Interview with Adrian Schiop
Adrian Schiop (born 1973, Porumbacu de Jos, Sibiu County, Romania) graduated from the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Science at Babeș-Bolyai University in Cluj and has an MA in Linguistics from the Faculty of Letters at the same university. In 2013, he completed his PhD dissertation on manele (Romanian turbo-folk) at the National School of Political and Administrative Studies in Bucharest. He worked as a teacher of Romanian language and literature (1997-2001, at Tehnofrig Industrial High-School in Cluj), painter (2002, Paintech LTD in Auckland, New Zealand) and journalist (2004-2010, at Evenimentul Zilei and România Liberă). He debuted in Fracturi magazine (2002) and has published three novels so far: pe bune/pe invers (Polirom, 2004), Zero grade Kelvin (Polirom 2009) and Soldații. Poveste din Ferentari [The Crew. A Story from Ferentari] (Polirom, 2013). He is currently a collaborator for the online platform Criticatac/LeftEast.
Talking about his formative years as a writer, Adrian Schiop considers that switching from one system to another had a crucial impact on his writing: “I consciously passed through three systems: Ceausescu’s fading socialism, the ‘anarchism’ of the 1990s and the tame neoliberalism after the EU integration. My writing is a kind of psychotherapy by means of which I’m trying to understand what was happening to me during those crazy years; the transition period is my Freudian shadow.”
What did you aim to discuss in “Soldații”? What drove you?
I wanted to somehow get a grip on the time spent in Ferentari, say things nobody had said yet and etch a description of its society. I lived in Ferentari, I didn’t quite know what I got from it and it seemed like a shame to “capitalize” the experience only in a PhD dissertation. The academic discourse doesn’t suit me, I find it much more difficult to engage in it. You need to have references, you can’t speculate too much. And I had ideas which I couldn’t fully argue, but I had a gut feeling that’s how things were. This was what I wanted to show. Besides, my topic was the manea (turbo-folk) and I had loads of observations which had nothing to do with that and I couldn’t use them. Living there, I came to know about other things: what the thugs got up to, how they interacted and how they saw outsiders.
So it wasn’t primarily the love story?
No, no, it was the love story. And I thought the topic was worth writing about. […] I wanted to come with a grassroots perspective. And give an account of society as a whole. This was what drove me, beyond Ferentari: to show that somehow those people were not that different; that the whole of Romanian society was “new money”. It’s not only they who are caught up in this – making heaps of money – but the entire Romanian society is after money. Just like the whole bragging thing. In fact, all Romanians are now centered on showing off, conspicuous consumption and in-your-face display, except they take different forms, more hypocritical ones. I mean, in the rest of society, the middle class, things happen in a more subtle way – people show off in such a way as to avoid looking like show-offs. […]
As a gay man, do you feel the pressure to be more masculine, more macho?
Yeah, you do, it’s somehow… There’s a sort of masculinity complex in gay environments. First of all, it’s how society sees you, like a sort of woman in disguise. Second of all, maybe you identify more easily with the image of women (without necessarily being into the whole drag thing or whatever) and all this leads you to somehow think “I gotta be a man, what the hell? So what if I fuck other men? Can’t I be a man? I can’t be a proper man if I fuck other men?” There is a sort of masculinity complex within the culture, as well. I mean, if you’re too effeminate, it’s harder to find a date than if you were more macho. So many play the macho card, especially after a certain age. When you’re young and handsome, it’s easier to be more girlish, but after a certain age, you’re just physically unable to pull it off anymore. And it’s a world where physical appearance matters a lot. I feel it’s a lot tougher than in the straight world, where people get married, have kids and it doesn’t matter anymore, you can get fat, you can… When you have no family, no nothing, you have to be fit all the time and look young. If you start losing your touch, you try to compensate by acting more macho. But beyond this, there still is a sort of macho complex which I also have and I think many in this world have. And I tried to get over this complex in the novel and said “Fuck it, my character is gonna be passive.” […]
What’s your character’s take on gay men?
There was a scandal because my storyteller seemed homophobic. I said to myself “Damn, I pushed it too much.” Maybe for the shock effect, I don’t know. I thought “Wouldn’t it have been great if he’d said homosexuals were his sisters?”, in the sense that they’re all in this together, but he can’t be attracted to them, they lack credibility as men and he just sees them as sisters. This would have been the best way, but I didn’t take it. Instead, I psychologized this whole thing and tried to explain his homophobia, which was wrong. I think I somehow screwed up this part. I was a bit of a douche-bag for emphasizing this aspect. I let it be understood that he is somehow sickened by it, that he can’t feel good, just like he is sickened by women and femininity, he is sickened by gay men and can’t trust their masculinity.
So how do you reply to the accusations of homophobia?
It’s internalized. It’s internalized homophobia. Nowadays, if you’re born in an urban area, in a middle class family, people are somehow more tolerant of homosexuality and you don’t end up hating yourself for it. But I went through a really rough period. The 90s were… They were unreal. People were shouting out their homophobia. In the media, the homosexual was the archetypal “Romanian criminal”, there was a newspaper publishing all sorts of dubious stuff, it was made-up news. Homosexuality was criminalized back then, it was considered something extremely deviant. Gays were seen as leaches clinging to your dick. Those days are over, however. Now things are more subtle, back then, homophobia was out in the open. Besides, I was “in the closet” until I was 25-26, so people would consider me straight and they would be very open about their hatred of gays. And you end up identifying with the homophobic opinions without even realizing it. But I think it’s a sort of self-loathing.
You’ve also been accused of racist fetishizing. How do you reply to that?
I didn’t mean to fetishize anything. I lived there for 4 years. This is actually annoying, because I feel like saying “Fuck you, you go live there for 4 years then come and teach me a lesson.” This really pisses me off: when someone hanging out only in the city center, going only to bars and parties in that area and maybe doing some volunteer work where they talk to people for a couple of minutes, teaches me about fetishizing and racism when they have no actual contact with that life. […]
Interview conducted by ALICE MONICA MARINESCU
 Ferentari is a neighborhood in Bucharest depicted in the urban imaginary of the city as a thoroughly violent and unsafe area, dominated by “Gypsy clans”, loan sharks, thugs and drug addicts.