Σάββατο, 27 Δεκεμβρίου 2014

Πήγαμε με την Πάολα στην Πρώτη Προβολή του Ντοκιμαντέρ για τα Καλιαρντά

http://www.lifo.gr/team/arts/54179


December 29, 2014
Μαρία Λούκα, Φωτογραφίες: Αλέξανδρος Κατσής


Η αλήθεια είναι ότι πριν δω το ντοκιμαντέρ για τα Καλιαρντά δεν είχα συνειδητοποιήσει πόσες λέξεις απ΄ αυτές που χρησιμοποιώ στην καθημερινότητα μου έχουν τις ρίζες τους σ' αυτό το γλωσσικό κώδικα που χρησιμοποιούσαν οι ομοφυλόφιλοι και οι τρανς στην Ελλάδα από τη δεκαετία του '40 μέχρι και τα πρώτα χρόνια της Μεταπολίτευσης. Το Σάββατο το βράδυ το έμαθα και μαζί μ' αυτό έβλεπα να περνούν από μπροστά μου άγνωστα στιγμιότυπα από την ιστορία των ομοφυλόφιλων, των τρανς, τωνπαρενδυτικών και όλων αυτών των σεξουαλικών ταυτοτήτων που για πολλά χρόνια συνωστίζονταν στην ταμπέλα του «παθολογικού» και που ήρθε στα early 90's να απενεχοποιήσει η queer theory.
Ας πάρουμε όμως τα πράγματα από την αρχή. Η Πάολα Ρεβενιώτη είναι γνωστή ως τρανς γυναίκα και ακτιβίστρια του κινήματος για τη σεξουαλική απελευθέρωση. Τα τελευταία χρόνια όμως προστέθηκε δίπλα σ' αυτές τις ιδιότητες -καταχρηστικά το αναφέρω γιατί αυτή η κουβέντα στον πυρήνα της διεκδικεί την υπέρβαση της ταμπέλας και της κατηγοριοποίησης- κι αυτή της δημιουργού. Μέσα από την Paola Team Documentaries επιδιώκει έναν κινηματογραφικό πειραματισμό πάνω στα ερωτήματα της σεξουαλικότητας και της ύπαρξης μέσα από απροσδόκητες συναντήσεις και κρυμμένους τόπους στον αστικό ιστό. Σ' αυτό το πλαίσιο η ομάδα παρήγαγε το πρώτο μεγάλου μήκους ντοκιμαντέρ της με θέμα τα Καλιαρντά και μαζί με το βιβλίο του Ηλία Πετρόπουλου που κυκλοφόρησε το 1971 αποτελεί τη μοναδική απόπειρα καταγραφής τους. Μετά από ενάμιση χρόνο δουλειάς το ντοκιμαντέρ ήταν έτοιμο και η πρώτη επίσημη του προβολή προγραμματίστηκε για το Σάββατο 27 Δεκεμβρίου στο Booze upstairs.
Πήγα και βρήκα την Πάολα στο διαμέρισμα της πριν την εκδήλωση για να τα πούμε ανάμεσα σε σπάνιες αφίσες, παλιά τεύχη από το περιοδικό Κράξιμο και ένα ζωηρό σκυλάκι στα πόδια μας. «Εντάξει, εχώ λίγο άγχος» μου εξομολογήθηκε. Τη ρώτησα αν η ίδια πρόλαβε καθόλου τα Καλιαρντά. «Τα πρόλαβα στην παρακμή τους. Έβγαινα σα μικρό παιδάκι στην Ομόνοια στα 14-15 μου. Ήταν ένα παζάρι τότε η Ομόνοια, παντού γινόταν ψωνιστήρι» μου λέει. Μετά θυμήθηκε το πρώτο της τετ α τετ με τον Ηλία Πετρόπουλο. «Είχα γνωρίσει τον Πετρόπουλο στα 16. Ήμουν με μια τρανς φίλη και κάναμε οτοστόπ για να πάμε από το Ζάππειο στην Ομόνοια. Είχε ένα Wolsvagen αυτός. Μπήκαμε μέσα και κάτι λέγαμε στα καλιαρντά για να μη μας καταλάβει. Πετάχτηκε ο Πετρόπουλος και μας διόρθωσε. Αργότερα γίναμε φίλοι».
Ο Ηλίας Πετρόπουλος ήταν ο πρώτος διανοούμενος που ασχολήθηκε με τα καλιαρντά. Το 1971 στην πρώτη έκδοση του ερμηνευτικού – ετυμολογικού λεξικού του «Καλιαρντά» κατέγραψε τις πρώτες 3000 λέξεις. Αρκούσαν για να πυροδοτήσουν την οργή του σεμνότυφου χουντικού καθεστώτος. Την ίδια μέρα ασκήθηκε δίωξη. Οι κατηγορίες ήταν περιύβρισης δημοσίας αρχής και του βασιλικού εμβλήματος, κακόβουλος περιύβρισης της Ανατολικής Ορθοδόξου του Χριστού Εκκλησίας και κυκλοφορία ασέμνων. Καταδικάστηκε ως πορνογράφος και τελικά αποφυλακίστηκε λόγω ανήκεστου βλάβης. Βέβαια δε φαίνεται και τόσο μακρινό το 1971, αν σκεφτεί κανείς ότι πριν από κάποιες μέρες το 2014 η Αστυνομία της Κύπρου έκανε έφοδο σε έκθεση της Πάολα στη Λευκωσία και «ξήλωσε» φωτογραφίες γυμνών ανδρών. Το γεγονός όμως ότι ο Ερμής του Πραξιτέλη παραμένει στη θέση του ακόμα μας κάνει να νιώθουμε αισιόδοξες.
Το ντοκιμαντέρ της ομάδας όμως δεν περιορίζεται σε μια καταγραφή και ανάλυση αυτού του γλωσσικού φαινομένου. Πολύ περισσότερο λειτουργεί ως κλειδαρότρυπα που μπορούμε στιγμιαία να δούμε τα πολιτισμικά και κοινωνικά συμφραζόμενα των αποκλεισμένων κοινωνικών ομάδων της εποχής. «Στην αρχή δεν το χα πάρει πολύ στα σοβαρά αλλά από τα πρώτα γυρίσματα διαπίστωσα ότι δεν είναι τα καλιαρντά αλλά μέσα από αυτά φαίνεται μια μεγάλη περίοδος της ομοφυλόφιλης ζωής στην Ελλάδα. Τιμάμε τους ανθρώπους που διεκδίκησαν την καύλα τους στο δρόμο» μου εξηγεί η Πάολα. Φεύγοντας από το σπίτι τη ρώτησα για ποιο λόγο άρχισε να ασχολείται με κάμερες και μοντάζ και η απάντηση της απλώς επιβεβαίωσε την αυθεντικότητα της, είτε τη γουστάρει, είτε δεν τη γουστάρει κανείς: «Τι θα κάνω δηλαδή τώρα εγώ; Σ' αυτή την ηλικία; Να κάτσω σπίτι μου να ονειρεύομαι τεκνά; Τα χω πάρει με το κιλό. Αν δεν κάνω κάτι θα σκουριάσω. Δεν είναι θέμα φιλοδοξίας».
Κατηφορίζοντας την οδό Αθηνάς είπαμε πολλές ιστορίες για τις παλιές πιάτσες της Αθήνας, τα ζόρικα χρόνια με τις καθημερινές επιθέσεις της Αστυνομίας, για την έκρηξη σεξουαλικότητας μετά την πτώση της δικτατορίας, τους σπουδαίους ανθρώπους που γνώρισε όπως ο Ταχτσής, τη σημερινή αναζωπύρωση της ομοφοβίας και της τρανσφοβίας. Κάπως έτσι και παρέα με το Μανώλη και το Δημήτρη που παίζουν στο ντοκιμαντέρ φτάσαμε στο Booze που ανυπομονούσε για μια σπουδαία βραδιά. Γιατί όπως αποδείχθηκε η προβολή του ντοκιμαντέρ ήταν το απόλυτο εναλλακτικό event απέναντι στο γλυκανάλατο Christmas spirit. Πάνω από 600 άτομα παρακολούθησαν αυτή τη μηχανή του χρόνου της LGBT κοινότητας. Για την ακρίβεια τόσοι προσπάθησαν να την παρακολουθήσουν, γιατί σ' έναν χώρο όπου και τα δύο του επίπεδα ήταν ασφυκτικά γεμάτα με καθιστούς και όρθιους, αρκετοί απλώς περιοριστήκαμε σε μικρά χοροπηδήματα ανάμεσα σε κεφάλια για να κλέψουμε καμία σκηνή.
Το ντοκιμαντέρ μας μετέφερε σε μια σκληρή μετεμφυλιακή περίοδο, όπου το τρίπτυχο «Πατρίς, Θρησκεία, Οικογένεια» είχε αναδυθεί ως αξιακός καταστατικός χάρτης δημιουργώντας ένα ασφυκτικό καθεστώς καταπίεσης απέναντι σε όσους διεκδικούσαν σεξουαλική ελευθερία, πόσο μάλλον απέναντι σ' αυτούς που απέκλιναν από το ετεροκανονιστικό πρότυπο. Έτσι αναπτύχθηκαν τα καλιαρντά ως κοινωνιόλεκτος των ομοφυλόφιλων και των τρανς, καταρχήν για να συνεννοούνται μεταξύ τους και να προστατεύονται από ένα βαθιά θρησκόληπτο αστυνομικό κράτος. Ήταν γλώσσα του δρόμου, ένα ευρύ λεξιλόγιο που αντλούσε τους γραμματικούς και συντακτικούς κανόνες της ελληνικής γλώσσας με τις λέξεις να γεννιούνται από αναγραμματισμούς, ηχομίμηση, συνειρμούς, και δάνεια ξένων γλωσσών (γαλλικά, τούρκικα, αγγλικά, ιταλικά, ρομά). Μέσα από το ερωτικό νταλαβέρι που γίνονταν στα λιμάνια ταξίδεψε στην ελληνική επαρχία αλλά και στα λιμάνια της Μεσογείου.
Όλα αυτά δοσμένα μέσα από τις νοσταλγικές αφηγήσεις on camera της Παολα για το Ζάππειο και της Νάνας για τη «Στάσα» και τις αναλύσεις του Ντίνου Χριστανόπουλου, του Παναγιώτη Ευαγγελίδη, του Θανάση Σκρουμπέλου και πολλών ακόμα. Γέλαγα με το «μπαγκέτο» που σημαίνει πέος και είναι εμπνευσμένο από την τότε διαφήμιση των ΕΛΤΑ, θαύμαζα τη μαεστρική διάθεση κριτικής απέναντι στους φορείς εξουσίας με λέξεις όπως ο «πρωτονταβάς» που σημαίνει Πρωθυπουργός και μάθαινα ότι λέξεις όπως «κουλή», «τζάσε» και «τεκνό» διασώθηκαν εσνωματωμένες πλέον στο λεξιλόγιο της δικής μας γενιάς.
Και κάπου εκεί προς τα τέλη της δεκαετίας του '80 παραγκωνίστηκε αυτό το γλωσσικό ιδίωμα και οδηγήθηκε στη αχρηστία. «Ήταν μια γλωσσική ποικιλία με κρυπτική λειτουργία. Μια διάλεκτος που βασιζόταν πολύ στα χαρακτηριστικά των χρηστών της και εν προκειμένω της σεξουαλικότητας. Σήμερα που η ομοφυλοφιλία διεκδικεί την ορατότητα τα καλιαρντά δεν υπάρχουν γιατί η λειτουργία του στηρίχτηκε στον αντίποδα, στη σφαίρα του κρυφού» μου εξηγεί ο γλωσσολόγος και Καθηγητής στο Πανεπιστήμιο Αιγαίου Κώστας Κανάκης. Τα καλιαρντά πιάσανε στασίδι στο θέατρο μέσα από την Επιθεώρηση και φτάσανε στο σαλόνι μας μέσα από τις αλήστου μνήμης εκπομπές της Μαλβίνας Κάραλη. Κάποια στιγμή μάλιστα παρα λίγο να θεωρηθούν και mainstream αφού κάθε περιοδικό life που σεβόταν το μύθο του διάνθιζε τα κείμενα του με αυτή την αργκό της πιάτσας.
Αυτή η διαδρομή και τα ερωτήματα που τη συνοδεύουν ξεδιπλώθηκαν σε μια πολύ ζωηρή συζήτηση που ακολούθησε ανάμεσα στην Πάολα, το Γρηγόρη Βαλλιανάτο, τον Κώστα Κανάκη και το George Le Nonce. Και βέβαια μια τέτοια βραδιά τελείωσε όπως της άρμοζε: μ' ένα πάρτι. «Είμαι πολύ ικανοποιημένος. Ο κόσμος ήρθε και πέρασε καλά. Εμείς είμαστε μια παρέα ουσιαστικά από επαγγελματίες που ασχολούμαστε σε εθελοντική βάση με όλο αυτό και μόλις καταλαγιάσει λίγο η κούραση και η ένταση θα σκεφτούμε το παρακάτω» μου λέει στο καληνύχτισμα ο Βαγγέλης Τσάκας εκ μέρους του Paola Team Documentaries. Και όποιος ή οποία δεν πρόλαβε να το δει μπορεί να το αγοράσει, αν έρθει σε επικοινωνία με την ομάδα μέσω της επίσημης σελίδας της στο facebook.
Στην επιστροφή, έτσι όπως παρατηρούσα τις συμμετρικά αντίθετες εναλλαγές αλλά κατοπτρικά ανάλογες εικόνες αυτής της πόλης, από το φασαριόζικο ποδοπάτημα στα μπαράκια της Κολοκοτρώνη μέχρι την απόκοσμη ερημιά της Πανεπιστημίου, θυμήθηκα τη διαπίστωση που είχε κάνει η Πάολα την πρώτη φορά που μιλήσαμε πριν ενάμιση χρόνο περίπου, ότι «ζούμε σε μια αντιερωτική εποχή». Αναρωτιόμουν λοιπόν αν θα πρέπει να εφεύρουμε πάλι νέους κώδικες για να ζωντανέψουν τη φαντασία και να εκφράσουν την επιθυμία. 
http://www.vice.com/gr/read/pigame-me-tin-paola-sti-proti-provoli-tou-documentary-gia-ta-kaliantra

Καλιαρντά







Ξέρετε τι είναι τα Καλιαρντά; Η κρυφή γλώσσα τον ομοφυλόφιλων της Ελλάδας από τη δεκαετία του '40 μέχρι και την αρχή της μεταπολίτευσης ζωντανεύει ξανά μέσα από το πρώτο μεγάλου μήκους ντοκιμαντέρ της Πάολα Ρεβενιώτη και της κινηματογραφικής ομάδας Paola Team Documentaries. Θέματα όπως η σεξουαλικότητα, ο έρωτας, τα στέκια και τα προβλήματα των ανθρώπων όπως αυτά εξελίχθηκαν μέσα στα χρόνια παρουσιάζονται μέσα από εξομολογήσεις ατόμων της πιάτσας, ανθρωπολόγων, γλωσσολόγων, συγγραφέων και ποιητών, στο Booze: Upstairs.
Μετα την προβολη των καλιαρντων θα γινει κουβεντα με τους Γρηγορη Βαλλιανατο, Κωστα Κανακη και George Le Nonce...Συντονισμο κανει ο Εμμανουηλ Τσιμπιδης.

Τελος παρτυ με Djs Trela Kasela, Seraphic Deviltry, Ioannas Kanellopoyloy!




Παρασκευή, 26 Δεκεμβρίου 2014

Greece’s New Poor / Christmas In The Closet

AUSTERITY

12.22.13

A Dickensian Christmas For Greece’s New Poor

Greece is edging out of recession thanks to EU bailouts, but for many from the country’s former middle class, homelessness and extreme poverty haunt the New Year.
It’s 5pm on a frigid Monday afternoon and people are starting to line up outside the bright red stucco Klimaka homeless support center in the central Athens neighborhood of Gazi.  Serving tables are set up under lemon trees in the open courtyard. The savory smell of stewed meat drifts through the cold air.  Overhead, a white canopy painted with brightly colored flowerpots tempers the rain and wind.  A year ago, this center fed around 60 people a week.  Now more than 200 often show up for the twice-weekly meals.   “We only have enough for 160 people today,” says Ava Alamanou, coordinator of the Klimka homeless support project as she looks out at the growing crowd. “A month ago we could feed 250, but this week supplies are running short. If more come, we will scrape together something from the kitchen to feed them, but it’s not easy.”
The Klimaka center, like many NGOs across Greece, is picking up where the Greek government has failed.  Klimaka offers support—psychological, social, and for basic primary needs—to a growing number of homeless and near-homeless people in Greece.  It is not a true homeless shelter per se, but there are nine beds where the most vulnerable can sleep; and when the weather is particularly frigid, Alamanou says they can always put a few more in the offices and corridors.  Many of the people who come here spend their nights in dedicated shelters and homeless hostels across the city. Others sleep on the streets.  On Mondays and Thursdays, meals are served at 5pm to whomever comes—no questions asked. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, people line up to take hot showers.  During the five years Alamanou has been at the center, she has seen the face of Greece’s disadvantaged population evolve.   “There is a profound change in the type and number of homeless people in Greece right now,” she tells The Daily Beast.  “The traditional homeless were people with mental health issues and chemical dependencies.  Different people are now homeless because of the crisis. We call them neo-homeless. We used to serve primarily non-Greeks, now it is half and half, Greeks and foreigners.”
There are more than 20,000 homeless people in Greece today, by Klimaka’s estimates; that’s over 30 percent more than there were in 2009 when the economic crisis began.  But there are many more people balancing precariously on the verge of indigence.  Artemis Stefanoudaki, a 38-year-old photographer, lives on the razor-thin margin between poverty and destitution.  She lives with her 12-year-old daughter in a borrowed apartment in the Pangrati district of Athens.  Stefanoudaki burns candles in every corner of the modest apartment instead of turning on the lights to save electricity.  She only runs the heat when her daughter is at home. 
A few years ago, Stefanoudaki’s star was rising as a successful studio portrait photographer with her own business.  But now she has very little work and she carries heavy debts.  Her trouble began when she took a tax amnesty offered by the Greek government, paying a flat rate tax bill of €12,000 in exchange for avoiding an audit, effectively closing her books to the tax authorities.  The payment, which she says was not optional because audits tend to cost much more in fines for tax mistakes, wiped out her savings, and she hasn’t been able to get back on her feet financially since.  “I paid the money because I felt I had no choice,” she says.  “They warned that if I didn’t pay the big tax the revenue office would find many small mistakes in my bookkeeping that would end up in bigger fines. So I paid.”
“No one invites anyone over anymore,” says Scocozza. “Everyone is ashamed of not having heating or enough food.”
Her ex-husband is also out of work and can’t pay child support, so every day her former mother-in-law brings one portion of food for her granddaughter. Stefanoudaki fends for herself, often skipping meals for cheaper snacks.  Increasingly, she resorts to bartering to make ends meet.  She is currently trading photography work for English lessons for her daughter.  Greeks have always had to educate their children through private tutors in certain subjects, but recent education cuts have made the situation is worse.  Extras like foreign languages and Greek classics have been all but obliterated from the national curriculum.
The hardest part for Stefanoudaki is remembering when things were good. “I didn’t think about how much I earned. I didn’t always appreciate what I had. I took vacations and had friends around for dinner all the time,” she says.  “Then when things started to go bad, it happened very quickly. Suddenly I went from living comfortably to being very poor. I miss good company and laughing with friends. We used to talk about dreams and the future. Now when we get together we talk about our problems. Because of that, people just don’t get together as much. It’s too depressing.” 
Stefanoudaki certainly misses what money used to buy, but even more than that, she says she longs for the peace of mind that her salary once provided.  “I am in a constant battle with myself.  I’m tired. I’m stressed. I miss being calm. I want to daydream about things I will do in the future again, not worry about how to pay the electricity bill.”
Like most Greeks living on the edge, Stefanoudaki blames the government for years of corruption that led Greece to the edge of the economic abyss—but she also blames the banks for creating a credit-based debt trap she now finds herself in.  She took loans for vacations and photography equipment, even when she had enough cash to pay outright, she says.   The money came easily, and, like many Greeks, she says she was greedy.  Banks mishandled the situation, she says.  But the Greek people allowed them to do so.  “It’s not just the government that is to blame,” she says.  “People say the banks destroyed Greece, but each of us who has a loan signed a piece of paper promising to pay it back.”
Most Greeks now define their lives as before and after “the crisis,” referring to the period beginning in 2009 when the bottom fell out of the economy and middle-class Greeks started losing their fiscal footing.  Even those with extra cash are not spending it, either out of fear that their fortune will dry up or out of guilt because their friends aren’t doing as well.  “No one wants to walk around seen carrying shopping bags, even if they can afford to spend money,” says Stamatina Lagoudaki, 51, who owns a women’s dress shop in the wealthier Kolonaki neighborhood of Athens.  She points to her store full of inventory and to the empty storefronts on the streets as proof that there is no money in circulation.  “I don’t know what is going to happen.  The future for us is so uncertain,” she says.  “They say 40 percent of the businesses in Athens have closed shop.  I can’t help [but] worry that mine will be next.”
Stella Belia, 46, and Grazia Scocozza, 54, are a lesbian couple raising five children between them.  Scocozza was previously married and now retired. She lives on her late husband’s pension, which was recently cut from €1,600 to €800 a month.  Belia, who has a post-graduate degree, makes a little less than that as a head mistress at a private school. Her salary was cut in half last year.  They both blame years of corrupt governments for the crisis and they are increasingly bitter about their situation.  “It is an insult to be paid so little money,” says Belia, sitting in the dark living room of their tiny home.  “The prime minister doesn’t give such little money to the man who shines his shoes.” 
Scocozza’s children, ages 25, 16 and 14, and Belia’s five-year-old twins, barely scrape by.  They own their home in a working-class district of Athens, but they can’t afford to run the heat except when temperatures dip below freezing.  And because they don’t pay rent, they are subject to high property taxes geared at wealthier homeowners.  Most of their income now goes to taxes and utilities.  There is little left for food and medicines.  This year, like last year, they won’t exchange Christmas presents. And they won’t invite anyone to the house to celebrate the holidays. “No one invites anyone over anymore,” says Scocozza. “Everyone is ashamed of not having heating or enough food.”
Everything about Scocozza and Belia’s life has changed in the last five years since the crisis began.  They used to give their children’s old clothing to charities when they outgrew them.  Now they rely on the same charities for help.  Scocozza, who has diabetes, does not go to the doctor regularly.  She buys her medication from pharmacies that sell nearly-expired drugs at a discount.  Their diets have limited protein, and instead of going to supermarkets, they tend to go to the city’s open-air vegetable markets just before they close when vendors sell leftover produce cheaper than the market price.   “We used to have a different life before the crisis,” says Scocozza.  “We used to go to the theater and even get a babysitter.  Now we’re scouring stores for deals and trying not to show the children how worried we are.”
The hardest part of the crisis for them is that they see things getting worse, not better.  “Who knows how this will end?  Two years ago we could not imagine we could survive the way we are living now,” says Belia.  “But we haven’t hit rock bottom yet. We haven’t had to rummage through the rubbish like some people we know.”
Belia’s children are too young to understand a life different to what they know. But because Scocozza’s children are older, they are suffering more.  “We are all going through a collective depression,” she says.  “The children are not happy.  My 25-year-old daughter told me she feels useless. She wakes up at night afraid.  She makes 15 euros a day handing out flyers a couple days a week even though she is educated.  She sees no future for herself and I don’t see one for her either.”
“Our children are part of a lost generation,” says Belia, who sees how cuts at her own school have affected the students.  She is worried that Greek children today will grow up almost like post-war children because of cuts in education, bad diets and lack of hope.  Teachers are underpaid—if they are paid at all since many public schools have frozen salaries.  “It’s hard to dedicate yourself to your students when you don’t know how to pay your bills and feed your own children,” she says.  “School should be the place where children can flourish, but that’s not the case in Greece right now.”
Because Belia is employed and they own their home outright, they do not qualify for government programs designed to help families in need.   “Things could get worse, we just don’t know. Maybe they will get much worse before things improve,” says Belia.  “When we wake up in the morning, we don’t know how the day is going to end.” 
If things do get worse, they may be forced to join hundreds of other struggling families who have turned to NGOs to pick up the slack where state-funded social services have failed them. Praksis is an NGO that runs free medical clinics in Athens and Thessaloniki in the northern part of the country. It was founded to assist Greece’s vast illegal immigrant population, many of whom are in transit from Afghanistan, Iraq and sub-Saharan Africa to Europe via Greece. Their free clinic in central Athens is housed in a shabby apartment that smells of feverish bodies and pungent medicine.  The clinic offers free services on either a walk-in or appointment basis, rotating a volunteer dentist, general practitioner, gynecologist, endocrinologist and pediatrician who time-share tiny dim-lit examination rooms.  The waiting room is filled with women holding wailing babies. Men sit on the stone stairway leading up to the clinic. Many have visible injuries or are so sick with flu they cannot hold their heads up.  The view from the windows is the run-down Villa Amalias anarchist squat house, which was raided last year and now guarded by helmet-wearing riot police who patrol the surrounding streets carrying guns, tear gas canisters and protective shields.
The doctors see between 20 and 30 patients every day, and Moudatsou says there’s been an increase in Greek families in the waiting room.  But because their program was designed for foreign nationals—many without legal papers or social services—the center had to come up with a different strategy to help Greek families.  “We designed a program for 200 vulnerable Greek families who fit a criteria based on income, family size and employment status,” says Maria Moudatsou, a forensic psychologist at the center who doubles as the director of communications and fundraising.  “But we’ve already served nearly 600 since the program began last year.” 
Moudatsou says the Greek family program, which has never been advertised, focuses on homeless prevention.  She says they have saved many families from the streets.  In most cases, families who once lived in middle-class comfort are ill-equipped to deal with stifling poverty, and because the government has been slow to acknowledge the problem, many are at risk of falling through the cracks.  Praksis social workers make home visits and Moudatsou says they are often shocked by the squalid conditions many Greek families are forced to live under. Many families they help are just a few steps away from forced into the streets.  “Homelessness wasn’t even a term recognized by the Greek government until 2012,” she says, making that point that without that crucial recognition, no state-funded preemptive programs have been designed, let alone implemented yet.  She says that in the meantime, they are doing the work instead.  They try to counsel people to retrain when they have lost jobs and try to get back into the job market, even if it means working in the black economy or being under-employed.  But countless times they have had to intervene on an even more basic level, often countering angry landlords who are trying to evict families due to non-payment of rent.  “In Greece there is no welfare state.  Things should be structured and there should be a national strategic plan that is actually implemented instead of debated,” she says. “It should not be that NGOs do the primary work for them.” 
In exchange for all the work they are doing on the state’s behalf, Moudatsou says they asked the Greek government for the use of any abandoned public buildings that could be used as either homeless shelters or support center for homeless families.  “At first they agreed, but then the bureaucracy took over and we have never gotten a building,” she says.  They are desperately in need of more space and better facilities.  Between the two free clinics, they have seen more than 30,000 patients in the last year for everything from common flu and cavities to cancer. 
Even when the government programs do work, as in the case of some social health services, they often backfire.  Coralie Gerardou is a 42-year-old divorced graphic designer who is raising her nine-year-old daughter on $550 a month in alimony.  She has ping-ponged between jobs for the last year, often working in the black market at five-star hotels and other tourist spots to try to eke out a living. She and her father once owned a successful Spanish tapas restaurant in central Athens, but it went bankrupt in 2010.  In 2011 she suffered a nervous breakdown, which she says is held against her since she was treated under the social health program.   She says she also feels discrimination when she is applying for a job because she is a single mother and needs to be available to pick up her daughter after school. “Most of the shifts available for even the worst jobs are only evening and weekends,” she says, rolling a cigarette nervously at an outdoor café in a suburb of Athens.  “They look at my CV like it is a piece of toilet paper. Either they say no right away or give me a five-day trial which is a way to get people to work for free.”
She once had a job working in a museum, but because the hours conflicted with her daughter’s school, she often brought her daughter to work.  “That didn’t last long,” Gerardou says. “There is really no option for me.” For the past five months, she has been getting assistance from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, which was founded by a wealthy shipping tycoon in 1996 and offers short-term assistance to single mothers and other vulnerable Greeks.  When that ends next month—the program only sponsors people for six months—she says she doesn’t know what she will do.  “What can I do?” she asks, tears welling up in her eyes.  “I have this dream of a permanent day job where I go to work and then come home to take care of my daughter. I am not asking to go on big vacations or have a new car. I just want to provide for my child.  But there are others much worse than me. At least I have a roof over my head, for not at least.”
Back at the Klimaka homeless support center, Alamanou braces for what she believes is the worst yet to come even though Greece is edging out of recession thanks to a series of bailouts the by the European Union.  But it will take a long time for positive growth to trickle down to those who have crossed the poverty line.  Her goal used to be to have no homeless people to serve. Now she just wants the neo homeless to get back under a roof before they become acclimated to destitution.  When people are homeless for a short period like many of the newly poor, they still have hope, she says.  “We care about the traditional homeless, but we are forced to focus on more acute problem which is the neo homeless now.  But there are no real measures to prevent homeless, only services like ours that kick in after the fact,” she says.  “There are no social structures to combat poverty, and when they do exist on paper, they are not implemented.  It’s not proactive, it’s always reactive. We are always picking up the pieces of these shattered lives. It would be nice for a change to stop them from falling.”

Christmas In The Closet
My brother has been with his girlfriend for 6 months, and she’s spending Christmas with my family this year.  My first thought was, Whoa. What the hell?! It’s not that I don’t like her. I do! But as someone who lived in the closet of a secret relationship for years, I cannot relate to the experience of having dated someone mere months and already having them join holiday times with the family.  
For the first four or five years of our relationship, my (now) wife and I spent Christmases apart, appearing at our respective family gatherings as singles. 
We were “the older cousin who was still single with no kids," under pressure in an ever-expanding family of new children, new marriages, new relationships. We had to engage our grandmothers in the annual confused conversation of why we were single and whether any of her friends had grandsons that we’d like.
The worst was when one of the old family friends son would stop by to say “hi”. Oh God! I could feel that he was attracted to me and tried to make flirty conversation, but during the whole awkward encounter, I knew that I had a girlfriend back home who I loved very much. Awkward and painful!  
These experiences and conversations were compounded by the pain of distance, being apart from one another during the holidays when all we wanted was to be together, and the feeling of going it alone. It was even more painful to have so many secrets and lies having been told to every person in the family. No one likes to be a liar, especially to those we love, but during the holidays, you have to be especially crafty with the lies because there are so many family members wanting to know how you are, lots of questions and answers to craft. 
It’s sad and painful to experience yourself as less than a whole person and to face the uncomfortable awareness of feeling like a liar.

I remember the secret phone calls my girlfriend and I would sneak after everyone went to bed or early in the morning. Christmas morning was the worst! Longing on this most special day to wake up next to one another, to exchange gifts with a family that included both of us instead of being alone. I think it was that missing and longing and lying that felt most painful to me during this time.
As a therapist, I hear stories like mine over and over again. But I also hear different kinds of stories where there is less lying and more blatant disapproval of one’s gayness from family members, if not a complete ignorance that you’ve told your family that you are gay and have a significant other. There is a painful distance that occurs between family members in these places. You can be in the same room as your family, talking or even doing something “fun” like playing a game and yet there’s a huge bubble of pain and rejection that fills any open space it can find. 
I hear stories of people who want to spend the holidays with their family, but know that the Christmas they so long to have with them is only a dream. It is difficult to accept the truth that your family is not like a Norman Rockwell painting. If you find yourself in these stories I want you to know you are not alone in your experience. 
Not only are there others experiencing the pain you know yourself, but the Christmas story points to you not being alone.

This week I’ve been reading The Queer Bible Commentary and have found connection and comfort in the story of Mary. In her story of unwed pregnancy, I’ve begun to see how God is more like us in the LGBTQ community; the sexual outlaws, those seen as dirty perverts who break “normal” acceptable standards of living.
We see God creating life in Mary in the form of Jesus outside the bounds of traditional “Christians get married first” norms. She was scared she’d be killed for her sin, or minimally divorced by Joseph, so she ran. She ran with fear and anxiety to her cousin. She was alone and full of shame. 
Sound familiar? But here’s what’s so cool—Mary's cousin reminded her that God was with her. Mary’s story points a light to freedom and hope and a remembrance that God is with us and for us in the LGBTQ community, even where we are shrouded in experiences of sexual shame, secrets, lies and isolation. Jesus was born under the very circumstances that sound a lot like our daily lives. The story of this single, pregnant, unwed young woman becomes a story connection to many of us in the gay community God is with us, God is with you, God is within you.
While the connection to God through Mary is powerful, here’s some practical things you can do to help get you through the holidays with your families. 

The main thing that’s important for you to do in order to survive the holiday is to reach out. Reach out and finding grounding with those who do know you’re gay and are supportive of you. Make sure you’re having phone calls with those people, coffee dates, go to the movies, anything!  
If you have a therapist reach out and make an appointment. The need for therapy during this time is not a sign that you’re truly messed up, but you deserve the extra support. I promise you it will help to strategize with a knowing therapist about how to handle the specific dynamics of your family and have someone journey with you in the grief and anxiety.
This last point might sound weird coming from a therapist since most of us are all about you diving more fully into your pain, but sometimes we just need to get through it, so if nothing else works stay busy and distract yourself. I find distraction and staying busy can sometimes be the kindness thing we can offer ourselves. 
It’s understandable if the holidays are a difficult time to be with your family, but you will get through this.   
You are not alone. Remind yourself of Mary and let yourself cry out to her for her wisdom and peace during this time. She and I and others have gone before you and our spirit of hope is with you.  Peace to you.

- See more at: http://www.believeoutloud.com/latest/christmas-closet#sthash.xCwzZJWs.rt8cbRgo.dpuf

Πέμπτη, 25 Δεκεμβρίου 2014

Transition is not death – it is the embracing of life.

December 22, 2014 § 46 Comments
We need a better way to talk about trans children.

Christmas is the hardest time of the year for me. Not for the reasons why it’s so hard for so many trans people – their reasons first, and then mine.
This time of year brings it home – in mundane, everyday little ways – that trans people are so often people without families. Or, rather, without families of origin – by necessity, we’ve become adept at building our families of choice.  A facebook status asking for a donation to help homeless trans teenagers, or a recommendation for a trans-friendly shelter for victims of domestic violence – overwhelming numbers of empathetic responses rooted in experience. Invitations to alternative festive events, on days when most people are expected to find themselves with parents, grandparents, the in-laws. Survival guide blog posts for those trying to face their family of origin – knowing that it will mean misgendering and confusion at best – confrontation and abuse at worst. All of that with the same message spouted by festive adverts and TV specials playing in the background, that Christmas is the time for family, for understanding and compassion – just not for certain types of people.
For me, it has nothing to do with being trans. Seven years ago, my brother Jonathan – my best and closest friend – died on Christmas night, after two and a half years of constant treatment for brain cancer. He was twenty years old.
I admit that, initially, there seems little point in bringing together these two tragedies: one so personal, yet affecting so many people across the world – and another born of systemic, cultural cruelty towards a misunderstood minority, not common enough to be regularly reported on. And yet the two come together in my mind because of a turn of phrase so often used by parents of trans children – in the mainstream media and reported back in conversations.
“It felt like my child had died.” And worse, words either hurled or spat out in anger – or delivered calmly with practical procedure: “you’re dead to me”.
My family is in the fairly unusual position of having had one child transition, and one child die – and with that, I can and must say that the two events are not comparable. More than that – we shouldn’t continue to treat them as though they were comparable – not personally, not socially.

The second, I’m sure, most people would agree is unacceptable – but I know, already, the reasons given for allowing the first. It might be hyperbole, yes, but surely that’s allowed for someone who’s had a shock? Who’s found out something new and different about their child? Who’s mourning the loss of their dreams and expectations? All change brings its own form of grief – and finding out that a child is trans can (in some cases – not all) be change on all kinds of fronts.
Of course it’s true that grief is a necessary part of change – but change is not bereavement. This isn’t a pedantic or semantic argument, but something at the core of our misunderstandings about what it is to be trans. Death is the end of possibility – transition is its opposite.
It matters that we continue to allow and expect those words. Not only because it’s an inaccurate and harmful way of talking about trans people in general, though it is that: normal up to a point and then BAM – announcement, transition, different person. But more – when using those phrases in the context of relationships, families, parents and children – it feeds into a culture where young trans lives are not only theoretically devalued, but are genuinely more at risk.
PACE and Scottish Transgender Alliance have the numbers, and they’re shocking. Young trans people are nearly twice as likely to attempt suicide as their cis (non-trans) peers. Suicide and self-harm are often complicated, and rarely have one cause – young people with loving and supportive families still die from suicide – but isolation, rejection and family abuse are powerful contributing factors in the deaths of many trans people.

Hopefully, most parents who use those words don’t mean them literally – although it’s important to remember that some do. Still, when trans people are told, openly and by implication, that they are less valid, less ‘real’, less valued, less loveable – then those words do not exist in a vacuum. They come from somewhere – they ripple out and cause change. It can feel like we’re worth more as a memorialized, idealized, supposedly ‘cis’ child than we are as living trans people of all ages. When a child telling the truth is comparable to a dead child, what does that say about the truth of who they are?
And so hearing those words – hearing them when you know the impact those words have had, knowing that so many trans people will die from suicide –knowing people in our community who’ve died from suicide – they matter. And it makes me want to grab the parents that say those words, in public and in private, and say to them:
A trans child is not trying to cram lifetime’s worth of ‘I love yous’ into the last few weeks you have left – or never having the chance to say ‘goodbye’ at all. Not keeping watch over the body of what used to be your loved one until the undertakers arrive, and not picking out a coffin, writing a funeral service, making sure the death certificate’s in order. Not – after all the ceremonies surrounding death have been completed – facing that constant, gnawing absence that can never be filled, and trying to make a life with half your heart gone.

The arms that hold you might be more or less muscular than they were, and the voice higher or lower – but they are there. The life your child is living might be different from how you imagined it – it might, in fact, be similar in all but outward appearance – but it is a life. Children confound and challenge their parents, and trans children are no different. But that’s the point – we’re no different. Being trans is not some category apart, some terrible thing that severs people from each other – it’s just another variety of being human.  All children grow up to be their own people – that’s all. It’s not a death sentence, let alone a death.
I’m not so hopelessly optimistic that I think that a short think piece like this would change the minds of the kinds of people who abuse their trans children, emotionally blackmail them into pretending not to be themselves, turn them out of home, cut them off practically, financially and emotionally. But if you’re reading this and have a suspicion that your child might be trans – or are having difficulties accepting a trans child, the practicalities, even the idea – please reach out. Reach out to the amazing groups like Mermaids and Gendered Intelligence who help families with trans kids. Reach out and fill your brain with the writing, the art, being made by young trans people –  the communities we’re creating for our families and friends. Most of all, reach for the possibility that the narrative you’ve been sold about trans lives is reductive, limiting bullshit – the actuality of who we are and can be is so much more than that.
Transition is not death – it is the embracing of life. So many trans people – even trans children – can only find the words to name themselves to another when they’ve reached the limit of what they can endure. To take that step, to trust someone enough to share that with, in the hope of building a better future – that’s the opposite of a dead child. It’s a child full of possibility. We owe it to them to repay that trust and help them to live.



This post was written after many long conversations with my mother, Rosemarie. I am so, so thankful to have her in my life.

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