New research reveals the situation of homosexuals in Lithuania

The researchers from Kaunas Vytautas Magnus University conducted a research “Homosexuals in public and private spaces: socialistic and postsoviet context in Lithuania”. Below are the main thesis and results of this research, which is the first step towards sociological analysis of homosexual people in Lithuania.

Transformation in the sphere of gender and sexuality was caused by the change of historical situation in Lithuania where homosexuality met great attention in society. It is constantly being elaborated, discussed and it is visible in the public space, though it seems as if gays and lesbians stay out of all this. What is more, these phenomena are becoming more and more intensive. Homosexuals are marginalized and censured, nobody wants to know or understand them because they are invisible. They live in such a hostile society that they do not even dare to get into public space and to reveal their sexual identity. Everyday they are between us, though they still stay nameless. How could one describe the “silent“ life in public spaces of such persons?

The stories of life and experience of homosexuals help us to understand them better, as well as to understand the soviet and postsoviet society in Lithuania together with the processes which were on earlier and which are progressing now and it also helps to explain new phenomena. There is little known about earlier processes and life of homosexuals because it was quite impossible for the researchers from abroad to get into the Block of communist countries during the soviet period. The problem of this research concentrates on the divergent communal interests of homosexuals and their exclusiveness caused by forms of discrimination which are hardly defined, recognized and proved. These forms of discrimination are governed by set heteronomativity as well as by negative attitude of society.

The purpose of our research was to reveal the situation of gays and lesbians in our society by comparing and analyzing their experience in soviet and postsoviet Lithuania; by going deeper into their communal life and problems which they face when being in public and private spaces. One of the tasks of this research was to show how the spaces of public/private changed during the changes in Lithuania, what the reasons for these changes were and how this influenced the life of homosexuals. For this reason, the research includes analysis of the relationships of gays and lesbians: the experience of understanding and evaluating themselves and their sexual desires. The research analyzes interpersonal relationships discussing communal questions of gays and lesbians. It also investigates the concept of homosexuality in soviet and postsoviet society in Lithuania revealing homosexuals’ experience and attitude toward family. Great importance is attached to the environment of the job. It is chosen as a public space where homosexuals spend most of their time and where they directly encounter the attitude and position of the society about homosexuality.

The research consists of three parts. Since the theme matches with anthropology of homosexuality, work and postsocialism, the theoretical – methodological part briefly discusses the relation between branches of anthropology mentioned above and the theme of the research. Moreover, the queer theory is examined and it is being critically viewed whether it is useful in Lithuanian context. The second part introduces ethnographic space of the research and the group of persons localized in it is presented. The third part includes and analyzes ethnographic material. This part consists of two chapters where socialist and post socialist experience of the informants is analyzed. In one of the chapters the ideological communist system and its influence on the situation of homosexuals in the public space – at work, their private life and in the family is analysed. Consequences of medicalization and criminalization are revealed which have influenced public and private life of homosexuals. In second chapterit is attempted to view how the new period and changes that have come with it affected the life of homosexuals. The attitude of society toward homosexuality is investigated. The question is how it is presented and how it is understood. The relationships of homosexuals and changes in job environment are analyzed in order to find out what new problems arise and what interpersonal relationships between homosexuals and their attitude toward family are today.

Two qualitative research methods were used in the research: semi structural interviews and participant observation. Periodical observations were made in different gathering places of homosexuals: in organizations, clubs, seminars, thematic evenings, meetings and also in houses of informants. The results show that it is too early to speak about queer as an identity or the existence of cultural phenomenon in Lithuania. This theory is chosen on purpose: statements and features of identity emphasized in it are the aim and alternative of majority of homosexuals in Lithuania to be free in publicity. Unfortunately, an attempt to find cultural phenomena of queer in Lithuania failed. The informants revealed that there is a lack of mutual understanding, solidarity, activity and confidence among gays and lesbians in Lithuania.

Today homosexuals in Lithuania are “invisible” and silent in publicity; and so is the case in their communal and private life. During the soviet period there were attempts to legalize reproductive heterosexuality, for this reason marriage became good cover for homosexuals to disguise their way of life and to protect them from suspicions, otherwise, law providing punishment and “treatment” therapy from homosexuality were threatening. No one could avoid “justice” and “truth” executed by the government as well as none could escape unsuccessful attempts to change – become “normal”, also self imperceptions, shame and obscurity. New information coming after Lithuania gained independence, also free borders and decriminalization of homosexuality encouraged homosexuals to change the attitude toward them themselves and to start a new life. Divorces are the consequence of processes of publicity occurring in society. Because of that, the majority decided to live theirs life and left heterosexual families. Today homosexuals have become more open not only to themselves but also to a family, friends and colleagues. Homosexuality from private space passed on to public although it also became the victim of mass consumption and “popularity”. Such publicity did not serve for the favor of homosexuals; it “taught” people to identify them according to stereotypical characterizations dominated on TV and mass media. Not without reason homosexuals of socialism generations say that “it was better to live when Russians governed” because this topic was a taboo then.

Today homosexuals say that they have already gained peace and self-confidence, although claim that they still live in “frames”. “At least nobody is examining,” is the main change mentioned by Laimis. Although officially homosexuality today is neither illness, nor a crime, somehow, forms of oppression mentioned above were replaced by a new phenomenon of hatred – homophobia. Our society today offers for homosexuals a new way of “tolerance” – “simulated tolerance”. The question is whether tolerance is just what these people really need?

The problems and needs of homosexuals are ignored. What is more, the results of this research show that these persons are not open to our society because they feel unsafe and unwanted. Exclusiveness, stress and fear of being recognized and condemned usually become the cause of psychological or health problems faced almost by all homosexuals. Gal and Kligman say that distinction of space public/private exists as a particular expression in our society and requires thorough historical contextualization. These categories penetrate everywhere and do not exist one without the other. Today we see that “common, anonymous” homosexuality have become public, meanwhile personal and individualized one remains mostly in private space as it was during the soviet period. Furthermore, public homosexuality, commercialized by mass media recoiled on the private one, generating and sharpening homophobia.

The informants do not think they live in a free Lithuania because this “democracy” is not what they were expecting. This “freedom” gives everything (discussions, decisions, evaluations) to ones (heterosexuals), while it isolates others even more turning them into victims of this “growing free” process. Despite the fact that we live the society of changes, speaking about homosexuality in Lithuania, it could be both said that it is present and it is not. Today we could suppose about multidirectional, polysemous and also paradoxical changes in life of homosexuals in postsoviet Lithuania which have little in common with publicity or emancipation of homosexuals implied by queer and which was supposed to be expected. Essential and positive changes in the life of homosexuals in independent Lithuania are not significant. Discourses condemning homosexuals forces them to close one selves up and that is why processes going on in the public and private space show us stagnation and absence of action. This is the reason why these people choose private homosexuality politically determined by the processes occurring in publicity.