An interview with Ed Foster on GLBT writing and publishing today
[Brane Mozetič is among the foremost LGBT poets, fiction writers, editors, translators, and publishers in Europe today. A resident of Slovenia, where he operates the publishing house, Lambda, he also directs the Center for Slovenian Literature. He has translated works by Rimbaud, Genet, Foucault, and Dustan, among many others. His own work has been widely translated. More than fifty volumes of his work in translation have been published. Among his works available in English translation are Butterflies (poetry, 2004), Passion (fiction, 2005), Banalities (poetry, 2008), Lost Story (fiction, 2011), and Unfinished Sketches of a Revolution (poetry, 2018)]
EF: What is the current situation for LGBTQ publishing in Europe today? Is there one LGBT publishing community, or are there competing communities?
BM: This is very difficult question. In Europe there are around fifty different countries with different cultures and languages. It's almost impossible to have one community because of these differences. I edited and published two big anthologies of contemporary European gay (76 poets) and lesbian poetry (55 poets), including work from almost all these countries, so in a way I established communication among them. Also I published a lot of translations of prose writing, but in fact I don't have a lot of contacts with other LGBT publishers. In some countries they existed in the seventies and eighties and then disappeared. in Eastern Europe, they never existed, or maybe there are some LGBT organizations which publish from time to time one or two books.
A lot of Western publishers became very commercial or publish only their national literature. I know that in Spain there are many small LGBT publishers, but not in Italy, in Portugal not at all. Among LGBT publishers, there could not be any competition because we publish in different languages, and some are very small with a really small market. My publishing enterprise, Lambda, could not exist without the support of the Slovenian Book Agency, which supports Slovenian publishers, as well as support from other countries for translations. Slovenia has a population of two million, and you can imagine how small the market is for LGBT literature, especially since the books are read mostly by the LGBT audience). And there are languages with even smaller audiences. For example the Maltese language is spoken by half a million people and my book in Maltese translation was the first LGBT book in that language.
EF: Can the GLBTQ community in Europe be compared to that in America, which is fairly open and forceful, at least where I live in the Northeast. The situation would be quite different in, say, Texas or Alabama. I live in a very small village, but Northampton, which is about twenty minutes away by car, has been called "the gay and lesbian mecca of America." Is Europe, or Slovenia in particular, different, and, if so, the question is Why?
BM: I will speak mostly about Slovenia, but many things are similar in other countries here, especially central and eastern Europe. It seems that LGBT people were more or less in the closet in the twentieth century. When I prepared a book with portraits of some of the better known LGBT persons from this time, I had a lot of problems because almost no one from that time had come out. Also they didn't write about these matters, not in literature, not even in letters or diaries — either that or it had been destroyed by their relatives. I did have contact with some of these relatives, and they forbid me to write about this these things. At this time, a lot of people knew about the sexual orientation of a given person, but this was not considered decent to talk about. They said: this is private, and we don't talk about it. Today gays and lesbians can marry, but for the rest of the world, this is private, and there is no need to talk about it. In a way, we are in the same situation. For straight people, there is no need to talk about this subject. We all have rights, and we can be silent. For this reason, here we don't have anyone who is openly LGBT, no actor, no singer, no politician, no celebrity, etc. And, of course, there are no LGBT flags anywhere. You can see LGBT people in this city only on Gay Pride day. I can add that this year in Slovenia, we had the first gay movie or movie with gay subject—but the producer didn't promote it that way.
EF: What function, if any, does literature play in creating and identifying a gay community?
BM: I think the function is very big. I think it is important that when someone young discovers that he/she is gay, he/she discovers that there is all ready a kind of gay culture, gay art, gay films, gay literature with subjects and topics and characters with whom they could identify. As Iremember when I was an adolescent, I was really happy to discover in school writers such as Wilde and Rimbaud, learning about their personal lives. Of course, visibility today is much more common, but personal problems with love, sex etc. Have been the same for thousands of years, and someone can't deal with such things only through chat rooms, porn, etc. We still, and we will always, need a special gay culture, art, literature....
EF: Do you see gay poetry/literature then as an extension of identity politics? Can there be, or is there, a gay poetry or literature that is not allied to identity politics?
BM: This depends on the reader, you know that you read a poem when you are twenty differentfrom the way you read it when you are sixty. My poems with gay topics are completely different for a reader from the U.S. than they are for a reader from Egypt. But everything is politics, sex is politics, gay sex is politics. To write is itself already politics. You can't be detached from politics. And we have to work with our identities all our lives—who I am, what I do here, why I resist, why I insist....
EF: Are you suggesting then that politics in a given work is aroused, modified, swayed, and/or governed by the reader such that they are not the same to one who is twenty as to one who is sixty? That's fine reader response theory, but one might ask if there isn’t a point when the reading by one who is twenty is the same as the reading by one who is 60? If there isn't, then what is gay poetry or literature, or is the reading of a given work solely the response by the reader?
BM: From my point of view, gay poetry is poetry with a gay subject or sensibility. It could be about love, relationships, desire, sex, but it could also be about discrimination, hate, etc. There’s also a question about language. Some languages don't have genders; others have very strict genders. For example, in all Slavic languages you can't hide the gender of the person, so in translations into other languages, there could be a lot of changes or mistakes. One poem could be quite straight in English but in translation, it could become explicitly gay. Even if it's not clear what is gay poetry is, it’s very important to talk about it. Right now I am organizing an
international conference on LGBT literature, and there are a lot of scholars who do their research in this field.
EF: Recently the composition of the United States Supreme Court shifted somewhat to the right, becoming significantly more conservative, or reactionary, with potentially negative implications for, among others, women, labor, and minorities, including GLBT citizens. Do you see this as primarily an American phenomenon, or can it be found in Europe as well?
BM: The neo-conservativism was already rising in the mid of eighties with the AIDS epidemic. And neo-conservatism has several faces, one of which is opposition to gay marriage and ideas of assimilation. This started with AIDS which was for straight people Gods punishment for gay life style and promiscuity - the first demand in the fight for aids was monogamy and fidelity (what is in a way very traditional demand). So LGBT movement changed its strategy and started to fight for gay marriage (monogamy and fidelity). In this I see a kind of neo-conservativism. Trump he just decreed that the partners of UN employers must be married if they want to stay in US—so today, if you are gay, you must marry and become part of the heteronormative world. If not, you must go. The western world is more liberal toward gay people but more especially toward those who accept straight world. The past had liberal periods toward homosexuality but at the same time was very alive with gay life and gay culture. Today,
however, gay life and gay culture are dying. In Europe the situation is quite similar or even worse than it has been, hatred toward others is rising, especially the vulnerable: migrants, the homeless, LGBT people, even women. What is even more scary is that more and more people support such hate and non-tolerance. In Hungary, Turkey, and Poland, more than 50% of the population. So I'm very pessimistic about the future.
EF: In recent decades, films, fiction, and poems about gay experience, have dealt with liberation (e.g., coming out, freedom to be one's self) and, at the other end of the spectrum, loneliness and melancholy. But I think you are suggesting a sharp turn in world culture—conservative, reactionary—is taking place, and I wonder if it might have very different implications than what one finds, for instance, in recent European films such as "Paris: 05:59," and "God's Own Country" or in American films such as “Boy Erased.” If the turn you describe is occurring, do you have any sense how it might have, or is having, an impact on various arts such as these films?
BM: I think rights of any minority are never safe. If you asleep, there will always be a majority
who will try to take your rights away. So you should always fight for these rights. With more and more conservatives in the world, there will at least be more individuals in art, film, literature, who will deal with these problems. The only question is whether they will have space for their work. Now there are an increasing number of militant works about transgender people, non-binar persons, non-white LGBT people, homeless LGBT people, etc. They are still discriminated against, these minorities in the LGBT world, but with more conservatives, the whole LGBT population will be in danger once again. History always has its ups and downs.