Greece: A boy from home

Christmas at home, the fatherly home, as it is known, distinguishing the authority that gives name and meaning to things. I wake up with difficulty from mom’s entreaties, “to eat all together.” I also hear the grandfather’s voice from inside, so I know. I know precisely what I will face. I’ve lived it in almost identical manner as far as I can remember myself. I get out of bed, and indeed everything is as supposed to be: dad is well-dressed and receives greetings on the phone, mom is also well-dressed with the classic hairstyle for the holidays, and my siblings, rather wearily, gaze passively at the whole scene, apparently having the same feeling of tedious repetition. Guests are expected in the afternoon for dad’s name day, uncles and aunts, colleagues, friends, cousins and nephews. They all more or less share a performativity of the same class, they are heterosexual couples, the man wears shirt/tie, and the woman is dressed in suit or another women’s costume depending on the class position, education, etc., however they all look the same. If they have small children they may bring them along, too, so that guests can be in a silly, playful mood around them, and manifest just how much everyone loves them kids while they’re grownups themselves.

It is here that I grew up, within this much theatrical performativity of masculinity, in this realm of small property and coercive heterosexuality. Here everyone is “as they ought to be,” and they gather every so often throughout the year, as they’re about to do today, to confirm that they are “as they ought to be,” as the others: men, family leaders, with decent incomes, with “good children,” diligent, each of them with a good woman, housewife, mama. They may even discuss politics, and yet there won’t be much talking beyond what “the whole world” believes; that is, what’s reproduced on television. Basically what they’re going to say doesn’t matter so much, if they even have something to say doesn’t matter so much; what matters is to be there for the ritual, to reaffirm their position, their gendered-class position. That’s why my parents invite me extorsively in these circumstances; I must also undergo the control, and assure that I am one of them, that I am normal, educated, smart, formal, and a worthy member of (their) society. It doesn’t matter that my parents know I am not all too normal, the extended silent drama played ever since my adolescence for the fact that I am queer; nor the fact that they know my “extreme” politicization.

What really matters is the role I must perform in the specific place and time, that of the son, the student, the youth–future of the land, etc. And I say to myself, okay, I’ll perform the role in the least painful way for me, with proportionate cynicism: I do not have any respect towards my parents and their rituals but I depend on them financially, thus I simply follow the contract terms. On the other hand, I think they both have this cynicism on their mind, so it’s not like I’m doing something so terrible. What I mean to say is that masculinity, as an expression of one’s self, is not just the theatrical performativity of man but performativity in the sense that it constitutes a system of Power that goes far beyond mere intentions or instantaneous pressure valves. I was born and raised here, and I am also emotionally, rather than only economically, supplied from the here, and I am compelled to be the family’s son beyond the material bit. Even if I completely cut ties with the family, I will continue in one way or another to carry this self that was created here, and to judge things on the basis of my representations here. I think of all this somewhat tangled, somewhat differently every time I visit my parents. These rituals of identity confirmation, and hence material-emotional safety, attest precariousness and division at the same time, and I believe this characterizes my masculinity to a certain degree, as it has shaped itself in recent years, a constant feeling of rupture, and a discontinuous route through guilt, insecurities and various different unstable identifications.

Still feeling sleepy on my way to the toilet, I heard my mama talking about me on the phone, from what I found out later, to some female relative in another city. She spoke of me with pride, referring to my faculty performance, my skills. At that very moment I got that feeling again, I wanted to attack her, tell her to stop having hopes of me already, to stop being proud of anything that has to do with me. I wanted to tell her about the moments I’ve participated in anarchy, the vandalisms, the demonstrations, the December ’08 period, and the work of destruction in which I was morally and practically involved. I wanted to tell her that I get picked up in the parks and fucked with men that I don’t even know the first letter of their name, that I’m a lost body, and I’ve nothing of mine to make anyone proud. But I never said anything of the sort, and I went and sat down at the table to eat, “as it ought to be.” And this “defeat” was only partly a result of the emotional and material power of my family over me. It had much more to do with the fact that all the things that I wanted to project onto her are largely not a safe place for me, some place where I recognize myself steadily, but rather escapes from a warlike condition, and pressure valves. Situations where the ruler of regulatory masculinity is most often present, where tension towards the policing of heteronormativity is there and I just temporarily forget about it by drinking alcohol and losing myself into parties. I realized that beyond shocking my mom I did not have much to tell her, except what she more or less suspects already. My mom simply made use of my official, let’s say, masculinity, my identity not just as she would like it to be, but ultimately as it is. It may be that at times I perform the lost body and I don’t know what else, but faced with my parents, the university and the cops, I manifest the identity that says I’m the son of petty bourgeois people from the province, student, Greek, male. And these social data is regulating my social existence, the way I am recognized by others.

I come to this conclusion not (necessarily) to whip myself into shape but to raise the issue of politics. Starting from the assumption that gender is an almighty mechanism of Power, in the sense that the genderization process lasts for all our life, and in fact provides us the right to our life or not, I find it difficult to look down upon masculinity, from a completely external position, and therefore I go into the process of looking for it in my own experiences. To what I constantly tend to come, but try to avoid, is the conclusion that my identity is not continuous but rather fragmented in various different fields and slightly schizophrenic. I look at my training into a boy and the whole of class-national context[1], on the one hand, and the different social spectra with which I’ve come into contact after I left the parental home, on the other, and I can see that this training has been the most decisive for my social existence, since it constitutes the most regulating factor in the continuum of Power and surveillance to which I am subjected. It is neither the gay culture, in which I more or less partake, nor the student habits that ensure me an identity; these are factors that likely exist to help me escape from the weight of pressures. And I say this because I get incredibly pissed off at the dominant discourse of anything goes, where every white middle-class individual ensconced in their comfort zone proclaim themselves queer, or whatever works.

Nevertheless, social data does not remain steady, nor does the way we recognize and are recognized by others. And it is these relationships, the people I have met and known over the last years, the political processes and the movement’s becoming that produce shifts inside and outside of me, and are my “weapons” in this warlike condition against my petty bourgeois masculinity and what represents it.

Finally I want to say that, as much ambivalence and insecurity my return to the home where I grew up may cause in me, it can’t take away the hope given by relationships which help me to identify myself differently. Because our gender and our sexuality are produced by establishments of violence with extremely strong and deep regulatory force, however they are characterized by the same momentum that’s found in all human relations, the human condition. And I would like to hope that I will experience the happiness of days when I will not think at all about how much of a man I looked and if my mom truly loves me for what I do and for what I have (not) become…

[1] I add the class origin and social context of the province because I consider them contents of my gendered identity. Besides, I’ve heard from anarchists who defended an unacceptable homophobic band that “they are from the province these folks,” a phrase that attributed another dimension to their gendered identity, that of the young horny macho homophobes, and constituted a “mitigating factor.” This, of course, is a classic imaginary representation of the province as a haven of pure and innocent heterosexuality, where homophobia comes natural from within, or whatever.

Greek original text retrieved from Queericulum Vitae, “Masculinities” #4, Athens, November 2010

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