There is no internet, there are no LGBTQ+ organizations or activists, there is no one saying it’s alright. There are feelings that force their way out and are born in intimacy and sexuality. There are atrocities, suppression, hiding and shame. Still, despite all this there is love and unavoidable connection. We are sharing the stories of five women who lived their lesbian* identity back in the Socialist era. First, let’s see a part from the interview with Györgyi Kövesi.
In 2008 Labrisz Lesbian Association started a lesbian herstory project, making interviews with lesbians above 45 in order to create the basis of an archive and an edited volume. "Secret Years", a documentary based on 11 interviews was shown in the 2009 LIFT Festival, the volume of interviews with a similar title was published in 2011 with 16 lesbian life histories. The five more interviews with women who already lived their adult and lesbian life (accepting themselves and trying to find relationships, communities) back in the Socialist era, are only in the book. We are now sharing the stories of these five women.
Judit Gyárfás: To whom and when did you first talk about your lesbianness?
Györgyi Kövesi: During my university years I talked to my lover at the time about being different and functioning differently. We weren’t searching for our identities, nor were we looking for a group or companions, we were rather evasive about the topic. We considered it a problem. We talked about our emotions, that what we felt was love, but not a heterosexual kind. This was a problem which needed a solution. We did not consider it a solution to join other people or strengthen ourselves; we wanted to solve the problem itself. By waiting, by hoping we would recover, we would get over it. We didn’t really manage to get over it, but the thing passed more or less, as such things do.
Then it did not seem like something we could live with. We distanced ourselves, we took different paths. But we did talk about it and we read a lot. We talked about others, we picked examples from literature, saying that this was what Shakespeare’s poems were about, as well. We identified everyone: Sappho and company, actors, famous people. But we never wanted to regard ourselves as parallels, to address ourselves directly. We lived through it, it was good, we were a bit afraid and ashamed, we were hiding it as well as ourselves.
We both searched for various other things. She was looking for men, too; at the time I had a boyfriend, whom I also married later on. He was a good guy, I loved him; he appeared to be a more natural, more liveable, freer solution. A more natural, more fearless, more relaxed solution for a relationship.
JGY: Did any of your friends or family members know about this university relationship?
GYK: My family didn’t know anything, I wasn’t living at home. I was living in a dorm, I rarely visited home and I didn’t share these stories with my parents. I think the people in the dorm knew. If they didn’t shut their eyes and ears they must have known about it, because we gave visible and audible signs about the two of us being together, even if we had to hide.
We had lots of common space with others. But it was never verbalized! What I know for certain is that one of our roommates moved out of the four-bed room where the two of us lived. She gave a hint that she was bothered by this. Despite the fact that we didn’t have sex in front of them, we had a degree of intimacy that was difficult to hide.
There was only one time we were caught directly. Not in front of people we knew, but some young guys threw things at us and called us some ugly names. It was humiliating and upsetting, we had to run quickly to the nearest pub and wash the experience down with a series of shots. We were trembling, we were so scared that they’d beat us up. We had been kissing in each other’s arms, down at the bank of the River Tisza, this was our big love scene. The guys came from above on bicycles, yelled at us, called us names and were coming down, and that’s when we turned tail. That was all the publicity.
JGY: There were no other reactions like this?
GYK: I had none, not this humiliating. (...)
JGY: Back to your first love: how did you meet her, how did the two of you appear in public, how much did you hide?
GYK: We were hiding a lot. It was a high-school dormitory: we hid in the ironing room, in the staircase at the back, in empty rooms, in the toilet, in small study rooms. We were seeking each other’s company. Sometimes we even took some blankets and used them as barricades and made a hut for ourselves around the bed. It was typical hiding. Hiding, yes, though others were present, only we blanketed ourselves out of sight.
We cuddled at night. She didn’t live in my room, but at nights she came over to my bed and we snuggled together. Then she moved out of the dorm. She was removed to another one and she started dating guys. It was really hard for me at the time. She told me she had a boyfriend. It was a really deep entanglement with sweeping emotions, but it didn’t include physicality beyond kissing. We didn’t start having sex in the classic sense, because we didn’t dare or didn’t know how to. It was a great love experience for both of us.
Later on she got married, had children, and moved to America at the age of twenty-eight; she still lives there. I was searching for her, just to know where she was and to discuss what had really happened between the two of us! This was our first great emotional adventure: what did she feel and why, what were we doing there, what happened to us back then? As an adult I could talk about it, and I really wanted to, felt the need to, but I could never find her. After thirty years she came home and sought me out.
The story ended after thirty years. We met and it was a passionate rediscovery of each other. It was strange. I felt like having a complete emotional relapse, like returning to my seventeen-year-old self, while my brain was functioning on a forty-something-year-old level. I had an inner self which was watching what I was doing: I was watching myself, asking, ‘what’s happening to me?’ I was split in two. And then our love affair was completed: we found each other sexually, and it lasted for a year or two in a way that she was either in America or here at home. Then we could talk it out; put everything straight, the whole story slid into place. What I found really surprising was that at the age of forty-six or forty-eight I could relapse to an emotional level of a seventeen-year-old. I caught sight of her, heard her voice, “Oh my god, she’s here! There was nothing between us for the past thirty years!” It was very strange and very joyful. It is a gift. I thought it was impossible! This is not a gay specialty; it is a heterosexual custom that a teenage love can be fulfilled after thirty years.
Now we are in a friendly correspondence. If she returned to my life, it’s quite possible that the same thing would happen over and over again. I couldn’t possibly live with her, I still don’t think that she could be my partner, but something really strongly moved in me emotionally, and my brain is protesting, like ‘Oh, come on!’ She is very different from those who I usually enjoy being with, she is a completely insufferable woman, but she is the one! That’s it.
If you are interested in the life stories of these 16 women, you can access the volume of interviews "Secret Years" here.
To contact Labrisz Lesbian Association, you can write them here: firstname.lastname@example.org