Getting Rid of the Straight Taste (english, long version)

Interview with: 
bok o bok
Interview with: 
f.a.q.
Interview with: 
FNO
Interview with: 
Institut Pelangi Perempuan
Interview with: 
La Barbe
Interview with: 
Lambda Istanbul
Interview with: 
Les Panthères Roses
Interview with: 
QueerBeograd

In Search of the Queer Feminist Movement. A Transnational Collage.

In early 2010, a queer feminist work group formed within the Berlin-based action group FelS (Für eine linke Strömung, "For a Leftwing Current"). No retreat of queer and feminist approaches to niches, no uninspired lingering in academia, no professional perishing in gender mainstreaming. Instead, we are preparing ourselves for a vibrant, broad, anti-capitalist queer feminist movement.

Our experience shows us that gender relations tend to be considered as a transversal issue. However, in specific struggles they are too often neglected. This is why we see queer feminism as a political field with its own practices that we want to explore, rework and reinvent. So we are at our beginning, but we are not dealing with a tabula rasa.

This collage is an attempt to get to know queer feminism. We contacted queer and feminist collectives in different parts of the world in order to hear about their struggles and political practices, and to establish a network between them and us. We sent a questionnaire to collectives in Istanbul, St. Petersburg, Jakarta, Belgrade, Paris and Berlin. You can read the full answers here.

What are your roots? Which social struggles is your work based on?

Amargi: There is no struggle in my roots. There wasn't any opposition or social struggle in my family and in my past. When I was 27, I joined a feminist organization for the first time, because I wanted to. I'm still a member of that organization today, I question patriarchy, and I try to build freedom for myself.

Les Panthères Roses: The Panthères Roses formed in 2002, when Le Pen reached the second round of the presidential elections. A new right-wing movement established itself, and they are still ruling – they are rigorous, they push security politics and populism onto the agenda, and they act very aggressively against individual freedoms and progressive achievements in society. At that moment, we saw the need for a collective that is located at the point of intersection between the LGBT [1] movement and social movements. Even if we don't claim roots (because that sounds biologistic and monocausal to our ears), we can say that we didn't come out of nowhere. Our work can be inscribed into LGBT struggles, and we relate to radical lesbian politics (Monique Wittig), feminist materialism, anti-racism and anti-capitalism.

QueerBeograd: First and foremost, we are a radical queer group fighting for a community that is based on self-definition and inclusivity. We oppose the traditional heteronormative patriarchal norms, which cannot be questioned without addressing different forms of oppression and structures in society.

The members of QueerBeograd come from different (class/political/cultural) backgrounds, but we are all deeply rooted in a feminist, anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist movement, and being queer is determining and influencing the way we work politically. Some of us are artists and cultural activists, some have been engaged in anti-fascist or anti-racist structures for a long time, and others are part of local LGBT and feminist associations.

On that basis, we connect our work to different struggles and collaborate with groups who address these topics, such as LGBT groups, feminist groups, no border groups, anti-racist, anti-fascist or anti-capitalist collectives.

Our work includes expressions of solidarity, collaborations for campaigns or specific projects, exchanging and mutually influencing our political views, and providing financial support.

FNO: I grew up in the USSR and was a teenager during the Perestroika period. I saw my parents struggle, lose their jobs, their identity, their friends and their position in society.

La Barbe: La Barbe's approach is inspired by Wittig's and Delphy's texts, by movements such as the MLF (Mouvement de la libération des femmes, "Women's Lib"), of course, also by lesbian collectives such as the Lesbian Avengers, political collectives such as the Billionaires for Bush, artist groups such as the Guerilla Girls, and primarily, by political groups. La Barbe's founders come from the Act Up Paris collective. We link to a threefold heritage: feminist, lesbian and artist. We see ourselves as positioned in the center of the scene, where sometimes the 'traditional' feminists of the Collectif National pour les Droits des Femmes are opposed to groups of the queer movement. Plus: we like to claim that we symbolically have sprung from the womb of Eric Zemmour – homophobic, sexist, racist, and proud of it all.

bok o bok: We build our work on the struggle for the recognition of the inviolability of persons. The state should not be allowed to regulate private issues, and to tell people what to do and what not to do, as long as their actions do not violate other persons' rights.

Lambda Istanbul: Lambda activists define themselves as feminists and anti-militarists. The LGBT movement and the feminist movement were very closely connected from the start. Concerning anti-militarism, Lambda is in close contact with the conscientious objection movement. We have a very active member who was a conscientious objector, and who is gay. He spent a year in prison and was tortured. Moreover, Lambda defines itself as a non-violent group, i.e. our practices are non-violent. For example, we support the Kurdish movement, but not the guerrilla. The Kurdish movement is the only movement that supports LGBT politics and positions, just as the Kurdish party is the only party in the parliament who does that.

f.a.q.: We build our work on some (non-essentialist) feminist, queer, anti-sexist, anti-racist, post-colonial, anti-capitalist struggles.

Institut Pelangi Perempuan: We are part of the queer feminist movement.

In what structural conditions are you working? And how did neoliberalism and the global crises affect these conditions?

La Barbe: What? I don't get the question.

Institut Pelangi Perempuan: The context in which we are working is shaped by the rise of islamic fundamentalism in Indonesia, though there are big regional differences within the country. Queer and LGBT groups are not illegal, but they are also not officially legitimized by the government. Recently, there were open aggressions against different LGBT minorities, for example during a conference that we organized in spring 2010. This had a huge impact on the work done by the organization, and also on LGBT people, who don't feel safe anymore. In 2008, the Indonesian government enacted an anti-pornography law which stipulates, among other things, that any publication about homosexuality is illegal, because they consider homosexuality to be a bestiality, a form of sexual deviance. Moreover, there are official local regulations in some Indonesian provinces which are discriminatory against LGBT people. For example in Palembang, South Sumatra, prostitution is illegal, and the law says that LGBT people are prostitutes; so they are criminalized. At the same time, it is important for us to be involved in anti-islamophobic actions, and we support campaigns against islamophobia, since we believe that it isn't "the" Islam which is responsible for the increasing aggression against queer people.

Amargi: Neoliberalism has a negative impact on us. It leads to an inflation of concepts. The global crisis and neoliberalism lead to a situation where we don't make our projects a reality, where our progress is very slow, and where a lot less people have to do a lot more work. This makes us more and more tired.

Les Panthères Roses: The Panthères Roses are a registered association, which means that we can announce demonstrations. We try to function as horizontally as possible. We don't have a president or a board, but instead we take decisions as a collective in our weekly public meetings. We are independent and don't receive any financial aids. We get the money that we need by selling stickers or t-shirts, or by organizing solidarity fundraising events.

Concerning the effects of neoliberalism, many of us have to work more and more, and are earning less and less. The rents are totally overpriced. It is hard to find the time and the motivation for political activism. Our context is a French neoliberalism that is steered by a rather right-wing government who force their political agenda on us. In Paris, there's only a few of us who are organized, and there are very few autonomous spaces. Homophobia, lesbophobia and transphobia are strong here. Currently, the catholics are particularly aggressive.

QueerBeograd: The group was founded in 2005, that is, in a period when Serbia still hadn't economically recovered from the consequences of what happened in the 1990's. The majority of the Serbian population lives in precarious economic circumstances. That is also the case with most of our members. This is a very decisive fact, because it determines who can actually afford to be politically active. We are continuously debating this. From our feminist perspective, we try to create conditions where persons are paid for their work. We also try to prevent exclusion based on economic reasons, which is why we give financial support to the participants of our festival (traveling expenses, accommodation).

A huge part of the work that LGBT and feminist groups in Serbia are doing is funded by international donors. It's very important to have a financial support structure. Otherwise, a huge amount of important political work would be impossible in the Balkan region.

The crisis aggravated the already precarious social situation of the country.

In our own practice, we apply for funds only from sources that we deem to be ethical – we check where such funds come from, and we are equally grateful for any support by queer grassroots solidarity fundraising. All of our members have been working as volunteers for years, which affects our everyday life and adds to our precarious working and living situation. We try to switch to a more sustainable form of action – for personal reasons, but also in order to maintain our political activity in the long run.

Having said this, our very independent form of political practice means that we are pretty free to build our own activity and politics agenda, and that we have the liberty to refuse the influence of funding organisations so that we can maintain an autonomous perspective.

bok o bok: We live in a society that is strongly dependent on our government's despotism. The government's administrative decisions are unpredictable and intransparent. It's often useless to try to inform police and other state employees about the film festival via negotiations and discussions, and to create an open debate. For instance, the Archangelsk municipal authorities assured us that the festival is OK, and that the government wouldn't act against it. 30 minutes later, some festival venues cancelled – because police officers had come to the clubs and threatened to impose administrative sanctions. The media are controlled and censored, especially television. The social majority is passive, intimidated and focused on consumption, and doesn't believe that change for the better is possible here. They aren't informed about the real situation and the violation of human rights in this country. The increasing attempts of the orthodox church to gain influence are another reason why it's hard for us to do our work.

Lambda Istanbul: I think a lot of things are linked to the economic situation within a country. Everyone has to keep their business going on. One example in Turkey is the army. Turkey is the biggest buyer of guns made in Germany. This is the reason why the war in Turkey between the Turkish army and the Kurdish minorities has to go on. And this is what we have to see: It's the system that is violent. And under the conditions of neoliberalism, this is not changing for the better at all.

f.a.q.: We work in the following structural conditions: capitalism, racism, sexism, gender relations and heteronormativity, homophobia, transphobia, nation state setting and nationalism, postcolonialism, post-fascist Germany, anti-semitism, ableism and other power structures that we consider to be very entangled with each other. We continuously have to organize financial means to keep the infoshop alive. As individuals, we are in the privileged position to actually be able to do self-organized politics; however, this position is constantly threatened, because of the necessity to sell our own labor.

FNO: The answer to that question would absorb the entire article.

How do you use "We" when you speak? For whom are you speaking?

Institut Pelangi Perempuan: "We" are young queer and lesbian feminist women.

Amargi: For me, the word "we" stands for all oppressed persons. I don't only consider women to be a subject of feminism. "We" is all the oppressed, the discriminated, the victims of violence. "We" represents those who are against the ruling powers. Identities are transformable, we have multiplex identities. Some of these identities can also represent power, and at the same time we can be oppressed with one of our other identities. Feminism, and different feminisms, can be very enriching in many respects.

Lambda Istanbul: Identity politics are a complex field. I am against any victimization of identity. For example, people from countries in the so-called West often ask us how it is to be gay in a muslim country. I ask back: "Well, how is it to be gay in a catholic country?" Attempts to victimize our identity and to stabilize the hierarchy between 'western' and muslim countries are colonial. But sometimes, identity can be very important, especially when somebody tells you that your identity doesn't exist at all, or that it is sick. Of course then I will speak up and say, "I am trans", and I stand by my identity. At the same time, we say, "We are Kurdish", "We are Armenian". Many Kurdish LGBTs give up their LGBT identity because they fight for their Kurdish identity. The domestic violence that many Kurdish women experience within their families is another example. They don't talk about it – in light of the violence by the Turkish state that they experience, they don't see domestic violence as violence. For them, it's more important to fight for Kurdish independence and for their rights as Kurdish persons. This is why it can be important to make identities visible and to defend them, if they aren't taken into account or ignored. But at the same time, it's very important to not exclude other identities.

QueerBeograd: There's a queer theorist in Sidney called Linnell Secomb, who says about queer: "Queer is not an identity category, it's a process of the continuous disruption of any notion of there being a norm." In this sense, our "we" includes not only LGBTIQ [1], but people who question structures of society, the categorization and the discrimination against people based on the hierarchy of categories.

bok o bok: The LGBT community, representants of the Russian civil society and citizens.

f.a.q. : We use "we” only when we speak about the infoshop's organizing "committee. We think it's problematic to construct a categorial "we”, because this means that some people will be included into a collective "we" without being asked if they want to ("we the women", for example), while others will be excluded. We reject the concept of paternalistically speaking for others, but of course, our claims point to the transformation of the overall conditions in this society (and other societies). In doing this, we try to be undogmatic and self-reflexive.

Les Panthères Roses: We are a non-mixed lesbian, trans and gay collective, and we don't want to "speak in the name of x". Our identities as lesbians, trans* and gays are one of our starting points, but not the only one. We don't feel it's our vocation to represent all LGBTs. We don't agree with a part of the LGBT community and of feminist collectives in France, and in these contexts, our positions are minoritarian. We oppose the instrumentalization of feminism for racist aims. This became obvious in the debates around the law concerning the burka and the headscarf, in the discussion regarding the French army's intervention in order to "liberate" Afghan women, and in the general stigmatization of the poor project suburbs and the migrants who live there, and who are said to be primarily responsible for sexism and homophobia in France. Another point where we are different from other collectives is our position regarding the struggles of sex workers. Some mainstream feminists claim abolitionist positions, which leads to the exclusion of feminist sex workers from demonstrations. Moreover, the essentialist feminists don't acknowledge trans* persons' claims.

FNO: Sometimes, "we" refers to my friends and me, sometimes to all those who are fighting on our side of the barricades.

La Barbe: We speak for the women – "the women" as a category that was produced through the oppression by men, as a category that will live on as long as its oppression, which is why we aspire for it to disappear. Until then, we'll speak for women – with beards. "We" are those women who are willing to fight for the "people of the women" and to make fun of women's situation at the same time, just like we make fun of the attributes of – male – power.
Where do you want to push the boundaries of the political? Which struggles do you want to make visible?

FNO: I am intrigued by debates on identity politics.

Les Panthères Roses: To abolish heterosexual taste? This year we participated in our own way in the debate on national identity. We puked in front of Eric Besson, Minister of 'Immigration, Integration, National Identity and Mutually-Supportive Development.' We disrupted events with Christine Botin (a catholic homophobe who has been ranting and raving for years) and demanded that she shut up and quit speaking on our behalf. We participated in Existrans, a demonstration by trans people and their supporters. We marched on March 8, May 1, December 1 (World AIDS Day), and at Sans-Papiers demonstrations. Usually we participate as part of the pink block, thus gaining visibility as trans, lesbian, and gay in social movements predominantly concerned with social cuts (retirement pay, health care, education, etc). We want to bring pleasure to these demonstrations, where there is usually way too much heterosexism.

Amargi: I'm not sure I understand the question. For me, politics comprises the private and the public, the local and the global domain, that is: everything. Thus, politics, as I see it, has no limits. I engage in a collective struggle in several areas: I support and unite with those who fight against capitalism, sexism, violence, war, and heterosexism.

bok o bok: Sexuality is political in a society that distinguishes correct and legit sexuality from wrong, criminal or perverse sexuality. As long as homosexuality and bisexuality are not 'normal' and not protected by the state, sexuality and gender identity are political and will remain part of the struggle for equal rights.

Institut Pelangi Perempuan: Our work builds on queer feminist ideas and aims at the empowerment of young lesbian women. The first step was to create a safe space for young lesbians in Jakarta. Due to the existing norms, culture, and religion, lesbians in general are stigmatized as sinners. Such conditions hinder them from coming out and sharing their problems, feelings, and concerns. Our initiative started with a mailing list, which gave young lesbians access to important information on reproductive rights, psychological support, and their political and social rights.

The work of the institute starts from the assumption that young lesbians can and should be actively involved in the struggle for the rights of sexual minorities. We think that young people are the people of the future and because of that it is very important to empower them for the future of activism. The Institute's approach is EduFunTainment (education, fun and entertainment): We organize sport events, such as boxing and dancing clubs. Members of the Institute Pelangi Perempuan frequently have not been politically active before. Therefore, a language aimed at young people is used since we think it is important to present politics as cool in order to introduce young people to it.

A special activity is the lez skul on the weekends, where young lesbian women learn about gender, feminism, and LGBT issues. For this, we collaborate with the Gender and Sexuality Department of the University of Indonesia, with some feminist activists, and different transgender groups in Jakarta.

La Barbe: Our main aim is to denounce the dominance of men over women in all aspects of society.

Our second aim is to claim some of the political, artistic, media, and economic power – in the name of some absurd principle of justice, and because power will simply go on doing what it does until you grab hold of it.

Our third aim is to question gender categories, which are always repressive. Some facial hair and – Oops! – you're in command? If that is so, we want to grow beards and join the club.

Our fourth aim is to laugh about all this, about the categories, the prominent men, and about their world. We want to make visible 'man' as a category, with all the clubs and privileges that entails.

We fight for women, but women are not our concern. We aim our feminist gaze at men, at their privileges, their love of co-optation, their reclusiveness, their perpetual self-appraisal, their contempt for the rest of the world, and at their power, which must be wrested from them. If as a result of this fight people realize that men – white, rich, healthy men – rule the world, and if this realization in turn unhinges the categories, that would be fantastic.

f.a.q.: Everything is political!!!!

QueerBeograd: Globally we can see that women, the poor, but also queers are usually affected most by political conflicts and crises (environmental, resources, education, etc). The struggles by minorities, by the unheard and unwanted are always struggles for solidarity and an inclusive society. We are part of these struggles and support them.

Lambda Istanbul: We have a comprehensive view of human rights. We try to respect all human rights without hierachizing them. However, what often happens in activist work – and I really find this disturbing – is that people come up with a list and define themselves as antiracist, antisexist, anticapitalist, anti-this and anti-that, without having the faintest clue as to what all this stands for. It's like a dresscode to them. We rather try and put all these issues on our agenda, in our everyday political work.

Which networks do you work with?

bok o bok: We work with local and international LGBT networks, human rights networks, and film festival networks.

La Barbe: Feminist, queer, and political networks, as well as those created all around us through our various repeated attacks. These days we no longer need to fish around for our targets – women approach us and request our interventions in their spaces.

Amargi: We are in contact with organized and autonomous feminists, organized LGBTT [1] groups, autonomous lesbian groups, anti-militarists, pro-feminist men, queer groups, the Kurdish women's movement, environmental groups, human rights groups, conscientious objectors, and similar networks.

f.a.q.: For us, our info shop is a networking space. We are mainly connected with queer, feminist, and anti-sexist individuals, initiatives, information centers, and alliances. Additionally, we work with non-commercial collectives.

Institut Pelangi Perempuan: Locally, we work with various feminist groups. We are also part of the Indonesian young feminist network and the Indonesian LGBT forum. These organizations are in close contact with different human rights groups and feminist groups in other Muslim countries. IPP is also part of IGLYO (International LGBTIQ youth organization) and ILGA (International LGBTIQ Association), and the Executive Director of Institut Pelangi Perempuan is one of the board members of ILGA Asia.

FNO: Chto Delat, Street University, Blue Spot Amsterdam.

Les Panthères Roses: Feminists, social movements, the radical left, the anarchist movement, the UEEH (the Euro-Mediterranean Summer University of Homosexualities, taking place in Marseille each year), we don't like working alone! We regularly participate in networks and collectives. Right now, we are part of Égalité des Droits, a network dedicated to legal equality for lesbians, trans and gay people. In France, approximately 40 groups are part of Égalité des Droits.

Lambda Istanbul: We have close ties to other social movements. Lambda volunteers are usually engaged in further political work: in anarchist groups, in women's collectives, in the environmental movement … Our cultural center is used by other groups for meetings.

Queer Beograd: We work with different feminist, LGBT, anti-fascist, no-border, antiracist and artist networks, both regionally and internationally. In general we consider alliances and co-operations as crucial to emancipative work. In order not to stay in a box, we try to keep an open mind for different groups and issues.

What will have changed in ten years concerning gender norms and hierarchies? What do you hope for?

Amargi: I hope that 10 years from now my country will be less violent and that it will have come closer to achieving peace. I hope that femicide and hate crimes will be reduced, and that women and LGBTT people will have equal rights. I hope I will live in a society that does not constantly remind me that I am woman-lesbian-trans-kurdish-disabled-etc.

La Barbe: The label 'feminist' will be a sign of pride once again. It will be cool to have hairy legs, to be a 'frustrated lesbian' and burn bras. Everyday sexism will decline and make room for lesbians, gays, and all BTIs. [1] Women will be confident and pursue their aims with determination while society respects them. Men will question their privileges, and sex characteristics will lose their hallowed status. Movements will spring from everywhere, protesting legal and factual inequalities as well as the gender categories that perpetuate them. Institutions and social and professional structures will change drastically and open up new possibilities for women, trans people, people of color, and for everyone who does not fit the norm, new modes of being and interacting.

Lambda Istanbul: I think, we won't be able to stop homophobia within the next ten or fifteen years. But what's really important is to find allies and to support each other.

f.a.q. : Make love – make riots!

QueerBeograd: That's a difficult question. Building communities and networks is a long-term project and sometimes painfully slow. Shifting gender norms and hierachies – changing the heterosexual matrix – takes even longer.

But looking at changes in the Serbian discourse on queer people and their rights since we started the group five years ago, we can see how much impact grassroots work has. It's empowering to see that groups or communities are very powerful when they stick to their radical politics and direct action (in all their diversity).

If in 10 years queer kids in the Balkans can come out unafraid and without being considered sick by the majority of society, that is something to fight and hope for.

This year, despite fascist threats, the first Belgrade Pride since 2001 took place. Hopefully in 2020 we will celebrate its 10th anniversary.

bok o bok: We hope that homophobia and transphobia will decline or even vanish – in Russian and globally; that women will have equal rights; that people will be able to live their identities and still be accepted; that the value of human life will be respected in Russia and elsewhere; that there will be less violence and more dialogue; that the state will serve the people and not the other way around.

FNO: I hope that women will be more like sisters to each other. I hope that they stop killing gay and lesbian people in my country. I hope that queers, migrants, women, disabled people, and the unemployed will come together and create a revolution against neoliberal, postindustrial, postfordist capitalism. Stop artificial alienation from each other!

Institut Pelangi Perempuan: It is hard to say what will have changed in ten years, because the situation in Indonesia constantly changes, and very rapidly so. Much depends on what government Indonesia will have then. First of all, we hope and fight for better protection for LGBT people. We hope for a government that clearly commits to the protection of queer and LGBT minorities. Our goal is to fight for a heterogeneous and pluralist country, which condemns all forms of discrimination against LGBT and other minorities.

Les Panthères Roses: We would love to be able to say that by 2020 gender and male dominance have been abolished, but … la panthère never dreams, she attacks!


This interview was originally published in "arranca!", No. 43, December 2010.


Link:
Queer feminist work group/FelS: http://fels.nadir.org/de/fels/queerfem


Footnote:

[1] L = lesbian, G = gay, B = bisexual, T = transgender / transsexual, I = intersexual, Q = queer


The Groups:

Amargi Women's Solidarity Cooperative (www.amargi.org.tr) is a feminist association for women, lesbians, and transgenders in Istanbul. Amargi has been operative as a women's academy since 2003 and runs a feminist bookstore and a feminist archive. Amargi's answers were provided by Hilal Esmer.

bok o bok ("side by side", www.bok-o-bok.ru) is an international LGBT film festival founded 2007 in St. Petersburg. Bok o bok provides information and organizes festivals, screenings and discussions on LGBT issues in Russia.

f.a.q. ("feminist.antisexist.queer", www.as-laden.info) is an antisexist info shop in Berlin-Neukölln and opened in 2009.

FNO ("Factory of Found Clothes", www.factoryoffoundclothes.org) is an artist collective founded 1995 in St Petersburg. FNO want to counterbalance the repressive culture surrounding them by employing various art forms like video installations. They want to re-politicize art and intervene in political debates.

La Barbe ("the beard" or coll.: "Enough!", www.labarbelabarbe.org), founded 2008 in Paris, consists of approximately 40 activists who, with fake beards, disrupt performances of male dominance in the media as well a political and economic institutions. Now, there are La Barbe divisions in several French cities, in Rome, Brussels, and Mexico.

Lambda Istanbul (www.lambdaistanbul.org) emerged out of a first attempt to organize a Pride parade in Istanbul in 1993 and has been operative ever since. Lambda Istanbul fights for LGBT rights, organizes workshops, campaigns, and Pride Istanbul, and runs a cultural center.

Les Panthères Roses ("the pink panthers", www.pantheresroses.org) have bin active in Paris since 2002. In direct actions and at demonstrations they address feminist, queer, and anti-racist issues.

Institut Pelangi Perempuan (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/pelangiperempuan) is the first lesbian youth organization in Indonesia. The organization was founded in Jakarta in 2005 and provides information, education and activities for young lesbians aged 18–30 in Jakarta and other Indonesian provinces.

QueerBeograd (www.queerbeograd.org) is an international radical queer collective, founded in Belgrade, Serbia, in 2005. The main group activities are the QueerBeograd festivals, publications, various direct actions and projects in collaboration with different feminist and LGBT groups (e.g. BelgradePride 2009).