Lesbian Finland: Icons

Finnish lesbian icons

by Eva Isaksson

On the Euro-Sappho mailing list, someone raised the question of national lesbian icons in European countries. With "lesbian icons" one means usually famous women who are either out lesbians and/or admired by lesbians as potential fellow lesbians (in cases where little is known about their private lives).

Here is my answer to the question re Finland, in a somewhat edited form.

Finnish Lesbian Icon: EDITH SÖDERGRAN

First, I'll pick one icon right from Ann's listing. She mentions the title of a book by the Swedish writer Louise Boije af Gennäs:

    > "Stjärnor utan svindel" ("Stars without vertigo" I can't make
    > much sense out of the swedish titel either:-) )
Yes, the translation is right, and it is a quote from a poem by the Finnish lesbian icon, Edith Södergran (1892-1923). Well, what we know about her lesbian tendencies are some poetry and letters to a fellow writer, who didn't exactly respond in kind.

Here is one English translation of the poem, "Violet dusks", from which "stars without vertigo" is a quote:

Violet dusks I bear within me from my origins,
naked maidens at play with galloping centaurs...
Yellow sunlit days with gaydy glances,
only sunbeams do true homage to a tender woman's body...
The man has not come, has never been, will never be...
The man is a false mirror that the sun's daughter angrily
throws against the rock-face,
the man is a lie that white children do not understand,
the man is a rotten fruit that proud lips disdain.

Beautiful sisters, come high up on to the strongest rocks,
we are all warriors, heroines, horsewomen,
eyes of innocence, heavenly foreheads, rose masks,
heavy breakers and birds flown by,
we are the least expected and the deepest red,
stripes of tigers, taut strings, stars without vertigo.

(transl. David McDuff in 'Complete poems', 1984)

Edith Södergran wrote in Swedish (a minority language in bilingual Finland), and her work has been translated to very many languages & in many versions.

For those who want to know more, there is an official Södergran webpage by the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (so don't expect to find much lesbianism there).

Her work (in Swedish) has been archived by Project Runeberg

Finnish Lesbian Icon: TOVE JANSSON

Then there is of course another Finn who writes in Swedish, the Moomin author Tove Jansson, who is world famous for her children's books. She is quite out and visible as lesbian although she doesn't use the word lesbian herself.

There are quite some Tove Jansson links on the web:

By Ministry of Foreign Affrairs
By Schildts, her publisher
A Moomin homepage

Finnish Lesbian Icon: TIINA LINDFORS

Then there is Tiina Lindfors, a dancer/choreographer, who is very well known and very defitely out as a lesbian in her work and in all other ways. Tiina has been an activist in SETA (Finnish national organisation for sexual equality) when she was younger, working as the SETA office secretary in early 1980s. She's considered rather stunningly good looking and talented - quite some lesbian icon, in fact. She is one of the driving forces of the internationally known Dance Theatre ERI.

Finnish Lesbian Icon: PIRKKO SAISIO

Pirkko Saisio is a popular, well-liked writer and actor who has always been something of a public figure. Her former partner is a very well known actor, who caused a minor scandal after they separated, by publicly denouncing her lesbianism (she is quite famous even now & married) and sharing confidences about her 'lesbian phase'. Pirkko Saisio has a daughter and has lived for quite a long while with her next partner, the filmmaker Pirjo Honkasalo (well-known on her own right), telling publicly about her lesbian life during a campaign to gain support for the Finnish private bill for registered partnerships.

Saisio published a book trilogy under a male name (Jukka Larsson) and only revealed her identity afterwards, causing some shock waves in the Finnish literary community, which had looked upon the mysterious new male writer as some minor genius and was astounded that "he" turned out to be a woman.

Finnish Lesbian Icon: VIVICA BANDLER

After listing the above names, I was told that I had forgotten another lesbian icon, Vivica Bandler, who is an internationally known theatre director and over seventy now. She came out in her memoirs in early 1990s. Vivica Bandler has been together with Tove Jansson when both were young. She was appointed as an academician (a high honorary postion in Finland - there are currently 8 academicians, representing arts and science) in 1999.

Scene with Vivica Bandler (from Lilla Teatern picture archives)

Eva Isaksson

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