SUNFLOWER SWEARWORD SWEAT
I remember well when I was still a primary school kid, for a brief moment I thought there must be something not quite right with my dad. I saw a book that years later I understood to be Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality on the bookshelf. At the time what had me fixated is that it mentioned sex on its cover. My puerile imagination, already littered with greatest hits of collective consciousness passed down the years through the educational system along with the school canteen smell of old sunflower oil, sauerkraut, beetroot and chlorine cleaning agent, made me very agitated. The word ‘sexuality’ had to do with something worrisome and possibly very wrong. For a short while I believed that I’d stumbled upon a big secret that I had to hold on to myself. ‘My dad’s gay and I am the only one to realize this’, ‘But this doesn’t make any sense’, ‘How can this be?’ circling round in my head for a few days.
Pretty soon, I forgot all about it with the fading thought that there must be a discrepancy, that I was not getting something. I never came back to this completely isolated incident that occurred as a sudden, inexplicable short-circuit of neural pathways, just a silly little thing. Now looking back at it, it was a set of language rules enacting itself, well knit together through years of collectively learned sublimation and shame.
Through the ubiquitous jargon of late nineties/early 2000s Vilnius school break, which I am sure did not differ much from that of the sixties or eighties, ten-year-olds would quickly learn that weird is also queer, therefore, ‘wrong’. And it was dealt like cards are dealt: you don’t question a bad card if everyone’s getting one once in a while. Swears such as gaidys (En. rooster, cock) coming from the Soviet prison slang, meaning the lowest caste in the inmate hierarchy – a weak, ‘womanly’ person to be constantly abused physically and mentally – could be heard every day and put into habitual circulation. Another one was pydaras from Russian pydar, which is in turn from Ancient Greek paiderastes – the lover of boys. By around age eleven to twelve, for schoolboys, these would become the ‘go to’ words when you found someone odd or you just did not like them much.
An embarrassing thought, a slip, a spill carves Vilnius open, its suppressed sexuality, squelched queerness and otherness.