Venetia Kantsa is Associate Professor of Social Anthropology, at the Department of Social Anthropology and History, University of the Aegean, Greece and Director of the Laboratory of Family and Kinship Studies at the same Department. She holds a Ph.D. in social anthropology from London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), University of London and has conducted fieldwork on women’s same-sex sexuality and the history of the lesbian movement in Greece, same-sex families, motherhood and new forms of parenthood, kinship, gender and assisted reproduction. She has also published extensively on kinship theory, gender epistemology and methodology, politics of sexuality and conceptualizations of citizenship. Her current research in the context of the research program (In)FERCIT focuses on assisted reproduction in relation to technology, law and religion. Kantsa shared fascinating facts and her poignant perspective with GreekTV regarding same sex families in Greece.
Q. What drove your interest in this field of study?
Every research has its own story.
VK. An interest in silence. Every research has its own story. The story of my focus on same-sex relationships among women in contemporary Greece can be traced back to the time where as a student of a Greek university I had the opportunity and the luck to meet and be platonically involved with a number of young women who were engaged in same-sex relationships. Without claiming a lesbian identity, participating in lesbian groups, or holding strong theoretical views on same-sex desires these women formed a network of support quite different from the ones I had so far encountered. Our acquaintance soon evolved into a strong friendship which continued over the years, despite the fact that our lives followed different routes. The story would have stopped here if I had not been attracted to a quotation I read. It was as follows: “When we turn to women’s alternative forms of sexuality, we find a striking contrast with men. […] It is as if the linking of female sexuality to fertility is so powerful that there can be no perceived need for women to ‘express’ sexuality in contexts which cannot lead to procreation” (Loizos and Papataxiarchis, 1991: 228-9). In the above quotation it is argued that female same-sex practices have never been recorded by Greek ethnographers due to a particular emphasis on the role of women as wives and mothers. Although I could not object to the main argument, I was convinced that we would never be able to get a complete picture of female same-sex desires in Greek society, if we were going to solely focus on the existence of lesbian identities. The women I had met did not adopt a lesbian identity. They did not feel the need to declare themselves to be lesbians and did not let these relationships exclusively determine the kind of sexual relationships they would have in future. Nevertheless, their sexual practices were a significant parameter in their lives which influenced in a variety of ways their self-identity.
Greece is a society where kinship and family relations play a crucial role in the definition of female and male identities
An interest in the silence which surrounds erotic relationships among women in contemporary Greece motivated me to search for narrations of desire, stories of sexuality and the self uttered by same-sex desiring women. Thus, I became interested not in questions of why, but how female same-sex desires are expressed, discussed, negotiated, how they are related to others parameters which inform one’s subjectivity, how they are dependent upon, influenced by, and contested from the socio-cultural context they emerge. The specificities of Greek society with its particular emphasis on the significance of family and kinship, and the importance of motherhood on the one hand, and European and US imported discourses on gender and sexuality on the other, form the context in which such desires are felt, articulated, communicated and negotiated. Greece is a society where kinship and family relations play a crucial role in the definition of female and male identities, while full adult status for both women and men is obtained through marriage and the acquisition of children. Yet, at the same time Greece is a society in constant flux where major changes have occurred during the last decades in family and gender relations; the change of the Family Law, the country’s participation in the EEC and the import of European and US discourses on lesbianism and same-sex sexualities since the mid 70s. Yet, the impact of these ‘imported’ discourses on gender and sexuality, however global they might appear, depend heavily on the specificities of each society and the stabilities of everyday life, and are confronted by traditional narrations which are to be found in every culture.
Q. How does Greece compare to other countries in Europe regarding same-sex rights?
Greece is one of the few countries in Europe, without legal recognition of same-sex relationships, neither in the form of marriage nor as registered partnership or registered cohabitation
VK. European countries vary in terms of the rights that they have established for same-sex individuals who wish to become parents and to have equal access to rights of custody and guardianship. According to International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association [ILGA ] Europe report, in May 2013, Greece provided a total of 28% of the rights to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people, thus rating 25th among 49 European countries. However, when it comes to family legitimization issues, percentage drops to 8%. Rights with reference to the family include: 1) the right to marriage; 2) registered bond (bearing the same rights as marriage); 3) registered bond (with fewer rights than marriage); 4) cohabitation; 5) joint adoption; 6) adoption by the second parent; 7) automatic recognition of parental custody; 8) access to medically assisted reproduction (for couples); 9) access to medically assisted reproduction (for individuals); 10) the right of transgender people to marry people of the opposite sex. In Greece only the last two rights are granted, namely, access to medically assisted reproduction for single women and the possibility of marriage for individuals who have made sex reassignment surgery. Thus, Greece is one of the few countries in Europe, without legal recognition of same-sex relationships, neither in the form of marriage nor as registered partnership or registered cohabitation. By the end of 2004, the National Committee for Human Rights (the official Counselor of the Prime Minister on such issues) had proposed that the government legally recognize cohabitation among same-sex persons, as a means of prohibiting discrimination. In April 2006, one of the major political parties, PASOK (the Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement), distributed a draft law on registered cohabitation for heterosexual and same-sex partners. However, same-sex couples were not included in the law on registered partnership eventually voted by the Greek Parliament in 2008. In the same vein, some years earlier, in 2002, lesbian women had been excluded from the law on assisted reproduction. The legislator’s hesitation in 2002 to include same-sex couples in the law on medically assisted reproduction is closely linked to the absence of a legal framework for same-sex marriage. As a result, access to medically assisted reproduction is only possible for lesbian women, provided that they disclaim their sexual preference/desire/relationship and appear as single women. In other words, the right to medically assisted reproduction is not offered in terms of recognition of same-sex sexuality, but through the recognition of a single woman’s desire to have a child.
Q. How do you see the future paradigm of Greek families evolving?
LGBT organizations make strong claims in order to gain full citizenship status
VK. The Greek paradigm underlines that rights-based politics in favor of same-sex marriage, acquisition and recognition of children need to be connected to context-specific conceptualizations of gender, sexuality and marriage. In Greek society, ‘marriage’ is a hot topic. The low divorce percentage, the practically nonexistent cohabitation percentage, and the small number of children who are born outside of wedlock underline further its cultural significance. Despite a growing number of social, economic and political transformations, which would have allowed for imagining alternative ways of life, ‘marriage’ remains an ideal that is closely related to personal fulfillment, social recognition, and civil and economic rights. Therefore, the paradox of a registered cohabitation law that excludes same-sex couples can only be explained in relation to the cultural significance of heterosexual coupling in Greece as a prerequisite for the fulfillment of one’s subjectivity. Yet, from another perspective the same cultural idiom that values coupling and marriage may be used to explain the recent –almost unified- LGBT organizations’ stance towards pro marriage agendas. It is because ‘marriage’ maintains its central role in Greek society that members of LGBT organizations make strong claims for it in order to gain full citizenship status. However, it is due to the same cultural idiom that same-sex marriage might be able, -potentially-, to offer new conceptualizations of gender, sexuality, subjectivity and citizenship.
Kantsa, Venetia, Aspa Chalkidou, 2014, “Doing family “in the space between the laws”. Notes on lesbian motherhood in Greece». In Ulrika Dahl and Jenny Gunnarsson Payn (eds.), special issue “Kinship and Reproduction”, Lamda Nordica (3-4): 86-108
Kantsa, Venetia, 2014 “The price of marriage: Same-sex sexualities and citizenship in Greece”. Sexualities 17: 818-836
Kantsa, Venetia 2011 “An Interest in Silence Tracing, Defining and Negotiating a Research Project on Women’s Same-Sex Sexuality in Greece”. In Antu Sorainen (eds.), special issue “Queering Home. Politics and Ethics of the Field”, Journal of Queer Studies in Finland 4(1): 23-40
Kantsa, Venetia 2010 “ ‘Viζιbility’: Women, same-sex sexualities and the subversion (?) of gender”. In Eugenia Georges and Chrissy Moutsatsos (eds.), special issue “Re-visiting Sex and Gender in Contemporary Greek Ethnography”, Journal of Mediterranean Studies 18(2): 213-240