Before the start of the meta-queerfest we had a talk with the participants of MAKEOUT project about how to fill the informational vacuum of Belarus and fight discrimination.
Field of activity: filling informational vacuum of Belarus on the issues of gender, sexuality and corporeality; running the online magazine Makeout and organizing offline events to look into discrimination-related problems in the modern Belarusian society.
Foundation date: 2014.
Structure: 12 people in total. There’s no hierarchy as such; certain participants are involved only in certain projects. Every initiative group works only on the issues delegated to them which are usually discussed at planning meetings; there’s no appointed chairperson – every time the meeting is led by a new speaker.
Facts: More than 50 lectures and debates have been held since the project was launched a year ago. Besides, its authors hold cinema sessions, keep a thematic library and once a week organize the awareness raising group on LGBT community where people share their experiences in private groups in order to receive the support they need.
We are talking to: Vika Biran, 25. Vika is one of the authors of MAKEOUT initiative; now she is involved in the management of the project. Studied at the Philological Department of Belarusian State University but didn’t graduate. 5 years ago Vika came to Belarus Free Theater where she works now.Mila Navakouskaya, 24. Mila is a member of MAKEOUT staff responsible for editorial work and social networks. She graduated from the Department of International Relations (major: orientalism) of Belarusian State University.
Histories of Vika and Mila
Vika: On January 7, 2014 together with Nasta Mantsevich and Nick Antipov we launched MAKEOUT website. We had known each other very well and felt that there was a lack of information on gender and sexuality. Each of us had already participated in similar projects but at some point we realized that there was an empty space where we decided to work. We were guided mainly by our own interest, our needs, and in the very beginning our work focused only on ourselves.
The project started to develop quite rapidly, mostly thanks to those who started joining us. Thus, Mila appeared in our team.Mila: I was always interested in feminism and research on gender; that was my internal need. Both I and Vika come from Pinsk, we’ve known each other as we went to the same school; however, we had almost no contact. And one day she wrote to me and asked whether I wanted to take part in a new project. I agreed as it interested me to a great extent.
The stance of MAKEOUT project
Mila: It seems to me that now we can position ourselves as pro-feminist and anti-discrimination project. Creating a safe place to discuss various issues is of utmost importance for us, and the website is the first attempt of the kind. The other task is to make it possible for LGBT-, queer- and bisexual people to be identifiable to each other and to the society on the whole.
Vika: It’s obvious that gender-, feminism- and sexuality-related issues enter all spheres of our life so we think it’s important to do exhaustive research on these questions. Sometimes it happens that people working with one discriminated group forget that there are others – a lot of organizations that protect the rights of LGBT community; but at the same time they are racists and are not going to change this.
Mila: We also try to pay enough attention to the inner state of the members of our team: we organize meetings where everyone tells about how they feel, discuss the degree of their involvement in the work of the project and talk about the resources of a human being. We try to support each other as there’s a lot of difficulties in what we do: exhaustion, deadlines, stress. It’s necessary to understand that we all have one objective so that we take decisions together and everyone can voice their opinion.
Makeout online magazine
Vika: In my opinion, one of the most important columns of the site is Coming out http://makeout.by/out/. There one can read stories of people who identify themselves either with LGBT or queer community, or those who are just ready to share their opinion on this. What is important is that people who work on this project become guests of the show so that there are relations on equal basis.
Mila: We were just saying: “Me too, I open myself up too, look – I’m vulnerable.”
Vika: Some write us e-mails, others just approach us, and there’re those who just join the project and want to take part in it. Nasta Mancevich who leads this column once said that her joining the project was worth something because even one voice could be heard.
The column Retro stands out as well: it tells the history of LGBT movement in Belarus which started long ago. The first names associated with it are Edvard Tarlecki, Katsyaryna Pytleva and Syarhei Androsenka.
Mila: It’s essential for us to reflex on this experience, assimilate it and show that we are not the first who work on these issues.
The importance of self-identification
Vika: The words we use play an important role. And if you’ve failed at some point to identify your feminist stance and say it aloud, it automatically comes to mean something else. I have a friend who always offers me to lean against his hand when I’m getting off a bus. In the beginning I felt ashamed to say: “Hey, buddy, don’t do that. I’m all right, I stand firmly on the ground”. But later I did say this. And he started to tell me about his childhood, his upbringing; he said that he had to do it, otherwise my womb would fell out of my body. Thus, one should determine one’s viewpoint on all these issues.
Mila: I’m not an activist as such as I’ve always been interested just in research on gender. I understood that I could well go to the academy and study these issues there but objectification is not for me at all. Now I’m an object of study and targeted public at the same time. I’m inside and outside – and that’s extremely valuable.We work to raise awareness in ourselves and in other people. We seem to ask questions constantly to ourselves and to those with whom we interact. Who we are, how do we identify ourselves, how do we feel while doing so? For instance, if I’m a woman, how do I understand it? And how can I play a role of a woman in our society? Or how can I be a bisexual woman in this context? And this interaction and contact with the audience is probably the most important thing.
Queer-Fest and the Future
Andrei Karpeka, one of the moderators of our cinema-club, offered us the idea to organize meta-queerfest http://metafest.by/. He is very good at visual art and I know that he has been thinking over the idea of the fest for a long time. So we’ve decided to get down to business.
Mila: Actually, it was a great challenge as we hadn’t organized festivals before. Where to begin and what to do? It took us two weeks only to think up the name for the event. There were a lot of variants but as a result we agreed on meta: it was something comprehensive and cosmic. At the same time it is consonant with the Belarusian word meta which means “an aim”. In the song The Stupid, The Proud by the band IAMX there’s a line “Queer is the universe”. I advised the team to listen to the song, and they livened up, especially our designer: he liked this space-related stuff. So we found the decoration style for our website.
The next step was to find films with the help of the friends from foreign countries. We started in February, got more than 900 films and held 10 special cinema sessions in our club in order to select the most interesting ones. As a result, we had a list which we broke into three blocks, each of them focusing on a different issue.
Vika: Later we started to organize other events and participated in other activities. We developed topics that we had long wanted to speak about. My topic, in particular, is LGBT community in Belarus. Why different people identify themselves with this group, what is this community and how many people are needed for such a group to appear?
After the fest we are going to slow down a bit, analyze what we have already done and we’ll think in which direction we want to move further.
Mila: Even tempo of work is important for us. This may not be very amazing but it’s long-term and sustainable; otherwise all we do becomes a mad race. We will further develop our website, work on systematical release of materials and think up new projects.
Vika: We try not to stew in our own juice; we strive to expand our audience. We like working with the regions: Theme VIDOS project made by the girls from Homel is a worthwhile one. They made a parody on a TV series Real Guys but their project was about lesbian hangouts which turned out to be very funny. Recently we’ve released the material about the so-called “Balcony” in Vitebsk.Unfortunately, it already doesn’t exist, but there are our friends among the activists who launched this project. In February we went to Brest region within the theater Kryly Halopa with our touring cinema club. And that was incredible: we were sitting all together (there were about 40 of us) and we had what to talk about. We want to develop in this direction as there is life in the regions which sometimes can be more amazing than that of Minsk.
Interview was initially published in September of 2015
Text by Kapusta
Photo by CaptainWhite
Translation by Alexandra