Queers in State Socialism: Cruising 1970s Poland

August 27, 2020

The essay collection Queers in State Socialism: Cruising 1970s Poland edited by CRUSEV’s Polish PI Tomasz Basiuk and team researcher Jedrzej Burszta is now available to pre-order from Routledge, and will be published in October 2020.

The contributions to the book engage with queer lives and activism in 1970s Poland, illustrating discourses about queerness and a trajectory of the struggle for rights which clearly sets itself apart, and differs from a Western-based narrative of liberation. Essay authors paint an uneven landscape of queer life in state-socialist Poland in the 1970s and early 1980s. They turn to oral history interviews and archival sources which include police files, personal letters, literature and criticism, writings by sexuality experts, and documentation of artistic practice. Unlike most of Europe, Poland did not penalise same-sex acts, although queer people were commonly treated with suspicion and vilified. But while many homosexual men and most lesbian women felt invisible and alone, some had the sense of belonging to a fledgling community. As they looked to the West, hoping for a sexual revolution that never quite arrived, they also preserved informal queer institutions dating back to prewar years and used them to their advantage. Medical experts conversed with peers across across the Iron Curtain but developed their own “socialist” methods and successfully prompted the state to recognise transgender rights, even as that state remained determined to watch and intimidate homosexual men. Literary critics, translators, and art historians began debating – and they debate still – how to read gestures defying gender and sexuality norms: as an aspect of some global “gay” formation or as stemming from locally grounded queer traditions.

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