She’s still here and she’s not going anywhere. Polish writer and activist Sylwia Chutnik is using her platform to change the narratives around her. Drawing on her personal experiences as a queer woman in Poland, the writer searches for ways to help others that aren’t afforded a voice. Using feminism theory and her writing, Chutnik works to bring gender to the forefront of culture and society in Poland and break down the public discourses of homophobia around her.
Through a combination of activism and her written work, Chutnik addresses gender binaries, roles and a way of thinking about people that are non-normative. Working to be an advocate for social change, the writer is showing that as a queer person, and as a queer society, you have the right to be here.

Growing up in Poland, where queer people face innumerable accounts of hostility, Chutnik uses her activism to create a space for herself, paving the way for younger LGBTQI generations. Only recently, the writer came out as queer in a public announcement. Finding her identity and independence in writing, Chutnik wrote a piece in the 2020 Unsound Intermission book, a personal and political text largely devoted to her reason to come out publicly. Now, she is one hundred per cent herself, more or less.
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How do you find the balance between being a writer and an activist? How does your activism translate into your written work?
Well, the balance is a consequence of my work. In the first years when I had my Mama foundation, I was the president of this charity and being a writer, it was hard for me not only because of my time but it was more based on my identity: who I am, am I the only person who will write fiction to be based on poetry and literature? Or am I a person that should help women and mothers 24 hours a day?
The first and the second are really important for me. Now that I'm an activist, working or co-working with other organisations, I don't have the Mama foundation anymore. But still, there's a lot of time to be active in the feminist movement.
So, I think that it's also based on my experience of working with other people. Some of the stories I heard from when I was working in the foundation were the beginning of my short stories. I think it's like bonsai plants. There are two sides and two ways of my life but they are very close to each other.
How has writing helped you in your acceptance of not only your sexuality but also your identity as an activist?
Since I can remember, I was always a queer. I was a strange person in the beginning of the nineties when people in Poland usually didn't have dreadlocks, piercings or tattoos. As a teenager I learned that being a 'different' person is based the troubles you've had and, in some instances, hard situations in the streets. I think that I just had to accept my identity, I had to accept that I'm a queer person because I didn't fit in. When you are young sometimes it helps you to think about yourself as a person who just has the right to be different. Now that I'm 40 something, I think that I still feel this kind of anger inside of me every time I hear that I can’t do something or that I don't deserve to be somebody, and my identity is based on just be who I am and that's it. Being a queer is always being, not even against, it's just not viewed like that, not in the main front of society.
Your writing is deeply rooted in feminist theories and cultural gender concepts. How do you use your work to break down and challenge sexist stereotypes and gender norms?
My first novel in 2008 was based on gender theories. I thought that, at the beginning, I would try to be a feminist writer and say it loudly. I thought that it could be a good strategy to take these gender theories inside of the culture and society in Poland for others to read. But on the other hand, I know that sometimes for people gender, especially in this very right-wing Catholic society in Poland, is something that they are afraid of, simply because they don't understand it and they don't want to understand it.
Sometimes it's really hard to be a writer because people think that you're not a writer, you're a kind of ideology, or because of the Communist time, people don't like this kind of perspective that is based on ideology. Of course, there's no ideology inside of gender. But for the people in Poland, in its so-called official discourse, it still is. So, in my work, I try to also write based on simple human stories. They are not a text about a whole society but one person with a name and surname. And I hope that for the people, it will be easier to understand when they have the so-called human story. I think it could be better to also be closer to this.
What do you see as being the biggest issue in society’s portrayal of feminism and queer identity? How do you use your work to address and challenge the narratives that are portrayed?
It's a hard question because when you live in small groups with people who have similar values that you have, it's easy to say “they're all feminists with queer identities.” But, like I said before, our society is more or less conservative, conservative on the official and emancipates and at home.
I think that this is a kind of a story that I use my work for in order to be a part of this queer movement and be a part of this emancipation role in our society. It's not that I can just use it, it's something that is based on some kind of work. I also think that the biggest issue now is just to be alive and to be who we are and sometimes your identity, even if you're not an activist, is a problem for society.
“I think it's like bonsai plants. There are two sides and two ways of my life but they are very close to each other.”
You came out recently in a statement to Poland’s only LGBTQ+ magazine, Replika, what prompted this decision? What are you hoping to teach younger generations that identify as LGBTQ?
I was worried about the LGBT teenagers because I know that they are people who are used to living with their parents at home and they don't have their own money and right to live how they want. So, I was worried that these people simply have no rights in Poland. I thought that I'm an adult, an independent woman with resources, so my outcome should be easy for me, and it was.
But for many people in Poland, it's almost impossible to say loudly that you're LGBTQ. I was also hoping that I would teach younger generations – maybe not even teach, but to show them that you have a right to be who you are. I wanted to support these people to even be some sort of a role model for them, as I'm quite well-known in Poland. I felt that maybe it could help teenagers have this kind of person in the media who are similar to them and could show them support.
You wrote a piece for the Unsound Intermission book, which is largely devoted to your reasons to come out publicly, what was the inspiration behind this piece?
I was writing in the middle of a holiday in 2020 when we were having a large crisis in Poland. So, I thought that it could be and it should be a strong text. Not only an essay about something, but I wanted to be 100% myself in this text. I thought that it could be political and personal at the same time, as the slogan of the second wave of feminism.
Your piece in Intermission, a pandemic initiative from the 2020 Unsound Festival, is very personal and intimate, why was it important for you to tell this story?
I have my personal story and I'm not ashamed of it. I think it can be a strong voice, it can show other people what it is like to be a lesbian mother in Poland. I think that my experience could also be interesting for others. So, I just took the risk and did the personal text.
Growing up in a place where queer people face innumerable accounts of hostility, how did you navigate discovering yourself and your voice as a writer and activist? How did it change or develop how you see or perceive the world?
My identity as a queer person goes back to since I can remember. I didn't know this word before, like 25 years ago. But, generally, I was a part of a narcofeminism group and we had lots of riot girls so I knew that you could be whoever you are and you want. I always wanted to have children and I always wanted to be in a relationship. It could be a boy, a girl, whatever. I just knew that I'm this kind of person who thinks about love, not gender. So, of course, it was strange in Poland, but on the other hand, I was always part of punk movements based on feminist, small societies in Poland, so I feel safe with this way of thinking. I think that being a writer was only another step to becoming more independent.
In your passage in Intermission, you write “public discourse presently revolves around homophobia, showing how very much we fear the non-normative, or what goes beyond the dualism of two genders and their roles.” How do you use your platform to challenge the public discourse of homophobia in Poland?
I use, for example, my social media and I know it's important now because we are living online. Every time I have an opportunity, I read about something different just to see the difference between people who are just free and those who are afraid of anything that could be not 100% Polish, Catholic, etc. I think that everybody is different and sometimes every person is some kind of queer. I just it like when people realise this kind of way of thinking about themselves. So, this is a part of my work. But the public discourse, of course, is very homophobic because of the fear of being non-normative and because people just don't know the person and don't know the people who are not heterosexual and well, here I am.
“I know it sounds very naive, but I still want to be naive. I want to be an advocate for social change. I want to be a part of the discussion, I want to tell people that we, as a queer person, as a queer society, have the right to be here and we are people, not an ideology.”
As you talk about gender identity and exploring beyond that gender binary, how do you work to challenge this division? What boundaries are you hoping to push or breakthrough your work?
It's a hard question because first, I wanted to be as supportive as I could to the others by showing them that you could still be a queer person in Poland and still be alive. This is the main way of thinking about this subject, but on the other hand, of course, and as an activist, I wanted to change this public discourse of homophobia. I am really happy that people have rainbow flags on their windows or balconies. And just to be a good ally and support the LGBTQ movement. I know that the changes are coming but, for me, it's still very slow.
How would you describe your relationship with Poland?
(Laughs) it's complicated. I'm still in Poland: I live here, I was born here... I can be in any other country but I'm still here. Maybe it's hard because I still believe that I could change this public discourse. Who knows?
How has your perspective of life in Poland changed or evolved since coming out?
That happened in the middle of the pandemic, it’s still a strange time, so I don’t know exactly. But what I discovered is that people want to talk about my identity and want to talk with me about the LGBTQ community problems that we have. So, there are curiosities about these kinds of people and it's really nice that they want to talk so I'm there and trying to answer all of the questions.
Perceptions of same-gender relations in Poland are continuing to decline and regress. Identifying as queer in a country where your sexuality and gender identity makes you an enemy, defining it as an ‘ideology,’ how do you respond to this and stay motivated? Has this ever discouraged you from advocating for your rights?
Every day is hard because even if you're an activist, and you know the rules so you know what people will say, but your work is to say no, you are also working based on your identity. When you are a queer person, and you're talking about homophobia, you will definitely be based on your own identity and your own private relations and your private life. So, it's really frustrating and it's really hard and sometimes you feel exhausted about this thing.
It’s really good and I think even necessary to think about yourself in this and to think about the rest. It's really hard to be in Poland but on the other hand, I feel okay with it because I am just 100% who I am – well, maybe not 100, but more or less. Even if people will say that I'm after an ideology (as the president of this state said) I just know and feel that this is untrue.
In Intermission, you write “I believe being a writer is a social role in which I should speak up in urgent matters, not duck behind a cloud of passions and imagination.” What is your response to the political situation in Poland and why is it important for you to be an advocate for social change?
You're right, I believe being a writer is a social role. I can't be quiet: I don't want to be quiet. When I was 14 and became interested in punk, I knew that I felt anger. This anger is what gives me the power to try to change the world. I know it sounds very naive, but I still want to be naive. I want to be an advocate for social change. I want to be a part of the discussion, I want to tell people that we, as a queer person, as a queer society, have the right to be here and we are people, not an ideology.
As an activist and writer, what is the message you’re hoping to achieve through your work? What are you hoping to expose or uncover?
The most important thing is empathy and thinking about people as good. It's about still believing. I still believe in the debate, in contacting people one-on-one and speaking about important things and being connected with others and not just living your own world. That said, Facebook or any other social media usually do this kind of thing when you are in the bubbles. I don't want to be this kind of person.
I still believe that it is important to talk with others and to be yourself. I know, it sounds like a commercial statement but be yourself even when people say “I don't like your attitude, I don't like you,” you can say “okay, you don't have to like it, I will live for myself,” and that's it.
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