A LESBIAN REVISION
There sometimes come moments when you are tired and exhausted from writing. It is not about that famous and ominous fatigue or the writer’s exhaustion; especially if you are a lesbian author, you never run out of topics. The surroundings daily and nightly bring forth new and fresh examples of the wonders of individual and collective behavior all joined under the label “homophobia,” although thousands of these occurrences could easily also be called “one’s perfectly normal day.” It is more about a kind of “death of the public:” especially if you are a lesbian writer, writing for half of your life, mainly about the never ending everyman’s days or homophobia, the powerlessness of the written word will so mightily eat away your imparted writerly dignity that, instead of thoughtful analyses or oneiric essays, you will want to write nothing but “all of you just go fuck yourself” and then head for the last shabby pub on the edge of the town together with the last three remaining old, battered dykes, and stay there until your own violent and premature death.
The origins of the gay and lesbian scene in a way followed the exact same instinctive escape from the ultimate exhaustion. There comes a point when gays and lesbians have had enough of talking not only with those whose calling is to use any available means to obstruct a good homosexual shag, verbal or bodily, but also with those ways of life which prove that people are only really free when they are at home. Or in the closet.
Gays and lesbians have only partially abandoned homeliness and the closet, these two destructive and obstinate civilization routines. In the 20th century, homosexual activism also started with the struggle for the right of an unimpeded and public social life and continued in the sixties and the seventies with a call for the annulment of the conventions of the private life which seemed more and more like legalized and highly recommended forms of modern-day slavery, unpaid work, interpersonal control, violence against children, possession of the body and the soul, forced sex, or an even more forced celibacy. I still cannot understand why Sodom and Gomorrah capitulated. Surely not because of the Aids crisis: safer sex was the immediate gay reaction towards the damnation of the coercive monogamy and for the protection of the blessed cruising. And also not on account of the new conservatism of the early eighties: at that time England and America, at the heart of the raging new fascism, were encountering turbulent “sex wars” inside the lesbian community which radicalized lesbian theory, activism and even lesbians themselves and irreversibly faced the world with a new lesbian generation that did not care at all for human solidarity in as much as that it presupposed tolerance towards all-embracing slyness to replace the rebellion practiced by the subordinate classes, for example women, to ease their pain.
It seems more and more that after two unsuccessful attempts at destroying homosexual freedom witnessed in the last decades, the final blow came with the agenda of restoration, called integration of gays and lesbians, which succeeded on all levels. Straight people like to be a bit merciful and really like to be patronizing. Gays and lesbians, meanwhile, are highly pathetic and fatalistic. How would we not be? And thus enter all those images of marriage, partnerships, flowers, garlands and white cakes with two pink grooms or two pink brides for the preservation of difference. And so in 2008, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, founders of Daughters of Bilitis, the first American lesbian organization in the fifties, marked 50 years of the activist struggle with a major event which became known as the first homosexual wedding in California. And we are home. Thanks a lot.
In the poems of Pierre Louÿs, Bilitis, Sappho’s mythological pupil says: “Through the forests that overhang the sea, the Maenads madly rushed. Maskale of the fiery breasts, howling, brandished the sycamore phallos, smeared with red. All leaped and ran and cried aloud beneath their robes and crowns of twisted vine, crotals clacking in their hands, and thyrses splitting the bursting skins of echoing dulcimers.” Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy and Madeline D. Davis, authors of the book Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community, in an analysis of American lesbian bars of the fifties and the sixties, ascertain that Daughters of Bilitis was founded by those members of the lesbian bar community that found the exposed and explicit position of sexuality in bar culture uncomfortable. The authors believe this contributed to the direction of the whole of the ensuing lesbian activism which therefore strictly disregarded and denied the positive effects of the lesbian sexual bar culture to the later political power of the homosexual community. It is also a known fact that entirely from the beginning, Martin and Lyon colored their integration politics with some sort of reconciling dialogues with the Christian Church.
In short: it would be useful to consider anew the entire stack of the awareness, the knowledge, the information, the political beliefs that form the history of lesbian and gay activism, and perhaps revise the a priori claims of the emancipatory charge that has allegedly been there forever. It would be beneficial to search through the history of the movement and find those outpoints that in the final instance brought about the state of a comfortable disappearance of gay and lesbian cultures and the homeliness of homosexuals – and thus, as a consequence, a renewed implosion into the closet. A renewed consideration might help us awaken this dead formation which was once a vital, recognizable homo community.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the beginnings of the gay movement in Slovenia. In April 1984 Ljubljana was the venue for the Festival Magnus titled “Homosexuality and Culture” which brought to the Slovene, at the time still the Yugoslav, public some of the best authors of gay theory and art, Rosa von Praunheim, Frank Ripploh, Lothar Lambert, Guy Hocquenghem, R.W. Fassbinder, Divine. As the reports of the project say, the organizers were collecting diverse specimens and then simply exhibited what they had assembled. Fanzine Viks, which accompanied the Festival writes, “We may observe thoroughly versatile exhibits: from Christian and conservative groups to the extreme leftists, from ‘beautiful,’ graphically abundant magazines with diverse content to simple, cheap publications, from distinctively commercial to theoretical products, from naive semi-pornographic publications to audacious art interventions. We believe that such heterogeneity does not represent a concept, but rather displays the wide specter of homosexual subculture.”
In an interview for the newspaper Dnevnik, Professor Ljubo Bavcon, one of the initiators of the abolition of the prosecution of homosexuals in Slovenia in 1977, admitted that the decriminalization of homosexuality was successful “because at the time the Catholic Church did not have the power to voice its beliefs, the hatred towards those who are different in their sexuality had no external stimulation, while people brought up in a traditional manner, not in favor of homosexuality and other sexual differences, also remained silent.”
The side door that the pioneer activists themselves opened a few years later and which saw the return of conservatism through the afore-unleashed current of liberation – as shown by the examples of Daughters of Bilits or the representation of a “the wide specter of homosexual subculture” which brought Christian and conservative groups to the Mangus Festival and the later activism – ultimately lead to negotiation, if not even war between two exclusive programs. The results can be observed: one of the elements of the struggle for the public life of gays and lesbians, the battled-for venues for social gatherings, are only an extension of the former “small ads,” nowadays, Facebooks, Messengers, chat rooms and alike. The lesbian and gay scene has become a sort of less significant meeting corner and by no means a platform of political subjectivization. The distinction between gays and homosexuals has failed. “I don’t see much of gays and lesbians these days,” I said to an acquaintance from the scene who objected by saying I have no clue about the number of lesbians in Slovenia – “Every other woman is a lesbian!!!” – as she hooked up with a woman on Facebook who is married, has children, a regular female lover and is still looking for women to have sex with. “You haven’t got a clue, people get up to all sorts of stuff!” A new-old culture of the closet is emerging, a culture that preceded the beginnings of the movement. The culture of distinctiveness has disappeared: program heads of homo clubs almost exclusively tend to look for uniformity with the dominant trends of entertainment and offer their guests beer and turbo music. I see the Fifties in America, when crypto-homosexual bars had to fight underground local gangs for survival. I see the straight, married, heterosexual woman, a university lecturer in gay & lesbian studies. I see queer simulacra. Gays and lesbians I do not see. I see a smaller version of that other society where there is a bit of everything – conservatives, people with progressive views, lies, one Truth, a lot of suspense, many churches, a lot of poverty, little sex, enough sex – and where, in moments of disintegrating humanistic hope, people shrug their shoulders and say, that’s mankind for you. Oops, that’s the scene for you. Liberation of homosexuality? I’ll see you again in 1984. Orwell’s 1984.
Nataša Velikonja is a sociologist, poetess and lesbian activist. She lives and works in Ljubljana.
Translated from Slovenian by Jernej Možic.