The experiences of Romani LGBTIQ people: queer(y)(ing) Roma

  • Lucie Fremlova

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Romani LGBTIQ people experience specific non-normative (queer) intersectionalities within mainstream, Romani and LGBTIQ communities on multiple grounds, including ethnicity/race, sexuality, gender, class, social status, age, religion etc. The research addresses a significant gap in knowledge by shedding light on an area of inquiry which remains understudied, leading to invisibility and inadequate awareness of needs. The lived experiences investigated herein are regionally diverse, allowing the research to highlight commonly shared experiences of queer intersectionalities. Historically, non-Roma have romanticised and simultaneously vilified Roma, leading to stereotypical essentialist/essentialising representations of Roma, Romani identities and identifications; and resulting in embedding marked essentialist difference at the core of historic and modern negative social valuation of Romani ethnic identity. This thesis argues that the lived experiences of Romani LGBTIQ people pose a fundamental challenge to stereotypical, one-dimensional, homogenising and essentialising representations of Roma. Guided by the research question ‘What are the experiences of Romani LGBTIQ people in and beyond Europe?’, this qualitative research draws on ethnographic principles. It is concerned with investigating and highlighting the experiences of Romani LGBTIQ people; and unpacking, uncovering and exploring the strategies deployed by Romani LGBTIQ people when negotiating multiple ethnic, sexual and gender identities and identifications, oppression, (in)visibility, exclusion, as well as inclusion, recognition, and belonging (or lack thereof) with, in and/or to mainstream societies, as well as Romani and LGBTIQ communities. The fieldwork for this research was undertaken between summer 2015 and autumn 2016. Data was collected in 14 interviews, 2 where participant observation was undertaken. Thematic analysis sensitive to queer theoretical concepts, and to queer assemblages in particular, was used to identify key themes. The investigation contributes to queer(y)(ing) Romani Studies by challenging dominant essentialist, homogenising conceptualisations of Romani identities; and to ongoing discussions about the under-development of sexuality within intersectionality, and the under-development of intersectionality within queer theorising. In order to help generate insight into Romani LGBTIQ people’s queer intersectional identities and identifications, this thesis proposes to employ queer intersectionalities: they allow us to identify and interrogate the workings of interlocking axes of inequality whilst not assuming the supremacy of one axis over the other, hence not re-inscribing marked essentialist difference embedded within and constitutive of social norms, orthodoxies, and binaries. Simultaneously, employing queer intersectionalities benefits understandings of identities and identifications as rhizomic fluid assemblages that are not anchored in the notion of fixed ‘groupness’. Queer intersectionalities thus enable an important reconceptualisation of Romani identities and identifications that dismantles norms and normativities, doing away with marked essentialist difference that has tended to fix and stabilise Romani identities and identifications. The research found that although Antigypsyism — a direct manifestation of whitenormativity — is a key aspect of the lived experiences of many Romani LGBTIQ people that often eclipses other forms of oppression, it is not the only aspect of Romani LGBTIQ people’s experiences. Romani LGBTIQ people experience queer intersectional stigmatisation as both Roma and LGBTIQ due the interlocking negative social valuation of Romani ethnicity, non-heteronormative sexuality and/or non-cis-normative gender identity. These specific queer intersectionalities experienced by Romani LGBTIQ people are inextricably linked to various degrees of ethnicised/racialised, sexed, gendered and queer intersectional (in)visibilities, including hyper-visibility. Romani LGBTIQ people negotiate and renegotiate the boundaries of various degrees of (in)visibilities delineating difference and sameness that one may ‘step in’ or ‘step out of’ depending on how one ‘reads’ a given social setting and on how one is ‘read’ within that context employing the notional spaces of ‘the closet’ and/or passing: key survival strategies that are constituted and reconstituted through social contexts and relationships, including through families and/or communities where both inclusion and exclusion are present. The dimension of gender, particularly with respect to femininity associated with some ‘passive’ gay men (receivers) and (trans)womanhood, is key to the specific queer intersectionalities experienced by Romani LGBTIQ people, especially lesbian women, some gay men, and trans and intersex people. As mediators, bridges, halfies and in-betweens, in response to marked essentialist difference lying at the root of white-normativity, heteronormativity, cis-normativity and patriarchy, some Romani LGBTIQ people seek to create commonality, and indeed, strategic sameness: the notion of a relational use of identities and identifications whereby connections are created across difference for strategic purposes. Strategic sameness is a political strategy of navigating spaces between difference and sameness; as such, strategic sameness does not read through assimilation, conformity and/or normalisation. Operationalised by and through (in)visibilities — and in some cases hyper-visibility — associated with ‘the closet’ and passing, and deployed in a queer way to defy and subvert dominant normativities within which it operates, strategic sameness is a positionality resisting norms and binaries that enables the queer bearer to deploy sameness in order to do away with social norms, orthodoxies and dualisms. Queer non belonging by identification and disidentification is a transgressive, subversive non/counter-normative positionality that some Romani LGBTIQ people may assume when negotiating queer intersectionalities. It enables re-conceptualisations of identities and identifications by identifying with aspects of ethnic/racial and/or sexual/gender identities that are empowering while disidentifying with those aspects that are hostile, restrictive and/or oppressive. Queer non belonging has an important political dimension: espousing a marked (stigmatised) category of identification can be understood as a strategically subversive act undermining key hegemonic systems of oppression: white-normativity, heteronormativity, cis-normativity and patriarchy. This investigation may benefit service providers, civil society organisations, community initiatives and institutions in the area of application and policy recommendations and potentially feed into larger national and transnational policy frameworks.
Date of AwardOct 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton

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