I recently met Paola Revenioti, an Athenian tranny-sex worker, photographer and activist. We didn't meet on Kavala Avenue where she usually spends her nights marketing her 'business'. I met her on the sidewalk of Hackney Road outside one of the sweetest hipster-beaten galleries bars of East London, the George and Dragon. The place was packed: armies of elegant arty-but-not-farty people came to enjoy the photographic profile of another era -- an era during which boys posed for the camera in bizarrely different ways. They didn't wear sleeveless shirts in mid-winter and did not perm their mustache. It was a time when homoerotic sexual excitement did not fit within the confines of the gay industry - internet , clubs, saunas - or within the stylistic extravaganzas of fashion designers. It included men who would not self-identify as gay and would not necessarily dress like Galliano. They might wear Minerva pants and tank tops. When you photographed them they would stare at you straight in the eyes with their dick raised. They were plumbers, punks, builders, anarchists - unstable, engaged, daydreamers, rogues, vulnerable and moribund.
Laid out in the toilet – the so called White Cubicle Gallery – these photographs formed a a deafening wallpaper of memories. It all looked liked a bittersweet visualization of historical and geographical gap – a chronological fissure of lust, tenderness and history. There was a time when the homoerotic hunt was an adventure in 'tzoura' (the public toilets) – a continuous immersion into the dark holes of the city - the parks, the garages, the porn-cinemas. Placed inside the toilet of a hip gay club, this collage of scattered snapshots created a three-dimensional map of hedonistic--teleportation– a transexual time-machine .
I deeply believe it - and I said it to Paola - that this epoch is not totally dead - the historical differences – are not so vast: the romantic vulgaritiy – the uncompromising hedonismof that era is still here- inside us. 'I find you very optimistic' she replied smiling. However for one thing I am sure – when you walked in this photographic space you felt in your skin the bodiness, binge and romanticism of an archive.
Cooked by the group Queer Archive and Konstantinos Menelaou, the menu of the exhibition melted the distinguishing line between visitors and exhibits, creating a genial soup which had it all: Melancholy, sensuality, smoothness, bubblegum, vulgarity and nostalgia. It also had: projected slides of ethereal lovers (above the bar), gay bohemians with beers in their pockets (under the bar), passionate neo-dandies with bow and floral jackets (inside and outside the bar). When you got drunk, the photographic tapestry of the walls opened around you like twinkling pages of the Kraximo-magazine – the queer magazine that Paola published in 1980s – an street-elegant encyclopaedia of transgression that brought together porn stars, wild poets and interviews with the likes of Deleuze. In the lounge bar we saw a drag-perfomance by A Man to Pet whom released a flamboyantly anarchic mixer of national self-sarcasm, striptease art and musical sensation. We also saw Bjork(!) dressed in yellow and the awarded animator Katerina Athanasopoulos in blue. It also had poets , architects, vampireles and sexy boys of all colors - and more generally, an extensive social-media community mired in games of street-cocooning peer-recognition. The key phrase was '' Where do I know you from? From facebook or from seminars of clown entertainment for children parties ? (Answer: from the public toilets of the Zappeio park, dick-friend)
Paola talked to everyone in a gently frenetic pace – she had the relaxed excitement of ''Exarcheia-sociability'' (the urban milieu of subservient culture in Athens). Her sharp and lighthearted immediacy tended to levitate you on top of things and people - a sort of supersonic pirouette of escapism – that haunts you gently even when you are pushed at the center of the world. It is a bodily language that says ' I'm here and elsewhere simultaneously ' - the unobtrusive glam of the good old neighborhood-underground which we all know and trust. ' Ok all this is' very nice -- let us now smoke something and speak of boys, fascism and the future''.
And we talked about many things - for fags then and now, Athens and London, Dilly boys and cinema ...
I saw very nice boys, but I did not see boys playing with their eyes slyly. I feel that London despite its open-mindness, it wouldn't be a very erotic for a trans (except maybe if you went to certain places ) . On the other hand, once I left Greece , I felt that I was leaving a prison. Here I saw smiling people --tired from work on the subway – but still smiling. In Athens people are grumpy – always eager to cannibalize you. Here I saw kindness.
Beneath this politeness did you discern any ferocity?
I much prefer this than dealing with people who are impolite and treat you badly
[I am thinking about the implied signal here: no matter what ferocity might loom in the depth, the surface is a value in itself. This thought radiates somewhat strangely when considering the identity of the speaker: this is a person who spent her lifetime bringing into the surface the deepest desires of others – hers was art of intimacy that collapsed the disticntion between surface and depth – an attitude towards life (and decadence) that encompassed sexual gestures, photographic postures and street-wise performances]
Doesn't ferocity ignite passion? a kind of power that turn us on?
Doesn't ferocity ignite passion? a kind of power that turn us on?
With boys yes, but here we are talking about the average Englishman here, don't we?
[That is why a transexual might think politically: As much as she sexualizes her ' image of ' she does not necessarily sexualize 'society' as a whole (at least in the same way). You can have a panoramic view of the social landscape, even if (or especially when) you stand on its margins]
Don't you think than excessive politeness can become a sexual prison?
This is what, my friend, the author Tachtsis used to say (back in the 1970 -80s). Why do you insist on this 'liberation-thing' when all the (liberated) English come here to find someone to fuck them? In the end, out of too much liberation, nobody would fuck you.
I thought something similar when seeing the pictures of your lovers against the gay crowd that is gathered here tonight. This crowd seems a little bit .. incestuous , don't you think ? They give the impression that they would dare to touch these boys only through a commemorative frame. But these photographs refer to a world ..
which is lost. In Greece it got lost since we tried to fit sexuality into boxes. Once it was impossible for the boys who had sex with you to believe that they were gay. They considered 'more men' because they were fucking a tranny. But since internet arrived – since kids started watching trannies fucking, active trannies – we passed into a new era... a transitory one.
Sometimes I see how boys hitting you online -- is facebook is the new cruising playgroynd – a digital kerb-crawling avenue for prostitutes – like Athenas-Square?
It is somehow. But look what I do not see today. Today, gays do not train anymore the dilly boys .. Once boys were trained by 'the sissies' before coming to us. They used to go to porn-cinemas where the sissies would offer them a blow-job, or they would go for a brothel-promenade and when they didn't have money to pay they would fuck the sissy in the corner. Now there are no longer these generations of homosexuals to train them in this way.
[Voice from the prompt box - but we are here! All that is so nicely described by Paola (partly) reflects one dimension of the contemporary homosexual experience. One day we need to talk in detail about modern Dilly-boys and their trainers. We should map in detail those intermediate and ambiguous zones of hetero-normativity -- the kingdom of affectionate thugginess, the eagerness of the taxi drivers, the multi- sexual rogues.]
I decide to voice some of these objections:
And yet Paola , there was a generation which was 'trained' by your poems – your book 'Flip' was a geographical and lexical guide. In my teens I remember hooking with boys from the bus stop at the end of Acharnon street, then going around for a 'friendly brothel-promenade' and finally hang-up at some nearby hotel. Don't you believe that as long the same type of desire persist, similar types of erotic beings will come to being -- in one way or another?
(condescending smile) .. I find you very optimistic
She turns and looks --in a slightly thoughtful way --towards the carnivalistic crowd that surrounds us: the homo - hipsters of the London-based Greek Diaspora. Her gaze -- like the click of a camera – paints a viusal response to my question. There are some questions which dance like moving snapshots in our mind-scapes. They never get final answer – they continuously change in accordance with the mutations of the historical setting. In our case, this setting is full of elegant young men who wear diligently torn clothes and look like they have never been
'torn apart' – by a soldier..(although nothing is set in stone)
For sure, Paola is today torn apart by a bombardment of questions. Groups of people approaching her constantly and ask her opinion about everything. A few minutes ago I heard her speaking about fascism in Greece: she reffered to the ability of Golden Dawn to appeal to youngsters, students and scoolboys. Now a new group attacks her with a new set questions about the current political situation. I decide to leave my own question for later - when each of us will return to the tranquillity of her/his web-shelter
And this was a wise decision – it was indeed proved that the best moment to talk about fascism with Paola is after pointless online flirting with a man of fascistic charm– one of those queer princes who cut their abs in slices, post poetic and post- Leninist quotes and cross the dancefloors of London and Berlin (tearing our libido into pieces). One of the things you can do on this occasion, is to pick up your pieces, abandon your sexual gods in the heights of their mythical world and search for your Pythia in the avenues of the web -- the new cruising hubs of lust and loneliness. It's not an accident that the triumphant re-emergence of Paola in the public arena relied strongly on the social media revolution. Overt the last years, the digital world have been transforming our love life into a non-stop television news programme -- chat rooms open like televisual screens - and honorary guest re-appear out the twilight zone of our adolescent memories, land in our newsfeed and offer their authorative opinion on the latest urgent developments of our erotic life.
Would you say tha the 'hip' of Golden Dawn suggests (among other things) a twisted sexual longing? A disturbed ' nostalgia ' for the erotic world that is captured by your photographs – that is, en epoch during which the man could play the sexual role of ' fascist ' in a more guilt-free way?
The men were never playing the fascist in bed. This is only done over the last years. They just liked to play the male-macho fucker. It's only now that things get more complicated. I attribute fascism to the ignorance imposed upon Greek people. They have no idea about history modern or ancient. We only have the sun and the sea and we sit on ancient rocks and we think that we are 'someones' and we never pay attention to other folks. We are uneducated people – lousy.
I remember that in an interview with the journalist-performer Malvina Karali you said that you have studied the hypocrisy of Greek society. But I wonder – don't you think that hypocrisy, lies and theater are essential ingredients of lust? If tranny plays a role – then the same applies for the '' man '', the '' arse-destroyer'', the ''Dilly boy or ''the macho-fucker'' ? Can there be sexual excitement without some sort of hang up, injury or posturing ?
I do not think hypocrisy is necessary for the erotic life. Hypocrisy creates a lot guilts. I did not live with hypocrisy nor did boys who were coming with me. They came for who I was. Quite the contrary I believe. If I had lived with hypocrisy I would not have had so many successes . I have no appreciation for those people who say one thing in broad day light and something else at night. I find it sick.
And then they come to you to heal their complexes.
I do not cure any complex. They know pretty well what they are doing. They are well aware . They are just being trapped within the Greek society and do not dare to be honest. I tried not to hang out with such people.
Sometimes you complain that fame does not solve the problem of survival. You tend to say that we use you, we show off using your one image and then abandon you in a state of astute financial strain. But lately, you do not wait for others: you take the initiative, you tell your story through your own voice – you make your life a '' movie '' - through facebook, videos and photos.
I only look at my refrigerator to see if it is full. I was never pretentiously ambitious. Of course I am happy that people know me and love me. But you cannot live out of this love. And from what I can see, at the moment I cannot do anything in my country. If I had some money I would go to Berlin. Here, they expect to do things for nothing. They ask me ' when are going to do your new video'. And they never care if I have money to live.
This is why this photographic exhibition was not only an art event – it also included history of the present -- something of the heroism, the intensity and the urgency of the current moment. This exhibition worked as a catalyst not only for what Paola had to say about history and but also about what historians had to say about Paola. An informal ' opening ' of her ' history'occurred two days before the official opening the exhibition -- in a packed lecture hall at the University of Manchester.
There a prominent American scholar, Susan Lanser came to give a lecture on the Sexuality of History. She talked about the persistent tendency of scientists, poets and historians to treat homosexuality as a chronological compass. From 1600 onwards, the question ''what is homosexuality'' went hand in hand with the question '' what is new ? '' Within this historical universe homoeroticism featured as a disturbed map of weirdness and novelty. The way that someone ' violated ' the norms of sexuality colored the ways that someone would ' violate ' the dictatorship of time. Under these terms, a queer dictionary of time suffusued a vortex of politics, literature and science.
When Lansen finished her speech I raised my hand to speak . I did not just want to ask a question . The spontaneous impulse was to turn that moment into a sort of introduction – an improvisitional prologue - and why not -- a manifesto of transexual history
This is more or less what I said:
''Isn't very interesting that the equation between homosexuality and the 'new' is reversed today? Quite often modern figures of the gay movemen treat the past as a force of legitimization, experimentation and ecstasy. There is currenty an exhibition in London aboutr transexual poet , activist and photographer who in the 80s became well-known for publishing a queer fanzine in Athens. She is called Paola Revenioti. Very often when she talks about the past she describes herself as lucky. ''We might not have had queer studies departments but we had mythology - '' Jupiter and Ganymede , Apollo and Kyparisso ''. She admitted that she used these elements -- with audacity and grace -- as material of fictionalization, justification and visibility. (It is no coincidence that a transgexual is usually called 'goddess ')
This very appropriation of past reveals how many things we can do with the concept of 'Sexuality of History' or if you prefer with the "Transexuality of Historical Time' ?
And I will explain immediately what I mean by that.
First. The testimony of Paola shows tellingly how the experience of ' abnormality ' is in itself an opening towards history – that goes beyond the confines of academia. History does not only constitute a field of pleasures (see how memory becomes a ritual of fun in Queer Archive). It is something much more fundamental than parties, exhibitions and galas – it relates to this simple teenage question : Where there any people like me before me ? The enigmas of time is first and foremost an ontological issue - an existential necessity - a way of nailing your abnormality against the ' normality ' of the present. In this sense, history is queer abonrmal and transgressive – history is a tranny.
Second. History is a libinal investment. We usually refer to art and literature as forms of sexual displacement. Why not historical writing? If a transexual can happily appropriate the mythologies of ancient (and personal) past in order to transform herself into a street-wise spectacle, why not historians? Here comes a genre of revelation that stimulates the senses - a kind of magical knowledge that allows you to reinvent yourself as an erotic attraction. History would be sensual or would not be at all.
And therefore - third - now it's time to write histories (and stories) that treat the engagement with the past as a magical trick - to look for these conjuring narrations that can transfrom our personal archive intro a frantic game of reflections. After all, this is how Queer Archive became a sucess. Here comes a heartbreaking collection of archival material which is organized as a celebratory interplay of memories and presentness. Let us construct more archives of this kind -- archives that combine things that are not meant to be combined. Let's us engage in transsexual montage of time. Let us write books that mingle science fiction and homoerotic punk of the 1980s . Let us do this, not in order to pinpoint ''structural similarities and discontinuities '' - but mainly, in order to make something joyful, interesting and above all .. sexy ! We are not writing history of sexuality simply to challenge established rules of truth – we do a sexuality history mainly because we want to create new forms of truth - new possibilities of existence - and new ways of being in time. ''
The room sighed indulgently, a lecturer applauded and Lanser replied with amenity '' Do it! Take the 'sexuality of history' and do whatever you like with it '' The intervention worked! I left the room in a uplifiting mood and ran to get a bottle of wine to celebrate the upcoming weekend in London. Alas, at the cashier of the supermarket I realized that my bank account was empty - 0 pounds. When walking back home, however, it was of a wave of euphoria – and not shame – that hit me : firstly, because picking up some change from my pockets, I managed to gather money for two beer, and secondly because, I figured out one more manifesto.
So the bottom line is: The new erotic oppression -- the new stigma - the new war against subjectivity is poverty. Paola's passionate relationship with history is not solely defined by the photographic memories of boys. The sexuality of the present is inextricable from the humiliation that is brought about by poverty – the horror of social abandonment - the sense of vertigo that permeates a dead sexual market, an empty wallet and a ravaged city. Paola (as any other transexual) lives in the edges of survival. The mix of shame and elation that hits you at the supermarket (or on the sidewalk or on facebook-timeline) sets in motion new modes of historical self-consciousness – new technologies of pleasure (in the face fear) – news way of subverting the hedonism of time – and finally, new ways of transexualizing history. A 'Party in the transxueal Archive' signals the ability to overcome (and transcend) shame. It is the art of being courageous, honest and resourceful when you confront the vulgarity of historical time – or esle: it heralds the ability to 'make love' with history –to eroticize misery – to fight against defeat.
And just like that, walking in my neighborhood I felt like I was posturing for a transexual photographer– alongside prostitutes and dealers-- unemployed women and idle men -- asylym seekers and homeless drunks – blacks and whites -- egyptians and chinese – gay and straight. I felt that we do not simply reside in the same geographical area: we also live and dance in the same transexual ' archive'
even though some of us consider this cohabitation as temporary – hmm, let me laugh....