“No faggot, just nuts”

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by Pál Nyíri

Around ten years ago I took some Chinese friends to the former royal castle in Gödöllö, near Budapest. We came upon a photo studio where you could dress up in costume from Queen Sisi’s era. My friends’ daughter, then around ten, donned the garb of a noble young lady; I dressed up as her governess. The photo was a hit, and recently it got into the hands of my three-year-old son. He wanted one too. The castle’s website informed us that the studio was still there. Off we went with my wife and my son.

This time, however, my request caused the staff of the studio, two young women, visible discomfort. A man in drag? Did I insist? Couldn’t I do with a hussar’s uniform? Then I must wait a moment; they had to call the boss to ask if this was allowed. But not even the consent of the boss eased the tension, although the fact that my son chose the hussar outfit must have made them feel a bit better. The photographer asked if we were married. Why? Because that made a difference for the price. (Evidently, family rates only applied to lawfully wed couples.) And what did my wife think about my wish to be photographed in a woman’s dress?

Before this questioning, it had not occurred  to me  that I was doing  something subversive. I did not intend to make a point—only to have fun. Isn’t that what taking photos in period costume is supposed to be? But the studio staff were clearly offended by this form of fun. Making a fool of yourself is fine as long as it does not challenge the dominant categories of god, fatherland, family. It was only now that I made the connection: Budapest Pride, the local version of the international gay extravaganza, which the city’ mayor called repulsive, had taken place the day before. Perhaps the girls in the studio were thinking what I overheard a restaurant proprietor in central Budapest say, about someone else, the night after the march: “This one isn’t a faggot, he’s just nuts.”

The fact that two women in their twenties decided that paying to rent a woman’s costume was something that needed  permission put the government’s ongoing poster campaign against immigration in a new light. On the ten-kilometre stretch between Gödöllö and Budapest, I counted four of these slogans, including “If you come to Hungary, you must respect Hungarian culture.” Obviously, these messages, in Hungarian, do not actually target migrants. Yet I think they are not mere xenophobic incitement—although they work as such. I believe their function is similar to the ubiquitous slogans one sees in China, placed in  public places by the Communist Party’s propaganda department. Originally imported from the Soviet Union, these slogans now serve patriotic rather than socialist education, calling on citizens to love the Fatherland, protect traditional culture, and strive to achieve the “China dream,” whatever that might be. For people who have grown up among slogans, they are hardly noticeable. But this does not mean they are ineffective. They get ingrained in public discourse and define language and behaviour that is normal and that is not; they define what a decent, patriotic citizen must notice and react to as an anomaly. This is exactly what happened in Gödöllö.

Pál Nyíri is professor of Global History from an Anthropological Perspective. 

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One thought on ““No faggot, just nuts”

  1. drs ing Henk Uijttenhout 29/07/2015 / 10:27

    van onze redactie
    Conchita Wurst liep als een rode draad door het Eurovisie Songfestival in Wenen heen. En dat werd velen teveel.
    Nadat de stemperiode voorbij was, mocht Conchita, die ook de opening deed, nogmaals het podium betreden. “Nog nooit heeft een winnaar zoveel exposure gehad”, oordeelde Songfestivalcommentator Cornald Maas.
    En hij kreeg bijval. Zeker omdat de finale van het internationale liedjesfestijn, met 27 optredende landen en daarna nog een lange aanloop naar de uitslag.
    “Het is echt de Conchita Wurst-show”, vindt een twitteraar. “Is dit jaar de Conchita Show! Ik krijg er een baard van.” “Heb nu wel genoeg Conchita-promo gezien hoor. On with the show!”

    Paul de Leeuw: “Die vrouw met de baard wordt wel heel erg uitgemolken! Hadden we met Sieneke toch ook niet gedaan!” Viktor Brand: “Nou echt klaar met die Conchita! Afschminken en met een boekenbon naar huis!”

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