Seville’s Infanta Elena Public Library often hosts events with authors who share their creations with the public and start a dialogue about their art. In March, Elena Flores, lesbian poet and activist, read a number of her pieces and spoke with attendees about LGBTQ literary representation in Spain.
I search for your body’s paradise,
you corrupt me with your absence when we speak,
I leave Eden
to search for you in the sea of succubi.
And I want to entangle myself in you and
break the rules of paradise
that I will ruin,
well if I am with you
the hells that bind me do not matter.
Elena Flores’s voice flows with the softness of a calm river inside the small room in Seville’s Infanta Elena Public Library. The audience that has come to listen to her this spring afternoon absorbs her words in silence and transports themselves inside the world of her poetry. She taps her feet to the rhythm of her free verse, subtle and spontaneous, while her words fly from her mouth like the butterflies illustrated on her white blouse.
Although she’s from Madrid, Elena lives and works in Seville. “I came to this city for love. Never better said.” Before the event, with her hand resting on the table full of her poetry, Elena spoke about herself with confidence and closeness. Poet, Spanish professor for foreigners, and activist, she is the only lesbian that works at the association Sevilla Diversidad LGBT, responsible for organizing this meeting that honors Women’s History Month and World Poetry Day, March 21st.
The event is called Biblical Femininity and Homoeroticism in Literature and the text that Elena reads is called Lilith. It is part of her poetry collection, Cábala: Amor (Speculation: Love), published in 2016. “Language is a word game and poetry is its best expression,” she explained. Her book explores LGBTQ themes through biblical mythology such as Adam and Eve –Woman with Apple– or Cain and Abel –Cain and Abel: Prophecy–. Her passion for writing began in her youth. “I studied music and I invented my own songs.” When she was 15, she began writing poems and deepening her understanding of literature. “It is necessary to write LGBTQ literature because there aren’t models,” she affirms. “It is imperative to give people the possibility to read things that represent them.”
I want to drink from your eyes
and savor your gaze
fire that burns.
A fire that spreads through our bodies.
Elena continues reading. The microphone captures every sound of her voice , and her words color the white walls and plastic chairs in the room. The audience listens, thinks, feels.
Spain is relatively tolerant of the LGBTQ community, something that is not the norm worldwide; it is estimated that 175 million LGBTQ people still live in danger: in 72 countries, homosexuality is criminalized and in eight of them it is punished with death. But, the journey in this country has been long. In the 60s, while the United States took its first steps in the fight for lesbian, gay, trans, and bisexual individuals’ rights, Spain still lived under Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, who modified the Law of Vagrants and Crooks in 1954 to include homosexuals. From then until 1979 –although in 1977 the first Gay Pride was celebrated in Madrid– homosexuality was illegal in Spain. During the dictatorship, many homosexuals were incarcerated and suffered psychological and physical abuse in confinement. After 1979, however, the advances in the fight for LGBTQ rights have been quick and, in 2005, Spain became the third country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.
Yet, there is still work to be done. “In Seville, there are areas of tolerance, but I don’t want to say that it is all open,” she notes, after talking about herself and her artistic trajectory. There is still discrimination against the LGBTQ community. “I have experienced micro homophobia. You can find someone who stares at you because you give your girlfriend a kiss, or because there are two boys holding hands.” Many times, there are insults in addition to the staring. In Spain in 2017, there were at least 623 incidents of homophobic, transphobic or biphobic hate crimes according to a report by the State Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Trans, and Bisexuals. “There is an image of Spain that paints everything as easy for the community, but there are still many people with problems. And they are not that easy to overcome.” Just recently, in April 2019, it became known that a bishop in Alcalá de Henares (Madrid) had been performing therapy in secret since 2009 to treat homosexuality.
For Elena, her poems are a service to her community, something that is missing. “When I write a book, ultimately, it is because I believe society needs it.” Her next book, which comes out this fall, is about transgender issues, a topic the author thinks that people in Spain are not very aware of. “It is true that being homosexual or bisexual is different from the transgender issue. I am not trans, but I believe that this community needs visibility. We need to facilitte progress forward for everyone. So that society is a little more tolerant.”
It will be the night who keeps you
in the eternal secret of our madness
with no reason other
than knowing who I am and who
I am loving.
Swiftly, Elena reads the last words of Lilith. She has recited them dozens of times before in her readings, resulting in an emotional fluidity. The honesty and care of her writing reaches her audience. Yet, she is conscious that the scope at which her poems can help the community is limited. “Maybe poetry is not the most appropriate form, because it is complicated. But, well, in the end, it’s art.” It is art, and as such it can contribute to widening the limits of literary canons and developing new, more inclusive ones. Although the room where she has just finished the reading is small, Elena’s powerful words will travel much further outside of these walls. The author recites her final verse, the audience applauds. And, with a smile, she closes the book.