The well known Icelandic singer/songwriter, actor and stage director Hörður Torfason, who is one of the founders of today’s National Queer Organization Samtökin ´78, writes a letter to his 15 year old self about the unexpected turns his life will take.
I am addressing you when you are fifteen years old, across the sea of experience and age. My trains of thoughts find it strange to swallow the fact that almost 60 years have gone by. But here it is, the magic of time. I am here in 2019, writing to you in 1965! I am you as you are I. Funny to think of this.
At fifteen I could never have imagined that I would be living married as a gay man, for sixteen years, in 2019. Let alone the fact that gay people have equal rights with other people. In 1965 gay people were considered to be criminals and paedophiles and scum of the earth. Today being gay is not a big issue in Iceland. These changes did not happen without effort and I am proud to tell you that you had a big part in changing the situation.
“You will lose everything and go into exile when you step out as the first gay man in your country and you will survive a murder attempt when a person tries to kill you for what you stand for.”
At fifteen, you know in your heart that you are sexually different from the other boys, your friends, but it does not disturb you very much. You find it to be quite natural.
At fifteen you are beginning to hear the distant hums of the grownup world. It is not too fascinating after all when you finally begin to enter it few years later. You sense the invisible thick wall of homophobia, racism, ignorance, violence and nationalism surrounding you because it characterizes your society in those years. It is like a transparent electrified barbwire fence ready to execute you unless you manage to learn quickly how to avoid it. You can sometimes tell who has walked into that fence. You see them sometimes. They are the bent and broken men hiding in the shadows full of shame. Their eyes reflect their sorrow. They do not fight back. They are the outcasts. They never reason with the unjust and arbitrary decisions of the people who see life in black and white and consider themselves more valuable beings and allow themselves to judge others fiercely, humiliate them and destroy their lives. All in the name of love.
You are gay but you will never allow anyone to treat you badly. In your time most gay people are allowed to be and behave the way they want as long as they do not demand to be accepted as normal. If they dare to step inside a world that is considered normal they are in deep trouble and it is totally useless for them to call the police for help because the police considers them unnatural.
There is something wrong that has to be corrected. Some people are trying to make you to hide your feelings and your sexuality. But why should you? Your parents tell you to be who you are because you can not be anyone else. They give you all the love and respect you need. The love that every human should have without asking. The love you are ready to give to your society and ask for the same back.
You will look for future with love in it, your kind of love. Later to discover that love has no borders nor sexuality.
You will become a famous artist and loved for your songs. You will lose everything and go into exile when you step out as the first gay man in your country and you will survive a murder attempt when a person tries to kill you for what you stand for. But this does not stop you from to carrying on your message because you see it as a challenge. You will also be the leading person in establishing a gay union to fight for their rights, Samtökin ´78. And you will, for decades, travel your country with your songs and stories, visiting each and every village to challenge attitudes towards gay people. Visibility and talents as your strong point.
“In your time most gay people are allowed to be and behave the way they want as long as they do not demand to be accepted as normal. If they dare to step inside a world that is considered normal they are in deep trouble …”
You will organize protest for five months in front of the Parliament when politicians and financiers caused the financial collapse in 2008. You will succeed and the moment your work is done you will walk away. That will surprise many. But you usually say: I work in the spirit of the society I want to live in. After that you will be been invited to visit many countries to talk about your activities and life work and have interesting conversations about it.
Life will offer you many challenges and you will always have a choice to accept or decline the status quo. An artist and activist become an “artivist”. Frontline artivist, sometimes, not constantly or always. But you will always be the artist.
Yours always, Hörður.”