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Being a Sexual Dissident

6 min read

An interview with Iñaki – on being a Romani sexual dissident

My name is Iñaki Vazquez, I’m 50 years old. I identify as a Gypsy, and as a marica (queer). I say queer intentionally because for me reclaiming that word is political. Marica is used an insult, but by redefining it we are questioning it and making people think. Defining yourself as gay in Spain, and more generally in the west is also a question of class and ethnicity, and I’m not a man who belongs to the upper classes, and of course, I’m also a Gypsy. I’m also a man in a patriarchal society, with all of the privilege that brings with it. Oh, and in terms of national identity I’m Catalan. All of my identities could be seen to be contradictory, but I prefer to say that my identity is not stagnant, all of my identities are mixed up with each other.

Iñaki giving a talk at the Ministry of Health in Madrid, July 2018. Photo by Bex Wade

Iñaki giving a talk at the Ministry of Health in Madrid, July 2018. Photo by Bex Wade

So, I’d say in my case it has been a process of building my own identity, through my activism and a position of pride in who I am. I always knew that there needed to be an interlinking of my Gypsy and LGBT activism. In truth I can’t say that I’ve been on the receiving end of discrimination. In my opinion it comes from your own attitude. I know it’s very complicated, but I think having pride in who you are is very important. You must draw a line in the sand and no one should cross it in terms of respect. Actually, this is a really Gypsy value.

How was your coming out process?

Complicated…I’m 50 years old and I came out at 22, so almost 30 years ago. The situation and the opinion of the majority of people in Spain was very different from today. But reflecting on it now, in my coming out process I find aspects of my ethnicity. For example, Gypsies often say hello to each other with the phrase, “Salud y libertad” (health and freedom). For us freedom is a core value, something we can’t give up.

Romani and LGBTQ solidarity wristbands. Photo by Bex Wade

Romani and LGBTQ solidarity wristbands. Photo by Bex Wade

Obviously, I was under a lot of pressure. I’d had girlfriends and all my family had expectations that I would marry a Gypsy woman, and to disappoint them was a huge amount of pressure. But there is a certain force that carries you forward, and you tell yourself to be true to yourself. I felt terrible because I was with a woman who I loved very much, but knew I preferred sex with men. But at the same time, I had the attitude of, “I’m gay and so what?” and I think it helped because in the end I didn’t really have too much opposition from my family. Of course, they needed their time to process it. But I’ve always had the support of my aunts, my sisters, my mother and, in the end, also my father. In Reus where I am from we organised the first LGBT demo in Catalunya outside of Barcelona. I was a leader back then with a lot of responsibility and a group of parents of lesbians and gays in Catalunya came and my mother joined them with her own placard. I asked her what she was doing, and she said, “Well, you’re my son aren’t you?”

I’m the coordinator of a state-wide Gypsy organisation, called Plataforma Khetane. They don’t have a public position on LGBT issues, but they have employed me in a key role and I know that means that there is an implicit respect towards my personal process and I value that.

Being a role model

I do feel that I am a role model, although it doesn’t feel like a heavy responsibility. I don’t mind shouldering that responsibility because I am of a certain age and have support from my family, which many people do not have.

Iñaki 3

Iñaki Vázquez Arencón. Photo by Bex Wade.

Over the last few years I came to realise that there are a lot of people around who are going through similar processes, in Valencia, Jaen, Barcelona, Madrid, Alicante. Effectively we have become reference points throughout Spain. What’s strange though is that 15 years ago we would have been on the margins of Gypsy society, but in fact we have ended up being not just LGBT reference points but also for the Gypsy movement as a whole. My impression is that there are not that many people out of the closet but there are many, many people who look to us for guidance. Take today for instance, I’m going to participate in an activity at the Ministry of Health. They called us because they have so many LGBT Gypsies approaching them for support and advice.

Ververipen

The driving force behind us setting up the Ververipen (meaning diversity in the Romani language) group was Demetrio Gomez. He is a key figure at a European level for the Spanish Gypsy movement. His idea was to work on many aspects related to diversity, not only sexual orientation or gender identity, but all aspects. He started with a Facebook page but through that we all began to get to know each other. I for instance, due to my relationship with a magazine in Catalunya, published interviews with LGBT Gypsies in Spain.

At the beginning the Facebook page was private and hidden, in order to protect people if needed, but now it is public. We formed an association and began work in Spain and also in Europe. We’ve participated in two European meetings in Prague and have contributed to the Prague Declaration. It ended up being a founding manifesto for us, in which we put forward the issue of Romani sexual dissidence in Europe and the necessity of incorporating the idea of diversity within the complex identity of Romani people. We then shared this with Romani organisations and European institutions.

I’d say in the last two years we’ve been working on increasing the visibility of Gypsy sexual diversity and dissidence at many events in Spain, including during Pride in Madrid. We hope that shortly we’ll be able to organise an international meeting in Madrid with the participation of Romani sexual dissidents from all over Europe. We’re just a few at the moment, but we believe that we’re about to take a major qualitative and quantitative step forward.

Hopes for the future

I think we need to find our own way of being sexual dissidents, and this shouldn’t be by denying our Gypsy identity as it’s so important for us to maintain that. I think there will be a lot of difficulties along the way, but it’s unstoppable now. It doesn’t have to be the same as in other movements, we can do it our way, and it will need many pauses for reflection. We also need to work closely with families, and to show how many Gypsy people down the ages have also been sexual dissidents, in order to break down some myths that have arisen amongst our community.

Iñaki Vázquez Arencón at Madrid Pride, 2018. Photo by Bex Wade

Iñaki Vázquez Arencón at Madrid Pride, 2018. Photo by Bex Wade

I think our movement will grow. We are trying to transcend the norms, so that the norms are not our prison. Let’s break with the rules so that we can live in greater liberty.

I am an optimist. I think things are changing, above all for the younger generation and because of sexual dissidents increasingly becoming visible reference points for the Gypsy community as a whole. This means that in one way or another the Gypsy community trusts us. This is such an important issue for us, because of our story of persecution over centuries.

 

Written by Emma Eastwood

Photos by Bex Wade