Someone interested in studying at Uniarts Helsinki contacts you and asks how our university relates to sexual and gender minorities. How do you reply?
The conversation about gender diversity really started at Uniarts Helsinki a year and a half ago, and the students initiated it. They set up a task force that began pushing issues around sexual and gender minorities at Uniarts and highlighting the problems they face. It also organises meetings between transgender and non-binary students and teachers.
Together with the student union, the task force carried out a survey among the students about gender diversity. The results of the survey clearly show that there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure equal treatment for transgender and non-binary students.
In its strategy, Uniarts has committed to non-discrimination, but in practise things seem to be changing slowly. However, the issues are being discussed now and there are some positive examples of progress, like the inclusive dressing rooms and toilets we are going to get in the autumn.
How can we shed more light on the situation and experiences of sexual and gender minorities at Uniarts?
There is a lot that needs to be done: we need to train the university staff and part-time teachers yearly about sexual and gender minorities. The directors of the university have to be committed to non-discrimination also in practice – meaning that we need structural changes and long-term processes and conversations.
Especially transgender people are constantly threatened with violence in our society. Together, we must take responsibility for everyone’s safety. There are also questions about language and paperwork to consider: we must go through all our forms and look at them from the point of view of gender diversity and the right of self-determination.
Even in official contexts, it is important that people can for example choose how they want to be addressed. In English and Swedish communication, we should start using gender-neutral pronouns. (Finnish has a gender-neutral pronoun hän.) The list goes on.
How easy is it for a member of a sexual minority to work in your own field of art today? Is non-discrimination self-evident already?
Non-discrimination is by no means self-evident. Art is not separate from the world: Europe has taken steps back in relation to the rights of sexual minorities and some conservative and fascist movements are at downright war with sexual and gender minorities.
Doing a performance on stage is also always taking part in social debate. For example, the resent debate surrounding the play All About my Mother at The Finnish National Theatre, about representations of transgender people, and how transgender roles should be cast, showed ignorance and how transphobic theatre as an art form can still be. All through the production chain, questions should be asked: who is telling the story and whose voice can be heard.
At the theatre – and everywhere else – people are mainly cast in roles of binary men and women. The whole system is built on a binary division and it has to be shaken up in order to make more room for diversity and a lighter future for everyone.
It is wonderful to make room for everyone and take others into consideration. It allows everyone to participate, and it makes life fuller.
What kind of special meaning or role can your own art form have in answering different minority questions?
Art always makes worlds; it is never just reflecting or representing reality. It makes different worlds possible, and that is why it is especially meaningful.
Why do we need pride events these days?
Pride is in principle a rebellion movement. There is a desire to further restrict the living rights of minorities, so insurgency is still needed. Visibility and civic activism are needed, and we still need to make some noise.
What frustrates you when you follow the public conversation about sexual and gender minorities?
In the debate on minority rights, economic structures and economic criticism are generally overlooked. With this economic system, inside which we struggle to survive, we are not able to create an equal world. One part of this is pink-washing. Many companies wave the rainbow flag one week a year, but are not prepared to commit to developing minority rights in the long run.
Taking diversity genuinely into consideration is a challenging but rewarding job. Structures do not change with good will alone.
How would you guide the younger you with the life experience you have today?
I would say that you can be unknown even to yourself and you will never be ready. The strangeness in oneself does not vanish and that is comforting. This relates to my personal life and to work roles.
Hanging out with strangeness helps to create connections. With my colleagues, we have pondered the words undra (wonder) and beundra (admire) in Swedish and we have noticed that noticing admirable things happens through wondering about the unknown. It opens possibilities to living together.
Text by: Päivi Brink