happy to be among them again. Enjoy!
First of all, tell me a few words about your collective, how you understand the concept of queer and why did you name the group "qv"?
"Qv" is an abbreviation of "queericulum vitae" and it's sort of a pun on "curriculum vitae". A cv is something you write about your life. We wanted to play with words as in, a cv relates with what we call "experience". As for the concept of queer, if you asked the group I don't think anyone would tell you that we are a queer group. When we formed the collective we were looking for a name and when this idea came up, we liked it; part of our readings, back then, were on queer theory - and we wanted to explore this idea, of queer politics. The fact that queer as an identity concept is not something firmly fixed, suited us. In fact, you can think of queer as something that cannot be strictly defined? Well, of course the concept of queer forms part of a western vocabulary signifying the strange, the pervert; and it was a curse for homosexuals.
The choice of the movement to (re)appropriate such a word/concept was politically meaningful, as it was an attempt to go beyond the already established lgbt borders - the lgbt framework was already a way to speak out about sexuality, gender, body, desire, but it was also constructing some new categories, next to the dominant heteronormative man-woman scheme. The mainstream lgbt discourse was about gays and lesbians, creating small and closed categories, and it was definying the limits between the two. When queer as a concept appeared and surpassed all these, it implied that, in a sense, we can all be queer if we have issues with our sexuality, and therefore it is feasible to get politically involved in this movement. Moreover, it showed forth that there are so many categories that, in fact, each one of us can be his/her own category. The idea of queerness could include alternative straight sexualities, when this was not possible in the lgbt conceptual context; it could overcome this -rigid- separation: straight people on one side and gay-lesbians on the other. Within the queer understanding of sexuality and gender, a much wider range of difference can fit. Though, here in Greece until recently these issues have not been raised in political and social spaces, nor have they been developed or discussed. Perhaps one of the reasons why this happened is because the term "queer" is untranslatable and when used it does not ring any bell in greek society and culture. Perhaps all these reasons explain why statements such as "lesbian party" or "gay event" are much stronger here than elsewhere, because their connotations are clear, in the sense that they imply more things.
You mentioned the "experience". Why do you think that a personal thing such as an experience needs to become public or, in other words, why is there a need to form a group to discuss about personal experiences?
Well, what we do as a collective is not simply discuss our life stories - like one does when blogging on the internet, which has recently become very popular. For us experience is the starting point of reflecting upon the different political extensions of our personal lives.
So. would you say that every stance or movement in life is always shaped by some political characteristics?
Everything is political. Indifference is a political stance, ignorance too. Everything one does. Our standpoint is that the personal is political, but on the other hand we are not arguing in favor of some sort of political "purity".
What do you mean?
What we are trying to convey is not the idea of policing our experience, but that of attempting to decode its connection with a nexus of power relations in which we also participate. This nexus moulds us and simultaneously it is moulded by us. Just to give you an example, in the last issue of our zine -which focuses on disease and illness- we tried to analyze our own experience through the lens of being "healthy" or "sick". We started off by examining the experience of being in a hospital in order to explore and understand how the idea of health, the authority of knowledge and the systems of medicalization are being constructed.
The zine you mentioned, what exactly is it?
When we formed "qv", the first thing we wanted to do was to produce a discourse in relation to gender and sexuality. We have published 3 issues online, which can be found at www.qvzine.net . The first two were also distributed in printed form and now we are preparing to print the 3 rd electronic issue.
At this point it would also be useful to refer to certain topic-related events. In 2003, the gay club Spices in Athens threw a party with a dark room -something very usual in gay men parties. Though, during the party, cops followed by journalists entered the club and the whole story got a lot of publicity, people's faces were shown on TV; it became number one discussion topic on morning TV shows and one of the guys who had been arrested, committed suicide in jail; he was 40 years old and father of two children.
I mention this event just to show that homophobia in Greece can become extremely violent, although Greece is thought to be an EU country, with the island of Mykonos and other "liberated" spaces. Christian orthodox values, family ethics, the system of patriarchy in general, and homophobia all around us can produce violence in many ways. So, back in 2003, after that incident, many people from the lgbt community started to have open, public meetings within an attempt to mobilize and react against this violence. Since the mid 80's, the lgbt movement was kind of dead, very few organizations existed at the time of the attack at Spices and, with the exception maybe of the Lesbian Group of Athens, a grassroots collective, there was nothing really active. Therefore, it was in these meetings that it was made possible for us to find each other, to find people with whom we shared a similar understanding of things. In this sense, prior to deciding that we want to write/speak or publish a zine, the first thing we agreed upon was that we wanted to bring together those two -I shall not call them identities, but.- characteristics of our everyday lives. We live as lesbians, gays, trans and at the same time we are political animals; like every human being. Though, in my opinion, a criterion of "political" is when you define what you do as political. You are the only one who can determine something as political simply because you define it as such, because you say "what I do is political". Otherwise, of course everything is political. In our everyday lives we ask ourselves troubling questions such as: When are we gay? Are we gay in our workplace? Are we gay when we are with our families? Are we gay on our free time? On holidays? That's how being gay in our political activity became very important. Do you understand what I mean? All these different things to become one. Therefore, it started being very fundamental for us first to arrange meetings between us, to form a small community, 5 to 10 people, where we would discuss "our" issues and, eventually, exactly because we think of ourselves as political agents, to circulate the product of these meetings in the public space. The steps for such a process are easy, unless you choose your way. We chose the language/ the writing we were going to use and prepared our first e-zine. Language is very important for us in order to understand certain things and then communicate them to others; via the internet because there the lgbt and queer communities exist, are visible.
When you refer to the connection between sexual identities and the sphere of political should I assume this sphere is the anarchist/anti-authoritarian (a/a) scene?
No, we refer to a wider spectrum. From the far left/leftism to autonomy and anarchy.
Do you believe that the a/a scene in Greece has not engaged with the issue of sexuality as much as they have in other countries?
Hmmm, this is a tough one. Well, at different moments maybe the greek a/a scene did engage with the politics of sexuality. However, generally it hasn't, and we can't answer why, but there are a few points to be made which probably will help us understand. The a/a scene is a predominantly male scene, in other words it is a masculine space where you become a visible and recognizable subject only if you can claim such a masculinity. If you are not this, if you cannot appear with such a, let's call it, quality, with such a character, existence, way of living and acting politically then. Well, I don't know if you are in some margin, but for sure you do not exist. This means that you have to appropriate certain codes and present yourself in certain ways, which of course is a problem. So I think these observations are a starting point in order to explain why the greek a/a scene has not engaged seriously in issues of gender and sexuality.
Abroad there are lots of people and different communities involved in queer politics, such as the punk community, queer punk zines are published, there are queer punk scenes. Something is definitely moving. This is not at all the case in Greece. Why do you think there is room for queer politics within the punk scene, at least abroad?
I want to say something about political scenes. The Left, but also the anarchist scene do not have in their analysis the idea of the personal as being political. I think this is why; because they always speak for somebody else, the others. They would either speak for immigrants, prisoners or workers; there is always a distance between the one who produces political discourse and action, and the oppressed subject. On the other hand they claim to be, at least in principle, anti-authoritarians. So in order to understand this contradiction we have to go into their invisible/subconscious stances towards authority and power. In my opinion, to engage at a political level with the issue of gender you first have to decide for yourself that you are not looking for "authorities within authority" as something that is owned by someone "out there", like it exists in an "external" space, separate. You need to start from examining, confronting your own power position which creates your own racism against genders, which creates homophobia and so on; you also need to discuss patriarchy, a system of power relations which has shaped us all, every human being. It will then be easier to see yourself as a subject with power/authority.
Do you have relations with collectives from abroad? Are in touch with people, do you go to festivals?
Well, individually we do participate in different things. Once, one of us made a presentation of our group in a feminist gathering in Barcelona. Some of us have been twice to the QueerBeograd collective's festival, but generally, as a group, we are not so much in contact with projects and people abroad. We mostly focus on creating political relationships with groups and people here, in Greece; which is a hard job. That's why we have organized parties and events in sociopolitical spaces like the squat of Villa Amalias, the Autonomous Centre, the Immigrant's Centre, we discuss with the group Antifa Str.
The fact that you are present at Athens gay pride has to do with your willingness to communicate with people? And what is your opinion about this event which is rather mainstream?
In the days of the Pride we had organized some related interventions in public spaces. We feel, in a sense, connected with this day although we disagree with the way it is organized and the discourse it has produced. For instance, the last couple of years the organizing committee focuses on the issue of marriage between same-sex couples, whereas our politics are far away from such claims. The reason why we participate in the Pride is because we want our voice and perspective to be heard among the people who participate at the Pride, and because we want to interact with some of the groups which are involved in the organizing committee of the Pride. We do not have, you know., something like a "proper" stand. We make our own flyers or we write texts which we distribute to people, expressing in this way our arguments and ideas about the politics of sexuality, gender and the lgbt movement.
We can't stay at home when so many lgbt people gather in the streets, at the city center. So yes, we go, but there is always the issue of how this day is organized, what is being said, what are the practices of the Pride, what type of public image is created - all of these things which very often do not represent our politics, so this is our position: on the one hand we feel like we ought to be there, we feel like our place is there, but on the other hand we do not simply go "with our hands empty". Do you see me? Yes we go, but we go because we want to pose questions, to show a critical stance.
The other day I was going through a book of QueerBeograd collective with texts and perspectives on the issue of sex work. There are some post-feminist perspectives which examine such issues and go beyond the classical feminist analysis. What's your position on the issue of sex work?
We 've done two things on this issue. The first is a text we wrote, which is included in the second qv-zine, the occasion being a poster of the (women-only) group "Noli Me Tangere" whose approach was that prostitution is violence and the client is a rapist. We thought about it and we wrote this text as a reflexion upon defining something as violence, because such a statement/language usage may offend those who work in the sex industry. Moreover, in the same text we were trying to make a connection with the worker's demands in the sex industry, especially because at the moment in Europe and elsewhere there is a struggle around their rights as workers. For us the recognition of prostitution as sex work is a priority, because this will give sex workers the opportunity to fight for their labor rights. As long as prostitution is considered to be a form of rape and the women's movement demands its abolition, then there is not much ground left for struggle on the rights of a sex worker. Another thing we did was to participate in a discussion on sex work that was organized by a feminist group in the context of the european social forum meeting which took place in Athens in 2005.
It is not an easy topic, firstly because as a group we focus our politics on personal experience - experience is the first material upon which our discussions evolve, develop; secondly because no one of us ever had a work experience in the sex industry. The fact that we decided to write this text back then was more of a response to the poster we saw in the streets of your city and the desire to comment on it. However, the QueerBeograd collection that you were reading and our text have one common point: They both intend to offer an opportunity to the one having actual experience to speak about it. We want to make clear that referring to sex workers and sex work does not imply that nobody has ever been coerced into prostitution. Of course people have been coerced, women, children, men.
However there are many voices arguing, and we support this point, that some women and men in the sex industry have made a choice. We have met boys in bars around Victoria square, mainly young immigrants, who would have sex for money; we spoke with some of them and they were very clear and honest about what they were doing - they were arguing that this was a much better choice than working in the construction industry. It was, they were claiming, much easier and much nicer, and they would continue doing it for as long as they could. There are subjects who make this choice. And I am very skeptical about what it means for someone to walk in the streets of the city and come across an anarchist poster that criticizes art by writing "like a prostitute she [art] crawls in museums"; I am thinking how would a female sex worker read/interpret this poster. Isn't it about time we start discussing sex work without reproducing the social stigma it very often carries with it because of the mentality of people whom, in so many other cases, we confront violently?
Stigmatizing the "whore" as the worst in a society and then using it to create a number of linguistic/discursive metaphors to make your point, is this something that our posters should convey? Isn't there anything else we can say about it? This is an explicit case of victimization, which essentially means that by condemning people who are actually oppressed and often ruined, you are in a sense reproducing their image as weak subjects without agency. In the context of the discussion on trafficking and sex work, there is also another critique: Masculinity and femininity are constructed again when women are described as misguided victims of networks about which they know nothing and from which we have to save them.
However, we do not of course argue that these critiques, often described as post-feminist, are not built on the basis of feminism. When subjects, agents, speak for themselves it means that they can make visible the position which they occupy in the net of power relations, and from that visible position, identity, whatever you call it, they could start acting. Sometimes, if we speak for them it could mean that we are taking away their ability to speak for themselves and their potential to act.
I wanted to ask you about "queer teas". What are they, why do you organize them? Also, I remember when I came to one of those teas, the theme was "sexual desire", a taboo issue for some who relate any discussion on sex with sexism. You initiated a discussion on something that almost nobody talks about.
Queer teas were an opportunity for us to work as a group, satisfying also our need to meet other people, to open up. That's why we organized them. We would choose a topic/theme, sometimes we would even show a related film/video or create our own posters, videos, write texts, play music. Our intention was to make these teas something that people attending would participate in - we wanted people to share their experiences, to create a collective expression; something that we very much succeeded in the teas which had as its theme the "sexual desire". We were at the Immigrants Centre, all this people, talking about what turns us on; a variety of attitudes and ways to experience desire were expressed, from rather romantic to more hard-core expressions, and the whole evening was characterized by a particular harmony. For some of us in the group, the issue of sexual desire was a contested issue. We think that we should analyze the intentions of political subjects when they make such moves. So some believe that the only intelligible sexual desire is masculine; or that the dominant representation of sexual desire is a man fucking, a man who fucks. On the other hand, a sexual ethics exists which does not prohibit us from talking about sex, but which regulates our desires and our bodies through structured and specific means. This is the reason why we claim for, and we actually are able to claim for, other sexual desires. Without this framework of analysis, yes, some of the things mentioned just above could be considered as part of a sexist discourse. But everything has to do with the intentions of agents who speak, from which position, in what way, posing questions such as what is dominant and/or normal, what can break/dismantle hegemonies?. And, of course, it is very important to always consider if your discourse reproduces power relations/hegemonies or if it is trying to shake them.
What about the parties you have organized?
Well, yes, we do think of our parties as political actions. The idea is to take people out of the commercialized gay spaces, like bars, where you pay entrance etc., and to invite them to "our" spaces, where queer bodies could feel as safe as possible in order to express their desire. This is -in our understanding- a political act. We have organized two queer parties. One in the Autonomous Center and one in the squat of Villa Amalias in co-operation with the squat's concert group. Both parties were very successful (laughs). And the one in Villa Amalias was the first queer party in the squat since 1990. Maybe during the 80's this type of parties had been part of the squat's life. Anyway, for us this party was a very important and emotionally charged moment due to the fact that, as we've already mentioned, the anarchist/anti-authoritarian scene in Greece has not politicized these issues. However, this has to do with the fact that within the squat movement, people have politicized their everyday lives. And because there aren't many points of connection, we mean between our everyday life and the squat's movement, that's why this party was important for us. And that is also the reason why we wanted to organize a queer party at Villa Amalias. On the poster of the party we tried to express exactly this idea of politicizing our bodily functions, that this night was going to be a night about bodies that meet.
Do you think that the meaning and essence of the party could be distorted due to the fact that it was a costume party and it took place during the carnival?
Well, this had been mentioned as a problem, that it is very common during the carnival to see men walking around dressed up as women - on the other hand, we have to think about how much space there is for these things to happen. Finally we thought that since within the squat's movement such an attempt has not been made before, the ground was fertile and the space open to work with this potential and give a new meaning to it, a meaning which it didn't have before.
You were distributing a text in the entrance which was addressing the issue of disguise. I remember a line that said "some disguise for a night and some every day."
To put it simply, actually one of the things that make you a man is that every morning you dress up as a man. The issue of recognition is closely connected to gender and since gender is a social thing, it is one way to be recognized. If you are recognized as one thing, then you are that thing. Of course, ideally, the subject should be able to define him/herself, it's nobody's business to define somebody else. Now, in relation to dragging/disguise, this has been an idea that the lgbt movements have used a lot, because they have discovered this direct connection between attire/dressing up and gender. For us this was an opportunity to try and encourage people to do something that it would be very difficult to do on any other day. Even though the circumstance was that of the carnival, it was a challenge for most to appear dressed up differently and see what it means to perform their bodies in such conditions. By the way, you should tell us, you wore a dress that night.
Well, yes. Many things crossed my mind the night of the party and also later. That night I said to give myself the chance to get to know me a little better, to bring on the surface my feminine aspect, let's say, to work upon some neglected parts of myself. That's why I wrote on the right sleeve of my dress "I wanna be me". which meant that I am not only what I 've been taught to be, and that I need to know, understand and "live" myself again. And it made a negative impression to me to see "me" behaving in a masculine way although wearing a woman's dress. I felt that I was not able to shed a number of elements that make up my masculine behavior. I know this is very hard to do in just one night but, anyway, it was only after wearing a dress that I realized how much this everyday practice relates to me behaving as a man. And this was partly a shock and partly a good lesson for me, as prior to this I was thinking of myself as someone who often escapes the classic stereotypical masculine behavior where we all have to be strong, robust, not to show our feelings. It was such an amazing blow for me. (laughs)