Queer Temporality in Poland

Trigger warnings: racial violence, death camps/Holocaust, queer violence

Queer time and space. This topic has emerged into gender studies discussions with the help of scholars like Jack Halberstam, Jose Munoz, Michael Foucault, Lee Edelman. Late in the 20th century, the AIDS epidemic in the US created a discourse around queer temporality, looking at non-normative ways of spending time. If queer people’s lives are under attack (which they were/are) then what does it mean to live in the present? A large percentage of normative lifestyles is dictated in/with the promise of a futurity. And these lifestyles are gendered and racially described. Lee Edelman writes about the social construction of the Child. The being that needs to be protected, reproduced, and in the constant framework of society. Well, what does this look like in our everyday lives? It is the compulsory attitudes we might have towards getting married and having children. It is a message we are all fed, but one thing is abundantly clear- this dream does not involve brown boys like me. This Child is white, able, cisgendered and born into a middle class family.

If you know the history of forced sterilization of Black/Latinx women, the ever present oppression against people with disabilities, and the (again) forced surgeries of intersex babies to manipulate their bodies to be later woven into a gendered binary, these things can tell you that this Child does have a face. Certainly, it is not the face of the aforementioned. And while many queer people elect/can’t have children, we are still affected by normative ideas of time that are expected for our lifespans (i.e. milestones that must be completed to live a “full” life). Today, I will discuss time/space as it applies to my experience abroad and in the cities I have visited. To provide a final piece of context, Halberstam explains that cities are places that are constructed with racial and gendered undertones. Nothing made is made without intention.

During our time in Poland we visited two death camps: one named Auschwitz and the other Birkenau. These were used in WWII specifically to exterminate Jewish people (predominantly), but also the Roma, Sinti, Jehova’s Witnesses, German Homosexuals, Sex Workers, Enemies in War, and many other groups of people who diverged from the Nazi’s planning of the Nazi Aryan race. Visiting these two sites was an emotionally exhausting experience as we couldn’t even begin to understand the trauma endured by the people in the camps. Everything from the transportation to the camps, the poor sanitation, gruesome working conditions, terminal punishments, and gas chambers was meant to kill. I’m sorry this is so dark. I just keep thinking about the prevalence of Holocaust-deniers in Europe and how the denial of this history is a completely new level of violence enacted on those affected. Truly, to deny pain, trauma, and memory is violent.

And on the topic of Jewish communities, Krakow, Poland also houses a stunning Jewish quarter right outside the city center. Here many of the synagogues from before WWII still stand as they were used by the Nazis as storage facilities. Specifically, they were used to hold ammunition and weaponry utilized during the war. It is hard to find places in Europe that were not largely impacted by the war, but Krakow is actually one of the only cities that was not destroyed by the Germans. As my instructor explained, “the Nazis liked the city, but they had an issue with the people inside.”

In our first week in Poland, we visited a former Communist city called Nova Huta. Just from looking at it, you would not know that it held such social/political importance. But, this is the point I am trying to make, things are created always with a purpose. Nova Huta has wide streets that once hosted mass gatherings and  demonstrations under the Communist regime. It maintains its buildings surrounding parks or public spaces that allow people to not only watch their children from their apartments, but encourage people to watch each other. Thin walls in each apartment complex to permit neighbors to listen to each other’s conversations. Now, I am not meaning to make it sound like Communism is this horrible monster. It does have it’s strengths. But I also believe in holding entities accountable when they perform ills regardless of who or what those entities are.

Lastly, I will comment on my own experience as a queer presenting individual. This is what a city means to me. Berlin was extremely urbanized, with a similar blueprint to New York City. Tall buildings, a subway, and many people flowing through its roots and branches. With so much space, there are pockets in which queer bodies can move in, exist, and hide. But, these pockets are also conflicting, because in the same space, violence can prevail. It is possible to simultaneously experience freedom and fear in the same instant. Krakow presented a different situation. The city is designed around one city center with the influx of tourists filling the streets daily. But even among a sea of people, I could not avert the gaze projecting on my brown skin, my false eyelashes and pink eyeshadow. I want be clear that I am not proposing that these countries are homophobic or racist. Nor am I speaking for every brown, queer person that has ever travelled to Germany or Poland. But I will discuss the experiences I encounter while embodying my identities. And I will not sugarcoat my stories to readers as they were lived by me in their fullness.