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An Interview with Judith (from Austria) at the Red Dawns festival, Ljubljana

LGBT and queer issues
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Please introduce yourself....

J: I’m Judith and I am 21 years old. At the moment I live in Vienna, Austria. I’m doing feminist things for some years. The last big thing I organised was the queer-feminist days in Vienna. I think what is important to me at the moment is that my activism is feminist, but it is not this ‘we are women and we are proud to be women and we are all the same’ and stuff like that. At the moment some anti-racist stuff is important for me and feminism with queer politics also.

Can you say a bit more about the queer feminist days in Vienna, what that was like and what your role in organising it was?

J: It happened in September 2008, and at this time I was in Vienna for a year. I had been in Vienna before for the Ladyfests there. For me these Ladyfests have been really really important. This was also a reason why I wanted to organise something. Until the end of the festival it was not clear what the big difference between queer feminist days and Ladyfest was. There were a lot of workshops, concerts and parties. Many many people from many different places, especially Germany and countries around Austria, came together.

Was there a need to assert a different identity to Ladyfest?

J: I think some people were like ‘oh I already know the Ladyfest thing I want to do something else’, but I wasn’t like that because I still love Ladyfest and what I think Ladyfest can be. Ladyfests in Vienna have always been very political, never just party. What I like about Ladyfests is the combination of workshops, discussions, actions, relaxing and party. It brings people together during some days, and that makes it really intense...

For queer feminist days we came together to find out what everyone wanted to do and in the end, it happened that there were not so many people interested in organizing concerts. A really small group did a lot of work to make some great big parties possible. Maybe this is a difference to many Ladyfests.

What sort of workshops were there?

J: We wrote out a call for action and tried to send it out as much as we can, in as much parts of the world we can. In the end nearly everything that people wrote us became a workshop. You can look at the homepage ( to see the workshops that took place there.

Did think it was important to document the festival?

J: Yes we have a lot of documentation on our website. We also tried to define the spaces, particularly the party spaces so that people can’t come there and think that it is just any party. I think there are so many bad things going on at parties all the time, like men taking up too much space, stuff like that and yeah, the parties were open for everyone.

What was the demographic of the type of people who came to the event, age, ethnic background.....

J: Generally I think the festival was quite dominated by white students from german-speaking countries. But this is not surprising for me. We also tried to reach people with more marginalised positions in society, but that's not so easy. Especially because there is no broader anti-racist scene or network in Vienna and feminist groups don't work together so much in my experience.

A thing that really surprised me, were the kind of people who came to the sex party. At one hand because, there were so many – I'd say too many people. At the other hand, because many young women who are not students and normally going to the more commercial and less political parties, came there. The sex party was the only event at a really commercial space we had to pay for. We first thought about taking a self-organised space. But it was not so easy und would have meant a lot of decorating and so on, so we choose this commercial swinger club.

Was the sex party for all genders?

J: No. We had a big discussion about how to call it in the end – I was against this but I was on holiday when the decision was made – it was called something like “female queers and transgenders”.

What do you think the role of sexuality is to queer feminism in a political sense?

J: Difficult. I think this is a really difficult topic. Sometimes I have the feeling that in the things that people speak about, it has a really big role quite often. I've met quite a lot of queer-feminist people who are really into this sex-positive thing and try to think about porn and Sado-masochism and sex parties. I think this is good, and it is good to have a space for that, it can break up pictures of sexuality. But still also I know that people – and I also have situations myself – when I don’t want to hear this stuff all the time and I think discussions about these things can be really triggering. If you think about how many women have experiences with sexual violence it’s strange sometimes because it is a feminist space but there is not really sensitivity for that. I can remember some of the first plenaries from queer feminist days where we were just bringing up ideas, there was this sex party, all the time there were new people at the plenary who asked what a sex party is and somebody would explain it and it would always be like, ‘oh it’s funny, it’s great and there was nothing, not this small moment – which was really important – where they said, ‘but yes, this is also difficult. It’s not good because it’s a sex party. We have to think about it, we have to create a safe space as much as possible.’ It was just like: ‘it’s sex, it’s fine, it’s fun.’ I think that this is not how sexuality is for all people who are into feminism, this is the moment that is really a problem for me.

In the end we also had a lot of discussions about this and the sex party organisation team, we had fliers and posters at the sex party in the toilet, we tried to create a space which is as safe as possible, where people can live their sexuality based on consent. There was also a workshop on sexualised violence and how to support people. This was important for us to have both of these things. But the role of sexuality....I think it is really important.

To go on to Red Dawns. This is your second time attending the festival. Tell me about how you heard about it last year and what motivated you to come.

J: I think I heard about it on an email list out of the Ladyfest context in Vienna, also from a friend from Corinthia which is next to Slovenia. I think it was quite spontaneous that we decide to come here.

Last year there had been a lot of workshops on different topics – I can’t remember the names – but there had been some people from Turkey for example, the situation of the women’s movement and also the LGBT movement, or women and lesbian movement in Turkey and someone from Serbia. There have been a lot of good, great performances and also this really arty stuff I don’t understand. I think this is something special to the festival here, I think there is a big arts scene in Ljubljana, feminist arts scene, exhibitions and stuff like that.

What particularly inspired you at Red Dawns? Was it the format, the workshops...did it affect/ shape your queer feminist positioning (if at all)?

J: I think so but maybe not so direct that I know it clearly. Um, but the workshops are inspiring and bring people together. I think what really has a lot of impact on my life is the exchange with people from other cities.

Here the festival is in Metelkova, this space which is very open and there are many different people here. There is also many drunk men coming round here and coming into the party, but there are also many young people hanging around here but also in the street drinking their beer. I think it’s easier for people who are normally not in this feminist space, this queer feminist scene, to come to this place than a small bar which is really isolated.

Were you hoping for a similar experience this time around?

J: When I read the programme for this year there were some things maybe I didn’t understand.

I have to say I was sure that I wanted to come here before I took a look at the programme – a long time before because I just wanted to have a good time, yeah – and when I took a look at the programme I was surprised that it was so over loaded with stuff that had to do with sex because of this porn or post-porn screenings, or post-porn political lecture, porn and taboo lecture and many performances about sexuality and sexual and gender norms.

I remember something else about the last festival. There had been a workshop about actions and this was something that was really important for me and also had an impact on my later thoughts on how to do activism. The idea was that if you have a sign with something written on it like “no war” everyone knows how to deal with it – people have a long time learn to deal with ‘I am against this and you need to be against this too’ or something like that. The workshop wanted to create place for another strategy which forces people to think about stuff and to create some insecurity in their minds, something is not like it has to be and to interrupt the daily life of people.

In the end we did an action. In the centre of Ljubljana there is this space where there are three really small bridges over this river, it’s the total centre of the city. It was Sunday, sunny, many people were tourists, but also local people going around enjoying the sun and we went there, most of us in couples, lesbian or queer couples. It was kind of like a kiss in but not so much kissing because we were just walking around in couples and we played like we didn’t know each other. We just walking around this place and confused the people with the visibility of so many lesbian/queer couples. And I think it really worked great.

I was walking around with someone, we were linked and looking at each other like we would be really in love, really big smile and we spoke about our future and about our dreams and about our kids. It was so much fun. Then we did it with another friend of mine, we are three people sitting on a bridge and we are sitting next to each other and touching each other, not really sexualised erotic, but you are not really allowed to do if you are not a couple, holding your arm on the shoulder and the people are looking and asking: why are they so close? They are three, blah blah blah, is it a man or a woman, blah blah blah.

We were going to this place where some people sitting, and there were two other women there from the festival and we three went there and sat next to each other. Then the two women, with the other friend of mine went away holding hands with three people again and they have never spoken to each other. The people who saw it were really confused. Then we just went away, it was a lot of fun.

Is there anything else that you want to say?

J: We are sitting here in the info shop and I think this is also an interesting point, how different scenes and movements are connected, and it’s something I like here in Ljubljana, it seems like, at least in the festival, that we also use the info shop which is an anarchist info shop. I know there are situations where there is a big gap between the hetero-sexual dominated autonomous left radical scene and the feminist lesbian queer scene, and I like this connection. I myself am around in more than one of these scenes. I also think that you can use infrastructure, we can help each other by working together sometimes.

Thank you for the interview!

Debi Withers and Elke Zobl
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