Last time I spoke to Paola Revenioti was a real bummer. Reports had surfaced at the beginning of summer that Greek transgender people were being arrested in anticipation of Thessaloniki Pride, and according to Paola – a transgender artist, activist and prostitute – everything was a bit of a mess.
This time around, Paola is in London for her first solo exhibition, demonstrating why she's become such an influential figure for Greek LGBT folk. In the 1980s she published an anarchist-trans zine called Kraximo, which translates to "gay bashing" in Greek slang. The zine featured articles on gay and trans rights, interviews with important people like poet Dinos Christianopoulos and philosopher Félix Guattari, as well as her photographs of some of the boys she'd hooked up with – a controversial subject for the time.
Paola's done a lot since Kraximo came to a close – little bits and bobs, like publishing poetry anthologies, filming seminal documentaries and organising the first Athens Pride – but the exhibition, opening tonight at The White Cubicle Toilet Gallery, focuses on the zine, so I had a chat with her about that.
VICE: Hi Paola. How are you finding London?
Paola Revenioti: Don't get me started. I arrived late last night, took the wrong bag at the airport and only realised this morning. I've spent the day dealing with that. All I've seen in London is the little park opposite my hotel in Bethnal Green, where I come to smoke because, of course, you can't smoke in London. You don't think I'll end up arrested for stealing the wrong bag, do you?
Nah, it's happened to the best of us. So this is the first time you're exhibiting in London and the exhibition focuses on Kraximo, the trans-anarchist zine you published in the 80s.
Right. It focuses on Kraximo, but also massively on photos I took around the same time, from the mid 1980s to 1990. Is that when you started taking photos?
I was taking photos before that, but when I started the magazine I didn't want to be using other people's photos. What is special about these photos, however, is that they're mostly of boys that I met at nights, took home and photographed. The portraits are really intimate. How did you get these guys so comfortable with being photographed in that way?
That's something most people fail to understand. I had a special relationship with all the boys – they didn't feel any regrets for being with me. Back in those days, sexuality wasn't as defined as today; there were no boxes. Straight boys could have sex with a tranny. I was also pretty and blonde and had nice boobs. The fact that they had sex with me and I photographed them didn't automatically mean they were gay.
Were these guys your clients?
No, they were just boys – 18 to 23 years old. Look, Greece has a tradition of homosexuality. In London, people seem to have a greater need to define themselves as straight or gay. For Greeks, it's in our culture to be bendy. The act of having sex with a tranny mostly involves what we call the social gender. And, you know, Greeks are quite into anal. There is an eroticism in the air in Greece. Or there used to be; the crisis has ruined the mood now. A lot. I know you were self-taught, but these pictures are technically good, too.
I think the pictures came out that artistic because I loved those boys. I wasn't in love with them, but I held them dear. When I point my camera at them, they aren't looking at any photographer, they are looking at me. I capture the romanticism in their eyes. Whatever I did, I did because I felt like it. I never thought of myself as an artist – it's only in the past few years that people started calling me that. Still, you have come to be pretty important to people of my generation. Do you feel any responsibility towards your work now?
I didn't use to. I used to act way more carelessly, but lately I try and be a little more careful with the things I write, photograph and generally put out there. I now see that there are loads of young people – straight and gay – who are taking me seriously, so I have to be responsible. I don't think I'm a good example, though; I'm a bad one, my life has been decadent. They might be impressed by my autonomy – the fact I published a gay-anarchist magazine in such a weird time. But I still don't fully understand it, 'cause it's not like my life's been tough. Or at least I don't choose to look at it this way. I chose to forget about the bad times. People come to me and reminisce about the times I fought with policemen, the hours I spent in court, but I forget. I never think about those times.
One of the pages in Kraximo.
You were quite the pioneer, though. Kraximo was one of the first magazines of its kind.
Yeah, it was, and I enjoy that people see it that way now because making it was a pain in the ass. There were no computers back then, and not that many people to work with either. I had to ask around for articles. I had to edit everything myself. There was a lot of copy paste. Especially the first issues – the pink ones, I physically made them myself. I enjoyed it, though. How did the idea come along?
I'm not sure. I've always been a rebel. When I was 12, I left home for a military academy. I didn't like it there either, so I left when I was 15. I was also always politicised and smarter than the other trannies, who only knew how to speak in gay slang and shake their ass. I moved to Exarcheia, for example. The neighbourhood back then was vibing off May of 1968 – loads of people who had studied in France lived there. In general, it was home to better educated people than this grouping of freaks you get nowadays. The LGBT movement was also based there and they published Amfi, the first LGBT magazine in Greece. That gave me a push because Amfi didn't exactly express me. I learned a lot from it, but it was made by two or three gays who'd studied in France. They didn't know much about Greek reality. Kraximo was published by a tranny prostitute who was a bit of an anarchist. I think that's what set it apart. How long did Kraximo last?
About ten years – there are 14 issues. I had a couple of year-long hiatuses because the police were constantly on my case and I had no money. It wasn't printed regularly, but whenever it came out what impressed me was that people talked about it. Even newspapers like Eleftherotypia would write about it. But back then I didn't understand its value. It's only lately that I do. How so?
The most moving thing happened last week. I was in Stathmos Larissis [home to the Golden Dawn Headquarters] and this 45-year-old guy stopped me on the street and told me this story: His family kicked him out of the house for being gay in his teens. On the train from Patras to Athens, in the toilet, he stumbled upon a copy of Kraximo. He took it and reading it made him feel that there were more people like him in the world. He said, "Paola, this magazine changed my life. It stopped me feeling bad for who I was." Loads of people have said that to me. That's the best affirmation anyone can give you. Now that the years have passed, I see that it wasn't all for nothing.
KRAXIMO opens tonight and will run until November the 3rd at The White Cubicle Gallery, 2 Hackney Road, London E2. It is organised by The Queer Archive. This is the event's Facebook page. You should go have a look.
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