Friday, 31 March 2023 to Sunday, 2 April 2023

Presentations by Stream

Programme : Presentations by Stream

DIY Queers. Self-Made Gender and Sexual Identities in Interwar Poland

A growing number of queer stories have recently emerged from historiographical oblivion in Eastern Europe. These stories have frequently challenged hegemonic categories of analysis and dominant narratives about the region’s past. Thanks to them, historians of interwar Poland, among other times and places, no longer need to prove that queers existed there too. Now, we want to know who they were and how they conceived of themselves. Did they identify as lesbians or homosexuals, or did they maybe have some other notion of self?

All three papers gathered in this panel follow personal stories of queer people from interwar Poland and uncover the unique ways in which they identified and expressed their gender or sexual dissent. It might seem that the interwar period in Poland was anything but a favourable time for ambiguous, queer concepts of self. At a time when the national was paradigmatic, medical experts pathologized non-heteronormativity and lawyers delimited sexuality through legal norms, circumstances did not seem propitious for queers to manifest their existence. Yet, they did. And they did it creatively – by adapting existing identity categories, reconstructing and modifying them. Their personal writings and the accounts of their contemporaries attest to their great ingenuity.

A female skier from the Tatras assembled her unique expression of queerness from the elements of culture and rigid gender roles of Poland’s highlanders. Around the same time, four Jewish homosexuals from Warsaw took opposite sides in a conflict raging within their community. Two of them embraced Jewishness and adapted it to their queerness, while two others rejected national categories as limiting. Another group of men grabbed their pens and wrote to the press about their own concepts of homosexuality – sometimes, queerly twinned with that of nationality.

In telling these stories, we pay particular attention to the voices of their protagonists and their ways of self-identifying. For their striking originality, we label them ‘DIY.’ It seems fitting, as one dictionary defines ‘DIY’ as ‘the method of building, modifying, or repairing things by oneself without the direct aid of professionals or certified experts.’

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