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.
Katarina Čuk, you really have a diverse and full life. How would you describe and highlight the main milestones in your life?
Yes, I can really say that I have had a full life – especially in the sense of periods with more and less diversity, which allow many possibilities to deal with different emotions and enable personal growth. This is primarily due to many »stressful« life events and situations, however there were also enough of nice events to complement them. For the most part, I would say that my main approach towards life is a curious one - I always search for something and explore it, and while I search for the best verses and stories to write on the »paper« I am most happy with the moments of finding myself - that deepest, raw sense of self-awareness inspires me the most. I find the easiest way to explore myself in the nature where I experience many interesting things about which I write in my books.
You wrote an interesting book entitled Our Timeless Nature. Can you tell us more about the book: how much time it took to write it, from where did you draw the inspiration, why this topic interests you and what do you try to convey with it?
Book Our timeless nature is a collection of insights, messages and inspiration about the nature from the nature and how it can help us in personal growth, health and coping with life challenges. It encourages a different perspective on the nature, our inner nature and life here and now. It was created spontaneously and sprang from some kind of whispers and exploration of the nature, trees and muses. I could say, this is part of my essence and something that most interests me in life - it makes me wanna write about it and talk about it to people in order they would acknowledge the inevitable connection with the nature. I like when people say that after reading my book they look at the nature and themselves differently, they perceive it and themselves more deeply.
I read that you can relate to the advices from old women's book and for instance why oak and pine trees are good for our health. You also wrote that ills of modern society is man's lack of connection with the nature and that man's co-existence with the nature is not a goal but process. What do you mean by that?
People have came from the nature, we are natural beings, and therefore it is simply not natural for us to be separated from it – to be frequently indoors, in the cities surrounded by all-powerful devices, artificial impulses etc. Therefore from this follows that our health on all levels is found in the nature and in connection with the nature and separation from it is the cause of many modern problems. Gradual reconnection with it in a way that this becomes our habit, part of everyday life is a process that is beneficial to all. Reconnection may mean a walk in the nature, a more frequent visit to the forest, a tree-tutorial exercises, the use of natural products, the care for the environment, the cultivation of plants on our balconies or at least a picture of the nature on the computer's background. And, most importantly, in nature it is easier to hear ourselves, the genuine voice that guides us.
In the documentary Attraction of Gender, you and Kamala Katerina Gjorgievska were presented as partners: can you can tell us more why you decided to took part in the documentary and if you would like to share with us why you split after 10 years of relationship?
Kamala and I decided to cooperate in your documentary mainly because we have always believed that it is important to be visible and help to raise awareness, mutual understanding and progress in the areas that are important to us and to talk about topics that may still be taboo in society. Progress can also mean the end of something in order to make room for something else when it is time for rewriting of the relationship which could bring even bigger personal growth or something new in a different way.
You two still have together the project Full Bliss Living. Part of the project are also your workshops »Energy Balancing with the Tree« in which you present yourself as an expert in the field of personal and spiritual growth and the implementer of the »Forest Selfness« program. Can you tell us more about these workshops and to whom are they intended for?
Full Bliss Living went through different transformations (at the same time as Kamala and I went through transformation as a couple and each of us separately), which slowly shapes into a new form, yet its basis to find our own way and our own self-care and satisfaction still applies. All I do personally, this applies to my writing as well as workshops and forest self-ness (wellness), is intended for people who want a better connection with themselves and with nature, perhaps in ways that have not yet been met or have not been really dwelled upon yet. I do it especially through our connection to the trees and since we forgot that connection we may need some incentive to remember and rebuke it. That is why recently there have been so many scientific research and evidence proving nature, especially trees, are good for our body, mind and emotions. Since nature has personally helped me, I have been training and still studying in the field of integrated treatment with nature, as well as meditation and personal growth, so that I can share it professionally with the others.
How would you describe yourself as a lesbian, bisexual ...?
I do not describe myself with any of these words, because I do not wish to label either myself or the others. I am here. I live and love.
How much your sexual orientation affects or if affects your work at all: do you pay attention to sexual orientation in your workshops, and does forest respond to this?
My work is about building up a connection with yourself and accepting yourself, your nature, and everything that comes with it - and it helps people at different levels. Nature accepts us as we are, and in the forest we do not have to pretend, fear, hide or encumber ourselves... We are just what we are. This can make us feel relieved, lead to greater self-acceptance, and invest energy into greater self-confidence.
Where does your optimism, courage, and ideas come from?
From the nature, close relationships and listening to, reading and writing songs and being with my cats ;).
What are your plans for the future? Do you have a new girlfriend?
My plans ... are all related to the nature, writing, translation, education, diverse experiences of life and, of course, with that comes love for here and now.
Eline Van Gils, you are a Dutch actress known for the role of Lily in the TV series ANNE+ (NL 2018 -) in which you play Anne's first girlfriend Lily. We learn that the two are in their twenties and moved together to Amsterdam for their studies. We see their mutual interests and their differences and we also watch how they grow apart, which eventually leads to their break up. I watched a short clip behind the scenes with you in which you relate that you enjoy playing a role you feel connected to, so in which way was this role connected to you and how did you learn about the series?
The main connection between the role of Lily and myself is that Lily is openly gay from a young age. She grew up in a small town and moved to Amsterdam to study there, same as me. This is the first gay role that I’ve played, and because of her being openly gay from a young age and growing up in a small town, there is a natural understanding of who she is and where she comes from. She is kind of a young version of myself in a way, although she has some other characteristics, of course. As an actor you always have to connect yourself to the role you play, and sometimes that takes a bit more time and figuring out than at other times. In the case of Lily, it went pretty smoothly and we fell together quite fast and organically. I first learned about the series from Hanna van Vliet, who played the role of Anne in the series. She had just filmed a teaser for the series and told me about the idea. After that, I coincidentally met Valerie (the director) in a bar. I didn’t know her back then, but she knew who I was and started talking about the series. Then I told her I heard about it from Hanna and I loved the idea. This is when we decided to meet up for a beer to discuss the part of Lily and the rest of the series.
It was an all female cast and crew who made the series. How was that experience compared to some others experiences; for instance, having male coworkers on the set? I also learned that director Valerie Bisscheroux and screenwriter Maud Wiemeijer wanted to challenge certain stereotypes regarding the representation of lesbians wearing certain clothes--such as tank tops--and feeling isolated and lonely. Instead, the series wanted to portray young lesbians as happy and carefree as any other adolescents during their student years. I find this positive attitude very refreshing and think it is about time. How do you relate to that?
Most of the cast and crew was indeed female and gay, not all. For this series, it was cool that there was a lot of personal understanding of being gay and of gay love and sex. I never felt uncomfortable; everyone was on the same page and felt connected to the series and that’s a very good vibe to have on a set. I don’t mind male coworkers at all, but sometimes it is nice to have a few more women on set to have a good balance of the energy though.
I think it is really important to stop looking at being gay as a problem that you should feel ashamed about. Of course coming out is often difficult and can be very scary, but we shouldn’t only show the negative things about being gay on TV shows and in films. If you want people to look at it as being just as normal as being straight, then we should focus on it being normal.
I liked how you present yourself in your bio, saying that you are a cisgender woman whose sexual orientation is homosexual. This made me think that you are aware of the importance that lesbian characters are played by lesbian actresses. I often see straight actresses saying that sexual orientation does not matter in playing a role or that sexual orientation does not matter since we are all more or less bisexual. How do you reply to that?
I believe that sexual orientation can help a lot when playing a gay role. It gives a deeper understanding of a role and you can make sure that it doesn’t accidentally get stereotyped. It gives a certain realness that just adds something extra. But on the other hand, I also think that an actor should be able to play a lot of different roles. If I only got to play gay roles because I’m gay, it would be very difficult for me to get any work. There are straight actors that do a great job playing a gay character, but I also have seen this go wrong a lot of times. It’s a topic that still doesn’t have enough commercial content, so why not give gay actors the few gay roles that are there and give them a chance of getting those stories out? I somehow feel responsible as an actress to help tell these stories to a bigger audience, and it feels good to be a part of it.
About women playing lesbians and telling that sexual orientation doesn’t matter because we are all more or less bisexual, I believe in “the spectrum”: in some cases people are really in the middle of the spectrum. But really, being able to fall in love with both sexes, with girls just as deeply and hard as with boys, is a rare thing. I understand straight love because I compare it to what I know, which is lesbian love. And that’s probably a different relationship, but the feeling of love could be the same. So when I play a straight role, I play the idea I have about straight love and when I play a gay role, I play the love I truly, personally, know as love. It’s a bit hard to explain; I might be a bit all over the place here…hahah…but I don’t know how to say it in a better way.
I watched an interview on the show “Margriet van der Linden” with the aforementioned director and screenwriter and actress Hanna van Vliet and learned that it is the first Dutch lesbian TV series. I was a bit surprised that such a liberal and progressive country as the Netherlands only got its first lesbian TV series in 2018 and that lesbians aren't so much represented in Dutch movies and TV series. Why? And how do you find life for LGBT people, their job, marriage, family and social aspects in the Netherlands?
In a lot of things, the Dutch are progressive. And when it comes to being gay, they’re finding this more and more okay. But still in the representation of gay men and women there is definitely not enough. It is still stranger than I would want it to be, and the representation that there is makes the stereotyped, troubled image of gay people even worse. I live in Amsterdam, and I’m surrounded with great loving friends and most of them are gay, so I don’t know if I have the best opinion on this. I sometimes get so surprised when I'm with straight people and I’m “coming out” again that the reactions are mostly a bit shocked and they often change the way they look at you, sometimes for the better sometimes for the worse. But it still happens, and it fascinates me how people can still change the image they have of you by the knowledge of who you love, what gender you love. I’m happy that ANNE+ is not doing anything with these stereotypes and prejudices that people have, and that this series is about love and about being young and finding your way in life like any 20-year old.
Do you think film should be progressive and portray certain values and attitudes (i.e. portraying more inclusive, diverse, equal, free, democratic relationships) and a world in which people's origin, sexual orientation and/or sexual identity, colour, status don't matter?
Absolutely, yes! Film can inspire people or make people see things in a different way. But if you want to talk to a big audience, you probably have to take it easy and show it in more subtle ways, just as if it’s the most normal thing ever. Those kind of films are very important and there should be more of it! And also more female leads that are not a girl falling in love with the cute guy.
What is your biggest inspiration (film or not film career wise) and what are your plans for the future projects?
I find inspiration in a lot of things and art forms and the genres are very diverse. I love strong female characters in film and theatre. I have a weak spot for the funny, strong women in Quentin Tarantino’s movies. I love the theatrical style and humor of Wes Anderson. Roy Andersson also has a dark, theatrical humor and tragedy which I love. And the darkness and psychedelic films of Lars von Trier. But I don’t know who my biggest inspiration is. Maybe they are all in my head together, combined as one. For me, it doesn’t necessarily have to be realistic. I want to believe it, of course, but the style and form can be totally weird.
I do theatre a lot. Currently I’m in three different plays which I perform with a few other actors in high schools. Theatre is something I love to do, and I would love to keep on doing it. But I also want to do more in film and explore that part of acting more, which I do in smaller film projects at the moment. Because I really like doing it and it has such a different audience and different way of working and acting. And of course maybe a season 2 of ANNE+, who knows…
Ness Simons you a screenwriter and filmmaker from Wellington, New Zealand. You created and directed a 'Pot Luck', a New Zealand’s first lesbian web series which won several nominations and got several awards. The series, six-part 'dramedy' about three 30- and 40-something lesbian friends follows Debs (Nikki Si'ulepa), Mel (Anji Kreft) and Beth (Tess Jamieson - Karaha) as the three friends negotiate friendship, family and finding love at their weekly pot luck dinners. You wrote that inspiration for the series came from the many pot luck dinners you were to over the years, and the scores of characters and stories came from such an occasion, can you elaborate that? I came out when I was really young and over a couple of decades I've shared so many different experiences with lesbians and women who love women, including a bunch of pot luck dinners! Whether it was with a group of close friends or a broader community event, getting together and sharing food is such a strong connector and always good for the soul. I've seen the whole range of emotions at these dinners, and all types of people, so it felt like a natural setting to bring a bunch of characters together.
You also said that each character in the web series is part of your character too, in which way? So much of my writing is reflective of my world and my experiences and I find myself peppering these through my work. The characters are not exactly me but we share some traits, or outlooks, or maybe we respond to things in the same way, so there's little bits of me in each of them, but there's probably also little bits of my family, or friends, or people I've met in each of them too. One of the fun parts of developing the characters further with the actors is to explore where the characters thoughts and feelings come from... it can be enlightening!
I believe that Pot Luck is not only universal, it is also quite unique in the way that brings attention to lesbians and universal topics through food which is in every culture connected with values, such as family, love, friendship, parents, special occasions, new beginnings, etc. and in this sense it reminds me a bit of a lesbian movie Nina's Heavenly Delights which also revolves around food while combating prejudices towards and acceptance of homosexuality. However, Pot Luck is beyond that, and goes further by presenting everyday lives of lesbians which is beyond struggle of acceptance although we partly see that through Beth's story and really tries to show everyday lives of women which happen to be lesbians. Currently there are two seasons with Mel and Beth found love, Mel acquiring self-respect and self-confidence and Deb accepting Beth having a new partner, are you planning the third season and if yes, what we can expect to come for your characters, Deb, Mel and Beth? The 'everyday lives' exploration has been a huge part of the vision for me as I think historically there's been a real lack of authentic positive representations of lesbians and queer women on screen. I wanted to address this in a way that was fun and had heart, yes these characters are flawed and their lives are chaotic, but they're all just trying to do their best to be good people. We have thought a lot about a third season, there's certainly a lot of interest in it, but unfortunately challenges with funding and time mean it's unlikely to happen. There may not be more 'Pot Luck' but there are certainly other projects in the pipeline and I hope to give the audience more diverse characters and storylines in the future.
How much would you like 'educate' the audience also regarding self-acceptance and self-respect through the story of Mel and Beth? We see both struggling, one through self-image and other through coming out to her mother in the first season which they finally resolve in the second season, thus third season would be really appropriate to see how they fully live their lives. I always set out to allow an audience to meet these characters and to discover that there's probably heaps they have in common, rather than obviously 'educate'. One of the things I've found really interesting is how often I've heard from heterosexual guys who really connect with Debs character and her sense of fear and feelings of not fitting in, they were so surpirsed to see themselves in her and in the most gentle way it has helped to change their views of what a butch woman is. Yes, there are so many possibilities for another season and the stories that might come through for these characters. It's been so rewarding to see how much the audience has engaged with each of them, and how invested they are in their lives, I wish I could continue into another season to explore all this on screen!
You have full-time job as head tutor at the New Zealand Film & Television School in Wellington. And before you were a business owner, working in the pizza chain’s original Kelburn store, then opened one franchise and bought another, selling up six years later to do the one-year course at film school. What made you change a career, was being a scriptwriter and director something you long wished for? I had always been interested in writing and first studied writing when I was 20, but then got caught up in work and business and went down a different path for a few years. When I sold my business I realised that I wanted to act on my passion and so off I went to Film School to find out what it was all about. I've been working in the industry ever since.
Do you teach your students the importance of a proper representation of the LGBTI characters and do you think it matters that writing and directing about LGBTI characters comes from members of our community? I am a huge advocate for diversity on screen across the board, it's time to change the historically narrow representations of anyone who sits outside the 'mainstream'. Part of this is how I approach my own work, and also how I have conversations with students and other filmmakers about diversity and inclusion, representation, and the power we have as storytellers to impact the beliefs and understanding of individuals and society. For me inclusion is a massive part of this equasion - I don't necessarily think that all LGBTI+ characters have to be written from members of our community, but I think community voices should be included in the conversation through feedback on scripts, or co-writing, or directors and actors doing their research in order to position themselves to create strong representations rather than re-creating damaging stereotypes. It's not possible for any one writer or director or actor to be all things they may be representing on screen, but it is possible for them to do the work to become informed and aware of what they are putting out into the world. I personally value the authenticity of telling stories from within the community by including diverse voices on both sides of the camera and make this a big part of the kaupapa of my work.
Do you think that lesbian roles should be played by lesbian actresses? Yesterday I read this quote regarding the film Ammonite with Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan having a lesbian romance. Film is based on Mary Anning's life story and a member of Anning's family, Barbara Anning, said: "I believe if Mary Anning was gay she should be portrayed as gay and this should also be by a gay actress'. I was pleasantly surprised that people start seeing the importance of sexual orientation of the actresses while playing a certain character. As a filmmaker exploring diverse characters I am all too aware of the catch-22 for a lot of LGBTQI+ actors - they are often forced to hide their sexuality in order to fit the mainstream roles, or if they do look 'too different' there are so few roles it's not possible for them to remain viable and stay in the industry. I think that wherever possible the opportunity for LGBTQI+ actors to portray characters that reflect their identity is a powerful thing. I also think that all actors should be able to work and research and explore the humanity and emotion in their characters in order to bring a strong and authentic portrayal to the screen.
Do you think film 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 origin, colour, status, beliefs don't matter much)? I think screen art can both reflect the world as it is and has been, and show what the world could be too. There are films that have changed the world and brought attention to issues or topics, and there are also those that have done damage by reinforcing crappy representations or negative stereotypes. Each storyteller has to choose which pile they want their work to sit on, but I know for myself I want to create characters and stories that help people understand more about themselves and those around them.
Aistė Diržiūtė you are best known for the role of Austė in The Summer of Sangaile (Lithuanian: Sangailė or Sangailės Vasara) by Alanté Kavaïté for which you became the first Lithuanian actress named as one of the European Shooting Stars, alongside actors such as Maisie Williams and Moe Dunford at Berlin Film Festival in 2015. You also won the award for Best Lithuanian Actress at the Vilnius International Film Festival and was nominated for both Sidabrinė gervė and KINFO awards. How that made you feel and what attracted you to the role of Austė?
It wasn’t my awards, it was our awards. Without director, crew and of course Julija, I couldn’t have done anything. Maybe because from the very beginning we were all focused on the idea and how to spread it, we didn’t think about a journey the film could have, so everything what came after was a big and pleasant surprise. Though my most important award is people who decided to come out, to change their lives, find and accept themselves after watching The Summer of Sangaile.
When I was invited for the first audition for Auste, I was so impressed by the amount of similarities I have with her as a character. My mother is a sewer, so I knew how to sew, favourite Auste’s song was my entry’s exam to the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre song etc. On the second round I’ve met with Julija, who is actually my very very very old and dear friend. We know each other since we were 13 years old, we were very close friends and when we reached 16-17 we just stopped talking, nothing happened, just our lives have changed, and we’ve met in audition room after not seeing each other for around 3 years. This part was crazy and it was more or less clear that a destiny brought us there to make that film together. After a film we became inseparable. Being more particular about Auste, I was really impressed by that kind of a character, positive and happy lesbian character, who knows herself, who is confident and who is accepted by her family (mother). Usually LGBT characters are shown in more melancholic way and I think we need to show more positive stories to inspire the ones who are still fighting with their sexuality to accept themselves and enjoy the love.
Can you tell us where your inspiration, knowledge, perhaps even experiences came from for playing Austė? For sure there was a good guidance by the director Kavaïté, however the way you portrayed the role it depended solely on you.
Me, Julija and Alante (director) became friends, we were spending a lot of time together, talking a lot and just enjoying our time together even before shootings. That helped us a lot during all the process, we were friends who built a world together and lived in it for some months. As it was my first ever role in a film, I was following Alante and absorbing every word of her. Though all of her guidance worked with everything what I’ve had in mind about Auste. First of all I’ve found an animal of her which is fox. Auste is cute and charming fox and sometimes a Teddy Bear, when you really need it. I am a ‘giver’ one by myself, so just needed to work on that part of mine even more and be very open, loving and sincere. For the lesbian sex part of the character, I watched The L World and talked a loooot with my lesbian friends, because we wanted to make it as real and beautiful as possible. To get the flow for the character I watched many films from 40s, 50s and 60s and listened a lot of music from that time. And I was madly in love at that time, that probably helped too : ))
Do you think that sexual orientation of the actresses and/or director matter in making a lesbian film? I know acting is acting and good acting shouldn't influence the performance of which ever form of love portrays, however do you think that a certain experience adds to the quality of the role portrayed? Do you think film art should be progressive and portray certain values and attitudes (i.e. portraying more diverse, inclusive, equal, free, democratic relationships and world)?
I don’t think that sexual orientation or gender matters. I do believe that everyone of us is bisexual, some more into heterosexual part, some more into homosexual part, some equally in love in both genders. I don’t think that I would play a lesbian character better if I would have had more experience with girls, after all, love is what matters. It would be worse if I would have never been in love before the shooting.
I think film or in general art shouldn’t portray certain values or attitudes just because it’s progressive or trendy now, you should want to talk about it and care a lot about that matter. However nowadays I see another a bit dangerous thing when many people try to talk about it just because it’s “not good not to talk about it” without really caring, believing and changing the world.
I read that after playing Austė you, your co-star Julija Steponaitytė (who played Sangailė) and director Kavaïté got many love letters, how that made you feel?
Surprised and inspired! I could have never imagine how many people from all over the world would be inspired by the film and get connected with characters and the story. The most amazing thing is that even though the film was released in 2015, we still get so many beautiful letters from people who got inspired by The Summer of Sangaile! People’s love is the greatest award.
In 2016 you stared in Kings' Shift directed by Ignas Miškinis and the short film Back directed by Gabrielė Urbonaitė. Both films premiered at the Vilnius International Film Festival. Can you tell us about those roles and alongside the role in The Pagan King (2018)?
Julija, Alina and Lauga. All of them are very different. Julija in Kings’ Shift is typical up and coming millenial, who doesn’t care much about anything but fun and easy life. She works at the private hospital as a nurse, just because her grandpa was an important doctor etc. That kind of a person, who is not bad by herself, she just grew up in particular circumstances. She has everything, but in fact doesn’t have anything. She is lost and she doesn’t even understand that. Alina in Back was more or less a small and joyful cameo in my friend and really good director Gabriele Urbonaite film. Lauga in The Pagan King is my first ever lead female role in English were I worked with such an amazing actors like Edvin Endre and James Bloor. Lauga is a pagan girl who became queen and managed to remain that wild spirit. I had to learn how to throw knives, fight with swords, ride a horse, hold grass snakes in my hands, get well super fast with dogs and of course how to love and trust without any doubt. Julija, Alina and Lauga were such a pleasure and joy to live in!
You played Marina Malich in Kharms by Ivan Bolotnikov (2017). How come you decided for that role and you played Joana in Ashes in the Snow (so called Baltic Schindler's List, 2018) based on the best-selling book Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys. Both films are about the times of the Soviet Union.
Marina came to me out of the blue. Casting director just wrote me on Facebook and asked if I can speak in Russian, I said “no, but I can learn” and that’s how it all started. Beautiful journey of Marina, from shootings in Saint Petersburg to the premiere in Shanghai IFF. One friend was helping me with a language, another friend was translating a small book of Marina memoirs from Russian to Lithuanian and all people around were just supporting me a lot. I fell in love with her from the first sentences, such a character! Such a story! Filmmakers should make a film based on her life, seriously! I would always remember my days off and shooting days in Saint Petersburg, walking around city, museums and exploring everything through Marina’s eyes.
Ashes in the Snow is a very special film for me too. It all started with readings of script some years before shootings and ended up with a beautiful story based on a great book. Joana is that sparkle of joy and happiness in a scary, sad and tough world in Siberia that reminds you about the bright days before the war.
What is your biggest inspiration (film or not film career wise) and what are your plans for the future projects? I watched an interview where you mention actresses like Merly Streep, Irene Jacob, Tilda Swinton and Ingrid Bergman as your biggest inspiration.
Love. In all possible and impossible ways and senses, love is my biggest inspiration. Love for people, world, life and amor. Actors, books, films, art, fights for good, it all melts in the power of love.
I’m very superstitious and never talk about the future, because I know very well from my own experience, if I say something, that usually doesn’t happen or happens in a bit different way. So let’s say, we’ll see.
1. Viv Schiller and Germana Bello, Brazilian screenwriters, co-creators and producers of the excellent lesbian Web series RED (2014-). I read several interviews with you two about the series and what you wished to accomplish with it. I don't wish you repeat the same story again and again, however some of our readers do not know the story. Can you please tell us what the four seasons of the RED are about, what is it between Liz Malmo (Ana Paula Lima) and Mel Béart (Luciana Bollina) that is so appealing to lesbian and bisexual women all around the world: it seems like you followed a certain story-and love-telling structure: in first season there was an attraction between Liz and Mel, then there was desire for each other, after that was fulfillment of the desire and in fourth it was about trust and fidelity while acknowledging and engaging into a long-term relationship? Where the main idea for the the first lesbian-themed Brazilian story came from?
Germana: Yes, that’s basically how the story unfolds throughout the seasons. Additionally, I would say that Mel and Liz’s story is not just about love but also about self-exploration. It’s about being in a relationship that confronts you with questions about yourself, about who you are and what you really want from life. It’s been a long journey for both of them since Season 1 not only as a couple but also as individuals. So, even when they are going through that journey side by side, there’s the solitary aspect of it, and both of them have changed a lot.
Viv: It came from the idea of telling a love story that is genuine and, at the same time, realistic - one that other women could relate to.
2. What I found especially intriguing, engaging and with added value is that each component of the series, script, directing, scenography, music has an added value in itself: first there is a great love story, actresses have an incredible chemistry and their acting provide with the plausibility of their love story, visuals are highly artistic (through use of the paintings in the first season, through use of the occasional blurred picture in the second and the third season), music seems to tell or add another layer to the story, like an additional line of the script, directing is brilliant in a way that organize all components in a good composed unity and we get a highly artistic product. In this sense your series truly stands out and we rarely see it nowadays: how come you decided for such a highly artistic product for a webseries and most importantly lesbian webseries?
Viv: That only goes to show that we can have a low-budget series that is as creative as a high-budget one, regarless of its genre or content. But, mainly, we wanted to deliver a good story with the best quality possible - technical-wise. Also, the talent of everyone involved is something quite relevant and I am very proud of our team.
Germana: RED, like any other cinema or TV content, is a co-creation, and we were lucky enough to have so many talented people reunited to bring it to life from the start. Everyone in this collaborative process adds some kind of value to what we are creating and plays a part in what we have as a final product. As for the aesthetics and the artistic quality of the series, I have to acknowledge Fernando’s work. His sensibility as a director and as a cinematographer has a major role in what we have accomplished.
3. Do you think that sexual orientation of the screenwriter(s) or film director matter in a lesbian and/or bisexual-storyline, if yes why?
Viv: I think so, yes. Not only because it helps develop a more genuine story, but also because the process of creating the characters comes from a place of understanding.
Germana: Yes, I think it does. But, mostly, because LGBTQ+ stories have been told by straight creators for so long and I think it’s time for us LGBTQ+ creators own our narratives. On the other hand, as creators, I don’t think we should limit our stories to our own experiences. Understanding can also come from putting ourselves in other people’s shoes and empathize with what they go through being who they are. That said, I still believe it’s possible for straight creators telling good LGBTQ+ themed stories.
4. 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 then simulation, however. What do you think?
Viv: I think art has to be relatable. Doesn't necessarily has to portray values. It just has to be as relatable as possible.
Germana: I think art should be anything the artist wants it to be. If it comes from a genuine place, if it has some truth within it, it will have something valuable to state and add to people’s lives.
5. What are your experiences and impressions from Clexa-Con Even in April this year, you were the only international crew that attended it, how was meeting your fans? Why do you think you have such a wide range of fans from all over the world and how do you feel about it?
Germana: It was amazing and a pretty intense experience. We were very happy to, finally, being able to meet and really talk to so many people that have been supporting us. Also, ClexaCon is such a safe place for our community. You can feel the love and camaraderie all around. It’s really inspirational.
Viv: I wasn't there myself, but REDlovers are so supportive of our show I'm just glad that we have them by our side. We have more supporters than I could ever consider having. They're such sweethearts!
6. Can you tell us what comes next for Liz and Mel in the fifth season?
Viv: Can't. Sorry. Mel and Liz won't let me. :)
Germana: So, I guess I’ll be the one to spill some beans… Without giving to much away, I would say the journey in Season 5 will be more like a soul searching for both Liz and Mel. They will be trying to come to terms with who they are now after everything they have gone through together.
7. What are your biggest inspirations (film or not film career wise) and what are your plans for the future projects?
Viv: Tough question. But I really like realistic stories. I like scandinavian films, and I am a big admirer of people who are awfully good with words. I love writers. Best artistic category ever. :)
Germana: It was amazing and a pretty intense experience. We were very happy to, finally, being able to meet and really talk to so many people that have been supporting us. Also, ClexaCon is such a safe place for our community. You can feel the love and camaraderie all around. It’s really inspirational. As for the international feedback, we’ve always meant to create something that could resonate with people worldwide so I’m glad we've succeed.
Kelly Manoudi, you are project coordinator and youth worker specialized in human rights education in Euphoria Youth Organization, Greece. Can you tell me more about your work and how it is connected to work with LGBTI people?
Dear Katarina, first of all I would like to thank you for your invitation. Its a pleasure to talk with activists and open-minded people like you. My approach to LGBT people started long-time ago, it was during my high school years. Actually the first time I heard the term homosexual was after the death of Freddie Mercury and the same time I heard so much hate speech about him and for homosexuals.
Although I didn't have any gay people (as far as I know) in my family environment, I had some basic knowledge what homosexuality was about and I couldn't understand why gay and trans people should face such discrimination for being different. I noticed that inside my classmates there were people that did not match to the stereotype girl or boy. I started talking closely to them and slowly they reveal their secret. From that moment I realized that I wanted to stand by them and support them in the point that I could.
The years went by and taking part to several European projects together with the feeling of an active citizen I was directed to youth work and project management of European and international projects.
Being a youth worker means that you work with and for young people. You have to listen, understand, support and empower them to their way from childhood to adult life.
Among the many young people that I have met during my work, there were also LGBTI people. Most of them, specially the teenagers, do not have the courage to express themselves openly, so they hide their ID. In these cases I try to make them feel comfortable, to trust me and then to see how I can help them.
You have concluded a two year European project Facing Homophobia For an Inclusive Job: what the project was about, who were your project partners and how did you choose them, what each partner contributed and how? Where do you plan to disseminate your results?
The project 'Facing Homophobia For an Inclusive Job' was a biannual project which aimed to fight the discriminations at workplace against LGBTI people. We organized several events like trainings, debates and networks at local, national and international level.
My project partners were Giolli cooperative from Italy (which was the applicant organization) and PiNA organization from Slovenia. Giolli aims in creating a more peaceful, fair and democratic world using mainly Boal's theatre method, Paulo Freire's pedagogical approach, Active no-violence and Community Development Approach. Pina association for culture and education is based in Koper, Slovenia is an organization for social development and they contribute to the project by making the final video and teaching the method 'Loesje'. From my side I was responsible for the coordination of the trainings held in Greece and for the editing of the handbook.
The final, lets say, products of this project is a handbook and a video which promote the LGBTI’s inclusion in the labour market. The video is already online, you can find it on YouTube and the handbook will be realized very soon in English, Italian, Greek, Spanish, French and Slovenian language.
One of the project results is also a handbook for LGBTI inclusion in the labour market. Whom this handbook is for and how can it be used?
This handbook is useful for each person working in the field of anti-discrimination towards LGBTI people, both professionals and activists, trainers, educators, adult education providers, Center for Employment officers, decision makers, responsible of Public Institutions related to the topic, etc. because it provides tools to organize training in companies, trade-unions, LGBTI associations in order to strengthen the skills to tackle discrimination. Even if the focus is about “discrimination against LGBTI people in the labour market” most of the activities can be used in several contexts about different topics.
Do you think that sexual orientation and/or sexual identity with such projects comes at handy or it does not matter at all?
From my personal involvement in projects which promotes the issue of sexual identity I can tell you that the results are very positive. It is a big opportunity to talk in public about it, to inform, to educate and finally to break stereotypes. With the project FHOFIJ I had the change to approach people from LGBTI community, to interact and learn from them, to make friendships, even to participate for the first time in a Pride parade in Greece!
Greece is one of the countries that sexual education in public and some private schools does not exists. The results of this absence are not only negative for LGBT pupils because of bullying but also unwanted pregnancy for teenage girls. Even gender-based crimes have roots in bad or not haveing any sexual education in school.
What are your other important projects you would like to tell us about?
One project that I was coordinating last year was about gender issues called “Fighting Gender Inequality through Youth Work”. The goal of this capacity building project was to promote gender equal society by strengthening competencies of CSO's representatives coming from participating organizations to tackle roots of gender inequality and effectively respond on them. The objectives were reached through mobility and capacity building activities including kick of meeting, seminar, training courses, study visits, job shadowing, local training and evaluation meeting. Key project activities were based on non-formal learning and target group of these activities were youth workers interested in gender.
What inspires you most in your work and in your personal life, where your inspiration comes?
I love working with young people specially teenagers because they are our hope for a better future. I want to empower them so that they can get to know themselves and not be afraid to take initiatives in order to improve their lives. Personally, what I enjoy most is travelling and meeting interesting people. My inspiration is my family and my close friends, I want to make a better world for them, at least I want to try.
At last but not least, what are you currently working on and what are your plans for the future?
This year and for the next one I am working on a project called 'Generation Europe - Young Democracy in Action'. During this project 30 youth work organizations from 15 European countries are working together in trilateral partnerships with the aim, to excite youths from different backgrounds, especially those with fewer opportunities,for political activity on a local and European level. The main topic of GenE is Active European Citizenship (AEC). A central focus will be on problems identified by youths on local levels, which are then worked on with democratic methods on the European level. By working on specific problems related to their life world politics should be shown to be more than parliamentarian's and involvement with political parties. However, the connection between the local and European level is especially important for the project. Through continuous exchange in European groups (digitally via a platform and personal meetings in youth exchanges) the youths should reflect their local situation and recognize the European dimension of the problem. Europe thus becomes tangible and connected to their life world.
My future plans is to organize mobilities for young people further than Europe, to Asia and Africa.
I hope that youth will be better as adults as we are now.
Everybody has their own taste – AND THAT IS OKAY
Kamala Katarina Gjorgijevska you really live a fulfilled life. Since you came from Macedonia, you had a partner in Ljubljana for many years, you are culinary artist, chef and author of creative recipes, you participated in various shows, documentaries and even reality shows, such as The Farm – A Fresh Start and in MasterChef Slovenia 2016, can you tell me a little more about yourself? When and why did you come to Ljubljana, what do you do at the moment?
I came to Slovenia in 2005, to the Hare Krishna Center in Ljubljana. I am an adventurer, and there have been a dozen years of exploration of myself and my tastes in Ljubljana. I am a person who likes to explore and research new tastes in life. I believe that if you do not spice life on your own, your life will be spiced by the others. I like to try things which nurture and nourish my soul and are primarily connected to personal growth and my achievements. What I am capable of and what I can do? I do not compete with the others, but with myself. Achieved dreams have the sweetest taste for me. At the moment, I focus on tasting another dream, namely, to meet Ellen Degeneres: I presented her three ideas for which I need a video production she does. This is for the moment what I want from her. About everything else in the future we will talk later.
Kamala, when we started to talk about doing this interview, you told me that you do not wish to be labeled as a lesbian, and that you want to explain why 'Kamala, a lesbian, says she is not a lesbian'?
Indeed, it's true. I'm not a lesbian. Like I am not a vegan, but in both cases, I prefer to have plumes than sausages. What I am looking in life is taste. It is not a man or a woman, but it is about energy. Is it or is it not? I do not limit and define my sexuality to and by the word. Energy is free, unlimited. The labels confine me in my (re)search about what I like. That does not mean I am BI. I would like to say that we are in this body on our journey as souls.
As far as I know, you published a wonderful cooking card book Taste your dreams together with your former partner, Katarina Čuk. On 48 cards you can find more than 88 creative simple vegetarian-vegan recipes. In addition, cards of the dishes also complements 48 positive thoughts. Can you give us a little more insight into these cards and what does it mean saying 'that each one has its own taste': it must be a special challenge for you knowing there are so many tastes as people and how can you satisfy many?
Cards are the fruits of my imagination. I believed in them and Katarina (ex-partner) supported me. These cards were my long-standing wish. I talked to my friends about my wish. Every time we met, they asked me how my cookbook was going, and I always told them: I was gona do it. A few years passed by and I suddenly realized that if I did not roll up my sleeves, wrote recipes and cooked what I said, I would be hungry. Only the desire to cook something could not satisfy me. And so, the cards were created, and they teach you to take lessons in the kitchen as an opportunity for growth in life. They are encouragement for all people who have a dream and would like to taste them, but they do not know how. I share my recipe of how to taste my dreams and, in the case of recipes, I allow every individual to eat the dishes in their own taste.
And given that I mention that everyone has their own taste all the time, I realized that I could not satisfy every individual with my food. However, I can surely offer new adventures in culinary arts and prepare the usual things in a creative way. We all eat but we have not yet thought that we can cook it in this or that way. So it's not about what, but how.
In my documentary Attraction of Gender, you performed with Katarina Čuk as partners: can you say more about what attracted you to take part in my documentary and if you would like to share a word or two about why you broke up with her after 10 years of relationship?
I feel attracted to be in the open and not hiding anything, I am what I am, no matter where and who I am. I am person who likes freedom and freedom of speech is of great importance to me. I and Katarina were active in many projects. We were revolutionaries and we had our own ways: we responded to things we perceived as interesting and useful to our planet. The Attraction of the gender was a great project to complement our mission FullBlissLiving for all!
I and Katarina share our history. She's my family. She is the person who will always remain part of me because of the the things we went through and not many people wouldn't survive that: during this time we both have personally grown so much that we no longer wanted to lie that everything was cool and that it was a dream relationship that we both wanted. We like each other and we continue to work. I am bound by our two cats, Luna and Simha. We have two kids. We must continue to cooperate.
Together you have an entrepreneurial project FullBlissLiving. You two already published the recipe cards book, opened the YouTube channel, and designed mobile application 'Taste Your Dream', which intent to "add stories with culinary content and personal growth from around the world". How does the application run and is it successful?
The app is ready and is waiting for a great presentation at The Ellen Show.
I joke a bit, but not all of it. You know, every thing needs time to cook. But in order for the thing to cook, we need a powerful fire. In order to make the dish even more tasty, it sometimes need cooking for a longer time on a "quieter" fire. It works as if nothing is happening at the time, but it is precisely at that time that dish is about ready to be served.
You also participated as one of the competitors in the reality show The Farm – A Fresh Start? What attracted you to participate in such a show and what are your impressions? Could you feel any latent bias towards homo-and bisexuality as well as latent homophobia?
In that time, I was totally engaged in creating our YouTube video channel FullBlissLiving, therefore I spent a lot of time in front of the camera creating video clips that inspired me to do more and better work. I wanted to improve my performance in front of the camera, and after 100 recorded videos, I got the desire to test myself in a large media production. I was interested in the show business. I came to learn. Every experience counts and because of such courageous steps I become even more courageous for the new big steps in life.
There would be no homophobia if it was not promoted in the media, and because it is so strongly present in the media and in the newspapers, it is happening. Otherwise, the world is beautiful. We all want to be accepted and in this context I would like to connect to the above question 'why am I not a lesbian'? Because labels, such as Muslim, Hindi, Bosnian, German, gay and lesbian separate, instead converge.
You were also one of the 16 contestants of The MasterChef Slovenia 2016 (2nd season). What was that experience compared to the Farm – A Fresh Start, or could you even compare them?
My performance in second MasterChef's Slovenia is the biggest achievement of all my performances so far. I had a great show. Of the 16 competitors in MasterChef Slovenia, I came among the top 5. I was doing what pleased me. I studied and progressed. I am glad that I said YES to many things and that I responded to this invitation, it was the best decision in my life. I had a great time. Wherever I go around the world, MasterChef apron with my name opens the door for me.
I have read that you include in your new projects your former teammates from The MasterChef show, how and why did you decide that?
I like to connect with people. Miha Kačič and Kristina Mohorič were the first two. You can watch them in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6luwNpQc2A and here:
Was your blog KamalaSutra the result of those experiences and youtube project? Namely, blog KamalaSutra aims at having artistic erotic cooking show, in which cooks involved would decorate their creations not on the plates but on the bodies of the most beautiful Slovenian celebrities. I find this really interesting and daring idea. Probably, it is going to be made for all sexual orientations?
That is right! KamalaSutra 1001 night is my culinary show, which I'm currently completely focused on. What, how and why? When I find the right video production, I will tell you everything about it. For now, I can definitely say that it will be for everyone who wants to explore and play in a creative way. A man with a man. A woman with a woman and a man with a woman or a woman with a man. Anyway. Each will be able to choose according to her/his own taste. Delicious dishes and ideas of how your lovers or long-term partners could spice up dinners and breakfasts in bed. Does it appeal to you?
I find it very interesting that you wish to meet Ellen. Sometimes I look at her show, and laugh from her heart, but sometimes I remember her breakthrough, revolutionary beginnings in comedy Ellen: at that time it was truly revolutionary, that through various subtexts she revealed lesbianism on television. How do you look at her show and what you would like to offer her or why you want to meet her?
Ellen is a legend. On the other hand, she is 'my sister from another mister'. I wish to meet her because I would like to present her the KamalaSutra idea and she can introduce me to some of her Hollywood friends. For my another idea, I need actors, and Ellen could help me here as well. The third wish is related to the cats and because Ellen is a cat lover. I know that when Ellen will hear all these ideas, she will be enthusiastic and supportive. Does anybody know her? Contact me, please.
What does it mean to you that you are a vlogger? Is this the way you want to make people aware of everything you are and more: what vlog offers better or other from the book or a show?
Vloggin to me personally means a chance for self-acceptance. By shooting video I watch myself, my performance, my presence. I see who I am. I can look at myself from another perspective. I saw what I was. I can say that vlogging is a great mirror which shows you who you are, where you are and where you could go if you do not give up.
Where do you take your optimism, courage, openness and inspiration from?
From my failures, successes, joys and sorrows ... from having to accept first of all that life is like that. That is the way it always is and will be. Otherwise, it's not easy for me. I always have to find the strength, and I find it. If we do not give up, we become stronger and you also realize that if you lose one battlefield it does not mean that you completely lost the whole battle. In this sense, I tell everyone about my dreams to everyone, and this drives me to reach them. If no one knows what you want, and if you do not achieve that, there is no panic because nobody knows about your wishes. Well, I wish others to know. Kamala goes to The Ellen Show. When? Tomorrow.
What are your plans for the future? Do you have a new love?
There is a lot of love and I have a lot of plans too. Ideas are coming and coming. You can watch my latest work at www.kamalasutra.com.