Joanna Mizielinska, lecturer in gender and queer studies at Warsaw School of Social Research.

Features Queer in polish

Joanna Mizelienska, lecturer in gender and queer studies, argues that it is difficult to apply queer theory in Poland. Can one speak of constructed sexual identities where gay rights are disregarded or violated?

Published in the printed edition of Baltic Worlds page 7-8, Vol II:II, 2009
Published on on February 19, 2010

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During a seminar at CBEES, Joanna Mizielinska, lecturer in gender and queer studies at Warsaw School of Social Research, gives an account of problems associated with the application of queer theory in Poland.

When a theory that has sprung up in one cultural context is transferred into another such context, it runs the risk of being distorted.  Queer becomes synonymous with either gay or lesbian, or is emptied of its subversive, confrontational contents because the concept is deprived of its sexuality — queer then becomes anything outside the norm. The fact that both queer theory and the gay movement originate in the U.S. gives rise to further problems. In Poland, queer theory runs the risk of being regarded as yet another import that has come in the wake of a globalization process machinated by the U.S.

“One aspect that one may include here is whether the gay movement in Poland falls into some kind of victim’s role, as they are pitied for lagging ‘behind’ the West. The East-West relationship complicates the issue of what attitude one should take towards the question of why the gay movement has not begun to be politically active until now”, says Mizielinska.

In fact, Mizielinska opposes  adopting a linear description of the so-called development. Still, she discusses whether there must be an established gay movement in Poland before one can speak about queer. Or, in other words, whether homophobia must be overcome and homosexual be accepted in Polish society before one can bring up the fact that no sexual identities, not even the homosexual, are fixed, but are, rather, socially produced and must be constructed continuously in order not to collapse.

Another problem is that there is no good translation for “queer” in the Polish language. Attempts of translation are misleading.

“To announce a course in queer theory does have its advantages. Students do not know what it is, and come to learn more about it. If one had announced a course in the study of homosexuality, or of deviant or perverse behavior — which would be the Polish equivalents of the word queer — not many students would come”, states Mizielinska.

At the same time, she is concerned that queer in Poland is being used as a common denominator for homosexuality, or is becoming a concept for otherness in general (e.g., otherness in gender or ethnicity).  For Mizielinska, the basis, the core issue of queer theory, is expressed in the slogan of queer supporters: “We are here, we are queer, get fucking used to it.” She asserts that the entire queer theory questions all research based on the idea that identities are naturally established, and that there exist normative sexual behaviors. It is not a question of coming out, but of saying here I am, right now, I take my place in the public sphere. To question the prevailing hetero-normative power structure.

But in Poland it is not easy  to assert one’s right to be in the public sphere, or express an identity that is based on sexual habits that differ from those of the majority. The widespread homophobia and the weak gay movement raise other and more immediate problems than those formulated by queer theory. The Gay Pride Parade, for instance, is called the Equality Parade in Poland, where the focus is on asserting the rights of which homosexuals are deprived. Such discrimination does take place, and in order to call attention to this, one must refer to “homosexual” in terms of a fixed identity. It is, of course, on the basis of such fixed identities that human rights are established.

Mizielinska also points out that it is not only the gay movement and the queer theories that, as a result of globalization, spread and encounter new cultural contexts. Homophobia can also find nourishment in global contacts and be affected by the power relations between, e.g., East and West.

During fall 2009, Joanna Mizielinska was a visiting researcher fellow at CBEES, Södertörn University. ≈

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