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"One person is never just one identity; it’s not necessarily a schizophrenic situation". An interview with Tea Hvala from Prepih Blog (Slovenia)

Grassroots media in Europe
Queer feminism
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46° 3' 5.1336" N, 14° 30' 21.4776" E

Tea is a super creative activist from Ljubljana, Slovenia. She’s been involved in media projects for over a decade now — from zines and community radio, satirical newspapers and festivals, to blogs and freelance writing (not to mention her collaborative feminist sci-fi writing workshops.

Red caught up with her at the Civil Media Conference to hear about her influences, how feminist generations can get caught up in ‘queer’, and how writing can be a form of activism – despite what the anarchist boys might think.

Can you start by introducing yourself?

Tea Hvala from Ljubljana, Slovenia. I’m 29 and finishing my Masters studies on Gender. I work in a bookstore, I’m also trying to finish my translation of Michelle Tea’s Valencia to Slovene. A silly daydreamer. Definitely feminist. Queer in the sense of a personal self-identification— how I experience my sexuality, my gender, my body. Not politically, because I don’t really know what it means to be queer politically.

You were involved in a number of zine and comic publications like The Curved, Stripburger, Pssst..., Slastičarna. Why did you first get involved in making zines?

Despair. Feeling very isolated as a teenager in a rural, Catholic, conservative environment and having no real outlet to express myself. When I found out about zines in the mid 90s it was a revelation. Also, because they were so obscure; they felt like a secret place I could nourish. Zines provided a space where it was possible to exchange opinions and (trans)form myself through that. They were like some sort of “public diaries” – very personal, sometimes very narrow-minded, but directed outwards, towards other zine-makers and a huge international community of interesting teenagers: anarchists, hardcore-punks, feminists, queers,... My world grew enormously and I thought that was very exciting! That was until 2000. I published some zines after 2000, but they were more fiction orientated with really small copy-runs, up to 60 copies at most, basically made for my friends. They were always giving me free records and mix tapes and I wanted to have something to give back... One time, I made a dozen copies and only sent them to the 15 or so people who were mentioned in that zine.

Tell us more about your blog…

It’s called Prepih, in English it would be “draught”, you know, a strong wind that slams doors and windows and gives you a cold. If you spell it “draft”, then it can also mean pieces of writing that are not completely finished. I think that word describes what I do pretty well since I’m not the master of the narrative nor do I pretend I can control it. I’d say it controls me. Of course, when a piece of writing does feel “under control” or finished, I have a great sense of accomplishment, especially since writing is the only medium I can really use to express myself. I feel especially good if I manage to reach other people with it, and inspire them, maybe even start collaborating. I like this openness. Also, to be draughty is to stand on the crossroad of so many influences and suggestions, to be able to take it all in, and do something with it.

Why did you choose a blog to self-publish?

In the beginning I really just wanted to have an online chronological archive of the stuff I did. For very pragmatic reasons, because every time you apply for some funding, or submit an article to a magazine, you have to send your CV and bibliography too, and it always took me weeks to find those old, well, aging articles. And I liked the randomness of blogs, the possibility of reaching people I’d never reach through a zine, because zines are more or less limited to a certain community or scene; not too draughty in that sense.

Is the interactive aspect of your blog important to you?

After using it for, say, half a year I realized that this is a public medium. I don’t need a public archive! If you want it public it has to have something else to offer so I started publishing columns, my collages, photos, short stories, also announcements for events I was part of, like workshops, discussions, new books, festivals, things like that. I obviously have commenting enabled on the blog, but the thing is – I don’t get a lot of comments. Must be because I am not really keen on leaving comments on other people’s sites. I can’t write what I think in two sentences so usually I just write an email, you know? Three, four paragraphs. The comments… It’s all too hasty for me somehow. The same with Twitter and the rest. They’re just too short. I can’t think that way.

Do you have a Facebook or a Myspace?

No, no! But it looks like I’ll have to do it. I tried both and I really didn’t like them. With facebook I couldn’t even cancel my account at the time; that really pissed me off. But now it’s come to the point where a lot of activist news is only published there – let’s say, from my region, you know? So I feel like I’m being left out of the most interesting info and sometimes the most urgent appeals as well. For example, the Pride parade in Belgrade was cancelled this year in the last minute because the police said they couldn’t – and wouldn’t – guarantee safety for the protesters. The organisers needed support; they needed people to put pressure on Serbian Embassies and Government representatives. And I found out about it three days later, really late, simply because I wasn’t using facebook, and also not going out much at the time.

It’s an important point: people taking the route of so-called convenience. But what didn’t you like about facebook or myspace in the first place?

Most of all I was disturbed with how ugly they look! I know this is stupid, that you can change the layouts on myspace and all that, but still… Also, they’re both corporate projects by now and you have to stare at commercials all the time as you use them. It’s not my ideal medium. Also, I don’t think either of them is really suited for writing, I think blogs are better for publishing longer texts.

Where did you learn the skills to be a good writer?

I mean, assuming that I am a good writer [laughs]. I think the zine community was my best writing school. It was never forcing me to fit a certain genre or style of writing and you had almost guaranteed feedback. Even though we were all teenagers with very low expectations in terms of writing skills, they would tell you their opinion. And if what you said sucked, they’d tell you about it for sure – or simply ignore you! It was kind of a peer review system, so it was never intimidating and it let you try again, with pleasure, without inhibitions. After I started studying literature, it changed completely. I felt like I got brainwashed by all these theories on what’s good writing or bad writing. You’re brain is filled with it, you interiorize the rules. So it takes someone like Kathy Acker to go and say fuck that: first person narrative, for example, or non-casual narration is as legitimate as any other style.

Are there any other examples of feminist media which have inspired you?

I liked Clit Rocket from Rome, I liked Shagstamp by Jane Graham, Twinkle Star from Antwerp, even Flashpoint from the U.S., despite Shannon’s tendency to see too much of a conspiracy theory in everything. It was good writing and it was feminist, political writing. I liked comics, too, still do! Perhaps even more important was the so-called sex-positive American queer theory, biographies, short stories; like Kate Bornstein, Pat Califia, Susie Bright, and all these collections like Best Gay Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica, too. I was reading like crazy because this was the one place where my confused sense of identity, of not fitting physically, and mentally, into the “normal” gender world could find a place. That was really what helped me accept who I am. I like what they would call the third-wave perspective: feminism that speaks about subjectivities rather than one identity. That one person is never just one identity, that you’re multiple and that that is OK. That it’s not necessarily a schizophrenic situation, all these things…that you are allowed to change.

So would you identify, or be in sympathy with, the so-called third wave?

I like the materialist, Marxist inspired, but severely re-visioned left-wing feminisms. Materialist in the sense that I do not think you can talk about identity politics, which have been the theme for so many years, without social awareness, awareness about the different economic and political conditions in which people live. This intersection of approaches is definitely more appealing.

Are there any feminist publications made by older women, or previous generations, which have inspired you?

Well, I don’t know so many. Maybe this Croatian magazine, Kruh i Ruže [Bread and Roses]. It’s made by the generation of feminists from the 80s. In former Yugoslavia, they were known as the “new feminists” – opposed to state socialist feminists who were fairly dogmatic Marxists, involved in official politics, saying that “the women’s question” has already been solved with the “proletarian revolution”. Even though the system changed and we are now the periphery of neo-liberalism, they keep the class-consciousness very strong and visible in their work. Plus they have shown interest in what’s going on with contemporary feminists, what we’re doing. And they try to theorize about it from their own perspective, which is obviously different. I have the feeling that they sometimes misunderstand certain things, but it doesn’t matter, at least they want to communicate!

Can you give an example of this misunderstanding?

For example, when they made the special issue about new festivals, including ours, Rdeče zore [Red Dawns], I felt like one writer misunderstood our use of the word ‘queer’ – even though, I think, we tried, but obviously failed, to define it. We didn’t speak about fluid identities as much as we stipulated the possibility of making alliances between people with different identities, different affiliations, not necessarily based on gender. So it was more about looking for a base for collective action despite our differences, you know. They understood us as yet another festival that fell for the hipness of ‘queer’. I felt it was a bit patronizing, that the writer didn’t really look at what we were actually about.

Is ‘queer’ considered a Western import?

Yeh, definitely. It starts with the term itself, because it’s not translatable in all its meanings. It’s impossible. In Belgrade they tried with ‘kvar’, which is phonetically close, but it doesn’t have the gay, lesbian ring, you know, it just means a ‘freak’ or something gone wrong. But in Slovenia nobody found a good equivalent yet, so it’s not translated, it’s just ‘queer’ even though the term is used more and more often and people are engaging with it, trying to think of good use in our context.

In what ways do your media projects intersect with activism or broader political engagements?

Well, if you would ask me three years ago, I’d say writing is not a form of activist engagement. But I changed my mind in the mean time. Luckily! I think you can achieve a lot with writing, with fiction, too. It’s a tool that isn’t recognized as an activist tactic if we accept the definition of activist tools in the more traditional sense, as individual or group-based activities carried out in public, physical space. Writing rarely has immediate effects even if it’s related to your reality. A lot of stuff on my blog is written in response to the bullshit that is happening every day. It is a form of activism, but it’s one that is more reflective.

When you said you didn’t think writing was activism, my mind was like “What? Why?!”…That’s really counter-intuitive to me...

Seriously, if you are moving in this anarchist, quite male circles, like I was – that’s not activism. Activism is squatting and demonstrating and perhaps doing some graffiti – and that’s it. It’s limited, was limiting. Even though I had the whole zine experience behind me I still wouldn’t treat it as seriously.

And how would you define feminism?

I make strategic definitions, depending on the context. I usually put it in a collective setting: as the basic recognition of solidarity between queers in general, or any minority – not just women. That goes together with feminism for me. Which is not a very popular idea in Slovenia right now: feminism is quite stigmatized, just like forms of collective struggle are unpopular, people immediately relate them to socialist times, assuming they have to be the same as they were. For me, feminism is basically about allowing yourself to take the space and words you need to describe what you think and how you feel. To fight for the basic right to exist. And not to let louder people, or people who have more power, take that away from you.

Tea Hvala
Affiliated organisation: 
Rdece Zore,
Red Chidgey
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