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

May 30, 2018

University of Warsaw, September 20-22, 2018


With his concept of sexual citizenship, David T. Evans offered a framework for thinking about sexuality as a matter for civic and human rights. Can this perspective apply to queer lives, practices, and expression in Poland during the 1970s and in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) during the Cold War more broadly?

References to underground queer cultures of the era are traceable in literature, film, and professional publications by sexologists and state police experts. Some of these references are veiled in the culturally sanctioned silence around queer sexualities and they need to be noted and explained. Others represent the state’s surveying eye, typically focused on homosexual men, and the professional’s gaze, often focused on the transsexual.

Given the limitations of the available archive, oral history interviews are an important source for understanding the queer past. They may dovetail with the framework of sexual citizenship because the interviews address both the material conditions of queer lives and the ways in which queer subjects have conceptualized and represented those lives. By allowing queers to voice their stories, prominence is given to their lived sexual difference and to their dissent. While Polish and other CEE queers may not have articulated specifically political demands in the 1970s, many developed an alternative ethos, one cutting diagonally across some established social institutions.

Some of the questions this symposium seeks to explore are: How to tell the history of Polish and other CEE queers in the 1970s and prior to their partial political emancipation post-1989? Is it one history or rather many histories, influenced by gender, class, and ethnicity, as well as geopolitical location? What kind of impact did the East/West divide, which defined the political era, have on queer experience, queer networks, and queers’ sense of belonging? What is the relationship between queer lives, both individual and collective, and civic rights? Is Evans’s framing applicable to the Polish and other CEE contexts of the period? What is the meaning of doing queer history now? What can we learn from our inquiries into the past, and from oral history specifically?

We invite empirically grounded, as well as theoretical and methodological, papers that address these and related questions. Please submit your abstract (max. 250 words) and bio (max. 150 words) to by June 26. Decisions about acceptance of abstracts for this workshop will be emailed by July 3.