In the northern part of Iceland, in Mývatnssveit, you will find a property of land called Arnarvatn. At first sight you won’t see anything different about this small village consisting of four houses. But if you look a bit closer you will find that fifty percent of the inhabitants are gay.
Ásta Kristín Benediktsdóttir is one of them, but she was born and raised at Arnarvatn. “I just realized it the other day that half of the inhabitants this summer are gay. I hadn’t really given it much thought and I wouldn’t be surprised if the people here in the area thought this was pretty funny,” Ásta laughingly says and adds that she and the others have joked about it between the five of them that they are a gay village in the country side.
Ásta lives on a property of land called Arnarvatn in Mývatnssveit in the northern part of Iceland. Four houses are on the property, three of which are inhabited all year round. All in all there are ten people living at Arnarvatn this summer and five of them are gay. Which means a whopping fifty queer percent! Gay villages, or gayborhoods, are of course nothing new internationally speaking but in Iceland this is a one-off, as far as we know.
But how did this happen? Was it pure coincidence?
“Yes, it was,” says Ásta. “My uncle Kolbi and me were both born here and raised. When he reached adulthood he moved to Reykjavík and then to Spain, and then he returned to Arnarvatn and has lived here since 2001. His friend Adolfo from Spain came to live here then as well and has been here
“We have joked about it … that we are a gay village in the country side.”
more or less since, but both him and my uncle are gay. I came out in 2007 and then all of a sudden there were three queers. My aunt’s stepson, Elías, in the next house is also gay and he has lived here on and off for one and a half years. And then there’s my friend Eva, but she only works here for the summer.”
A matter a fact the queers outnumber the straights sometimes when Ásta’s girlfriend comes to visit from Reykjavík. “Yeah, then the number goes way up and we instantly become a majority,” says Ásta with a grin on her face.
And what do their neighbors and other natives in Mývatnssveit think of this?
“I don’t have a clue. Honestly, I’ve never heard anyone mention this, at least not to my face.”
Arnarvatn was originally inhabited by Ásta’s great grandparents and she was born there and raised. “Me and my aunt own the house my grandparents built and the land surrounding it and I will definitely never sell my part. I like having this fixed point in my life,” says Ásta. Her aunt, Bergþóra, is a sheep farmer, and they also grow strawberries, cabbage, carrots and herbs for sport. She calls Arnarvatn her home but still travels quite a bit to the capital and lives there from time to time.
“I’m a real country girl. I’ve wandered my fair share around the world but I don’t like settling down in just one place. I lived for six or seven years in Reykjavík while studying in the university and straight after that I lived in Ireland for four and a half years. Then I moved here. It suits me well to live here and travel to Reykjavík frequently. I sometimes work in the city and stay there for a few months, but mostly I’m a self-employed copy writer, editor and writer so I can take my office with me where ever I go,” says Ásta.
Society has changed dramatically
Even though Ásta didn’t come out until 2007, when she was 25 years old, I must ask what it was like growing up in the country side and being gay?
“There wasn’t much talk of homosexuality when I was growing up. There were no role models to look up to. I’ve never experienced direct prejudice. I feel that people around these parts rather keep quiet about things instead of condemning them.
But I have a hard time speaking in-depth about how it was like growing up gay in the country because I came out so late. But today, as a grown woman, a lesbian living in the country I don’t experience prejudice. People seem to at least respect me enough to not let me know of them. I have no idea if people are gossiping about me or not.”
Ásta doesn’t see herself moving permanently from Arnarvatn in the near future but what is it about that place that is so special? “It’s just my home and it will always be my home. The environment is really beautiful and that doesn’t hurt either,” she says.
“I have a hard time speaking … about how it was like growing up gay in the country because I came out so late. But today… I don’t experience prejudice.”
But there’s another reason why this part of Iceland draws her in. “The society in Mývatnssveit has changed dramatically here the last five years or so. People used to be quite pessimistic and afraid that there wouldn’t be any inhabitants left in the near future.
But then tourism started to pick up all year around, not just during the summer time, and people, many my age, started moving back to their childhood home.
Now there’s a buzzing and blooming society here and that also made me want to move back here. That’s one of the things that keeps me here.
Of course there’s a lot of tourists here and many people are tired of it but at the end of the day this industry has a positive effect on the society.”
Main photo: Eva Jóhannsdóttir.