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15 February 2023

Cypriot Queerness Beyond Sexuality

Queerness isn't merely about sexuality: it can be, and always was, so much more than that.

LGBT histories

I am a queer second generation Cypriot migrant to the UK. For a long time, I believed that Cypriot queer history did not and could not exist. However, there are actually extensive queer Cypriot histories that I believe have been- for the most part- deliberately buried. From transgender Aphrodites, Ishtars and priestesses to the intersex figurines of the Lady of Lemba and Idol of Pomos; from Androniki’s masculine gender-expression and the public lamentation of her death to Ottoman reforms allowing private same-sex relationships; from Marika and Panagiota Hadjiyianni to Neo-Babylonian cross-dressers, Cypriot history is filled with gender and sexual subversion. We know that the erasure of these queer histories are a result of the British attempts to whitewash, civilise and Hellenize Cypriots and their identities. 

What does it mean to ‘queer’ migration?

Migration is the movement of people across internationally recognised borders. That’s the standard definition anyway. But if we look at migration through the lens of queerness, we can reveal histories of movement not only across internationally recognised borders, but beyond them. We can honour histories of internal displacement in Cyprus, from 1960-1974, and understand them to be just as tragic and deadly as the movement across internationally recognised frontiers.

As a migrant and a queer person, I exist in a doubly queer state, because the Western concept of the nation-state was never meant to include me, on account of my migration status, but also on account of my sexuality. As a diasporic Cypriot, I will always be Cypriot-adjacent. I will never feel quite Cypriot enough, no matter how hard I try. As migrants, our histories are queered because they are broken and disrupted by movement. Yet this distance from my motherland allows me privileges. I am not surrounded by checkpoints nor by the echoes of death and destruction.

Queer histories beyond LGBT

Cypriot history is also queer and subversive, but in ways that extend beyond the parameters of gender and sexuality. Most people today are aware of and conceptualise Cypriots as two distinct groups: Greek and Turkish. Yet these two ethnic identities were imposed on Cypriots by British colonial policies and attitudes, in order to turn them against each other as per typical divide and rule fashion. These imagined identity constructs were created with the sole purpose of fomenting conflict, in order to legitimise Britain’s colonial role as protector, peacekeeper and guarantor in a conflict that the British empire itself facilitated. 

Before British colonialism, working class Turkish-speaking Cypriots (TSC) and Greek-speaking Cypriots (GSC) participated in multi-communal revolts against a corrupt Orthodox Church and Ottoman administration. TSCs and GSCs saw themselves as Christians and Muslims, not as Greeks or Turks. They lived together in mixed villages, in ‘symbiosis’. This is a history that is frequently left out of any kind of mainstream educational syllabus. No mention of this multi-communal and unapologetically Cypriot history was made in any of the years I attended Greek school. For British TSCs attending Turkish schools, I imagine the situation was quite the same. The mainstream education that diaspora Cypriots receive mirrors the education provided in the ROC and TRNC. 

These mainland ethno-nationalisms (Greek and Turkish) are the dominant discourse underpinning Cyprus and Cypriot identity. However, our multi communal histories survive and haunt the present, despite a deliberate distortion of the past. The Cypriotist position draws on our multi communal histories in order to disseminate a vision of Cypriotness free from these colonial labels of Greek and Turk, and to reassert Cypriot as a valid identity. The Cypriotist position is actually a queer one, since it is defiant of colonial legacies. Queerness is not merely a reference to one’s non-cis or non-hetero gender or sexuality: it can be, and always was, so much more than that. Queerness is a resistive orientation, a commitment to hopeful worldmaking. It involves an intense dissatisfaction with the world as it is, and a restless desire for it to be different. In this restlessness, we can locate queerness. Queerness is about reclaiming deviance and nonconformity, and it is a rejection of the structures that kill us. Queerness is defiant of racial capitalism, imperialism, colonial logic, and all other structures of oppression that fortify our “post”-colonial bordered world.

by Anastasia Gavalas for #LGBTHistoryMonth


@cypriotess_in_distress, “A short history of sexuality and gender expression in Cyprus” (Instagram, June 2022). Reference to Lady of Lemba, ‘legislat[ing] private same-sex relationships’, Marika and Panagiota. Accessed at https://www.instagram.com/p/CeVyfB3trnzCWSCmZotAP_PyErtK81Irld3Ms00/

Georgio Konstandi, “Androniki and prehistoric pottery: a look at non-binary gender expression in Cypriot culture” (The Scroll, August 2021). Reference to Lady of Lemba, Neo-Babylonians, Androniki. Accessed at https://the-scroll.co.uk/2021/08/11/androniki-and-prehistoric-pottery-a-look-at-non-binary-gender-expression-in-cypriot-culture/

The Queer Classicist, “Imagining Trans Aphrodite” (The Queer Classicist, February 2021). Accessed at https://www.thequeerclassicist.com/post/imagining-trans-aphrodite

Alyosxa Tudor, “Queering Migration Discourse: Differentiating Racism and Migratism in Postcolonial Europe” (lamba nordica, 2017). Reference to ‘queering’ migration. Accessed at https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/132197285.pdf

Joan Mertens, “Three Chalcolithic Figures from Cyprus” (Metropolitan Museum Journal, 1975). Reference to Idol of Pomos. Accessed at https://resources.metmuseum.org/resources/metpublications/pdf/Three_Chalcolithic_Figures_from_Cyprus_The_Metropolitan_Museum_Journal_v_10_1975.pdf

Andrekos Varnava “British Imperialism in Cyprus, 1878-1915: the Inconsequential Possession” (Manchester University Press, 2009). Reference to imposition of Greek and Turkish identities onto religious identities.

Bahriye Kemal, “Writing Cyprus: Postcolonial and Partitioned Literatures of Place and Space” (Routledge, 2020). Reference to divide and rule. 

Brendan O’Malley and Ian Craig, “The Cyprus Conspiracy: America, Espionage and the Turkish Invasion” (IB Taurius Publishers, 2001). 

Union of Cypriots, “Gavur Imam Revolt- Remembering the most heroic fight of Cypriots” (Union of Cypriots, 1 January 2018). Reference to multi communal revolts. Accessed at https://www.cypriots.org/news/en/2018/01/01/gavur-imam-revolt/#:~:text=Gavur%20Imam%20Revolt%20%E2%80%93%20Remembering%20the%20most%20heroic,for%20the%20independence%20of%20Cyprus%20against%20the%20Ottomans

Christos Ioannides, “Cyprus, British Colonialism and the Seeds of Partition: From Coexistence to Communal Strife” (The Journal of Modern Hellenism, 2014). Reference to symbiotic living.

Elizabeth Freeman, “Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories” (Duke University Press, 2010). Reference to hauntology.

Jose Esteban Munoz, “Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity” (New York University Press, 2009). Reference to queerness beyond sexuality. 

For more information on Cypriotism (Cypriot nationalism), visit https://www.cypriots.org/about/