Sexual Citizenship, Oral History, and the Archive in 1970s Central and Eastern Europe – Programme

20-22 September 2018
University of Warsaw

Programme for CRUSEV Poland’s symposium, addressing sexual citizenship in the context of to queer lives, practices, and expression in Poland during the 1970s and in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) during the Cold War.

Sexual Citizenship, Oral History, and the Archive in 1970s Central and Eastern Europe
University of Warsaw, September 20-22, 2018

Thursday, September 20: Symposium Day 1
14:00 Optional visit to The POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, ul. Mordechaja Anielewicza 6

“The Muranów Lily”: audioguide art by Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay
Those interested please write to by Monday, Sept. 17.

University of Warsaw Rectorate Building – Casimir Palace, Joachim Brudzinski room (ground floor), ul. Krakowskie Przedmiescie 26/28

17:00hrs – Opening remarks
Glyn Davis, University of Edinburgh, and Fiona Anderson, University of Newcastle

Lecture by Franko Dota, University of Rijeka – ‘The Socialist Homosexual Citizen in Yugoslav Legal and Medical Debates (1960-1984)’

Film screening by Karol Radziszewski, independent artist – ‘Afterimages / Kruzing’  [Powidoki / Kruzing],
followed by Q&A led by Aleksandra Gajowy, University of Newcastle


Friday, September 21: Symposium Day 2
UW American Studies Center, Al. Niepodleglosci 22, room 116

9:30hrs lecture
Dobrochna Kalwa, University of Warsaw – ‘In the Service of Herstory. Oral history and the construction of feminist collective memory in Poland’

10:30hrs coffee break

11:00hrs session 1
Elena Likhomanova, Podruzhestvo, and Ksenia Gushchina, Moscow State University – ‘Across the Decades: Narrative Interviews with Soviet Feminists and Lesbians of 1970s and 1980s’

Magdalena Staroszczyk, University of Warsaw – ‘‘No one talked about it’: the paradox of lesbian identity in pre-1989 Poland’

Ladislav Zikmund-Lender, Society of Queer Memory, Prague – ‘“I Love Shakespeare’s Sonnets and I am looking for someone to read them with.” The Role of Culture in Czechoslovak Queer Memories from the 1960s to 1980s’

Karolina Morawska, University of Warsaw – ‘Images of queer men in the 1970s Poland – four portraits’  

13:00hrs lunch

14:00hrs lecture
Katerina Lišková, Masaryk University – ‘Conceptualizing Socialist Sexual Citizenship. The case of male homosexuality and male sexual deviance in Czechoslovakia’

15:00hrs coffee break

15:30 – 17:30hrs session 2
Agnieszka Koscianska, University of Warsaw – ‘“Currently, homosexuality is not considered a deviation, but a psychosexual otherness:” homosexuality, therapy, and sex education in late state socialist Poland’

David Kurkovskiy, Fellow at the Centre of East European Studies, University of Warsaw – ‘Gay sex “scandal” before gay went global: a closer look at the Soviet anti-sodomy law, international responses and “queer” cultural artifact in the case of Sergei Parajanov’

Jedrzej Burszta, University of Warsaw – ‘Coming Out to a Queer Life: individual voices and urban queer networks in 1970s Poland’

Tomasz Basiuk, University of Warsaw – ‘Conceptualizing Male Homosexual Identity in 1970s Poland. Some findings from oral history interviews and from letters sent to HOSI Vienna’


Saturday, September 22: Day 3
UW American Studies Center, Al. Niepodleglosci 22, room 116

9:30hrs Lecture
Sarah Schulman, The City University of New York – ‘Let The Record Show: ACT UP and The Enduring Relationship of AIDS’

10:30hrs coffee break

11:00hrs session 3
Aleksandra Gajowy, Newcastle University – ‘The Palace and The Toilet: Cruising queer desire in the urban space of socialist Poland’

Blazej Warkocki, Adam Mickiewicz Univesity – ‘Transgresje as a Queer Archive in the Context of Narratives About Pre-1989 Poland’

Mateusz Król, University of Silesia – ‘Queens and Faggots, Petites Folles et Pedales – what happens when Lubiewo is translated into English and French?’

13:00hrs lunch

Duzy Pokój, ul. Warecka 4/6 (enter from ul.Kubusia Puchatka).
18:00hrs Performance
Agnieszka Koscianska and Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay. – “You, doctor, are my only rescue! / Jest pan, panie doktorze, jedynym ratunkiem!”

Agnieszka Koscianska and Wieslaw Sokoluk – Instrukataz nadmierny [An Excessive Instruction]

CRUSEV Poland’s Agnieszka Koscianska introduces her new book – a book long conversation with the sex educator and youth therapist Wieslaw Sokoluk, in which Sokoluk tells the story of sex education handbook he co-authored in 1987.

Crusev Poland’s Agnieszka Koscianska introduces her new book, Instrukataz nadmierny, published this summer:

Instrukataz nadmierny (An Excessive Instruction, published by Wydawnictwo Czarne, based in Wolowiec, Poland) is a book long conversation with the sex educator and youth therapist Wieslaw Sokoluk. In the book, Sokoluk tells the story of sex education handbook he co-authored in 1987. Although sex education has been offered in Polish schools since the late 1960s, initially there was no handbook. It was only in September 1987, when a handbook finally appeared. The handbook turned out to be remarkably progressive. It caused many controversies and was banned from schools after two months. It went further than any available sex and marriage manual for adults, which on the one hand affirmed sexuality, but on the other were rather conservative in their description of gender roles, placing sex in marriage. The handbook was also significantly more progressive than earlier sex education publications addressed to young people. While these publications explained in detail issues such as development, the physiological and psychological problems of adolescence or the physiology of reproduction, they were vague about sexuality and pathologized everything other than procreative marital intercourse. The 1987 handbook was explicit about teen sexuality and affirmed its various manifestations. It did not pathologize masturbation and it discussed issues like sexual techniques and sexual pleasure. It also called homosexual relationships “analogues” to heterosexual ones.

Sokoluk based the handbook on his experience in youth counselling and education. Since the late 1970s, he travelled from school to school throughout Poland and answered students’ questions. He also operated the youth telephone hotline and collaborated with youth magazines; in both cases he answered sexuality related questions. Moreover, he ran the youth advisory centre at the Planned Parenthood Association in Warsaw, which consisted of a walk-in clinic and a mail counselling service. As he told me, while writing the handbook he had all his students’, clients’ and correspondents’ questions and letters in mind.

Finally, the book consists a chapter on changing therapeutic and educational approaches towards homosexuality in late state socialist Poland. Sokoluk talks about letters he received from his homosexual correspondents and how he responded to them.

You can read more about the book, in Polish, by clicking here.

„Rózowy jezyk”/Pink Tongue report

“Rozowy jezyk” (Pink Tongue) the first part of the Polish milestone event, was a one-day workshop devoted to the terminologies and linguistic practices related to queerness.

The first part of the Polish milestone event took place on June 9 at the University of Warsaw. The event, called “Rozowy jezyk” (Pink Tongue) was a one-day workshop devoted to the terminologies and linguistic practices related to queerness. The language of the workshop was Polish and the discussion was focused on Poland and on the Polish language, with some speakers using a comparatist approach.

Six speakers gave longer papers: prof. Mariola Bienko (University of Warsaw [UW]) discussed the results of a sociological survey on attitudes toward homosexuality whose participants were asked to list and characterize terms they use and/or know that describe queers. She offered an analysis based on such factors as education and age of respondents. Piotr Moszczenski, psychologist and activist with the Stonewall Group in Poznan, spoke about the use of the terms “homophobia” and “heterosexism” in public discourse and the arguments and strategies underpinning these terms. Jan Szpilka, doctoral candidate at UW, spoke about the Polish BDSM scene and the terminologies it uses in its practices and to describe itself.

In the second session, Ludmila Janion, doctoral candidate at UW, spoke about the terms used for homosexual and transgender persons at the time of the post-1989 transition and the concepts which these terms suggest. Matthias Foit, a scholar based in Berlin and Wroclaw (Breslau), spoke about some German terms used for homosexual and transgender persons, emphasizing their similarity to some Polish terms. He gave a number of examples from personal ads published in the German-language papers in Wroclaw (Breslau) in the interwar years. Karolina Morawska, doctoral candidate at UW and member of the CRUSEV team reported on her research on the language used in same-sex personal ads in the Polish press at the cusp of the 1970s and the 1980s, as well as in other press publications.

The final session was a panel discussion with CRUSEV team members: Agnieszka Koscianska (also acting as moderator), Karol Radziszewski, Krzysztof Zablocki, Jedrzej Burszta, and Tomasz Basiuk. Each of them gave a very brief presentation of their research. Koscianska focused on the language used by sexologists and in letters addressed to sexologists. Radziszewski described his research on Ryszard Kisiel, especially Kisiel’s ways of expressing his queer identity and his efforts to preserve the memory of the sites of queer sexual activities from the Communist era. Zablocki spoke about aspects of his work as translator of Jean Genet and Andre Gide. Burszta discussed his oral history interviews, emphasizing some subjects’ resistance to contemporary identity labels. Basiuk presented some findings from his archival research at the HOSI Wien archive, which includes letters sent to the organization by Polish gays. A general discussion followed on identity categories and identifying codes and practices directed at the queer community, as well as addressing the straight majority, and on the tension between these two approaches.

The workshop was attended by about thirty people, including scholars, UW students, and LGBTQ activists.

The Warsaw Equality Parade, the city’s annual pride event, took place in the late afternoon of the same day, directly after the CRUSEV workshop closed.

Diagnosing transsexuality, diagnosing society / Diagnozowanie transseksualnosci, diagnozowanie spoleczenstwa

Report from the CRUSEV Poland seminar at the University of Warsaw, with Dr. Maria Debinska discussing her anthropological research on transgenderism in the People’s Republic of Poland in the 1970s and 80s.

The sixth public seminar organized by the Polish CRUSEV team was held at the University of Warsaw on Friday, April 20, 2018. Our guest was Dr. Maria Debinska.

Dr. Debinska discussed her anthropological research on transgenderism in the People’s Republic of Poland, focusing mostly on the 1970s and 80s. Debinska study focused on popular publications by Polish sexologists. She argued that expert discourse on transsexuality was inspired by both a medicalizing and a sociological approach, as Polish sexologists were developing a language that would be appropriate to the difficult experience of their patients.

Debinska also presented a concise historical overview of the way the Polish judiciary was making it possible for a Polish citizen to legally change her or his gender. The Polish state used to be significantly more supportive of trans people than it is nowadays: medical costs were covered by the state and the legal procedure was simpler than it is today. Before 1989, people who wanted to legally transition did not need to sue their parents, as they do now; the courts would decide on gender reassignment solely on the grounds of expert medical and psychological opinion. However, Debinska discussed the contrast between the state’s supportive stance and the everyday discrimination of trans people.

An underlying and perennial heterosexual bias in Polish sexologists’ approach to transsexuality has been the explicit goal of ushering patients into a “healthy” heterosexual relationship and marriage. Unlike in the case of “sex correction”—as gender reassignment was called at the time—the goal of heterosexual marriage was not achievable for others, notably not for homosexuals. The methods available to “treat” homosexuality were increasingly deemed ineffective. At the same time, professionals perceived non-monogamous relationships as detrimental and even “perverse.”

The event was attended by about forty people, marking the rising interest which these seminars evoke.

Religion and non-normative sexuality / Religia i nienormatywnosc seksualna/plciowa: dyskursywne sploty

A report from CRUSEV Poland’s seminar with Dorota Hall, discussing her ethnographic research with LGBT Christians and discourses around homosexuality, bisexuality and transgenderism in the Roman Catholic Church

The fifth public seminar organized by the Polish CRUSEV team was held at the University of Warsaw on Wednesday, March 7, 2018. Our guest was Dr. Dorota Hall.

Dorota Hall discussed her extended study of LGBT Christians, encompassing an ethnographic study of a church-based Wiara i Tecza (Faith and Rainbow) group, interviews with members of the group and with other LGBT Christians, and an analysis of public discourse, including some teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Although she spoke about Christians of different denominations, Roman Catholics are by far the most numerous in Poland and most of her subjects were Roman Catholic. Moreover, most Protestant churches in Poland have avoided addressing LGBT issues, falling in line with the country’s deep-seated conservatism without offering a clear alternative to religiously inclined LGBT subjects.

Hall argued that during the 1970s the Roman Catholic Church in Poland was relatively silent on the issue of homosexuality and almost entirely silent on bisexuality and transgenderism despite pastoral documents such as Persona Humana (1975). While many LGBT subjects may have internalized the proscription of same-sex activities and desires, these points were rarely addressed in sermons or in other public contexts. The 1970s and the early 1980s thus saw an erasure of homosexuality from the Church’s preaching in a way that reflected a larger erasure of homosexuality in other areas of public discourse.

The silence began to lift with the arrival of HIV/AIDS and of more outspoken LGBT politics. Brochures warning boys about being seduced by older men were circulated in some parishes in the late 1980s. But a more radical shift occurred only post-2000, as Poland was preparing for EU accession, when the perceived threat of LGBT rights being recognized proved deeply polarizing. In 2002, the Roman Catholic Church in Poland went through its first public sexual scandal with Juliusz Paetz, the archbishop of Poznan, being accused of molesting some young clerics. Homosexuality was thus out of the closet also within the Church.

Hall addressed some ways in which the pastoral care of LGBT Christians overlapped with reparative therapy advocated by some would-be progressive Catholics. Despite the method’s discredited premises and doubtful effectiveness, these forms of therapy may have helped some queer subjects recognize and address their sexuality, especially as other forms of therapy were not available to them.

Miron on the margin, or: how to queer Bialoszewski? / Miron na marginesie, czyli: czy mozna squeerowac Bialoszewskiego?

The fourth public seminar organized by the Polish CRUSEV team, with Prof Joanna Nizynska discussing the writing of Miron Bialoszewski, was held at the University of Warsaw on Thursday 11 January 2018.

The fourth public seminar organized by the Polish CRUSEV team was held at the University of Warsaw on Thursday, January 11 2018. Our guest was Joanna Nizynska, Associate Professor of Polish Literature and Culture at the Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures in Indiana University, Bloomington USA. Prof. Nizynska presented excerpts from her upcoming book, a Polish translation of her study “The Kingdom of Insignificance: Miron Bialoszewski and the Quotidian, the Traumatic, and the Queer” (Northwestern UP, 2013) dedicated to the work of Miron Bialoszewski, one of the most influential Polish poets and writers of the 20th century. During her lecture, she discussed the different approaches to the use of queer theory in analyzing Polish literature, emphasizing the active role of any act of queering – perceiving “queer” not as a noun, but a verb. Nizynska closely analyzed several fragments from Miron Bialoszewski’s prose published in the 1970s, focusing on the depictions of homoerotic tensions, acts of subverting the normative, as well as the intertextual connections with more recent literary works – most importantly, Michal Witkowski’s “Lubiewo” (2005) – which form a dialogue with Bialoszewski’s early queer writing. The seminar was a chance to reflect on the complicated positioning of Polish writers within Western queer theory, the possible adaption and/or translation of queer frameworks to national literature. The ensuing discussion focused on how to overcome or challenge some of the theoretical problems facing queer-oriented scholars in their studies of Polish queer culture and history.

Miron Bialoszewski

Oral history and herstory / Oral history w sluzbie herstory. Miejsce kobiecych relacji i wywiadów w procesie tworzenia feministycznej wizji przeszlosci w Polsce

Report from CRUSEV Poland’s seminar on the role of women’s stories and interviews in the process of creating feminist narratives of the past in Poland, with Dr Dobrochna Kalwa, held at the University of Warsaw.

The third public seminar organized by the Polish CRUSEV team was held at the University of Warsaw on Friday, November 24 2017. Our guest was Dr Dobrochna Kalwa, a historian from the Institute of History at the University of Warsaw. Dr Kalwa gave a lecture about the history of development of women-oriented oral history research in Poland. She discussed a number of important feminist history projects conducted in recent years by Polish historians, providing a critical framework that was needed for the later introduction of the concept of “oral herstories.” The lecture also covered several issues concerning the methodological and ethical problems facing “oral historians” in their studies of women’s biographies, including the problematic nature of a “witness of history,” differences between memory and history, or the many rhetoric strategies that can be adopted by the interviewees. Further points about the application of this methodology to study “hidden” LGBTQ narratives were raised during the discussion, as well as the need to continue oral herstory research among non-normative witnesses of the recent past.

Families of choice: old age, care, relations. Reflexions on focus group/ Rodziny z wyboru: starosc, opieka i relacje. Refleksje z wywiadow grupowych

A brief report from CRUSEV Poland’s seminar featuring Joanna Mizielinska, Justyna Struzik and Agnieszka Krol from the “Families of Choice in Poland” research project

The second public seminar organized by the Polish CRUSEV team was held at the University of Warsaw on Wednesday, October 25. Our guests were Dr Joanna Mizielinska, Dr Justyna Struzik and Agnieszka Krol, researchers from the “Families of Choice in Poland” research project (2013-2016). They began with presenting a general overview of their sociological study which was centered around the contemporary reality of non-normative families living in Polish cities, before moving to address the specific issue of senior LGBT+ members and their outlook on queer life today and in the past. Some of the points that were raised during the seminar included the different approaches to (and evaluations of) coming-out as they were discussed by respondents aged 55+; the gendered differences in constructing autobiographical narratives; and the various strategies adopted by respondents in order to position themselves within both the wider LGBT+ community, as well as the entire Polish society. The meeting was attended by academics and students from the University of Warsaw and the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, as well as some participants of the research.

Inventing History: Polish Literature, Queers, and Mapping the Past/Wymyslanie historii. Literatura polska, queer i mapa przeszlosci

Report from CRUSEV Poland’s first public seminar, including remarks from Dr Blazej Warkocki

The first public seminar held by the Polish CRUSEV team was held at the University of Warsaw on Wednesday, September 27. Dr Blazej Warkocki, CRUSEV Researcher, offered remarks on preoccupation with the queer past in recent Polish literature. He argued that the tendency to investigate and narrate the past is evident in comparison with an earlier emphasis on representations of queer positionality here and now. In his lecture, Warkocki described the 1970s as a pre-political period, prior to all forms of organized queer activism. He gave examples of relatively unknown queer writers from the 1970s and the early 1980s, such as Grzegorz Musiol and Malgorzata Lavergne, and he discussed some popular films and novels that feature cross-dressing or include overt reference to queers. A lively discussion ensued, focusing especially on the real-socialist decades, including the Seventies. The meeting was attended by academics and students from the University of Warsaw, the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, and the Polish Academy of Sciences.