Sina Früh, your master degree is in English language and literature and film studies. You also studied at New York Film Academy. For the past four years you have worked at Zürich gay and lesbian film festival called Pink Apple Film Festival as a co-director and programme coordinator. Can you please tell us why you decided to study English language, literature and film and chose to work in the area of LGBT films?
The decision to study English literature came very naturally to me. I had always loved reading English books in school, I liked Shakespeare’s plays and the language was already very much part of my everyday life. What kept me going throughout my studies was the way literary theory allows you to analyze not only texts, but the world that we live in. I became much more aware of societal and political issues, especially feminist issues, and I’m still very interested in the way that cultural products such as books and films represent and shape our view of the world. That is also one of the reasons I decided on film studies as my minor subject.
I started at Pink Apple film festival because there was an open position in the sponsoring team. I knew and attended the festival regularly and wanted to be involved in any way that I could. Because of my background in film and literary studies it made sense for me to transition to the programming team after a while and that’s where I knew I wanted to be. But I’m glad I started out in sponsoring, because that knowledge still helps me as a co-director of the festival today.
What are the main selection criteria for LGBT film to be shown at the Pink Apple Film Festival and which was your biggest achievement as a programme coordinator and/or co-director of the film festival?
We strive to have a good mixture of films in our program. That means including regional films as well as films from around the world, showing different points of view and accurate representation. Of course, we want to show films that are convincing, both visually and story-wise, and it is important to us to support queer filmmakers. And especially with our focus programs we aim to shed light on political LGBT* issues in Switzerland and internationally.
I can’t think of one biggest achievement, but fighting for a film that you believe in and then finally presenting it to an audience is always a great feeling.
Which LGBT films you consider to be the best regarding representation and visibility and the worst in the past decade and why? Do you think that sexual orientation of the people working on LGBT films/TV-series and/or LGBT film festivals matter, if yes why?
For me, authenticity is important in films. Whose story are we seeing? Who has agency, who is speaking in this film? What is the background of the film and the filmmakers and what message are they trying to send? These are questions that I consider when reflecting about representation in film. For example, I really liked the film „Cómo te llamas? Eva + Candela“ by Ruth Caudeli. In my opinion, the film portrayed the relationship between the two women extremely well, including all the highs and lows. I really saw myself in that story. Although there is not one universal lesbian experience, I believe there are shared experiences that connect us and we want to see accurately represented. So I do think it is important to have people involved in the film who have lived those experiences and know how to transfer them to the screen.
However, you do not work only on film, you are also a cultural manager. For instance you presented the Letsmuseeum tour Womamazing in the Kunsthaus Zürich (2019), trying to show different perspectives of paintings by introducing a female gaze. You did that with paintings by Ferdinand Hodler and objects by Auguste Rodin. How did that tour go and what were the main responses by visitors?
The tour was created by Roberta Spano and the goal was to expose that art exhibitions are very much dominated by men and that women do often not have the same opportunities when it comes to creating art. I came on board because the tour should also be available in English and I loved the concept of it. I was able to add my own viewpoints and include artworks that I wanted to talk about. It was important to me to have a queer reading of a painting in the tour, which I did with Kees van Dongens work Friends. The responses to the tour were mostly positive and people were grateful for a new perspective on art and its history, and it was very refreshing for me as well.
Do you think (film) art should be progressive and portray certain values and attitudes (i.e. portraying more diverse, inclusive, free, democratic relationships and world)? For instance, philosopher Walter Benjamin thought that art should be politically and culturally engaged; for philosopher Alan Badiou art is a production of infinite subjective series and experiences (which should aim toward creating peace), for Jean Beaudrillard art is nothing more than simulation, however. What do you think?
Since I work at a film festival, I think about representation quite a lot. So I do always consider these works of art as products of their culture and I consider the engagement of the audience. We encounter some form of art daily and it has the ability to influence how we view the world, especially in mainstream media. It would be nice if children could see more diversity on TV, for example different kinds of families. Still, I do not feel that every work of art needs to be inherently political. It can be an outlet for subjective feelings or processes, which is something so personal. But to define art or decide what art should or should not be able to do is an enormous question that I feel can and should not be answered definitely.
What are your biggest inspirations (film or not film career wise)?
I am inspired by a lot of people around me who are passionate and driven. A friend of mine started a lesbian party series Konliki a couple of years ago because there were not enough parties for women, I thought that was great. My motivation with Pink Apple is definitely to do my part for the LGBT* community. To be able to provide a platform for queer filmmakers and queer stories, but also to create an event and meeting points for the local LGBT* audience is amazing.
And last but not least, what are your plans for the future projects?
I want to continue working in the same direction and bring people together. Personally, another goal of mine is to make more music, possibly record an EP one day. Singing has always been a passion of mine and I’ve been starting to invest more time in that, which has been very satisfying.
Heidi Lynch, you are a Canadian actress, producer and creator of TV series Avocado Toast (2020). Can you tell us more about yourself, what did you study and why did you decide to become an actress and producer?
On a crisp fall day in October 1987 the youngest sister of three boys was born. When she came out her mother thought she was a boy, despite being told “it’s a girl!” and called her Joseph. Joseph was quickly named Heidi after her Swiss grandmother. Heidi wasn’t born a writer/producer/actor. She became one through her desire to tell meaningful stories that uplift, change and comfort others. She now splits her time between Toronto and London (U.K.), spreading her stories and living her life. Hahaha.
I read somewhere that you created the series after your own experiences and therefore your lesbian relationship and coming out issues of the main character in the series are the same as in your life. How your life has changed ever since you came out and are you still with that 'special person'?
Firstly to be super clear I wrote Molly’s story to create representation for BISEXUAL characters. Molly is bisexual as am I. I never saw myself represented on screen when we started writing the show. I am overjoyed that there are more bi characters I can reference now. The derision and relative lack of representation is even more jarring when you remember that there are more people who identify as bisexual-plus — a spectrum that includes bisexuality, pansexuality, queerness, and everything in between — than those who identify as lesbian or gay combined. My life has changed for the better because of my partner but not really because of my bisexuality. I got to come out with the beautiful announcement that I was in love and was starting a relationship so although I built it up to be a potentially challenging conversation it went very well. I know how lucky I am about that.
I must say that I am bit baffled about coming out issues. I come from the former socialist country and I came out in 1988 to my parents, to some of my former classmates from secondary school in 1989 and to all my former university classmates and professors in 1993. It is true that because I unexpectedly felt in love with woman I started questioning if there was only one right notion of love which lead me to professionally research concepts of love and emotions. However, I thought societies throughout the world became more progressive towards inclusion and acceptance of different sexual orientations and sexual identities in the past decade. Where do you think these doubts and questions regarding being (not)accepted by the parents, friends and peers (still) come from?
If you watch or read the news there are cases every day of targeted homophobic attacks. I live in London and there was a stabbing just last week of a gay couple. On a double decker bus a bisexual woman and her lesbian partner were punched in the face because they wouldn’t kiss for a group on young men. I come from a wonderful family but no one is queer in the entirety of it. We are scared of the unknown and everything in the world we live in contributes to our fears. I don’t want anyone to feel fear of non-acceptance when they are coming out but I think it is inevitable. Creating representation for stories where coming is accepted is key.
Was it intentional to emphasize the notion of a monogamous exclusive relationship in the series? I have to say that I strongly agree with you about that, however I get the feeling that people think of those who want to be in a long term monogamous faithful relationship as somewhat conservative. Do you agree?
No I don’t agree but I think loving authentically and honestly is all that matters. As long as both people in the relationship consent to be in it with all the honest communication that specific relationship provides that is good! I am a monogamous person but I don’t judge anyone who isn’t, as long as being truthful to the people in their lives and protecting others’ hearts.
I learned that some of your female colleagues are also bisexual and which I applaud. Was intentional to look for co-stars with the same sexual orientation? How do you think that actresses playing lesbian or bisexual characters being themselves the same sexual orientation contribute to the quality of acting and the series in general?
It’s impossible to ask people their sexuality in an interview or audition. If people haven’t come out yet it puts them in a tough position. If people are out and can bring an authentic perspective to the role that is beneficial for everyone but not required.
In some ways Avocado Toast is similar to Feel Good series where a Canadian gal also falls in love with English woman and series presents coming out issues of a woman who never before felt in love with a woman (it is interesting that both women work in primary schools too), however the added value of your series is that you deal with parents' sexuality and happiness as well. It is brave to tackle the sexuality of the parents and as you said in one of interviews we are all progressives regarding our parents just not when it comes to their sexual life and putting their happiness and independence as successful adults above their children. Finally, someone addressed this issue that parents as successful adults have the right to be happy and live their life independent from 'worrying' about their grown up children issues all the time.
That is all true! Yep! I know!!! I watched Feel Good after we were done our show and was like “DAMN, we will never be on Netflix!”
I like the idea how you presented being in love as 'work' of hormones of love and happiness, such as oxytocine, serotonin, noradrenaline. It is believed that the aforementioned hormones have boast for the first two years of the relationship and that is why the excitement and enthusiasm is the strongest in that period and then slowly goes back to normal, afterward partners should work on relationship to boast the levels of hormones if they wish to maintain its excitement. Why did you decide to include that in the series?
Molly is trying to find a pragmatic way to write her feeling for The One off so she tries to change them into logic.
Which lesbian film(s) and TV series has been the best in your opinion and why?
Orange is the new black
Brooklyn Nine Nine (bisexual xo)
What inspires you most in your work and in your personal life, where your inspiration comes?
NEW and FRESH stories. People or places or things that I know nothing about. I want to learn and explore and give voice to the NEW and FRESH.
At last but not least, what are you currently working on and what are your plans for the future?
I am producing a new web series in development called Womb Envy. I am assistant producing a dating show. I am researching a feature film.
Natalia Zamilska, you are Polish creator, composer and producer of electronic music. You graduated from Uniwersytet Śląski in Cieszyn with a degree in social and cultural animation and cooperated with a local Foundation of Audiovisual Culture »Strefa Szarej«, by leading workshops in electronic music production and working for Galeria Szara. Can you tell us more about yourself - how come you decided to study social and cultural animation? What do you wish to achieve by that and when did you start making electronic music and found out it could be a profession as well?
A friend persuaded me to continue onto higher education. There were pros in doing so: I would’ve been further from home but still in Silesia, the degree was culture related, university campus looked like Woodstock, and most importantly the program had an easy syllabus. I knew that eventually it would drop everything I was doing to make music. The campus really was like Woodstock, you could write a book about it. I am surprised we survived. Reality hit after graduation, there was no work, no one would employ me, not even in retail. I was recording music during the day and drinking beer in the evening while pondering, how I am going to pay rent. Then I made Quarrel.
My favorite genre of music is melodic techno and I grew up with all kind of techno music, however your industrial techno is really good and when I first listened to your music, especially debut album »Untune« from 2014 I thought it reminded me a bit of the music from Tresor Club in Berlin at the end of 90'ies through 2000 when techno was at its peek. This is of course my personal opinion. Who was your biggest inspiration and/or musicians that influenced you the most in regard to your music as well as videos you make for your songs?
I listen to so many different genres of music that it is hard to pinpoint one specific source of inspiration. I'm a patchwork of everything. When I was working on my fist album, I had no agenda. No plans, no expectations. I let it flow. I remember, when I was recording Quarrel, my main focus was to connect elements that on their own would never work together. I wanted to give listeners goose bumps. I generally have a DIY approach when it comes to recording. I can convert very poorly recorded sound bits from a market in Morocco in to a melody line, and you would never know that it didn’t come from an expensive synthesizer. Same goes for visual content. I am able to create a story from various, unrelated video clips. Total punk rock and garage. Some despise it, others like it. Did you know, that one of the melodic lines on Uncovered comes from porn? Someone asked me if they were bisons.
Album »Untune« has been also very popular with more then 800.000 views of your videos/songs Duel 35 and almost 400.000 Closer on YouTube. How does it feel to see your music have been listened/watched so much?
They will play Duel at my funeral. I am sure of it. Honestly? When I look at these statistics, I worry that they are low.
Your second album »Undone« from 2016 and song Ost to the game »Ruiner« also from »Undone«, was nominated in the Electronic Album Of The Year category of Fryderyki 2017 and Digital Dragons 2018 award for the best game soundtrack. How come that you wrote a song created for the game and how is it different making songs for games from other fields? How did it make you being nominated for the awards and what influence the award had on your work, people recognized your more, you got more offers for concerts and tours?
Winning the soundtrack category at the Digital Dragon gala was a great experience. The more so because I do not come from the gaming world and my music wasn’t really popular in that community. The fact that music from »Undone« was included in the Ruiner soundtrack was a milestone for me. Since then I’ve developed a strong fan base among gamers. You can see that in YouTube statistics. It also shows in the comments, there are many slogans from the game: “get them puppy” or “kill them all”. I am very amused and happy when I read them.
Being nominated for a Fryderyk Award was fun. It is the most prestigious music award in Poland. It is usually awarded to popular musicians. When I was a kid I used watch the gala on TV. So you can imagine that it was a great experience to be there and be nominated. This year Unocovered, my third album, was nominated in Electronic Album of the Year category. But the awards were postponed due to pandcemic. Let this be my comment on importance of these types of awards.
You third album »Uncovered« is quite different from the two previous ones, as Bob Cluness (2019) wrote you fine-tuned your production skills and buffed up your beats to a crisp clean, minimal finish and added your voice. I agree with him that it is your best album. I particularly like songs Alive, Hollow, Back. How come you decided to start singing as well and what do you wish to achieve by adding lyrics to your songs?
I envied my friends - female vocalists. Adding vocals was a wet dream. I thought about it for a long time, but there came a moment in my life that I needed words as another source of communication. Like an additional instrument. It was another big challenge for me as a producer. Maybe that's why this album is considered the best - because I surprised everyone, myself included. So, what do I have to do on the next album?
Do you think music could or should reflect certain »sign of times/zeitgeist« and also should it represent certain values, such as democracy, equality, freedom, peace? I am asking this because when I watched videos for songs Duel 35, Closer, Army (from »Untune«) all deal with violence, aggression and war. Why does this topic interest you in connection to your music/videos, do you wish to make a statement about the aforementioned topics?
I think that every young musician must come to the point where he begins to understand that music cannot be non-political. This is impossible by the very assumption of especially electronic music which was founded on the foundations of struggles for human rights and the proclamation of equality slogans. Techno was created in black neighbourhoods, in gay clubs. I am under the impression that nowadays many people in Poland forgot about it. My main premise while recording, especially »Undone« was to remind everyone that electronics can carry a message. In addition, I have been fascinated by the music and customs of other cultures since I was a child. I have always been always under the impression that our white race did a lot of damage. There was a lot about that on my second album too. It was the result of total anger at what is happening around the Word. I think globally, less locally.
How is your music connected to your sexual orientation? In song Hollow we can hear you sing »She said what should I tell you?«, in song Alive (both songs are from album »Uncovered«) you sing »She is a girl, She is alive«. Do you sing about your personal experiences? Do you find it important raising awareness regarding different sexual orientations through music?
I always talk only about myself and my feelings on my albums. I couldn't create a fake story. I can't make up and lie, which is often my curse because I talk too much. I never hide my orientation. I never had a big coming-out, although one newspaper tried very hard to make it seem that way a few years ago. For me this is my way of "fighting" - NATURALITY. I do not scream, I do not stomp my feet, but in interviews I use the phrase "my ex-girlfriend” without batting an eye. I never pretend, I never lie about myself. I usually don't take part in any actions because I just don't like them and I don't like the way, dealing with the problem, that associations working for LGBT people in Poland have chosen. Very often they lock themselves in a certain enclave, instead of opening to different environments.
So I think that more important than expressing yourself directly in music is how you behave on a daily basis.
However you are not working only as a music maker and producer. In the years 2017–2019 you were a host of a programme "Nocny TransPort" in national radio station Czwórka. For instance I have tried to raise awareness about the representation of different sexual orientations and identities through my books, work on radio and television and even editorial work. What was your work about? Have you also included a topic on homosexuality?
I returned to the radio during the pandemic. I try to raise many different issues regarding other cultures, human rights, current and difficult social situations. I never leave matters without a comment because I consider it an obligation if I have such a platform as a radio. Not only that - I work on Polish National radio which 99% were taken over by the current regime authorities. I can't imagine not taking advantage of this opportunity and smuggling out different content in a thoughtful way. However, I don’t focus solely on LGBT. There are really many issues in which people in our country needs awareness. Music from different cultures is a great link.
How do you perceive current situation of LGBT people in Poland?
It’s bad. No one goes to prison for homosexuality yet but I’m not sure if we should consider "bad" from prison for sexual orientation. We currently have a very right-wing party in power which spreads propaganda in national media that LGBT is a group that will pervert your children. And these are the lightest hits. Of course, we don't have any rights. I’m ashamed of that, but Poland is not a tolerant country. There are of course many groups that are fighting for LGBT community, but isn't it sad that in the 21st century we have to prove to someone that a gay or a lesbian is not a perverse creature lurking to stalk your children? Many people have to leave the country if they want to start a family. There is violence at parades, like the one in Bialystok last year. It's terrifying. This is unacceptable. Forget about holding your hand on the street if you don't want to hear insults. I live in the capital city and I can't imagine how scared kids from smaller towns are, who discover their sexuality. Something must change. This is a violation of human rights. I hope that finally someone will weigh it, hear it. This should finally be dealt with by the European Union, to which Poland, after all, belongs.
What inspires you most in your work and in your personal life?
I don't think I have such a specific thing. Life in itself, simply.
At last but not least, what are you currently working on and what are your plans for the future?
I'm trying to get together and focus only on myself and recording a new material. It's hard work. Believe me, I'm the least focused person I know.
Jónína Leósdóttir, an Icelandic writer of dozen plays, numerous novels, two biographies and a collection of articles written for a women's magazine. Your books have been translated into several languages and you read your work also abroad. I think that you could be a true role model for lesbian and bisexual women of all ages and walks of life with your numerous works, achievements and prizes. Can you tell us about yourself, how come you decided to become writer, playwright, author and editor?
“Reading has always been a big passion in my life, which was lucky for me as a child, because I had a weak immune system and was frequently ill. I often had to stay inside for long periods, while all my friends played outside. Icelandic television only started broadcasting when I was almost a teenager, so I spent my early childhood reading and drawing, which was another passion of mine.
From the age of five, I was also introduced to the theatre by two aunts, who lived with us. They took me to see every play that was staged in the two professional theatres in Reykjavik and sometimes they took me to the cinema. So, I grew up with all kinds of stories – in books, on stage and on screen.
I also wrote and illustrated my own stories and constantly wrote letters, as I had pen-friends all over the world. (I learned English at an early age, as my family rented out flats in our house to foreign diplomats that I loved talking to.) However, I never imagined writing as a job. I planned to become a vicar, because I wanted to change the church from the inside, then an art-historian or maybe a linguist. But I happily ended up with a degree in English and literature.
I was 31 before I realized I could actually make a living by writing. Before that time, I had translated a few books, but at the end of 1985 I was offered a temporary job as a journalist. That was like winning the lottery. I stayed in journalism for twenty years but also began writing books and plays in the evenings and during weekends and holidays. I simply haven’t stopped writing since.
You thematize lesbian relationships and relationship with your wife, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, former Icelandic Prime Minister in several of your works, such as in drama The Secret (1997) and book Við Jóhanna (Jóhanna and I). You wrote about hiding your relationship when you both were married to the time you publicly came out. Especially, book Jóhanna and I (2013) is the chronological description of your intimate relationship with Jóhanna, from the first meeting in 1985 to the day you got married in 2010 and Jóhanna became primer minister in 2009. How do you think society changed regarding the acceptance of homosexual love in the past decades and how do you feel when looking back at the times of 80's and 90's and compare your relationship with nowadays? How your work thematizing homosexuality was received among readers then and now?
The fact that Jóhanna and I met was a huge coincidence. She was a Member of Parliament and I had no interest in politics. But I agreed to do someone a favour and, as a result, I ended up in the world of politics for a short while. I fell in love with her and later we became lovers, although neither of us had been in a same-sex relationship before. This was totally unexpected for us.
We both divorced our husbands, but continued to live separately. In 1985 it was impossible for a politician to come out and expect no consequences. It would have been a big risk. So, our relationship was a secret for 15 years, and that was an extremely difficult time for us, not least because Jóhanna was a minister in the government for many of those years and very much in the public eye.
However, the attitude towards homosexuality in Iceland gradually changed, because of the effort of a small group of activists. I think Jóhanna’s career would not have been damaged so much if we had come out in the mid 90’s, for example. But you can never know for sure, as politics can be a ruthless world. I was often very sad and impatient during these closet-years, so it was a big relief when we finally set up home together in 2000, and could stop hiding our feelings.
I had already started to write about gay issues during our years in the closet. A college drama-group asked me to write a full-length play for them about a girl coming out to family and friends. This was in 1997 and it was wonderful project for me. And, immediately, two other colleges also wanted to stage the play. That shows how much attitudes were changing in Iceland, especially with young people. But I never discussed my own personal connection to the theme with anyone in those groups, although Jóhanna came with me to the first premiere.
In 1999, I wrote a series of short plays for television and one of them was about two gay men from the countryside, who spend their first whole night together in a hotel in Reykjavik. The play was broadcast in 2000 and did not cause any scandal.
By then, Civil Partnership for gay men and lesbians had already been legalized and Gay Pride parades were growing in popularity. It was incredible to witness this. A few years into the 21st century, approximately 100.000 people were taking part in the annual Gay Pride celebrations in the centre of Reykjavik. That is almost a third of the total population of Iceland. So, Icelandic society has changed a lot from the first years of my and Jóhanna’s relationship and now being queer would not hamper people in politics.
In 2007, I wrote a book for young adults with a lesbian-theme. I thought it was important for queer teenagers to be able to read Icelandic fiction about their own reality. This is a novel about a girl from Iceland who spends a summer in Brighton in England, and begins to discover who she is. I then wrote two more books about that character, so this became a trilogy. (Kisses & Olives, Black & White, Me & You, published 2007-2009.) And the books did not only appeal to LGBT+ teenagers. They were very well received by both girls and boys, straight and gay.
When Jóhanna became Prime Minister in 2009, her sexuality was of no importance to people in Iceland. But the foreign media started making that an issue, quite understandably, as she was the first openly homosexual leader in the world. We received interview requests from all around the globe. But Jóhanna had to use all her waking hours and all her energy on trying to save the Icelandic economy, because when she became Prime Minister our banks had collapsed and our country was in danger of bankruptcy.
Therefore, we didn’t tell our story until she retired from politics in 2013 and we published the book that I wrote, at Jóhanna’s suggestion, about our relationship. The book is called Vid Jóhanna, or Jóhanna and I. Then, in the years that followed, we travelled to several Pride events and conferences in Europe, Canada and the US to talk about the book.
Can you tell us about your latest novels The Faceless Woman (2020) and A Child’s Silent Scream (2019), what they are about and why you decided to write about the topics?
My last five books are a series of crime-novels about a woman called Edda who is in her late sixties and has recently retired. Edda is a very active, energetic and curious woman who accidentally gets involved in all kinds of mysteries in her neighbourhood in Reykjavik. Her best friend is a gay man called Viktor, who is also her son’s boyfriend.
I decided to write about Edda, as I wanted to show that older women can be both clever and funny. Edda is, perhaps, a very modern Icelandic Miss Marple. But the series is not a typical murder mystery … there is a lot of humour in it, too.
I noticed you wrote a radio drama Pandemic (2009) about a family in isolation during a pandemic which coincides with nowadays corona times. How do you think your playwright reflects what the world is going through right now and where did you get the idea? However, you do not write only playwrights but also screenplays. Can you tell us a bit about play Bynhildur and Kjartan (2017) broadcasted on Icelandic TV?
“The SARS outbreak, at the beginning of this century, made me think a lot about what it would be like for families to live together in total isolation for many weeks, because of a pandemic. I considered what people would need to buy and how they would pass the time, but I was mostly interested in how they would feel and how tensions within families would magnify when everyone had to share a comparatively small space for a long time.
In my play, I focus on one family over a few weeks. Someone breaks the rules about not leaving the house, someone else becomes physically ill and has to consider not being allowed back in, if they leave the house etc. And secrets get revealed, as the home gradually becomes like a pressure-cooker.
Luckily, SARS never reached Iceland and I had no idea that one day, in 2020, Jóhanna and I would self-isolate in our home for weeks. But that’s what happened, of course, and now we have had no other company for over two months … not even our grandchildren whom we miss so much.
I think writers all over the world are probably busy writing books and scripts about life during Covid-19. I’m certain we will see a lot of fiction, films and plays about this strange time and the extreme pressure the coronavirus put on people in such different ways. It’s not only a health issue, it is also a huge economic issue, with so many people losing their jobs. We will be talking and writing about this for years, even if we are, at the same time, exhausted by it all. But it is important to learn from the mistakes that were made and be better prepared next time. Because, we are told there definitely will be a next time.
The short-film, Brynhildur og Kjartan is also about people cut off from the outside world. They are an old couple and the man has dementia. When the wife has an accident inside their home, the man finds it difficult to help her, because of his illness. The script is loosely based on a short story that I wrote for a magazine, and then an Icelandic producer/director used it for this short film.
Your artistic achievements and other work, such as being a founding member – and now honorary member - of The Women’s Literary Prize (Fjöruverðlaunin) in Iceland in 2007 and an long term assistant Editor of Nýtt Líf (women’s magazine) – is truly impressive. You really did a lot for women's and LGBT rights and in this sense, I am curious about your articles for women's magazine: what were the most important and frequent topics you tackled and why and what else should be done? How these articles and topics differ from your art work?
I am extremely interested in how people cope with difficulties, and during my time at the women’s magazine, I focused on in-depth interviews with people who had had very dramatic life-experiences. I will forever be in dept to all those people, as they showed me huge trust and some of them told me things that they had never spoken of to anyone before. Many of them had suffered such tragic loss that you wondered how they could possibly carry on, but all of them had found some way of coping with the trauma. I still carry all those people’s stories with me and they still give me strength.
The literary prize =
I am extremely proud of The Icelandic Women’s Literary Prize, that I founded with some fantastic female writers. Many people were sceptical about this and asked if women needed a special prize because they couldn’t complete with male writers. That is completely wrong. We simply wanted to put wonderful books by women in the spotlight, as they tended to get overlooked in a male-dominated world of books. Now, the situation has improved slightly, but the women’s prize has become established and I hope it will carry on for a long time.
You won numerous prizes for your work, from poetry to drama and novel competitions. You are also on the board of PEN International since 2015. Can you tell us which is the most important prize and why?
The poetry prize that I received in 2008 – for one poem in a national competition – was a huge surprise. I had never had the confidence to publish poetry and never showed anyone my poems, but I decided to take part because you could do it anonymously. You just included a sealed envelope with your name and it would not be opened unless the panel of judges needed to contact you with good news. I was certain my poem and the envelope with my name would end in the shredder. Incredible!
Regarding the Icelandic Chapter of PEN International, I must admit that I am utterly ashamed of my record there. I have not been active there, at all.
Do you think that sexual orientation of the writer is important while doing theatre, radio and screen plays and novels with same-sex characters and do you think art should be progressive, conveying certain values, such as diversity, inclusiveness, freedom, democracy?
This is a difficult question. I don’t think sexual orientation is necessarily important, even when writing about queer characters. Writers must be able to put themselves in other people’s shoes and see the world from different perspectives. Women have to be able to create credible male characters and vice versa, and the same goes for sexual orientation, ethnicity and many other factors.
Regarding the latter half of the question, I think creative people have to be as free as possible from demands about their subject matter. But, of course, those values you mention are extremely important in human society and should be celebrated by everyone, not just artists.
I hope I am not tedious with this question, you and your wife are famous for being the first and so far the only lesbian married couple as the head of the government in the world. How that made you feel regarding promotion of LGBT rights and raising awareness among other politicians you met through your wife's ministerial and prime ministerial duties? I saw you met former Slovenian president in 2011 – how were you treated by our former president and his wife? Do you think politicians should be more progressive?
When foreign leaders come to Iceland on an official visit, the Prime Minister and his/her spouse usually host a formal party for them. This happened a few times while Jóhanna was Prime Minister, for example when Mr. and Mrs Türk visited our country. Jóhanna and I also went on two official visits together as a couple, to The Faroe Islands, our closest neighbours in the North Atlantic, and to China. As you can imagine, the latter was a most surreal experience. Such a big leap – from being in the closet for 15 years to being received as a couple by China’s PM in Beijing.
All the leaders that we met during those occasions had one thing in common, no matter how the LGBT+ rights situation was in their country: They were all extremely polite.
Naturally, I have no idea what they were thinking or what they really felt about being in a formal situation with a queer couple, posing for pictures and chatting over drinks and dinner. But not one single person, that we met in an official capacity, showed any hint of prejudice or rudeness. Everyone was relaxed and courteous.
You have been in a relationship for 35 years, you have a son, two stepsons and nine grandchildren, what do you think it is the most important for a happy long lasting marriage/relationship? You obviously believe in monogamous marriage based on trust, reciprocity, honesty and faithfulness which is in my opinion very important. Do you think these are somehow (obsolete) values nowadays when so many people get divorced, have open relationships, threesomes, polyamorous relationships. What do you think of all these new forms of relationships and what do you think Bertrand Russel, who wrote about open marriage or open relationship in his book Marriage and Morals (first published in 1929), would say to these?
Having had the experience of both a heterosexual and homosexual marriage, I can honestly say that there is no difference at all. I agree with my wife, who often says “love is simply love”. But, unfortunately, the society you live in can influence your chance of finding love and enjoying a happy relationship. The stress that comes with being queer in a country where your feelings are a crime must cause enormous pressure on LGBT+ couples.
I’m afraid I don’t know the secret to a long and happy relationship. The situations that couples find themselves in are so different and whether a marriage can be saved or not depends on so many factors – not just romantic feelings, but also practical things like education, work, finances, childcare etc.
Personally, I could never deal with being in an open marriage, but if it suits other people, then it is not for me to judge.
What inspires you most in your work and in your personal life, where your inspiration comes?
My main passion in life is an interest in people and all kinds of relationships – between friends, within families, in the workplace, in a marriage etc. That is what I most enjoy studying, reading about, thinking about and writing about.
At last but not least, what are you currently working on and what are your plans for the future?
I always have more than one project going at the same time. I have one novel that is “resting” in my computer and another one that I’m working on. And then there are some secret projects, too.
If you could offer me some extra hours in the day, I would gratefully accept. I never have enough time to write, read or watch everything that I want to. I also need a better back, please. All this sitting at the computer is bad for my back, and I haven’t been able to visit my physical therapist for over two months due to Covid-19.
tErika Patrikainen, you are member of the European Gay & Lesbian Sport Federation from Finland. Can you tell us more about yourself, EGLSF and how did you get involved with the organization, what are your tasks? As I read you became member of the EGLSF board at The Annual General Assembly, which took place in Copenhagen 2018.
I live in Helsinki, in which I enjoy the various cultural and sporting activities, especially biking around the city. I do volunteer work in three sport organisations and play floorball in two of them. In Finland there’s only one LGBTIQ sports club, called H.O.T., and at the moment I’m the chair person of that. I started there playing floorball, but I also wanted to work on the LGBTIQ issues in sports and that’s what I’m now doing, also in the EGLSF.
EGLSF is the umbrella organisation of all the European LGBTIQ sports clubs and groups. We provide them e.g. a platform to co-ordinate their events and license a multi-sport event called EuroGames which is the largest LGBTIQ sports event in Europe, with about 1500 - 5000 participants. Next games are planned to be held in Dusseldorf in August and then in Copenhagen in 2021. EuroGames is an event for athletes from beginners to top level. The idea is that everyone is equally invited regardless of gender, sexual orientation or skills. It is a social event as much as a sports event since many of us go there every year if possible.
In the bigger picture, EGLSF aims to be the leading voice for LGBTIQ sport in Europe. In order to achieve that, we co-operate with other European level sport organisations and lead / take part in Erasmus+ projects.
My role in the board of EGLSF is to work as liaison of the EuroGames organisers and to work on our IT systems. There’s of course quite a lot of work to do, but I enjoy being part of this international community and being able to use my expertise for a meaningful purpose.
You were one of the co-presidents with Juha Meronen of the EuroGames 2016 in Helsinki. Can you tell us how did you win a bid to be a host of the games and how was to organize such a big event?
Before submitting the bid board of H.O.T. wanted to make sure we can actually organise the event, so we contacted the president of Finland and the city of Helsinki to support us and to reserve us the venues. It also helped us a lot since Juha had been in the board of EGLSF and knew what was expected of us.
When you organise a big event with volunteers only, there are always ups and downs what comes to being able to commit to the tasks each person has. We prepared the event for a long time (about three years) and I think we had more positive surprises how committed people were, so at the day of the event, there weren't that many issues to be concerned about. We were all positively surprised how well everything went. Even the sun was shining for us.
I am sure you have some interesting anecdotes from EuroGames to share with the readers, what is your most favorite?
Well, as the events are organised by volunteers there’s always much going on behind the scenes, but in addition to those, the most memorable moments are the opening ceremonies when everyone gathers up with their teams (or when people go greet everyone else and they end up marching with other countries team) and march to a stadium or when people give hugs and kisses to each other when standing at the podium. That’s the right spirit for any event.
How long have you been a sports fan and how many sports do you play and do you think that it is important to be a LGBT activist?
I’ve been doing team sports since I was a kid: Finnish baseball, floorball, badminton and volleyball. I don’t have much time to follow sports any more, I rather use it to do sports. It balances my long working hours, sitting and using a computer.
Being a LGBT activist is still important since the sports world is very much struggling to include people from gender minorities. Even at the grass root level where the outcome of a sports competition shouldn’t much matter. Well, also women, disabled people, sexual minorities, just to mention a few groups, are also fighting for their rights and existence within the sports world. So, if you ask me, there is a need for all kinds of activists.
I also read that you are a lead data scientist at the company Aureolis, what do you do you do?
Yes, I work there as a consultant. We help our customers to yield value from the data they collect. My work consists mainly of designing the processes and environments in which data is transformed to information and to knowledge based decisions. In the role of a data scientist, the work is a lot about finding patterns in the data or testing if expected patterns actually exists. That’s perhaps the best thing being a data scientist - you’ll get to be the first to discover all sorts of new information.
In one of your articles (2017) you claim that everyone should study artificial intelligence for numerous benefits its offers to humans and that everyone is sooner or later going to take part in coding and programming. Why do you think so?
Coding is already being thought in primary schools in Finland, and I believe in many other countries as well, so this prediction has already become true. And why I think people will benefit for studying artificial intelligence is that since they use more and more applications where AI plays a significant role, they will have a need to understand what is the logic behind the outcomes of the AI applications and also how to modify them in order to e.g. do business with the application. Mastering Excel is no longer enough in order to compete in global business.
As a philosopher, who learned about neural networks at the course Cognitive Philosophy, I was intrigued by your statement that we should think about ethical implications of the programming and to which end could and shouldn't be used. I don't know if you read a book "Age of Ems" by Robert Hanson, professor of Economics at George Mason University who predicts that humans are going to be able to upload their brains/mind in virtual cloud in hundred years. Once brains can be uploaded to computers, he argues, humans will make countless copies of the most effective brains, running them at a thousand times human speed: soon ems (brain emulations) will take over almost every job on the planet, while also building their own super cities and evolving their own strange civilization. What do you think of such statements, is it real or utopia and what implications do you see for human intimate partnerships, sexual orientation or identity, age and society in general?
I haven’t read that book, but yes, I think it might be possible to “upload your brain” at some point, since most likely everything in our brain can be measured and hence copied or at least modelled with a computer. However, I do wish that people realise that all things that are possible should not be done.
For example replacing people with machines at work places results in unhappy people. At least everybody I know, would like to work. To me a better solution would be to make work more diverse for us: if I could choose, I would like to work with my brain maybe 4 days a week and then 1 day do physical labour. That would keep me in better fit and also give my brain time to get more creative.
In general I think people are obsessed trying to solve problems with technology instead of adjusting their own actions to their environments or other people. For example, instead of controlling the size of human population, which is a major factor in global warming and other ecological catastrophes, we are focused on building networks of machines so that we would use less energy for warming up our houses or for transportation… Clearly that is not the way to solve the problem.
What comes to partnership and sexual orientation, as AI develops, I guess the trend is that people will have more relationships with dolls and other kinds of machines. If the machines that we spend time with start looking more attractive to us than our phones and computers do now, then most likely they will be commonly used for sex as well. Something good might come out that as well… Perhaps people will even realise that sexuality is not something that is best described by a few labels, but is something that evolves over time, varies depending for instance on hormone levels. The best thing you can do is to keep your mind open, regarding your self and other people, and to avoid to abuse anyone.
What about AI predictions regarding homosexual population - do you think AI can/could help humans with fighting prejudices, stereotypes and hate crime based on sexual orientation and/or sexual identity?
Yes, AI can for example replace humans when people are elected to a position or hired for a job. It does depend on the data the AI was thought with how objective criteria it is able to apply, but on the other hand it is a quickly developing aspect in AI research now. An AI can be granted a certificate that guarantees that its ethics have been checked.
Protecting people from crime is also possible based on the data people generate when they deal with public administration. It is an other question how early we can actually act if we predict someone to commit a crime. If you haven’t done anything yet, can you be for example forced to meet a psychiatrist? There will be interesting discussions about this, I’m sure.
How come that you work in the area of sports and AI? Is there any connection between the two, or are you educated in computer science and sports have been your hobby or vice a versa?
Well, being active in the student organisation at university lead me to work also in the boards of different sport organisations. And of course statistics studies give you competence of doing any computer related tasks, such as updating websites etc.
What achievements you are most proud of and why?
Organising the EuroGames is definitely something to be proud of. None of us had had experience of organising such large events before, and yet we got wonderful feedback from the participants. We had a core team that I could trust and I’m very proud of the teamwork we did.
What is your biggest inspiration and what are your plans for the future?
I usually get inspired when I have some free time to think and got a mathematical or logical problem to solve. I get my best ideas when I just sit in a bus or in the morning after a goodnight sleep …
In the future I would like to work for slowing down the climate change and destruction of ecosystems. Those are the most important things I can think of in order to keep on having some intelligent lifeforms on this planet.
Olivia Kingston you are an Australian ballet and contemporary dancer and now working for Limitless Dance Company and Sydney Dance Company. You participated as one of the dancers in the superb Australian/Irish music video The Ocean, directed by Sinéad McDevitt for award-winning artist Wallis Bird. The Ocean celebrates romantic lesbian love story that pays tribute to love over fear. How did you learn about the audition for the video and what was your role from the initial point onwards? I read that director had a different dance version from the one we watch on the video.
Hi katarina! Yes I am a professional contemporary dancer in Sydney, NSW. I have previously worked with both SDC and LDC however I am dancing with Opera Australia in their upcoming show, “Faust”. Yes, I was a part of the love duet in “The Ocean” directed by the exquisite Sinead McDevitt. I remember my old friend, Yukino ( choreographer and my dance partner of “The Ocean”) messaging me out of the blue asking if I would be free to collaborate on this exciting new project. As an openly gay woman, I pounced at the opportunity to represent and provide visibility to both the LGBTQI+ community and beyond.
Video premiered in December 2018 which coincided with the first anniversary of the legalization of marriage equality in Australia. It took quite a long time for Australian LGBTI community to get the equal rights to marry, how did you feel about that and do you see any change in people's attitudes towards LGBTI community in Australia since then?
I was extremely disheartened to be told that I wouldn’t be able to marry the girl I love. I even remember receiving “vote no” flyers in the mail during the voting period which broke my heart. Our close neighbour, New Zealand legalised same sex marriage on 19th August, 2009, more than 10 years ago! I didn’t understand why Australia, as a seemingly progressive country was so far behind.
Luckily, my partner and I live in the city of Sydney where there are people from all walks of live and the majority of people are open and accepting. Unfortunately I cannot generalise for other regions around Australia. Discrimination and violence against the LGBTIQ+ community is still very prevalent. Yes we are changing and growing to be more accepting but I think we still have a long way to go.
Do you think sexual orientation of dancers is important when performing about homosexual love and is being part of the video also something that has a personal meaning for you or you are just an ardent LGBTI supporter?
I believe its very important for an LGBTQI character to be played by either a person of the LGBTQI+ community or be an avid supporter. This music video has a special place in my heart. Yes, I am a lesbian women and I am so proud of what we have done with this video, providing visibility was our ultimate goal…as well as telling the love story between Wallis Bird and her partner, Tracey, of course!
Do you wish there would be more dancing opportunities that celebrate for instance homosexual love? We don't see quite often dance performances with two female leads praising lesbian love. Do you think is this in any way connected to a much fewer lesbian dancers comparing to numerous gay dancers, as I recall from my youth modern dancing classes?
Totally! Same sex love is so rare to find in art form. I struggled to find any film inspiration highlighting lesbian connectivity and love, apart from The L Word and a few other movies on netflix/internet!
In my eyes dancing is a modality for personal and inclusive expression. I hope that will continue and evolve to be a safe place for younger generations to explore and express themselves.
Besides dancing you are also a model and dance teacher. Can you tell us more about these activities. I saw you participated in Strand Arcade's AW'17 Fashion Video and read that you teach kids dancing and that your mother is a dance teacher too.
Of course! I was a featured dancer in the Strand Arcade AW’17 Fashion Video. A collaboration between music artist Sloan Peterson and The Strand, highlighting many designers including Jac+Jack, Dion Lee etc. I have dabbled in modelling including the brands Schwartzkoph, Scanlan Theadore and Bassike. I am also a dance teacher at St Andrews Cathedral School, Town Hall and Elevate Performing Arts, Five Dock which I find very rewarding.
I have recently returned from volunteering with my partner in Africa with a non for profit organisation helping Africans who have Albinism. Since the trip, it has inspired me to further train in nursing. Super exciting things ahead! I will continue to perform with Opera Australia and hopefully will be able to represent the LGBTQI+ community on stage and within the health sector.
Do you think art should be progressive and portray certain values and attitudes (i.e. portraying more inclusive, diverse, equal, free, democratic relationships and world in which people's sexual orientation, origin, colour, status, beliefs won't matter much)?
Of course and I hope to be a part of more in the future.
Art is an outlet for many and I love to see what questions and issues it tackles in a thought provoking way.
What is your biggest inspiration (dance or not dance career wise) and what are your plans for future projects?
Music! Music is definitely my biggest inspiration. My girlfriend always jokes if I ever get dancers block, put on Enya… her songs always seem to help!
I have a few plans for the future! Unfortunately I cannot disclose any information at this present time but definitely keep a look out!
Sarah Walker, you are an Australian author, screenwriter and script producer. You have written for several TV shows, including All Saints (2000 – 2003), Home and Away (2007– 2008), Neighbours (2013–). Speaking of the latter, there has been on and off relationship between Chloe Brennan (April Rose Pengilly) and Elly Conway (Jodi Anasta) on Neighbours this and last year. However, viewers are confused what is going on between them, is it friendship, more then friendship, will there ever going to be a real relationship?
I wasn’t part of the creation of this storyline - I only wrote a couple of episodes involving these two characters before leaving Neighbours and I therefore am not aware of the full plans. I know that these things often depend on an actor’s availability (how long they are booked) and audience response.
Were you perhaps part of the writing team that created the storyline between Charlie (Esther Anderson) and Joey Collins (Kate Bell) in Home and Away (2009)? If yes how did you come up with the idea for their relationship, what did you wish to portray with it and how come that that storyline did not last a bit longer and developed into a proper long-term relationship?
I was the script producer and main plotter when this relationship was plotted. I had an eight week period, covering for someone else in this position and the producer at that time asked me if I would plot a lesbian love story for Charlie. He was keen to portray an interesting love story that spoke to the past of that character and he wanted it to be gay. He felt I was the right person to tell the story, so I came up with an 8-week storyline that I could tell while I was working in the main script producer position. The actress was asked if she would be happy to play the lesbian love story and she was very open and excited by the opportunity. We then had to get permission from the head of drama - I pitched him the story and he agreed.
I chose the name Joey for the love interest so that it would surprise the character of Brax (and the audience) who would be expecting a man to arrive.
This story was developed with an intention of bringing Joey back if the story worked... It did work - the actress had many many people contact her, thanking her and the show for helping them come to terms with their sexuality. However, the show had a G rating and many family groups began to complain about our portrayal of a lesbian love story - the newspapers, especially in Melbourne, began to run homophobic, sensational articles with headlines like “homo and away”. The head of the network got involved and we were banned from any further gay stories for some years after that. This is why Joey wasn’t brought back again.
In 2016, you received an Australian Writers' Guild nomination for "Episode 6381" of Home and Away in the Best Script for a Television Serial category. What was jury most convinced about the story, where did you get the idea and how did you feel about the nomination?
It’s always pleasing to be nominated for an award - it was a very good experience for me to go to the awards and when my name came up, my colleagues applauded… it's a nice feeling. The script was about breast cancer - with a character deciding to respond to a genetic test by having pre-emptive surgery - and it gathered together a number of the female cast for some scenes about surviving breast cancer and women’s issues around that. I enjoyed the opportunity to write scenes with some of the strongest women characters of the show - of different generations - coming together to discuss such an important issue. So it was great to get nominated for this Episode, as it had something important to say.
You were script and story consultant for Season 1 and 4 of Wentworth (2013, 2015). One of the unusual hallmarks of women’s prison shows is that there is almost always a lesbian couple on the show, and often one or two other single lesbians around as well. What was your main role in providing for the TV series?
My main role on Season 1 was as a Script Executive - and I was not part of the original formulation of the storylines or characters for the re-boot of the old Prisoner series. That was done by Lara Radulovich and David Hannam. But I came in to read over all the scene breakdowns and episodes as they were written, to facilitate changes that were requested by the network and executive producer. I sat in on all the script meetings on the latter drafts and suggested ways to fix or polish storylines. However, on Season 4 I joined the development team at an early stage. Sam Strauss and John Ridley had already devised an outline for the season. In the outline, Danielle Cormack’s character, Bea, was to explore a love relationship with a woman. I believe the actress had suggested this as growth for the character and everyone was in agreement that Bea needed to find love and reveal a new, softer more vulnerable side of her character, having been in an abusive relationship with a man prior to going to jail. Being the only lesbian on the plotting team, I was very much involved in the way that story would unfold - in the creation of the love story over the 12 episodes. Ali was originally conceived as a Muslim woman - who had been rejected by her family for her sexual choices but as time went on, this aspect of the story was not developed - and the casting removed it entirely. I loved being part of the team that brought this story to the screen. I stayed on to oversee the first four episodes of the Season while they were waiting for Marcia Gardener to return to the main position - and I am proud of the work I did during the early stages of this Season, which laid in place the foundations of the Bea and Allie story.
Do you think that sexual orientation of the screenwriter in making TV series with lesbian storylines is important; i.e. that certain experience(s) add(s) to the quality of the storyline(s)?
While I don’t think it’s essential for the writer to have personal experience of being gay to create believable and engaging lesbian characters - I do think it always helps to have personal connection to a love story or a sexual experience. It helps the authenticity of the execution of the storyline - and certainly, as a lesbian woman, I feel the responsibility of creating authentic characters. I think, in the past, lesbian characters were often included to create titillation or scandal for the viewers - and there was often no depth to the relationship beyond this - but this is diminishing now. No matter what the subject, it tends to help if the person writing it has personal experience —so my answer, technically, would be yes. But overall, I think good writers can describe all human experience in a quality way if they do research, and apply fundamental emotional truth.
You also wrote seven novels, among them the coming out story The Year of Freaking Out in 1997. Can you tell us more about the novel, is it your coming out story and are there any other similar stories, for instance Water Colours which is also coming of age story? I read you also wrote book Lucky Three for children as well. You cover quite a different range of topics in your novels, how so?
Writing the Year of Freaking Out was so long ago, I can hardly remember! It definitely wasn’t my coming out story - although I would’ve used memories of what it felt like to be a teenager and be challenged in that era with the prospect of coming out. I think I used the landscape of the world I grew up in, the suburbs and the tone of it. My coming out story was much more exciting and less “teenage”, although I was a teenager - but I was writing for the genre, as I had a friend — Jenny Pausacker — who had written a teenage coming out novel and I felt really strongly that had I been able to read books like that as a teenager, seeing myself reflected in books in the school library, it would have helped make me feel more acceptable and more normal. This is why I wrote a teenage novel about coming out. I actually started it as a single chapter for a class at university and my lecturer kept asking me for another chapter and another one… until she had made me write a whole book. What a gift!! As to the question about coming of age stories in my novel work… i guess if you’re writing in the young adult market, it seems like a fairly obvious territory to explore. I wrote another book called Camphor Laurel, which won the Children’s Honour Book of the Year - and it was also about two girls, as a kind of poetic love story. I wrote the children’s book because my publisher at the time was asking all their clients to write a short little story for a series they were publishing. I also wrote an adult novel called Tin Man. i stopped writing books once I started in TV because they don’t pay much and they take a long time compared to screen writing.
Where/if any do you see similarities and differences in lesbian storytelling in Australian, American and European lesbian TV series? Do you think that television should promote certain progressive values, such as diversity, inclusiveness, human rights?
I think the gaps between what all the Western cultures are writing about lesbians stories are closing. In Europe, it seems to me, lesbian representation was much more common for many years - but often as erotic and titillating - though there were some really great films made like Entre Nous. In England, I think the subject was pretty much ignored on TV (as far as I know) - though there was representation for gay men, as either a comic character (such as Mr Humphries in Are You Being Served, or Dick Emery’s characters that were camp)… or just the usual foppish man in court. I can’t think of many lesbian characters from England - but a character like Helen Mirren’s in Prime Suspect would now probably be a lesbian portrayal. Similarly, in the US, Cagney and Lacey could have been about two lesbians - but those things just didn’t happen regularly on prime time TV. It’s changing across the board… I think Australia is a little behind America - but less and less so. Of course I think TV should promote progressive values - diversity, inclusiveness and human rights. I believe that TV is a very influential medium and having representation of every type of culture, sexuality, religion, disability and humanity is necessary - and has the effect of creating a more tolerant and inclusive society — but only if the characters are complex and not cast as villains. We need to have our heroes and heroines be diverse — core roles need to be cast with an eye to representing a wide range of ethnicity and diversity of every kind.
What is your biggest inspiration (television or not television career wise) and what are your plans for the future projects? What are you most proud of and what do you still wish to achieve in your successful career as a screenwriter, producer and an author?
These are all big questions. I am inspired by a lot of things: a dream of winning an Oscar. I am inspired by the great work I see others doing — currently shows like FLEABAG — but always film and TV that is clever, new, emotional, funny and brilliantly executed. I am inspired by working with actresses I admire — talent is something that makes me excited. So a talented actress can make me want to write something for her — and this is often the way I originate material… like with a muse, which is an old-fashioned idea but it works for me. I’m not sure what I’m most proud of —technically I’m proud of the fact that I have never written anything that I didn’t put my whole effort and best work into, no matter what the show or genre, even if I didn’t feel the project was the best in itself, I would never do anything less than my best work. I am proud of certain scenes and storylines — things that may have affected other people, making them laugh or cry. What I wish to achieve is to have my next few projects produced and executed to a level of excellence; to create an original TV series that is received well by a global audience; to work with many other talented creatives on great material for feature films and TV; and to win that Oscar.
Tonje Frøystad Garvik, you were the winner of the Farmen (2018), which is the Norwegian version of The Farm reality television show. The format consists of twelve contestants who are chosen from the outside world. Each week one contestant is selected as the Farmer of the Week. You and your girlfriend Lene Sleperud both participated at the Farmen, Lene finished fourth. How was the experience of being a lesbian couple at The Farmen and how were you perceived by other contestants?
We were 14 contestants, and we had a farmer of the week first one (me) was chosen by the group to lead the first week and after that the loser of the competition of the week selected the head farmer. We knew going in that the longest period of time that a couple had been able to stay at the farm was for 2 weeks and any kind of relationship friends etc, the record was 5 weeks. Because of this we got recommended (but not forced) to keep our relationship a secret until we got close to the end. We always played openly on the same alliance and were perceived as BBFs to the other contestants. When we finally told them we were a couple in the end of week 7 they all reacted with major surprise. With me I have my tomboy side and I came out as a lesbian in week four which I felt like most contestants was okey with, but Lene is so feminine that nobody had even a suspicion. Also Farmen is a show that airs for 700.000-900.000 norwegians (1/6 norwegians), mostly in the districs and 40+ audience so we knew we would get some negativity from people due to our sexual orientation. But to us openness is so important that we were and are willing to take the crap to contribute with normalization.
I saw the videos of you two from the Farmen and it was beautiful to watch how much love was between you two. I read, that you haven't received attention only for the victory, but also for your relationship with Lene: some people have been really supportive and many thanked you, especially lesbians, parents and friends of queer young people, however some people have accused you as imposing your sexual orientation on to the others. The latter response is quite surprising considering that Scandinavian countries are believed to be one of the most diverse and inclusive countries in the world. What is your opinion of all these?
Scandinavia is absolutely one of the better parts of the world when it comes to openness to sexual orientation. However, going back it was still illegal to be a lesbian in 1972 and was considered a decease up until 1978 (pshycological)/82 (state). With an audience on 40+ and the districts as the main viewer group we knew that we would receive reactions. Because even though most people are growing to be accepting of the LGBT community there still are a lot of people that are holding on to the old beliefs or the religious view that being homosexual is a sin. Going in we were basically aware that we would get a lot of negative attention in the commentary fields but as far as response directly to us we have gotten 99.9% positive feedback and have had the humble chance to help people out of the closet by “moving into” their parents living room and let them get to know us through the screen and see gay love up close “forced” to a relationship with us. Knowledge leads to empathy and the more people who come out of the closet the more we help our fellow LGBT still in the closet. Visibility is so important for change in perception of the gay and knowledge.
You and Lene are now also role models for other lesbians and LGBT people. I watched the inspirational and empowerment promotional video of how was being a lesbian and growing up in a small Norwegian town and about Lene's first same-sex relationship with you. You both clearly think that it should be more done for raising awareness regarding acceptance of lesbian and bisexual women.
Raising awareness and acceptance is so important! It is actually stated that the bisexuals have a harder time in Norway than the gay/lesbian does as they are kind of “closed out” of both communities. A lot of bisexuals claim they are straight or lesbian in order to avoid being judged. I identify myself as a lesbian but in the battle of normalizing our love and have people accepting that I also believe that we should have bigger respect for the bisexuals out there who struggle. Love is dynamic and if we want to fight for our rights and acceptance we should have respect for other peoples love who doesn’t necessarily fit how we perceive love. Love it not black and white and some research claims that up to 90% of women have bisexual tendencies (not to say they could fall in love, but have sex with other women). I personally struggle to believe in a 100% lesbian or 100% straight community only, and I think we should be more open to the grey zones of sexuality and understand that some people don’t necccesarily fit into a box and that’s fine. Another very important thing is that with visibility the butch lesbians and the feminine gay men has fought at the front of the battlefield for us, and I have a major respect for them! However it is also super important to break the stereotypes. Both Lene and I often get that “you don’t look like a lesbian”. My question is “ what is a lesbian supposed to look like?” We all come in different flavors and colors and only what is inside of us can define our sexual orientation. Not what the community is expecting of us on how to look and act. Love is love.
You have been also a part of the “KT family” for many years as an ambassador. Not for you sexual orientation, but for your positive energy, unpretentious attitude and sporty approach towards life. However, you feared to lose all that when you were about to come out as lesbian. Can you elaborate this a bit further, please? What were you afraid in particular?
For me coming from a small town the shame of coming out as a lesbian was pretty big and I had to work through a long process in my own head to be comfortable to express and talk out loud on my sexual orientation. I know Kari Traa is a super including community and would support me in any way, however still the fear inside of you and your own voice can hold you back. Kari Traa when I came out was super supportive and has helped me a lot dealing with my sexual orientation and self worth as they have been backing me all along and helped me gain my confidence to go on a national show and be “a lesbian” with my head held high. Here is a link to the Kari Traa video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCtwCwpMx4s.
I read that since Farmen finished you and Lene got married On prime time on TV 2 during the gullrod broadcast in early May, then went to New York and after you came back you bought an apartment in Oslo. You also set up a cabin on the mountain. So many things …, how come and how do you feel being married?
We didn’t get married there, but I did propose to her there. It was a very fun experience and we had talked up front about a public proposal as we truly wanted to show that love is love. We just got done redecorating our apartment and we are super excited about our future together even though this year to say the least have been very hectic.
What is your biggest inspiration and what is/are your plans for the future projects?
What inspires me a lot right now is to help the LGBT society and help people that are still in the closet to come to terms with themselves and be happy in their own shoes. I am working on an exciting project related to this and I hope the result will be public by June (pride month) next year.
Do you wish to say anything else to the readers of LL Passion?
I hope for anyone still in the closet to know that you are not alone, people are having the same feelings that you do and your friends and family will most likely grow to accept your sexual orientation with time even though it might be a tough pill for them to swallow in the beginning.
Seek social media channels, seek groups, try to find people in your own situation to talk to and find support in. The shame, guilt and fear you are feeling inside are all in your head, your sexual orientation does not make you less valuble than anyone else.
You are worth peoples love and respect! I am rooting for you!
Samantha Sidley, you are a young talented singer from Los Angeles who just released your beautiful jazz song “I like Girls”. Can you tell us about the inspiration for the song? Is it about any girl in particular and/or girls you have liked and loved or it is a general statement of saying you are a lesbian?
My song “I Like Girls” was originally written for a one women musical I wanted to create based on my life story. I’m a lesbian so although that is just a piece of the pie, I wanted something that celebrated that. It is a celebration of women and being a women who falls in love with them. When Barbara Gruska and Alex Lily were writing the song, they asked me, “what kind of girls do you like?” I said “I don’t know I think I like them all!” I’ve always been that way. I think a lot of songs about women have to do with celebrating their sexuality in explicit ways and although I’ve never come across a women without sex appeal it’s such a small part of who women are. I love women for ALL that they are. For their gifts, which everyone has. And I wanted that to come clearly across in the song, AND still have the hints and nods of sensuality.
And I think at the end of the day- anyone who loves women in whichever way can relate to the song. Also, getting back to the original point, yes I’m gay, proud, I like to flaunt it, and this song is about that!
Unlike many jazz singers, your attention to the lyrics seems front and center. as you sing ‘I like girls who don’t know they like girls ... I like girls who really like girls a lot’. This really tells the whole story of being a lesbian and recognizing a being one. Is that important to you, to be out and proud? Lesbians all over the world long for representation of their experiences, experiences being told across all genres and fields, be it in music, film, painting, even science, like philosophy, anthropology, sociology.
I always say “singing is the Olympics of talking”. Singing and music is about communication. I’m so lucky I can communicate my feelings through music and lyrics. So yes, lyrics are very very important to me. When I am creating a show- I try to string all of my songs together to create a story, be it direct or indirect the stories you tell individually as songs will relate to the other songs you choose- because they are a part of you, YOU chose them. Communication is extremely important to me. I’m not great at getting my feelings out by just talking but I can live in a song and have that speak for me. I consider myself an interpreter. A lot of the singers I learned from were not song writers. The songs were written for them. They were the story tellers. It’s a bit like acting. You make the experiences real for you in the song. I am always telling a true story when I sing. It’s funny because sometimes people think that is a persona I am playing. But it’s one of many I suppose- personas. It’s my truth.
People have had to hear songs from the straight perspective for so long. I always sing from my gay perspective. I always change pronouns because that is MY truth. I would be lying if I stood on stage and sang about men! That would be so weird! We all need a torch singer! Lesbians need a torch singer! I’m here to fulfill that role! But also love is universal and if I can relate to straight songs because they are about love I hope straight people can do the same about my songs about love (that only happen to be from a lesbian perspective).
Your debut album, “Interior Person” will be released on September 13th. Can you tell us what is the main theme of the record? I read that some of the most important women in your life came together to craft your debut album; you sing songs that features both adaptations and original co-writes from Inara George from The Bird and the Bee, Alex Lilly from the band just by her name Alex Lilly, and your wife, Barbara Gruska. You are going also open the show of the The Bird and the Bee show in August.
The main theme of my record “Interior Person” is about hope, triumph over pain, and self love and acceptance. Every single song on the record is personal. Every single song is true! Yes my wife Barbara Gruska, my two best friends Alex Lilly and Inara George wrote me songs based on stories I’ve told them and what they know of me.
It has been such a gift working with them. They are literally my favorite musicians and song writers so not only is just that part exciting- they see me and who I am. I don’t think there is any better feeling than being seen in your authenticity. And I’m going on tour with all of them! Playing in Bird and the Bee and opening!
How do you combine your professional and private life with wife Barbara Gruska who had a band called the Belle Brigade and has drummed for KD Lang and Fiona Apple. You both are very creative, how this works out and benefits to your marriage and to your music career?
I LOVE WORKING WITH MY WIFE!! We know how to give each other space when we both need it and we know how to talk to each other. YOU HAVE TO BE HONEST. You have to try and communicate your feelings to each other and you have to listen to each other. We work hard at that. But it actually also feels effortless at this point. I feel so lucky we work together. She has been a source of inspiration for me even before I knew her! Because I have always been a gushing fan of hers. I met her sneaking in backstage to one of her shows. She was playing her own set at a local club. She’s an incredible artist. It’s so fun making music and traveling the world together. We take care of each other. It’s a perfect set up. She’s not only my drummer, she is my producer and produced my record!
Do you think that lesbian themes should become part of the mainstream culture? If yes, why?
Lesbian themes should be a part of the mainstream culture because they ARE the mainstream culture. I will argue to the day I die there are as many LGBTQ people as there are straight people. There’s just a lot of repression and oppression in this world.
Who is your biggest inspiration and why?
I am inspired by people being authentic when they sing. I always think of Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Judy Garland, John Lennon, Anita O’Day, Ray Charles. And my wife, Barbara Gruska. I get so much joy from listening to them or watching them. It literally fills my heart with joy. FILLS MY HEART. And at the risk of sounding cliche, I am inspired by love and its healing.
Being in a relationship with a woman has deepened my understanding of love
May 13th, 2019 (interview published at online Slovenian newspaper Torek ob petih http://torekobpetih.si/intervju/)
Katarina Majerhold, MSc. of philosophy, has been exploring the most universal theme in the world for many years - love. Who we are and how we love is at the heart of her philosophy. It is perhaps less known that she also writes about lesbian topics, especially about film, actresses and TV-and WEB-series. So she created her own website last year, where she writes about all aspects of lesbian life in lengthy and pervading. Thus, her book Love Through History, in which she focused on the different concepts of love, especially those still shaping and affecting our relationships, has also received an online upgrade.
Where did you get the idea for the LL passion website?
The idea came from the fact that I have been writing for LGBT+ media for a very long time and I wanted to have an explicit medium that would deal with lesbians. So far, in LGBT+ media, I have mostly written about pop culture topics, reviews of films and TV-series thus my initial aim of the website was to start represent lesbians in movies, TV- and WEB-series, etc. While I was surfing the Internet I noticed that media with lesbian contents has somehow decreased. I was a regular reader of the well-known US website AfterEllen since it was created in 2002, and for the past couple of years I noticed that this site no longer has its previous enthusiasm and contents. At the same time, the Autostraddle website appeared in 2009, which I found out that it does not suit me because it is not close to me in terms of LBT representation. Website like mine has not existed in Europe. In fact, for a very short time, in 2009-2010, there was a European version of Afterellen, EurOut.com, to which I was invited, but my life turned out differently at that time. That is how I positioned myself in terms of what and how I wish to present L-B contents in pop culture. However, I also found out that no one of the mentioned websites have included humanities and science therefore I decided to cover that area too. I noticed that lesbian theory is somehow in decline, there is a lack of passion in this area and we need to do something about that.
Is it the fight against the eradication of lesbians and lesbian representation in the media?
At the same time, it seemed important to include bisexual women as well. I decided that lesbians should show better inclusion of this group, which - in addition to transgender persons - has always been pushed to the margin, even within our community. That is why I decided to add a representation of bisexual women on the website, although it is of course an emphasis on lesbians.
Given that you are writing about everything related to lesbian and bisexual, queer women on your website, I wonder how do you understand the word lesbian?
I'm an 'old fashioned' lesbian, I would say. I grew up in time when we heared only a word lesbian, there were no other labels. Being queer in that time meant something negative since it was before queer theory was established. In short, I perceive myself as a cisgender person whose sexual orientation is homosexual, I am a lesbian. But I'm open to all forms of representation on my website. One of my contributing writers who previously wrote for AfterEllen identifies as queer. In 2018, a debate about lesbians and transgender people arose on Afterellen website; part of the lesbian community of that website resisted Pink News, who excluded lesbians from the New Years list they published to honor LGBT+ people. The then editor-in-chief and current owner of the AfterEllen website positioned herself on the side of the lesbian against transgender people, and then my contributing writer decided not to cooperate with website that was not open to transgender people. I do not want to step into this debate because transgender people have always been part of LGBT community and I know they have been oppressed even within our community therefore my opinion is that we have to keep solidarity, dignity and respect regardless of our personal identification.
Could you say that a lesbian is anyone who has experience with women and does not identify herself as a man?
That could be in a way according to what I said. I accept this definition because humans rights, dignity and respect are important to me.
You already mentioned that you missed the topic on humanities and social sciences. What are the specific topics that concern lesbianism and which ones you would like to write more about?
I would like to have more theoretical emphasis: philosophy, sociology, anthropology, history. All the websites I have mentioned do not tackle the lesbian topics from these perspectives. I miss the in-depth debate. I noticed that the writers from abroad are thaught not to write too long and detailed articles. This is probably due to a monetary, marketing aspect. The longer the articles are, the less they are interesting, since people often do not have time to read more in depth article or do not have this kind of attention, interest, and proper education. I miss a wider insight, even on a symbolic level, so that we can understand things directly, or indirectly from various aspects.
Could you be even more precise which aspects do you miss? Because lesbianism has been still invisible and without proper presentation of everyday aspects, such as traveling, family, relationships.
On my website I have written exactly that I hope that we have passed the stage of social isolation and exclusion and that we wish to present happier, peaceful, partner and family life of lesbians. For example, the Dutch online series Anne +, an interview with one of the actresses in the series respectively, is exactly the kind of series that tries to present a student who has just finished her studies and remembers her relationships with women during her studies. She is a typical student, just like any other students, only that her relationships are with women of her age, a little younger or a little older. The series also avoids various stereotypes about lesbians, regarding the style of clothing, behavior, type of music etc. I also want to overcome the stereotypes that lesbians are lonely, socially isolated, excluded, and wish to present us as happy and successful at all levels of our lives. In this sense regarding the portrayal of lesbians in films and series, I can say that stilll is not achieved - I can not say that was a really good movie which did not present a cliché or some sort of tragedy. Of course, we can say that art itself has some sort of tragedy intertwined into the story, however it is time to show a happy lesbian love story.
You have done a considerable research into love. How your interest in this topic developed?
At that time I was truly in love for the first time in my life and it happened to be with a woman. This was in 1994. It was quite a different social climate at that time: being lesbian was implicitly understood as something unnatural. It was precisely because of that that I started asking questions I tackle in book Love Through History, such as is there really a true love, is there only one proper love, are there different concepts, different forms, types of love? As a student of philosophy I knew that philosophy dealt with what is universal. And I asked myself what was the most universal theme - love. We almost all experience it and since I was a student at that time I was also listening the the course 'history of philosophy' and the topic among others was eroticism and cosmological love in ancient Greece. That was something I was interested in: an individual, couple, society, cosmos. Somehow all mentioned coincided in my life. And being in a relationship with a woman deepened my understanding of love too. If I was in a heterosexual relationship, I'm sure that I would not research the topic of love in such depth and broadness.
How has your relationship with a woman deepened the understanding of love?
There were no predefined rules, roles, but we had to negotiate, get to know each other, and also recognize certain things. People sometimes think that we are more progressive, less progressive, and then, in an unconventional relationship, we have to came to terms with things that otherwise would not to. If I was in a heterosexual relationship, I could perhaps agree to some conventional relationships. However because of my experience I also know that there are different forms of love - before Christianity there was an ancient Greek conception of love, before that was Egyptian and Sumerian. all forms of love and sexual identities have always existed.
The other thing is that we still live in a cultural, civilization sense in some part of the Judeo-Christian milieu and we know what it says, men, women, heterosexuality, reproduction. And since I was with a woman, I surpassed that milieu and among other things I realized that women's sexuality and love are universal and sacred. This spiritual dimension, which we know in male homosexuality from the very beginnings, is lacking in female homosexuality. Lesbians were defined as witches, vampiress or some sort of deviation, instead of being priestesses. I would like to upgrade the concept of lesbian love: if two women live together and have children, this is something sacred. I write about this in the articles The Future of Lesbian Love and The Future of Lesbian Film.
Interviews with women in film industry, research institutes, art organizations ...