“Hello! Has anyone seen lesbians here?”
Interview about the disappearance of lesbians with Eggen
Illustrator, writer and photographer Eggen (Lucia Eggenhoffer) was born in 1977 in Veľký Krtíš. As a young authoress, she won several literary awards in Slovakia at the end of the 1990s. She published collections of poetry, Dni na dlani and Medziriadky, and prose How Did Minimilian Pull Himself Together. She has lived and worked in Prague for almost twenty years.
(This interview was made by Dana Vitálošová. You can find Slovak original here.)
What did you do when you were still in Slovakia?
I wrote poetry, I published in newspapers, magazines, Slovak radio, I prepared programs on translation of poetry on radio Devín, because I specialized on this while studying at the university in Prešov. At the same time, I worked as an external editor for the literary magazine Dotyky. I translated poetry and prose.
What was it like to publish as a lesbian in the 90s in Slovakia?
I could not publish love poems about women publicly. When I wanted to publish them, I sent them under a male pseudonym. Alternatively, I changed the feminine gender into a masculine one in the poems. Most gay and lesbian people lived "behind closed doors" at the time. When someone has to live in secret in their own family, he or she will not publish publicly.
So under your own name we can't find lesbian poetry from this period?
Until my second collection of poems, Medziriadky, I added a lesbian-themed poem there. I did it after moving to Prague.
What about lesbian literature in Slovakia today?
I don't have a perfect overview, I have lived elsewhere for a long time, but as far as I know, today in Slovakia they are not afraid to publish lesbian poetry and prose. In my times, such literature could not be found at all. I bought books in London. In the Waterstones bookstore they had an entire floor just for gay and lesbian literature. It was here that I met the lesbian author Jeanette Winterson, whose prose I translated and published in the Dotyky. I think that some young lesbians don’t know how difficult the beginnings were in Slovakia. I believe that I was not the only one who published under a male pseudonym or changed gender in poems at that time. On the contrary, we have now reached a time when even a man who identifies himself as a lesbian can publish lesbian poetry. However, I don’t think that this is a progress in the right direction. To a heterosexual man, who feels like a woman, it makes sense that he must be a lesbian. However, being a lesbian is not about male logic, but about mother nature. Lesbian is a woman with XX chromosomes who has a homosexual orientation. A woman or a lesbian is not a costume or a feeling in a man's head. Homosexuality is an emotional and sexual attraction to individuals of the same sex. If a lesbian can be a man, then the meaning of the term lesbian and homosexuality has been erased.
Today, Sme profiles itself as a medium sympathetic to the rights of lesbians, gays and bisexuals. When you wer publishing there in 90's, did they "allow" you to publish lesbian themed poetry?
I think they would definitely publish it. As I mentioned before, there were personal reasons why I didn’t publish lesbian poetry. The poetry I published was neither lesbian nor feminist. At that time, we were grateful to have a female name (laughs) over the poem at all. If we take a closer look at the current situation, the name Asociácia slovenských spisovateľov (Association of Slovak Authors) still lacks women. Otherwise, it would be called the Association of Slovak Authors and Authoresses. At that time, women appeared in competitions, published in newspapers, but didn’t publish so many books as men.
Why did you stop sending your poems to Sme?
I finished my university studies, went to Prague and started to do other things as well - advertising, photography, illustrations. I won competitions and published books, so there appeared reviews of my books, poems from them, whether in newspapers, radio or various anthologies. The time has also changed, everything started to move to internet.
Why did you actually move from Slovakia to Prague?
On the one hand, as a creative person, I was looking for a better job, in addition, I studied in English for 10 years. There are more possibilities in Prague and it is more connected to the world. And on the other hand, I finally wanted to live freely and not encounter homophobia. You can't even breathe, when you have to deny yourself. Deny who you are, your feelings and desires. And just because someone doesn't like it. Or that someone feels ashamed. I think in Slovakia it was about "what the neighbors will say". What others think was more important than someone being with someone he or she loves. When two women were holding hands on the street in Bratislava people shouted at them "Lesbians!" and insulted them. But in Prague no one noticed, no one solved it. On the contrary, there was a large lesbian community, to be a part of which helped me a lot. I didn't feel alone anymore because I realized I wasn't alone.
Did you have spaces only for lesbians in Prague?
Yes, in 2002, when I moved here, we had lesbian bars in Prague, which, unfortunately, have already disappeared. We also went to gay bars. We were also meeting in the Goethe Institute, where gender studies were running at the time, and focused on lesbian and feminist activism. I don't even know how, but over time it all fell asleep. Sweet queer sleep. I would like it to wake up again. I think that setting up a branch of the LGB Alliance (an international organization that defends the rights of lesbians, gays and bisexuals) is only a matter of time. Because how can a girl find out today who is a lesbian, when she is born to a heterosexual parents, where her father claims to be lesbian and her mother to be queer? When you look in the dictionary, queer means - strange, suspicious, eccentric. If someone wants to call themselves like that, what can I do with it?
How did you find out that you are a lesbian?
I found it out when I first fell in love with a woman. But I had no idea what that meant. I had no idea that there is homosexuality. I first heard the word lesbian from an tutoress at a high school. I was kissing with my classmate and she found out. She invited us over, scolded us, said that lesbians were not tolerated there, and if that happened again, she would kick us out of the dormitory. So I understood that it was something terrible. Then at home and elsewhere I listened to various allusions to gays and lesbians, various jokes. It was taken as a deviation or a disease. The gay men wer laughed at and men made porn objects from lesbians, so word lesbian became a vulgar or indicent word. To find out that you are gay or lesbian was therefore no reason to celebrate. Many parents rejected their children. Many gays and lesbians left their home and moved to larger cities or abroad.
How has your life changed at the University?
At University, I met the first lesbian, the one that wasn't afraid to say it in public. Gradually, I found out that there are many more of us in the dormitory, but we live our lesbian and gay relationships in secret. I began to understand that homosexual orientation is not terrible and that lesbians and gays are no monsters. But we still had to live behind closed doors. Otherwise we would be exposed to attacks and become target of ridicule.
What did Prague bring you?
I didn't have encounter homophobia so much. There was also a strong community. I have a feeling that the less rights we have, the more they suppress us, the more we group together, as we once did in Prague. The first Prague Pride made a big impression on me. When you see parents holding a banner "We love our gay son," you are impressed after what you experienced, and at the same time you feel relief. I was excited about the first Prague Pride when I saw the support, even though I am more in favor of the word FREEDOM than PRIDE, because it is more about living freely than being proud of my sexual orientation. But the point was that so many people went to the streets. Unfortunately, most journalists and photographers focused on the beginning of the parade, where trans identifying men were in wigs, miniskirts and high heels. I'd rather see those parents in the media. It’s not just about the event, but also about the message it sends.
How did you perceive "trans women" at that time?
They have always been in our community and we have taken them as part of it. It was the LGB community who accepted them and sympathized with them, because who else would understand mockery, insults and phobias than LGB? T and then Q were then added to the LGB. Q gradually became some superset of everything. Today, when we say Queer, it means everything. Nobody cared how "trans women" dressed or called themselves. At the time, they didn’t claim to be women. They didn’t want to compete in women's sports or change in women's dressing rooms, they didn’t claim that they had a "ladydick", that they were lesbians, and that lesbians were transphobic when they didn’t want to have sex with them. Lesbians had heard enough that they just hadn't met the right one. I think this is one of the most interesting new attempts in how men want to get to lesbians (laughs).
In the West, the number of lesbians claiming to be "trans men" has increased rapidly in recent years. Have you noticed a similar phenomenon in the Prague lesbian community?
I do not have such an overview of the situation here, I would have to dig more into this topic. I follow what is happening in countries where queer and gender are strongly promoted, such as the United Kingdom, where in 2018 there was 4400 % increase in girls who used the services of the clinic for "gender change" over the last decade (a process that involves change name, use of male hormones and typically also breast surgery, rarely creating a simulation of a penis from skin operated on from another part of the body, ed. note).
Why do you think this is happening?
Young lesbians have no idols or good examples. What will they take from the lesbian actress Ellen Page declaring herself a man? Of course, by identifying herself as a man, she did not become a man. It rather shows that lesbians don't have it easy even in Hollywood. Young lesbians must hear that they are great as they are. There is nothing wrong with a woman loving another woman. This is exactly what the LGB movement fought for. And butch lesbians (lesbians that look masculine, ed. note) seem to be forgotten. They are "misgendered" all their lives, they are not hysterical about it, they do not want to be men and they don’t care about at all. In fact, they are the biggest fighters for women's rights.
If you were currently 13-14 years old, how do you think it would turn out?
I am very grateful that there was no internet and social networking at that time. Because that's where I'd look for information. And what would I learn in my teenage confusion if I was hit by the trans agenda? That it doesn't matter what sex I have, but how I feel in my head. So the moment I would find out I feel something for a woman, I would deduce that I have to be a man. If I told my parents that I liked women, they would go online and what would they find? That it doesn't matter what sex I have, but how I feel in my head. They would deduce that I am a man trapped in a woman's body. And I would, of course, accept it, because that would be the reality that would be presented to me. I would understand it as - lesbian woman = socially unacceptable, hetero trans man = socially acceptable. This is a new kind of homophobia. Some parents want to have a hetero son or daughter instead of accepting them as gay or lesbian.
What do you think about the fact that theterosexual man, who claims to be a lesbian is representing LGB community in Sme media?
I only found out recently and it was a shock to me. What do Slovak lesbians say about this? I've mentioned before who are lesbians.
Even in Slovakia today, many feminists claim that a man can be lesbian. According to them, it does not depend on gender, but on how the person "identifies".
If they claim this, I don't think they realize the consequences. There is such a cloud called "Love, Peace, Harmony", in the Slovak translation of "Lóve, Penis, Hormóny", (Lóve in Slovak means Money). When you are sitting on it you don’t even notice that while you are fighting for the rights of one, you suppress the rights of someone else. Maybe those feminists are aware of the consequences, but for various reasons they don't express themselves publicly. They may be afraid to oppose the beliefs of the majority. Asch's experiment proves that people also share opinions they don't believe in just because the majority believes them. They may be afraid to hurt emotions of their trans friends or acquaintances, not everyone has courage. It's also a good to "Follow the Money." Maybe those feminists are truly convinced that everyone has the right for everything. However, liberalism must also have its limits. Evil is not stupid. It enjoys our silence. it's waiting. Exactly for the moment when we push the boundaries.
What would you let those feminists know?
I don't want to convince anyone of anything. I just appeal to the use of common sense, to base our opinions on science and facts, not on ideology and feelings. When someone convinces us that 1 + 1 = 3, they will convince us of anything. I think we women owe the Suffragettes. At least gratitude, if nothing else. The rights that women have today have been fought very hard. I think, but it applies to the whole of society, and it’s generally true, that throughout history we are suffering from memory loss.
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