The Labyrinth: Torments of the lesbian anthropological self


Diana Manesi




I began writing the labyrinth after two years of intensive fieldwork with queer and lesbian feminist collectives in Athens, Greece. I left with five notebooks, twenty—five life history interviews, two autobiographical diaries and a collection of lesbian, feminist, gay, queer and trans magazines, journals and articles. This book is a journey to crafting a feminine authorial voice, a coming—out story, a troubled encounter with multiple others that moulded my anthropological self in profound ways, a semi—fictional poetic ethnography in—becoming that lacks characters, plot and telos.



In certain places, the text converses with, responds to, appropriates certain lines and ideas found in the work of Helene Cixous, Virginia Woolf, Nathanaël, James Joyce, Kathy Acker, Nicole Brossard, Luce Irigaray, Christina Perri Rossi, Caroline Bergvall, Clarice Lispector (amongst others). Along with the ethnographic material amendments on other texts are cited in italics.

This work is dedicated to the queer and lesbian women I met and shared moments with in the labyrinth.


Introduction: Writing the labyrinth

This: That it might be possible (for me) to write the book of a kind of metamorphoses. Think nothing of it. The labyrinth has carried me, carried me out, with little regard for the consequences. Now that this effort has exhausted itself, now that academic language has spoken to me to the point of exhaustion, now I prefer the labyrinth’s orange lights to the quotidian. I prefer its passageway letters to writing. Through displaced letters I tremor against “the passageway, the entrance, the exit, the dwelling place of another in me—the other that I am and am not, that I don’t know how to be, the gap between us, the other that gives me the desire to know” (Sellers, 1995: 42), the other of academic language that opens up to possessing me by dispossessing me of myself.

In this book, if I can call it so, there are no research participants in the strict sense of the term but rather instants of being or better yet presences that account for the fragmentary character of being, a feminine perpetual displacement in relation to the self and to the other. I am speaking here of writing femininity and lesbian ethnography as a labor of love harbored in the space between self and other, as a moment of touch between them, as a form of queer political lyricism that can have a disruptive effect on the textual and discursive arrangements of academic language. My indifference to chronology, causality, academic curricula and deadlines is linked to a predilection with moments. This book is just a moment of writing. To arrive to this moment, it is necessary for my previous writings to have left me. The other arrives shortly. Days, weeks in the labyrinth. Me: You ride off my name; you pull my body under the weight of you. You become my queer feminist endeavor to carnally and politically construct an immanent feminine subject in—becoming through lacking desires, feminist discourses and utopian cruising.

There were no words to paint the labyrinth’s blissful shores and milky lights that flashed in front of my eyes. To make sense of what felt as an entangled spiral of material, emotional and discursive fields, I indulged into poetry and prose written by lesbians and women of colour such as Eileen Myles, Elisabeth Bishop, Cristina Perri Rosi (state of exile), Emily Dickinson and Tatianna de la tierra (For the hard ones: A lesbian phenomenology). I had the sudden urge to discover, read and collect books by women writers who experiment with the poetic form, from surrealism and dada to abstract expressionism. Among the women who grasped my attention were the surrealist poets, Joyce Mansour and Mary Lowe, the Dada proto—punk poet and artist, Elsa von Freytag—Loringhoven and abstract expressionist poets, who worked in New York at the mid—20th century, Barbara Guest, Bernadette Mayer, Alice Notley and Eileen Myles. All these women enlarged the scope of possibilities for feminist imagination, political action and the poetic form and impacted deeply on the crafting of my authorial feminine “I”.

In the genre of anthropology, an important inspiration was Ruth Behar’s work Vulnerable observer where she directly challenges representation in ethnographic writing and calls for personalised narratives that talk about emotion and vulnerability, for a kind of writing that breaks your heart by locating the trail of longings, desires, and unfulfilled expectations that we, as anthropologists, leave behind in those upon whom we descend (Behar, 1996: 46). Another influence was the work of minority writers like those included in the anthology This Bridge Called My Back (1981) edited by the Chicana writers Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga. I immersed into the Borderlands (1987) of Gloria Anzaldúa where she introduces the act of “border—crossing” as a cultural, embodied and emotional crossing that leads to the emergence of a new Chicana consciousness. The fact that Gloria experiments with different genres of writing—poetry, prose, personal narrative, feminist theory–‐and writes bilingually (in Chicana and English) was mesmerizing. Through this mixture of genres and textual forms she creates a web of associations across time and space that bring to the fore the anger, isolation and transformative potential of occupying the borders of a culture.

Black feminist thinkers and poets such as bell hooks, Toni Morrison, Audrey Lorde, June Jordan, Sonia Sanchez, Claudia Rankine (Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, An American Citizen) as well as the collection Black Feminist Anthropology edited by Irma McClaurin were also a great inspiration in my quest for non—conventional forms of writing and my struggle with the formulation of an authorial feminine “I”. As suggested by bell hooks (1989) all these works speak to the importance of telling the stories of the “black self” as a gesture of talking back, of moving from silence into speech, which for the oppressed, the colonized, the exploited, and those who stand and struggle side by side, consists a gesture of defiance that heals, that makes new life and new growth possible (hooks, 1989: 9). Grada Kilomba in her performative video installation The Desire project1 pointedly says: “….I am embedded in a history of imposed silences, tortured voices, disrupted languages, forced idioms and interrupted speeches. And I am surrounded by white spaces I can hardly enter or stay. So why do I write? I write almost as an obligation to find myself. While I write, I am not the “Other” but the self, not the object but the subject. I become the describer, not the described. I become the author and the authority on my own history…” (Kilomba, 2015). This range of native Black and Chicana feminist thinkers, poets and anthropologists who reflected on their homes, their cultures and communities denote a shift towards viewing identification instead of difference as the key defining image of feminist anthropological theory and practice (Behar, 1996: 51).

In a similar vein, the first—person narratives and autobiographical accounts of lesbian and trans activists consist texts that “talk back” to the dominant heteronormative culture in a daring, angry and assertive manner like Leslie Feinberg’s book Stone Butch Blues. Restricted Country (1987) by Joan Nestle and her edited collection Persistent desires: A Butch—Femme Reader (1992), which includes poems, first—person narratives, pictures and stories, were also an important inspiration. Her essays shed light on the lives of the lesbian community in the US in the 1970s and 1980s and through autobiography reflects on gender roles and sexual practices, deconstructing various heterosexist assumptions about female masculinity and lesbian femininity. Many of the lesbians I met in the labyrinth mention Joan as source of reflection in their journey to self awareness. In particular, Aliki suggested that I read Nestle’s essay The Gift of Taking (1987: 127—134) where she re—writes the female body from a lesbian femme positioning, reclaiming pleasure and glorifying penetration as the gift of taking, receiving, containing physical and emotional intensity and finding oneself through the other. Joan’s work guided me through the load of ethnographic material I had collected while also offering a smooth refuge to the emotional turbulences of the labyrinth.

In the field of anthropology, the ethnographer’s sexual self does not appear in ethnographies until the mid—1980s (except in the form of personal diary)2, which was marked by the so—called reflexive turn in anthropological thinking and followed by a renewed attention to sexuality and the study of the LGBT community in the midst of the AIDS epidemic. In 1995, the volume Taboo: Sex, Identity and Erotic Subjectivity in Anthropological Fieldwork (1995) edited by Don Kulick and Margaret Willson makes desire and sexuality central to the anthropologist’s story—telling, resisting the “I” of the ethnographer as a voyeuristic eye, as a desexualized—neutral “I.” Yet again, the worst sin one can commit in anthropology is to be “too personal”, the writing of personal stories and the genre of auto—ethnography has been frequently critiqued for confessional self—absorption often resulting in the loss of the anthropologist’s professional armor. In Anthropology and Autobiography (1992), Judith Okely argues that “the splitting of intellectual from emotional activity, of the autobiography of fieldwork from its total practice, owes a great deal to the positivist history of social anthropology which emphasized the neutral, impersonal, scientific nature of the enterprise” (Okely, 1992: 9). She further contents that what has been labelled as “confessional” (also implying loss of control) in anthropology falls within the Great White Man tradition in the genre of autobiography, where “the lone hero feels compelled to construct and represent his uniqueness in tune with the dominant power structures which have rewarded him” (Okely, 1992: 7). I would further contend that the construction of the authorial “I” within the ethnographic canon is phallogocentric as it is imbued within the discipline’s white guilt for its colonial past. As a feminine, precarious and sexually—questioning anthropologist practicing anthropology at home and coming from Greece, which is locked in the role of the pariah of Europe in the western imaginary, I experienced great discomfort with the authorial “I” I was asked to construct in order to write about the things I witnessed or to be more precise the things I went through in the labyrinth. My difficulty in constructing an authorial “I” reflected back to my uneasiness with conventional ethnographic representation imbued with linearity, male gazes and thick descriptions of persons, places and rituals. In conventional ethnographies, the ethnographer appears in the text only to shed light to the differences between self and other but he refuses to dismantle himself in front of his readership. My perplexity with ethnographic representation extended to form and textuality: How are the boundaries between self and other played out and what forms of writing serve to better reflect them? What does it mean to lose and find yourself through the other? What does it mean to lose and find yourself and the other in the text? How can an interview setting turn into a healing space for both interviewer and interviewee and how can poetry and prose serve to depict it? How can I write in ways that stay true to myself and give justice to the labyrinth? Why doesn’t anthropology question textual form despite the reflexive turn of the 1980s?

In the midst of this inquiry, I turned to the works of Helene Cixous (The book of Promethea, The third body, The new woman), a prolific French feminist writer and theorist, whose Anglophone reception has associated her with “writing the body” and “feminine writing.” In her book Coming to writing and other essays ({1987}, 1992), Helene speaks of an approach to writing/ reading/ interpreting that opens and leaves space to the other (1992 {1987}: 62)—male or female, human or animal. The kind of body described in her work is a hospitable body, characterised by “a having without limits, without restrictions, but without any ‘‘deposit,’’ a having that doesn’t withhold or possess, a having—love that sustains itself with loving, in the blood—rapport” (1992 {1987}: 4). In her reflection on Cixous’ work, Judith Still suggests that the “writing the body” paradigm, with which Cixous’ work is widely associated, is set against two traditional approaches circulating in the masculine economy: “writing the mind”, namely the transmission of clear and transparent ideas and “writing the world”, that is, the recording and/or analysis of facts (Still, 2007: 266). “Writing the body” operates closer to the level of the unconscious, it’s a writing in—between genres and economies where contradiction, ambiguity and darkness are set loose.

In many ways, “writing the labyrinth” speaks to the healing space created in the interview setting, where researcher and participant enter with a desire to touch, to know, to separate, to bridge self and other. It can also be read as a “coming—out” story, a story of displacement and transformation of a female anthropologist who opened herself to the other and the dizzying paralysis of another world. It’s also an attempt to “write the body” or better to “write through the body.” While writing the labyrinth I could feel the the language/ body gap taking a hold of me. I wanted to have sex with the text. I wanted to sculpt it with my bare hands. I craved to explore the deep, dark crevices of my transformative journey and find my body and its fluids in the shimmering, glowing orange light of the labyrinth sparkling through letters, words, sentences.

The labyrinth takes the form of the internal and external world; it’s a fieldsite, my inner world, my unconscious, my psyche, the other’s world, the space between us. In other words, by “writing the labyrinth” as letters with different addressees where desires, language, longings and memories meet and interact, I am also writing about the emotional shifts involved in becoming a feminist and a lesbian. I am referring here to dis—identifying from heteronormativity, seeing life from different angles, re—inhabiting the body as a lesbian, revisiting the childhood past, reflecting on the mother—daughter bond and generally paying close attention to moments that bring to the fore the vulnerability of the body and the fragility of life.

This work is divided in acts, each act corresponding to a different moment of writing. Act one “Entering the labyrinth” is a letter to the self who is embarking into this journey. Like every entrance to the unknown it is fuelled with excitement and fear. I approach writing like walking towards an entrance, I walk like writing a letter addressed to the academic other within me. Act two “Exiles and displacements” is a letter to the psyche that goes through disorientation, confusion and loneliness in the midst of a reality that exceeds my previous psychic arrangements; my desire is seen through Aliki’s as an ungraspable, fearful and elliptic thing I do not possess; it comes and goes in ellipsis (——). Act three “Mirrors and Pieces” is a letter addressed to the feminine other who exists at the edge between the internal and external world since she is imagined as an imaginary Other, the Other who is part of the self gazing at the mirror but becomes the other who can love, deny, criticise, reject, leave and hurt the self. Act four “Erotica” narrates an erotic encounter a girl with boyish limbs that possess me by dispossessing me of my presumably bounded self. Act five “Unlearning the alphabet” speaks of the collective efforts to reconstitute the queer self through dominant structures of power imprinted in language. Act six “Crossing the bridge” is a journey to the internal and external borders of my birth city, Athens, from the perspective of an emerging lesbian self. It attests to the psychic moment of crossing to the other side whilst holding hands with the other. Act seven is the final act entitled “the never—ending story” of exile and displacement within childhood, orthodox politics and master narratives of the authentic, revolutionary self. There is no finality rather than an infinite opening to the pains of metamorphoses through and with the other.

Throughout this work, I try to inhabit the movement between different genres of writing, diary entries, poetry, theory, field notes, life histories, autobiography, all exist simultaneously to support a writing that treats the text as something daring and disfigured. My real and fictional conversations with seven women appear in dialogical mode to shed light to the experience of metamorphoses, to borders and feelings exchanged in the space crafted between researcher and participant, between friends, between lovers, between comrades, between an older lesbian and a lesbian in becoming, between a cis lesbian and a trans lesbian, between a queer lesbian and a lesbian in search of her way home.

My encounter with Aliki took place upon my arrival to Athens. I began hanging out at “Beaver”, a women’s co–‐op which had just opened its doors on October 2013 in response to the deep recession that had hit Greece since 2010. Aliki was one of its founding members. She was very friendly but also reserved. I noticed the thinness of her skin, I could see her veins popping out, constructing bloodlines, blue lines, green lines, meeting and diverting. Every time she brought me coffee I could not get my eyes off her hands, gentle and rough. After a couple of months, we met again at a queer collective, that’s where we got to know each other better. Aliki began trusting me, gradually we became friends, she confided in me and I confided in her. Our conversations illuminated parts of my femininity I had not explored, she was speaking of the patriarchal burden of the timid, shy girl who struggles her whole life to be seen and feel entitled to take up space. Aliki taught me about butch—femme dynamics, the way lesbian bodies move sexually and how we, as femmes, need to struggle in order to set our desire free from the traumas of sexism and the stigma with which our body has been imprinted.

Ninetta is a lesbian of the older generation, a motherly figure and a founding member of the lesbian group of Athens (LOA). We met at the “crossroads of the bridge”, she called me back, she guided me all the way, I was eager to listen to her stories of exile. Ninetta was born in Constantinople—or else Istanbul but she preferred Constantinople—and raised by her grandmother and mother who were the dominant figures of the household. Her family fled from Turkey in the late 1960s: “I only took this spoon with me. One day we just packed some clothes and left, all our belongings were left behind, my father could not bear emotionally this uprooting, he died shortly after.” Her migration to Greece was marked by her rebirth in the feminist movement, which was flourishing from the late 1970s (after the fall of the Greek junta in 1974) until the mid—1980s. The sisterhood she experienced within autonomous feminist groups brought her closer to her mother and grandmother whom she came to love again from a new position, that of a feminist who weaves intergenerational bonds of love and care to women before her time. She was almost 30 when she first had sex with a woman, which she came to experience as a second exile that turned into a flourishing displacement from her oppressed heterosexual past. I came closer to understanding my mother’s torments through Ninetta’s genealogy of strong women in her family who were making choices within structures that obstructed their movement (e.g. the dowry system). I opened up to her exiles and un—doings and tried to inhabit the shivering numbness of my self—displacement and by doing so to encrypt it in the text as a gesture of love towards previous generations of lesbian women.

It was at one of the monthly gatherings of the lesbian group where I met Moira, a militant trans lesbian, who was running a queer trans collective. Moira worked hard for the introduction of trans terms in language—the use of the gender neutral symbol (@), trans politics and activisms. Though we seemed to kick off well, it was hard to approach her, she was willing to inform everyone on trans issues, yet I could tell that she was exhausted by it. Moira did not trust me even though we knew each other for more than a year. The cis/ trans limit between us was there, an impenetrable gap that persisted throughout our interaction. I could never touch Moira without “otherizing” her, I could never “write the gap” without exploring the experience of my “bond” to her trans otherness, without speaking with honesty about the differences between us but also about the challenge of “writing the gap” between us. In so doing, I walked on thin ice, every sentence was a loaded volcano ready to explode.

My encounter with Kirki and Ismini, the two straight anarchofeminists who appear in the labyrinth, took place in the beginning and in the end of my journey. I met Kirki on early October 2013, in fact she introduced me to queer collectives. Kirki was an anthropologist, who had just completed her thesis and could understand the anxieties of fieldwork. She moved from Thessaloniki to Athens in her mid—20s; her parents had migrated to the Netherlands when she was 16 years old. Similarly to Ninetta, she experienced her parent’s migration as a forced exile, her parents left her behind and since then she is struggling to come to terms with the pain of loss and displacement. Our relationship had its ups and downs. There were feelings of warmth and understanding between us but also a mutual hesitance to come closer. Through our conversations, I became more aware of the power dynamics involved in anthropological research and more alert regarding the political ramifications of doing research in underground political spaces.

Ismini grew up in the countryside, her parents were both doctors and absent most of the time. In her early 20s, she socialised at the anarchist scene in Thessaloniki, where she felt partly included. Her sexual liberation was deeply gendered in that she was “shamed” within the anarchist scene as the “crazy” promiscuous woman who sleeps around with men. The trauma of “the crazy slut” produced by the patriarchal and regulatory structures of anarchism that render sexual liberation a male privilege to which women and girls participate only to the benefit of men is something with which she is trying to reconcile as the wounded part of her femininity. With Ismini we had an instant connection. Our friendship moved beyond fieldwork, beyond activism and to this day we care deeply for each other.

Rena appears for a fleeting moment in a scene with me at “Beaver.” The mutual courting, gazing and flirting took me out of my comfort zone and made me aware of how I was perceived as the “new blood in lesbo—town”, the sexually confused girl, the academic who needs to give evidence of her sexual orientation in order to be trustworthy, the woman who was taken apart by Rena’s gaze and courteous body movement.

Finally, Laoura signals my exit from the labyrinth. I met her when she moved to Athens from Barcelona and three months before I moved back to London. A queer feminist, a post—porn performance artist, a proud slut, a hybrid transmigrant, Laoura carries layers and layers of identities and identifications moulded through the gaze of multiple others—lovers, friends, post—porn artists, the queer scene in Barcelona and Berlin, her childhood years in Greece. We were very different in that Laoura was tender and gentle and I was more angry and tense. Laoura embodied a type of queer femininity, which is tender, touchy and loving. Loosening my body to the other’s touch wasn’t easy, it took months and months of reflection on how my body opens and closes in space, alone and/or with others. And last but not least, there is Eleni who doesn’t appear directly in the text but emerges through my sexual engagement with the body of the text, essentially there are moments where my libido touches and is touched by the flow of her words inside me.

In the labyrinth, I never seem to find my way around, there is a constant torment, even though I pass from the same place, I am never aware of it, the whole city is being “lesbianised”, “queered”, “re—lived”, bus stops, streets, bars, houses. In the labyrinth, there are bright alleys in which I am visible and shadowy ones where I can barely see myself. I move slowly, I let go of the delusional warmth of my past attachments and slowly, yet tenaciously, I take the path that seems more absurd in its utopianism, yet open to change. Many queer women guided me through this journey, I gave them a piece of myself and they shared with me generously their wisdom, their pains and dreams. I can hear them asking: “Is there a point to writing the labyrinth?” And I am imagining myself replying: “Only insofar as you are willing to let go of demands for representational structure, as long as you are willing to view it from the perspective of a lesbian anthropologist under (de—)construction who has come to know others by better knowing herself and who has come to know herself by better knowing others.” You should know that my major vulnerability, which I always thought was a problem in me studying anthropology, is that I get lost easily in language and in the other, crafting boundaries—physical and/or emotional—has always been an issue for me. I am the kind of person who gets lost going around the corner, who loses structure and coherency while writing and who occasionally is at loss for words. I think I got through fieldwork because I began writing poetry, which by its nature requires a certain loss. If you don’t mind feeling lost and disorientated, follow me in the labyrinth.



Entering the Labyrinth

Carolyn Bergvall:

Let her speak her true journeys, hear her true songs.
She can make her sorry tale right soggy truth,
the ever beating waves.
What cursed fool girl grimly be shipped, couldn’t get marks,
differing and deferring of presence and identity (my adding),
during the storms,
she got caught between what’s gone ok and what’s coming on,
crossing the abyss (my adding),
too close to the cliffs,
blow wind, blow,
she and her otherness… (my adding)
(Carolyn Bergvall: 2014)

Me: This is a story of a girl who left home to see the night. I did not see the night. I entered the night one solstice day in Athens. Exiting the tube, I walked side by side with the voice of Lena Platonos to the gates of labyrinth park. Her voice called for me: “I live in the joyful gardens with no money and sins. I live in the joyful gardens, there where adaptation is not only for the strong ones. I live there where we all eat fruits…”3 I did not climb. I crawled filled with fear and expectation. My knees covered with stardust. I was speaking non—sense. My mouth could not utter a “single” word. If I cannot utter it, then singularity may not be my style. The labyrinth leaves me perplexed. To search the same within the other, the other within the same, instead one could have said that I wanted to be here and there at the same time. My fingers caress the keyboard to craft a body in search of its innate sensations. There is a part of reality that can never and will never—thank God!—enter language because sensations are multiple, because beauty and freakiness are demanding, because pragmatism is not sufficient. And yet how to embrace life in the labyrinth through words? I was not alone. There among the voices and eyes that have loved so many books as I have, I walked between Elisabeth Bishop and Virginia Woolf. I did not see the night, only the tender buttons slipping from Gertrude’s dress. Then other women appeared. I saw but the white of their skirts, their nipples pressing against the names of Ruth Behar, Gloria Anzaldúa and Helene Cixous.

Farther off, queers declined existing pronouns with mysterious signifiers in the curve of their lips. Going far and beyond the essential. I followed them in what became our unbecoming. Feelings resisting against rigidity, we stand touched by memory, grounded in our disappearance. I felt less exiled in this pastiche of signifiers. Gradually the sound of voices fades away. I am left alone. The night is silver. No longer do I seek for its centre. I do not mind if there is no exit. I do not worry for the “right” word. I turn my eyes to the labyrinth, oscillating in all its mystery, amplifying my senses with no surface underneath to hold me. No ground subsists. No figure, line remains long enough for me to stare. I found myself on an island of proud failures, where everything is worth exchanging, nothing is refused and nothing is privileged by default. I began to stumble, then slowed down, the light was turning into orange. I was at the labyrinth, its sunrise is so omnipotent, it’s impossible to miss. It is infinitely open, infinitely reflecting upon itself. This seems like a very apt place to think about belonging, some try to belong, some take their belonging for granted but these yearnings to fit in, to create pathways, to hold hands is sheared in layers, these are implanted on concrete islands surrounding the labyrinth.

While writing I found myself walking on thin ice, questions adding up, making a pile, addressed to love, difference, epistemologies, femininity. These questions create new islands, their answers help me move from one island to the next, making amazing leaps that no grand narrative seeking to explain the world could ever imagine, my leaps are soon transformed to melancholic flights from one island to the next, from childhood to adulthood, from orthodox politics to queerness with the joyfulness of the moment and its ever lasting pain.

My academic other instructs me to be docile in this trip, pay my respects to His disciplines, wear His clothes, clean His glasses, sit on His coach, craft my body in His shape. But our queer vision is aerial, diverting the normal course of tranquil explanations that epistemology has once given about life, society, human relations. The island of dreams posits its own imaginary, never congealing or solidifying, remaining as flux as can be expected for each leap, open to be cast away by the foggy wind, naked and wounded to find each other. The academic other shivers, it’s too windy for Him to stay still. I want to hurry and invent my own phrases worn out by repetition in search of fissures, assemblages, signifiers worn backwards, recurrent dreams. So that everywhere and nowhere we can place our two palms against each other and energize by the raw material of desire.

O my dear other, academic other from now on I shall call you Mister A, you will be my interlocutor, a mouth speaking inside me, a paternal figure animating my two sided lips. I shall discuss with you discordantly, affirming my inscription to your language and at the same time introducing an absence that signals another type of pleasure not yet inscribed in your language. So may I begin by saying Mister A that when it comes to your methodology try to leave common sense behind, it’s nothing but a well—tuned music tone persuading people of the rightness of any given set of coercive ideas. Don’t be afraid to let go of your prescriptive methods, your fixed logics that lead you towards “problem—solving knowledge or social visions of radical justice” (Halberstam, 2011: 17). Life does not come through the neutral, you have to be able to stand, stand still, as still as possible before you fall. There, at the far end of great fields of interfused signifiers and signifieds each queer generation marks its horizon, eyes filled with tears, arms filled with myths and joy, above all joy.



Exiles and Displacements

There is no return
time flies
space changes
everything spins in the infinite circle
of cruel absurdity
(Peri Rossi, 2003)

Departing, getting, going, going by, going on… this rhythm goes with the labyrinth. By the time I gather my courage and enter I become a moving target. The houses look like cages, babies hanging and floating, mothers stabbing grandmothers, fathers spitting on thin air. No light. No alley. I move blindfolded across sharp corners and muddy walls. Days, months, hours. Movements are slow. One—two—three. Step. Breath in and out. I takes an alley that meets a winding black lane which runs to the arches of the railway line going to Thessaloniki and from one of those arches next to the noisy clubs of Gazi—I won’t say quite which arch though I could—leads another, darker lane that takes me, very quick and inconspicuous, to the land of wounded attachments, here desires are eternally displaced and floating. From where I stand the city looks like an airport terminal; planes floating by, flashing lights, their bellies swaggering, they descend and are gone. The graffiti across the street announces that this is the land where Sappho has been taken captive, rescued and saved, altogether. I lay under the disco balls, watching the planes cross, yellow lights descending and I wonder where will this sky take me. Aliki holds my hand. She teaches me dispossession. Dispossessing herself of all her reserves, all is exiting, gasping, unloading. She does this with a sort of wild, maybe scared, intoxication. She wants to taste desire in all its vitality. For this to happen she has to leave behind all certainties, with the first threshold crossed she sets off an inevitability of departures that are impossible to undo.

— Aliki: “After my trip to Paris, all the strings to my past were cut off, all my attachments seemed meaningless. I turned and looked back upon my life. I realized I am nothing of what I left behind. I left a repressed straight girl with existential issues and returned wondering who am I since I could no longer see my old self. I began my life all over again. I got involved into lesbian groups and started dating women. This trip changed my life.”

— Me: The labyrinth’s sky hid, contained and dissolved me a thousand times. I had the weird feeling of the beginning of a farewell in my gut. Thank you for the flame. I am now 34.


 So many times I chose the same wall instead of the door




It is a multiple departure that will never change back to what we were, no single—even definitive—place will make our installation feel definite. The act of leaving is transformative and seeks translation, transposing her from “what was” to “what would become.” Far from our homes, our bedrooms, our kitchens, crossing thresholds at distant places, meeting at different doorsteps, it seems as if we just began learning to speak. We both learn how to read invisible maps or maps written in the wind, on the sand of fleeing emotions and on the stones of trauma. I find myself exiled in draught landscapes with the solidity of stones devouring the fluidity of waters, rivers, oceans.


This thing: is it found or given or taken that which is already lost —

The word exile expresses a lot: “ex signifies precisely one that once was and has stopped being. That is to say of a separation” (Peri Rossi, 2003: 10). It is also the story of a wound that cries out, a moving and sorrowful voice, a voice that is paradoxically released through the wound; this voice brings me back to my pain, and my pain to my first language where I wish that letters would take the form of bodies, or else bodies of letters, irretrievable forms, broken, in other words, no words.

— Aliki: “My desire is always in the next room, when the other leaves, I am devastated, I am losing myself in a way, I wanted to keep desire alive, to keep me alive; you see desire was no game for me, the fear of dissolving under her strong butch arms paralyzed me.”

— Me: I cannot give away any part of my desire, endlessly in agony, given over to the other’s wishes and despairs.


Within the trees I see no green


Childhood loss is constitutive and too difficult to bear. From time to time exile frustrates me and I live with a rose colored longing for what is gone.

— Kirki: Now I can go home as much as I want, as much as I need and I can feel the love and care. The house is warm with freshly cooked food. It’s like a warm womb, caring and loving […] if you stay long enough, it changes and becomes something else […] in a womb, you don’t have hands, ears […] I do not know what you don’t have but you can suffocate.

— Aliki again, this time so nakedly naked, she becomes impenetrable because of her nakedness: “I had no desire or better I could not allow it, my body shivers in every touch, I want to disappear, the other’s gaze makes me visible and that scares me. But with her, my body effortlessly woke up, I remember leaning towards her, it was wide awake… But still, it hurts, it hurts so much this desire for disappearance.”


I think it is also a strength to move out of the womb


towards desire





If it is true that “desires are unbearable in their contradictions, unknown in their potential contours, yet demand reliable and confirming recognitions” (Berlant, 2012: 111); it may be that one must agree to be finished, to be here and nowhere else, to inhabit the labyrinth in all its potentialities, to become an ethnographic poet. However, as Derrida notes ({1967} 2001), “the anxious desire of the hole awaits, tenacious, and loving and breathing through a thousand mouths that leave a thousand imprints on the skin, a polyp, ridiculous, plunging into the horizontality of a skin which represents itself from detour to detour, a reflection of the other without exit, referral, return, and detour of the labyrinth” (Derrida, {1967}, 2001: 298). A feminine arrival knocks the labyrinth’s door. The door this time is not a door that closes. This unsettling arrival makes my desire speak in another language, a glass of water that submerges me without touching a thing, it becomes my new way of breathing in the world.

I watch Aliki move, decoding flows, leaving, escaping the normative, causing more escapes, her pain is present, she cannot avoid replicating what she partially destroys; however, her desire to live, and not merely wait, translates into new creations, leaping over becalmed seas. Lacking break—flows, leaps, and groundings. We live together like this for a moment, we lie down uncovered, naked and vulnerable, we bark together, the dog is enclosed in our voices. I say “we” because I have mistaken myself for a person and Aliki for an enchanting pillow queen. Loss is unavoidable. I draw my open chest and the purple that comes out of it, a postmodern Goya enclosed in my past. Jean Rhys whispers “Long ago when I was a child and very lonely I tried to kiss her. The glass was between me and her—hard, cold, misted over my breath. Now they have taken her away” {Rhys, (1966), 2000: 107}. Me: What am I doing in this labyrinth and who am I? I feel so minor, I am too old to know, I feel vulnerable to the violence of the world, of the labyrinth but also exposed to another range of touch, a touch that includes the eradication of my being but also the physical support for my life. It’s the psychoanalyst’s chair, it’s the space of the world, it’s where the labyrinth’s lights and colors would reflect, deflect, darken, and redden.


From the analyst’s chair to the labyrinth to the chair to the labyrinth






What is femininity?



The analyst’s room became the space of my queerying par excellence. There were times it offered protective shields so I could stand still against the labyrinth’s stiff breeze. I was surprised with the generosity of this love affair. Never had I willingly lost my passport to become a queer explorer, possessed by a desire to move and be moved. Like any love affair it resembles no other and is an essentially queer act of creation. Here, I found myself surrounded by vulnerable whales, mourning beasts and a flock of fantasy—seagulls. The analyst’s room and the labyrinth are no longer two distinct spaces; the labyrinth’s waves hit the room’s doorstep and vice versa. Blurring the “here” and “there” of my life, challenging the symmetrical movement of time flows, I was left feeling curiously dispersed, torn by conflicting doubt. No longer had I a safe port where my feelings would return to rest in a gentle breeze with the unexpected vitality provided by certainty. I observed myself gathering traces of things shattered, some memorable, others forgotten and others forever untraceable, I opened my universe, deeply anchored on words, pronouns, ideas, and structures of thought to the labyrinth’s pathways. I gasped in astonishment. I learned how to bleed, wander, improvise, fall short and move into circles. I learned how to lose my way, my agenda, possibly my mind, and cry but not punish myself about my shortcomings.



Mirrors and Pieces of Femininity

a white skirt      almost natural

a spoon of sun                          and the girl selling ice cream

the skirt is blown away


“there are apricots in the winter, there are cherries in spring”

That’s all I remember

That’s all I know

She comes with a name

(D. Manesi, “Sonnet Dirac”, June 2016)

Once I entered the labyrinth I was advised by my academic other to jump on a seesaw, the other and me swinging back and forth, touching and drifting away. Whatever your research method—multi—sited, visual, participatory ethnography—every anthropology department urges you to perform discipline, moving within that balanced position between distance and proximity in a smart or sloppy way. To allow myself to immerse within the labyrinth’s flows but never forget my anthropological status. But I would say I merged. There was no balance to preserve, only remnants of a lost struggle, a struggle condemned to die up front. Being allowed to enter another in all their strangeness is an art in itself. Letting another being, let alone an anthropologist, with all her strangeness enter your proximity is “a wounded act of merging, interior light is always mixed with exterior light, seeing to be seen and see” (Cixous: {1987} 1992: 54).

I merged with others and got psychically lost, mirroring my fears and desires, making my attachments. I could only be open to floating bodies, counting the zone of sounds. I enter into the torment of human shapes, swimming suddenly in my rising desire to breath the beaver’s frenzy dance floor. No boundary was there to sustain, or simply I failed to preserve it. I listen to lesbians and queers talk, their mouth resembles mine. In the past and present they constantly shape me. Our love of the labyrinth speaks in the tongue of an imaginary, transcendental perhaps, unsubjected love.


I want more again.
I want to denounce Him again and again.
I want the phallic torus to hand me over her mirror.
I want a mirror like that on the book I hadn’t written yet.

Diary entry, 10/05/ 2014

This sweet pleasure of identifications, an endless merging and submerging, a perpetual dance with the other bounded me in an ecstatic anagram with cryptic clues that at first sounded absurd. This “stepping out” of my presumably bounded self came with a price. Moira made me wonder whether am I deluded.

— Moira: “You cannot see me even though you may think you can take a glimpse through the looking glass. Notice how you lean towards me, sliding down the stairs; you elegantly try to dance close to me. Be aware how you may otherize me and make me whip on your behalf.”

This melancholic flight from one island to the next has its inner hierarchies. We do not jump together. I cannot transcend the lines. I should never forget them or they will chase me and seize me down. But I was dazzled by the ecstatic pleasure of an unlimited merging with the other.

The labyrinth that enters me through the beauty of its alleys and its shared night is still a country with male politics, where the same is performed over and over again until the other disappears, until every trans woman is wiped out by her cis allies. I failed or perhaps I did not perform well enough to touch Moira’s existence. Maybe I should have taken an anti—relational stance, negating any possibility of touching her… or did I serve patriarchal logocentrism and its oppositional practice? I fear in typing my thoughts, trying to insert my body in the text through my gestures. Yet the boundary is set there and is necessary for both of us. Moira, the whipping girl4 would teach me how the politics of anger are performed. I was taken aback by her fierce facial expressions. I can still hear her shouting: “All the trannies in the square!”

Somehow “as if she wasn’t her self” was broader than if she were—a self proclaimed invisible possessed her entirely, her trans femininity was revealed in the photograph. When the negative was developed, it almost burned, her femininity was too absolute and flawless to seem real, though it was real as was her habit to disappear in shadows and corners. She would witness her disappearance progressing like a ghost in the mirror.

— Moira: “My features were becoming sweeter, as if my face was touched again but still I did not notice the changes until after some time. I remember closing the window and for a moment there I did not recognize my own reflection.”

She was seeing, with fascination and fear, the pieces of her mummy clothes falling dry to the floor, her face, firm and angular was dipped into honey, a face “entirely” new was emerging, giving her a pleasure, slipping away joy.

— Moira: “When I get dressed and look at myself in the mirror I finally see the reflection I have been imagining all this time. That’s when fear crumbles in; what if I do not like what I see after some time. Beauty can scare you.”

What is wrong with this beauty? It is absolute. Therefore, absolutely innocent, it has no other law, no other memory than its own. Hesitation reigns outside the doors of sexual difference. This room is fuelled with motions of cutting and adding faces, objects, bodies, dresses, lipsticks, emotions, mirrors, school plays, princess costumes.

— Moira: “I woke up in the middle of the night and colored my chest pink—brown to get the breast’s sense of depth, then looked at myself in the mirror.”

She revisits her morphology with solitude. It is the solitaire being who speaks and stands against the mirror staring at the other, another who is strange to her, although she is at the heart of it. It is that moment of mirror gazing, which leaves a trace of a break in her being.

This was also the room where I’d locate myself within limits. At the corner of my green—lighted room was a plastic bedside table beside a wooden—framed bed and next to that, an Ikea wardrobe, the kind bought anywhere, timeless and futuristic. Now I think I need to look against the glass without bothering about the colors of my eyes, I need to be exempt from myself in order to see, to be moved by the gaze of the other, to be molded by that other existence of mine that is deeply anchored in the glass. I looked at the mirror. She was wearing a feather headband fascinator, it was dripping blood. I cried. It was as if I saw myself. That pain, inexplicable, yet existent, is what probably gave me the assurance of a split person. At the other side, Moira was murmuring a song, that song would be my cryptic path towards the world of the labyrinth. Why she looked so sad? There was a thick glass curtain between everything and me that was going on there. An eruption. It can’t be held back. I can’t help it. She can’t help it. Her lips touched my lips, in an act of love, therefore we were separated to avoid our destruction but we were still objecting to the mechanics of near solids that reduce our fluids to a closed circuit of rationality (Irigaray, {1977} 1985: 33), our vessels of desire did not transform fluid into solid, it was always pink powder on our breasts longing to turn into blood.

O Moira, I want to tell you everything while sleeping, do not wake me up too fast. I want to tell about that day, that mirroring day. Thanks to the labyrinth my memory is now here along with fragments of past lives, my burning childhood life, I look at her with new eyes, trembling also, I rejoice that mirror gaze, a moment of imposture. When a handwritten figure encrypted itself. I do not think it is my handwriting, perhaps it’s a disguised one, a feminine masquerade on which the male gaze would make its senseless projections. I start to think about it when dissociations between things, between bodies and names begin. In the inside there are bodies, in the outside there are words, all these dissociations take hold of the mirror.

In the utterance “femininity is finite, universal” versus “femininity is infinite, particular”, there is pinching, “femininity is not”, there is no meaning to exchange, no contradictory oppositions to solve, femininity is indeterminate, it wakes up in the evening, goes to bed in the morning, it enjoys smoking, all these oral fixations, it wears high heals or martins, it goes on and on and on… inhabiting, forming, performing, deforming the heteronormative; foolishly trying to grasp fantasies that continuously slip away, wanting to pin herself down in history, language, culture. She remains ungraspable and yet with no inner essence to be found.

With Moira the game of feminine beauty becomes a continuous transmutation, a perpetually displaced estrangement. It sounds naïve in terms of how humans and women act and live but yet my dear Moira takes over the energy released when a little girl masturbates for the first time in secret, she travels through time and relieves me from guilt. I am loved by her. I am. I know it. Her love is taking root inside me with no shadows, no doubts, she is endowed with that astonishing power of bringing me back to life. Her gaze fills me with wonder, I love that she guides me through my years, my frozen years, my burning years, my childhood years, my solitary years… Start, come, see, stop, in my room, there, take me away from the looking glass, it is big enough for us to leap inside it, into the mirror.



Erotic Gazes

Perhaps love comes as a girl with boyish limbs

Diary entry, 20/11/2013

Rena arrived with a firm, yet clumsy walk, and sat by the bar. I watched her slowly roll a cigarette, lick it with care and place it behind her ear. Her eyes were dark brown, her figure was slim and athletic. She was a tomboy, a baby butch, a butch in the making, she was stunning. Her hair were making a knot on top, yet porous and ready to unleash itself to all directions, her suspenders loosely touched her breasts. I caught myself staring. I blinked and looked steadily across the narrow street. I was tired. I found it pleasant to let go a little, and spend my time with my hands folded on the chair. I leaned my head backwards; the word beaver was going round and round in my head. I was feeling her eyes on my neck. I looked at her, she nodded with a smile. She then gave me an intense look that made my body feel exposed, dispersed all over the place, I felt shy and unable to assert myself, which made me even more anxious since I knew I could not hide my mood swings. She took a quick zip from her beer, lit her cigarette and strolled towards me like a modern flanneur. She sat next to me, there was a pause for the sake of our uneasiness. “Well”, she said, “what star—sign are you?” “I am a gemini”, I answered, a bit surprised with her question. “You know what they say about geminis? They cannot make a choice easily, they are always wondering what is the right thing to do—it is a question of ethics for them—whereas virgos… they simply change their minds all the time. My ex—girlfriend was a gemini… oh god… she drove me crazy… So I hear you are the straight academic who came to study the lesbians?” I shuffled on my seat and nodded with a shy tremor.



Unlearning the Alphabet


“Together, with our tongues, we will learn again.
It may not sound plausible but we are not impossible”

(Nathanael, 2015: 43)

Me: Life teaches us to use words well, arranging them in order, juxtaposing them when necessary; they interpellate us, act upon us while forming their ideological apparatuses. Inside the labyrinth I am learning the alphabet again: not by putting letters down but by taking them out. Extracting letters from my mind to untidily twist them, relearn them and immerse them within metonymy, metaphor and occasionally to a sort of cunning lingua I began developing to mobilize the display of eroticism. It was at lesbian circles where I noticed how breasts, tongues, mucus, fingers hijack and re—inhabit language with the aim to write an eroticized body. I am breathing in rhetoric, in the never—ending process of feminizing pronouns and nouns.

Like so many feminists before my time, I enter the political life of pronouns, my tongue softly unravels, unlearns its linguistic habits, suddenly the weight of pronouns becomes unbearable. I begin feminizing language, learning to speak all over again… at meetings, they would sit in a circle of tenderness, light a torch in the vast labyrinth and seek to verify the meaning of words. It was done very openly. It was done very vigorously. It was a bloodbath. I had a sense of an ambivalent, still frightening, well—being in the presence of new linguistic pathways. The shadow of the straight letter “I” which like a giant tree cast its shade all over the labyrinth had to be blocked or else nothing would grow within the lesbian circle of sisterhood. It appeared as an obstacle, an impediment that captured creative energy and kept us in its narrow shores. Mister A, the academic, does it on purpose. He does it in protest. He is protesting against sexual difference, the feminine and the loss of His superiority. Mister B, the anarchist, the “originary” myth of the queer community in Athens, no longer communicates. His mind is segregated in different chambers that do not communicate with each other. It is all half lights and profound shadows, each one of us, lesbians, queers, trans, feminists go with a candle across dark alleys, not knowing where we are stepping.

I did not waste my time. I followed Moira, she loved wandering in the dark with all plebeian virtues of vitality, anger and courage to fight the beasts of cis language. I see it coming with her, a pink duckling—the gender neutral signifier (@). She reaches out for it, she has to devise some entirely new combination of pronouns, to hijack the old with the new, to absorb the new within the old without disturbing the balance of the textual whole. She does it with splendid rigor. I watch her re—shaping sentences build into arcades and domes made by straight—minded men for their needs and for their uses {Woolf, 1929, (2002): 117}.

Moira feels unable to verify herself in the lesbian circle. In this predicament, what can she do? She looks at the duckling’s tempting curves. It proved to be a life—changing gaze, moving the duckling (@) from the keyboard to the pen. The duckling reaches out beyond binary—nouns, pronouns, genders; animating a kind of linguistic revolt. However, the duckling or else the “at” (@) symbol of the keyboard cannot be heard. It’s a mute, silent sign trapped in its textual form. Nobody can utter it. Its trans existence lays bare and indeterminate. For the time being, it cannot be a phoneme, it occupies that internal limit in textual representation, it exists at the margins of text and speech. But it also reveals traps, shadows and limitations within signification—an inclusive gender symbol that can be written but cannot be uttered yet.



Crossing the Bridge

Elisabeth Bishop:

With dynasties of negative constructions
darkening and dying around you,
with grammar that suddenly turns and shines
like flocks of sandpipers flying, please come flying.
Come like a light in the white mackerel sky,
come like a daytime comet
with a long unnebulous train of words,
from Brooklyn, over the Brooklyn Bridge,
on this fine morning, please come flying”

(Elisabeth Bishop, 1987: 67)


The sea is high with a thrilling flush of wind.
In the midst of desire, I can feel the inventions of spring.
I have escaped to this bridge.
I do not know why I use the word “escape”,
it was a bridge in which the roots of my identity were still shifting with unbearable
and it’s the silence of the world looking at me.

Ninetta is crossing my breast, she enters and goes straight into my life now, already so much further than the world, I follows her steps, redirecting my body, my desires towards her (Cixous, {1983}, 1991: 56).

—  Ninetta: “It felt like crossing a bridge. There is no return. A wall is demolished, the wall of the heteronormative. And it is a medieval wall, its weight burdens my earthly body. So I went to meet the lesbians, to see them, seeing to be seen and see.”

For this gate was a gigantic wall, whose top Ninetta doubtlessly could not see because she was at the bottom without any real horizon. She re—orientates her relation not just towards women, but also to a world that has already decided how bodies should be “orientated” in the first place. The bridge becomes a sort of breaking point in her lifeline, the place where she refuses her genealogical inheritance that connects her line of descent between her father and her prospective children with the affinity of the heterosexual dream (Ahmed: 2006).

The labyrinth with its wind—carved dunes has now given place to a map of lesbian genealogy with slow dances of complaisant fingers and tempting dildos. Here and there I drift away from the invisible glass of the hetero—singular. Ninetta’s amazing leap at the other side of the bridge is accompanied by fragments of her past lives, ideas reassembling under silk feminist banners; colorful Pride banners making vulnerable leaps and carrying her far out of her depth, throwing her in mid—ocean.

— Ninetta: “Feminism made me love people again. It gave me words, explanations about life. It opened a new pathway to my body and its desires. The kind of sisterhood I experienced during the 1980s with all these women, building different kind of relations, creating space for us, exploring a self beyond the male gaze made me who I am today.”

In the labyrinth I was searching, I was searching, I was trying to understand… they hailed me from the other side but I did not turn back, resisting the straightening devices. Having not turned around, who knows where I might turn now, the contingency of my lesbian desire led me to a corridor. Not night or darkness but a corridor with amber light full of inconsistent noises. I enter this corridor without walls, without presence, invisible, I walk along the imperfection of my silence and breath heavily, yet calmly, to support this lesbian love affair.

–‐ Ninetta: “It was a relationship that lived in silence. We never talked about it. It was a relationship with no name. And it hurts…It hurts so much… She pretended I did not exist as a lover. In the house there was passion, out in the world we were strangers.”

–‐ Me: I open the door and walk into the world. It is made of cardboard boxes, a straight world already in place. It forms the background of how colors and objects are arranged, of what is perceptible and which objects are reachable. I try to hold her hand. It becomes more and more apparent that my lesbian touch involves a different movement of my body in space. Sneaky kisses, intense gazes and holding hands make different lines of connection and association that are invisible to others.

In this cardboard world, everything is colored dark grey with dim light or a dark red that is stiff and lifeless. Aliki teaches me how to see beyond and within the dim grey.

— Me: I feel the beginnings of closed structure.

— Aliki: “But there is relief once you find that alley with less shadows. There {meaning, at Beaver} you can just be. You can just be your lesbian self, there is no need for these ins and outs.”

She tells me I am in Athens. I do not believe her. I lost my way in Athens. I lost my father and my mother. Where? How? I don’t know how but I lost them. And it is such an exhilarating thrill. These pages of remembering, inheriting, producing the labyrinth catch me in memorial abyss. Laoura holds my hand and together we close our close my eyes and feel the brightness of our childhood years whose pearly skies break at midnight by flashy disco balls turning in clouds of glitter and pink. This is the painting of what can and perhaps might become… My queer utopian memory… its power paints my wounds, touches my inky reflection, breaks me up to an infinite sunset. Laoura urges me to lose certainty, painfully go ahead, walk through deserted beaches, seek other ways of relating.

— Laoura: I have this anxiety not to reproduce the same things I witnessed in my family, relationships formed around harmful ideas like women’s self—sacrifice. I try to imagine myself in different situations, to experiment with different forms of relationality… what we are or what we want to become is constantly under assertion. I have to remind myself that these things need to be constantly claimed and challenged.”

— Me: I am my mother’s daughter. I was sitting on her lap, I hanged onto her and reached out for her necklace, I wrinkled and said: “I want it.” And she said with a firm voice “Girls don’t talk like that. You must ask politely (Cixous, {1970}, 1992).” She believes a son will save our family of two, she shouts, she cries, sometimes she murmurs in her sleep. With no son coming,



the daughter

wait in her gut like the mother does in mine. What isn’t said is the silence of the father, no judgment will be pronounced, no painful exacerbation. My inheritance. My burden across the bridge.




The Never—Ending Story

Within the labyrinth I no longer see any wall

Diary entry, 20/09/2015

The labyrinth proposes the proliferation of singularities and the diffusion of proper names imbuing the marks of lesbian and queer transgressions with salty tears; all gloomy associations, all sad feelings forgotten, movement all day long, traversing the galleries, once so hushed, scattering round them the contents of a basket of flowers. Ninetta carries it on her arms, there were flowers everywhere, roses, camellias, red and white, seasonal hyacinths, mimosas full of tears, grief, smiles, all of them in this unique basket, this is our inheritance to the universe.

— Ninetta: “I felt I was nothing, nothing, nothing…like my mother, and my grandmother before me. I did not think I had the right to make any sort of claims. My mother and grandmother made their small, everyday breakthroughs but they sacrificed so much, my mother locked away her violin and grabbed the duster overnight.”

I enter the front chambers of the gallery and pass by an old family photograph, not too old, not too recent, the room in the picture was flooded with early lamplight, and one could feel the grey, chill winter twilight in the streets outside. There stood my father, slender body with a natural elegance, bold, weak constitution, fragile temperament, frigid, possessed by neurotic repetition, origin: middle class education, childhood in the countryside, immature, right—wing, diplomat, absent. My mother was standing right next to him, a big woman in stature, virile, clear eyes, plain and beautiful with her red lipstick and big earrings, origins: middle class education, childhood in the southern suburbs of Athens, insecure, suffering from depression, left—wing, possessive. I felt unease in their presence; I stood face to face to my inheritance… I was as impersonal as I knew how to be; so impersonal that my voice was free, for a while, even of the usual undertone of irritation, Aliki then, quite naively, shouted with me “I shall not replicate their life.”

— Aliki: “I tried to understand my mother and give her the love she was never given because everyone supposedly loved her but nobody showed it to her, she was just the doormat for us to clean our shoes.”

— Me: At night I lay on my stomach to avoid a miscarriage, I want to extract the flowers from deep inside and offer them to my mother. I came very close to strangling her that night. I left despite a voice inside me telling me: “You again, with your inability to leave.”

This is not dream. This is: We were sitting on dentist’s chairs in the middle of the kitchen floor. I objected when they told me “we are proceeding with the heart transplant.” After all this was not something I have given consent and why should go on with it, it’s against my father’s principles. My departure opened the door to Aliki and Ninetta and they spread flowers all over the untidy kitchen. I watched them circulate knowledge effortlessly without the possession of mastery. I listened them sing a litany for the ambivalent balance between inheritance and reproduction, one that would rewrite the author’s relation to theory and queer women’s profound struggle to invert, convert, reverse, subvert and admit power.

The labyrinth, half imagined, yet wholly real, begins and ends inside us, roots lodged in our memory. The color of Ismini’s eyes when she swam across the bridge was pale pink, neither light nor dark but milky the kind that doesn’t reflect light but wants you to drink it in (Cixous, {1970} 1999: 95) , the color of origins that fades as a girl races to find her way “home” and passes across the gutted foundations of her culture.

Walking slowly home through the dark avenue of trees, tasting the brackish harbor wind, I remember Ismini staring at the drizzling air with its revolutionary breaks. She used axes to cut down the ones she loved. They never really got her politics, you see she was an oyster in the mornings, every question begins with an oyster, a question that waits to be asked, one that asks itself, she gathers a series of questions and opens up to a queer algorithm. She went through groups that slammed doors behind her, others that pretended to share her anxieties, cruel hierarchies, unspoken and obscure. At such times it was impossible for her to speak to anyone. A superwoman’s effort to explain, every question asked requested an apology to the authentic, revolutionary self, to social structures, to what it was that made her exceptionally aware of her body limits on the soggy, damp ground of the everyday rebel man.

— Ismini: “It felt as if there was an ideal to which I had to fit, and it was bad that I did not fit, I had to fit, it was compulsory. But I was incompatible to anarchism’s ideals. The narratives they had for women were predetermined, women were considered politically inadequate. It would go like this: you may be educated but what do you really know of real politics that happen on the street. There was no place for cuteness or any sort of femininity; you had to be macho to gain some respect. You could say that our feminist group developed some resistance against these hierarchically gendered narratives.”

Aliki: “…for many years what brought me close to others was this anger against the external world, these groups were like refuges… I felt a sort of relief but I could not find pleasure there… this hatred against the external world didn’t let other feelings emerge, feelings that could give me comfort, in these spaces you had to be militant, angry, to go out to the streets… and this hate doesn’t create relationships… after rage came the politics of trauma in queer collectives and we spoke about the war happening within us cause in these spaces (meaning: anarchist antifasiscts collectives) you had to be militant, angry, to go out to the streets and fight and we were not these militant strong subjects.

A kind of stripping bare of her body which needs to breath. For the sake of it, let’s name displacement as the act of looking that is not seeing itself. To say this, one immediately denounces absolute projects and post—apocalyptic promises, the act of knowing does not correspond to the other’s look in the mirror, there is no need to be sure about this, this sort of knowing helps her draw her flight to another place inside her.

I feel for Ismini, being mute, such a feeling of dismay, the oyster seals, the red hammer swings and demands integration, the purple ink on her skirt mutilates her figure for history encrypted by the anarchist stepfather. She drifts to the borders, it was time to leave him. As a poet with feminist consciousness she is bound to see the labyrinth as a field scribbled by the signatures of men and epochs of oppression. Perhaps it was the realization of this which made me select this place in the labyrinth to live for the next two years, surrounded by history on all sides, at odds with the city’s wishes for happiness, with a feminist past which only but a few can share with me but which love itself cannot deprive me of it.

There were the traces… Derrida’s three dots for which he says “it’s not because the duplicity of everything and nothing, of narratives and bodies, of absent presence, of the black sun, of the open torus, of the eluded center, of the elliptical return, could be summarized and reduced in some dialectic, in some conciliating final term” (Derrida, 1978: 299). Nothing but the alleys and the white of her skirt, Kirki’s pink nipples pressing against the torus. It’s her, living in ellipsis. She had set herself the task of trying to recover the pieces of her identity in words, reinstate them in memory, and allot them to each of her positions from which she was forced to flee, “having been uprooted by a force too powerful to resist and often too mysterious to decipher” (Bauman, 1997: 92).

— Kirki: “The split was obvious to me, it existed within me as two desires foreclosing one another. The feminist group and the anarchist squat had both their demands about how I should lead my life. After a certain point they could not coexist. This twofold sense of belonging was part of my life journey. It was a flight from familial attachment to the other of anarchism, from absolute repression to absolute freedom, a freedom in which I felt an orphan since I did not know what to do with it. I did not exist for myself. I lived locked in a fish bowl, at some point its layers were piling off and underneath there was an “I” that was building identities, romantic and glorious identities, all alien to me.”

— Me: Once I stepped over the red communist hammer, how can one discover truth I thought but that truth led me nowhere. No leftist or anarchist would tell me the truth. Neither my father, nor my mother, not even the brother or my prospective husband. I stool still. I was sure I was being watched, I looked over my shoulder. There they were again, the traces… three dots.

A thousand faces of the political whose reverberating expressions I do not understand and out of them all there is one only I am burning to see, the glowing face of Kirki. How does a woman look when she turns all her enemies and those who despise her into pigs with magic potions and medicines? How does a queer lesbian look when she is in love with her own sense of freedom? My eyes no longer know where to look, to the labyrinth’s alleys, the river, the rhythm of the waves, the emotional outbursts, the fights, the hugs, the tears. My eyes seek the hair extensions of Moira, the piercing eyes of Aliki, the tender touch of Laoura and the athletic body of Rena. Right now, on this very page, on this very moment, I have discovered what I would really like to write someday. I wanna write about my daring moves when I was a bit wild, I want to, I feel some sand inside me moving, better go easy on her, not wake her up, O how nice I said, whatever potion I can make, who knows is there anything wrong with my insides that make me unadjustable, have I been growing anything that causes me this itching, every moment at the labyrinth when women served compliments on my curves, I assumed the burden on behalf of my parents, it crushed me but I found my childhood hero, Altreyu,5 and together we cross the universe and draw three dots. Oh! yes, the three dots again… I know what is coming next, I will look at the labyrinth’s entrance, each dot offers kindling for her steps. Oh! I want to burst inside. I wanna marry her and smell coconut oil forever.



1 The link to the project can be found here:

2 See Malinowski’s A Diary in the Strict sense of the term which was first published in 1967, covering the period of his fieldwork in 1914—1915 and 1917—1918 in New Guinea and the Trobriand Islands.

3 The song is available here: (accessed on 26 June 2020).

4 The term is borrowed from The whipping girl, Serano’s autobiographical account on female transgenderism.

5 The link to the soundtrack of the movie can be found here: (accessed on 28 June 2020).


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Diana Manesi is a social anthropologist, feminist, writer and researcher working at the margins of knowledge production. She has completed her PhD in social anthropology on queer and lesbian social movements and subjectivities at Goldsmiths College, University of London. Part of her work has been published at academic journals. She is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the Hellenic Open University in the area of gender, science and technology.