Project Update #12: Lecture Review by Daria Gavriushchenko
May 17, 2018
Part of: World Bank & Sexual Violence Research Initiative Project: ‘Combatting Sexual Violence in Kyrgyzstan through Innovative Education and Information Technology (Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia)’
Dr Elena Kim, Dr Elena Molchanova, Aigerim Bakubatova, and Dr Frank G. Karioris
It is our great pleasure to present this lecture review. At the end of March, the Center for Critical Gender Studies hosted a reading by Juliet Jacques and Dr Mokhira Suyuarkulova, with an introduction by Georgy Mamedov. The Center was absolutely delighted to host this event, doing so in collaboration with AUCA’s Anthropology Club.
We invited the students from the course ‘Gender, Ethics, and the Politics of Violence’ join the reading. They were told to come prepared with questions or discussion points, seeking to put the reading into conversation with the discussions we have been having in class throughout the semester.
To further the students’ learning experience, for each of the lectures that the Center has hosted, we have asked a student to write a lecture review. Written in the genre or format of a book review, this was a good opportunity for students to get experience with another writing genre, as well as to further think through the topics and issues raised in the lecture or reading. The first lecture review was published at LSE’s Engenderings by Asel Shamyrbekova. As we said previously, we are so excited to see this publication.
In this vein, we are delighted to present the reading review by Daria Gavriushchenko.
Queer Literature: Fiction and Activism from London to Bishkek
by Daria Gavriushchenko, March 30, 2018
On March 26, two queer activists – Juliet Jacques and Dr. Mokhira Suyarkulova – shared their short fiction stories at a reading at the American University of Central Asia (AUCA). The reading was part of the lecture series hosted by the Center for Critical Gender Studies and the AUCA Anthropology Club. To open the reading, an introduction to the history of the queer movement and to queer fiction as a tool for activism was provided by Georgy Mamedov.
Mr. Mamedov provided the audience with a short history of the term “queer” and queer activism. As he explained, there is one substantial difference between Queer and LGBTQ+ activism. In contrast to LGBTQ+ activism, Queer activism advocates for the idea that the society, not the “queer” identity, is problematic. In this way, a Queer movement’s main aim is not to adapt differentiated identities to the existing social order, but to change the societal order so that everyone is able to find/create a place for themselves in it. Among other instruments, literature as a genre of fiction has been deployed to reach this goal. Due to the under-representation of queer characters in literature, through introducing queer characters fiction is able to be one of the most effective genres to voice the issues that queer people face. After this informative introduction, the speakers took the stage.
Juliet Jacques, a journalist and writer from London, shared her story The Woman in the Portrait based on and related to the painting “Self-portrait” by the German painter Christian Schad. Reading from the “recovered” diaries of a transgender woman, Haika, Ms. Jacques shares a quite tragic interpretation of the painting. The painter invited Haika to his apartment, suggesting he might draw her portrait. The scene turned dark, as the painter then raped her there. The painting that was created from the memory was quite unrealistic: breasts and nose were enlarged. Not only that, but the genitalia of the model were covered, as if the painter was hiding something. During the Q&A session that followed the reading, Ms. Jacques revealed that she was trying to address an issue related to masculinity through her story: the fact that many men desire queer people, but they cannot admit it or date them openly because of societal norms. Thus, men are trying to hide such unaccepted practices, just as the painter did on his painting.
Dr Mohkhira Suyarkulova, Associate Professor of Sociology at AUCA, also shared her fictional story A New Life from Monday. The title is quite symbolic as in the story, a scientist discovers a new and unusual genetic transformation that happened to her colleague. This disease is found to change the genetic order of a person completely from time to time. One day a white middle-class man can awake as a transgender black woman. A new movement without identities is created with many people joining. People without identities do not age and see themselves higher than mortal people who are remaining in the “Dark Ages”. According to Dr. Suyarkulova, her story addresses the issue of queer identity. In her idealistic image of the future society, one can hear a voice of hope that transcends the identity-defined rules of the existing society.
As every minority, Queer people need to be heard in the society. The speakers proved that fiction as a genre can be an efficient way of making Queer issues visible. The stories presented by Ms. Jacques and Dr. Suyarkulova offered a thoughtful insight both into the past and the perspective future of the Queer movement.
Ms. Jacques’ collective image – Haika – demonstrated how Queer personalities were perceived in the 20th century and what challenges they faced at that time. The case of Christian Schad and Haika is illustrative as it reveals the issue of violence towards Queer people. Due to the widespread social disapproval and high standards of masculinities, the men who do have sexual desire towards Queer people try to mask these exact desires, and the “best” way of hiding those in a masculine way is to act hostile or even violently. Due to this, Queer people are one of the most vulnerable group in the society which surely must be protected.
Dr. Suyarkulova’s imagined movement pictures a bright perspective for the people of Queer identities. The issue of identity-society relationship tackled by the author is central to the Queer movement. It can be interpreted that Dr. Suyarkulova is recommending a society to adapt to a phenomenon of a shifting identity (which can be perceived as symbol for the Queer personality), not vice versa. Certainly, such vision can be perceived as utopian but a contagious enthusiasm of Dr. Suyarkulova convinces that everything is possible if enormous efforts are put into it.
The lecture was also part of the course “Gender, Ethics and Politics of Violence: Theories and Practice” run as part of the Center for Critical Gender Studies. The students from the class all joined the reading, building off the many opportunities for understanding and analyzing issues that were raised by the speakers. Apart from discussing different types of gender-based violence (GBV) and their origins, this course offers an insight into the mechanisms of preventing it and helping its victims. So, besides giving the theoretical information, the course offers practical approaches to GBV, the learning of which can be used for the construction of an inclusive society which was envisioned by Dr. Suyarkulova.