From Kevin Sessums: Day four in Romania

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Kevin Sessums is dot429’s new editorial director, and is blogging about his experiences while traveling in Eastern Europe on behalf of the US State Department this month as part of an LGBT human rights/cultural exchange mission. _______________________________________________

Friday morning at the US Embassy here in Bucharest I had a lovely inspiring conversation with the poet Chris Tanasescu who is the leader of the performance art collective known as Margento Romania. He was accompanied by his beautiful and keenly intelligent wife who is about to embark with Chris to America to get her doctorate.

Chris combines the spoken word with a band and lights and even action painting. This video with what sounds like Chris’s deeply mellifluous voice overlaying it  gives you some idea of what Margento creates. I couldn’t understand Chris’s Romanian poetry in the video but I still found it mesmerizing to watch and listen to. There are other such videos up on youtube if you’re interested.

We were supposed to meet at the national library but when it was discovered the LGBT context of my mission here, the library pulled its permission to meet there. Thus, we met in an anteroom at the embassy. The location finally didn’t matter; it was Chris’s lovely and learned loquacity that did.

Friday afternoon and evening in Bucharest were filled with back-to-back events. First, I made a presentation at a literary conference at Bucharest University devoted to the use of memory in literature. Thirteen countries were represented with over 100 participants from as far away as MIT and the University of Kent. I used as my jumping off point quotes taken from Nabokov’s “Speak, Memory” but then disputed them and read from Mississippi Sissy to back up my arguments. I’ve learned that it’s always better to argue with a dead writer than a living one. But even a dead Nabokov proved a worthy debating partner.  

The academics surprisingly seemed to be won over by my non-academic mien. I had a great time making my presentation and putting forth my ideas about memoir writing in such an environment. I think I’ll use the same “paper” when meeting with writers in Slovenia next week as part of my US State Department  mission there. 

After the literary conference I headed to the American Ambassador’s residence here in Bucharest for a reception honoring the LGBT community. I was the featured speaker after remarks made by the embassy’s charge d’affaires; the outgoing representative here of GLIFAA (Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies); a spokesman for ACCEPT, the Romanian LGBT rights organization;and the Finish ambassador.

During my speech I mentioned the Supreme Court decisions we are awaiting this month back in the US as well as how the congress threw LGBT people under the political bus regarding immigration reform. And yet with all our problems back home I was still standing up in front of this large invited crowd making my speech. My government and the Obama administration had asked me to make this trip BECAUSE I am a gay man. If you had told a little sissy boy back in Mississippi in the 1960s that such a thing would occur one day he would have never believed you.

Although I have complained all week about being exhausted from jet lag and am heartbroken that I am missing a dear friend’s wedding to the man he loves on Saturday  in New York City to be here, it is such a blessing to be exhausted because I have been asked as a gay man to represent my country and to be heartbroken that I am missing a wedding of my best friend to another man. Even exhaustion and heartbreak can be a form of political enlightenment and hope. And then, I have to admit, I got a bit choked up.

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