by Irina Costache
After Trajan and Decebalus. (From the Pages of Gay History in Romania)
By/With: Paul Dunca, Mihaela Michailov
Scenography: Andrei Dinu
How would one live a “gay lifestyle” in Romania before 1989? What where the meeting points? What were the rituals for socializing and how did the oppressive structures work? What were the outcomes of article 200, whose provisions punished sexual relations between persons of the same sex by 1 to 5 years in prison? How could you be yourself by avoiding your identity, yet still live in a regime of passive acceptance? How did the abuses against the freedom of self-representation continue after 1989?
After Trajan and Decebalus is a fragment from the underground history of homosexuality in Romania before and after 1989. The paradoxes of censorship functioned perfectly. Even though it was forbidden, there was gay life in Romania.
I’m still surprised by the fact that when people try to bond over beers, spritzers or grandma’s tea, they inevitably end up dancing around the same story – how and how much we suffered under Communism. It little matters whether they are direct victims of the regime or not, anticommunist suffering is a family heirloom, transmissible to anyone independent of their own will. Anticommunist suffering is, in fact, a viral suffering, with jolts of alcohol-induced fever, discussions about politics and the future (yours, ours, that of the future couple, the company or the country). The routine “grandpa went to jail, he was a well-off peasant, but he was hard-working and he had a bit more land” is well-known, we tell it again and again to every curious stranger, we tell it to each other simulating compassion and letting everyone know we’re the good guys. Yes, those of us with “hard-working peasant grandparents persecuted under communism” have no patience for nostalgias, utopias or comebacks from those who cannot instrumentalize their inheritance as well as we do. We can’t take the resignation of the losers of the transition, either, and neither do we care about the projects of the radicals. Even worse, we have no patience to listen to those carrying stories of persecution more horrid than our grandpa’s: Communist strikers, Roma dispossessed of their gold and horses, gay grandparents, Jewish, Hungarian or German grandparents affected by Ceaușescu’s ethnic nationalism. These stories are not just too extreme to fit with the official history (which some of us teach), but in all honesty, these stories are too uncomfortable and ambiguous even for our time.
Every now and then, another challenge comes up in the cultural sphere of Bucharest – a lesson in alternative history which attempts to prove that not all grandparents were persecuted because they were hard-working peasants. Some of them seem to have suffered and continue to suffer because of love… definitely because of love for people of the same sex.
One of these challenges is the performance After Trajan and Decebalus. From the Pages of Gay History in Romania, a documentary theater performance, made on the basis of bits of archival material and interviews by Mihaela Michailov and Paul Dunca as part of a project supported by Salonul de Proiecte. The result of the exercise is a very interesting history lesson, interpreted with honesty and bluntness, which manages to convey the inherent chaos of a life hidden under the bushel: the joy found in the triangle of public toilets, fueled by the thrill of meeting the undercover agent working the beat. This is a story we don’t have the courage to listen to from people the same age as our grandparents. […]