New books on queer women – “There are many stories not being told”

New queer novels shed light on life in the closet and violence in a relationship between two women.

“There are many stories not being told,” say fellow authors Sólveig Johnsen and Anna Stína Gunnarsdóttir who have just released their first solo novels. GayIceland met up with Sólveig and Anna to talk about their brand new books that both center around queer women and the challenges they face – today and in the past -, life in and out of the closet and the second MeToo wave that is currently sweeping through Iceland.

So first question. Your publishing party is taking place at Loft Hostel at 3 o’clock P.M. today, how do you feel about that? Are you stressed or excited?
Anna: “I’m soooo nervous! This is the first time I publish something as a solo author and the stress has been overwhelming at times. But it will all be worth it to see people reading and talking about my book, that’s what this is all about after all.”

Sólveig: “A bit of both! I am absolutely terrified but at the same time very proud of this big accomplishment and excited to share it. Hopefully we get a lot of queer readers!”

Why did you guys decide to team up and host a party together?
Sólveig: “Well, our cooperation began through Blekfjelagið, the society of creative writing students at the University of Iceland, and also through our publisher. That’s how we were introduced to one another and we quickly realized that our books both center around queer women, so releasing the books as a “double trouble” queer extravaganza was the obvious choice.”

Anna: “Yeah, I didn’t really know Sólveig before, apart from being queer writers we have very little in common, but it’s been great having this safety net instead of going out into the writing world all on my own. And of course we’ve gotten to know each other as this adventure has progressed, so I’m proud to call her my “publishing sister” today.”

“The current MeToo wave represents how frustrated we are with a society and legal system that STILL don’t listen to us, even after the first MeToo wave, other hashtag-based movements and social activism …”

Anna, your book Dagbókin (The Diary) is about a woman who discovers her aunt lived her life in the closet. Is the book based on actual events?
“Not at all. Everything in the book is fiction, even the place where most of it happens. There are a lot of reasons for this, mostly because there is simply no written evidence of women being queer at the time, but also because people who lived this time are still alive today, and LGBT matters are still a sensitive subject in some communities. Of course queer people have always existed, and even been open about their love for each other to a select few, but the evidence of this is anecdotal at best. What I wanted to do was to write about a person who is like me, but living in a different time, to try to imagine what that life would have been like.”

Authors to watch out for: Sólveig Johnsen and Anna Stína Gunnarsdóttir. All photos / Eva Ágústa Aradóttir

Do you think the closet is still an issue for many women (and people in general) in this day and age?
“There are many closets and we’re continually coming out of them throughout our lives. Every time I start working in a new place or meet someone new I have to start by telling them I live with a woman, because most of our society is so heteronormative that people just assume everyone’s heterosexual until they come out. So we don’t create the closets, society does.

Nevertheless, coming out is getting easier and for the younger generations especially closets are a thing of the past, so I think we have a bright future ahead of us where coming out will not be necessary anymore.”

What about your book Sólveig, Merki (Signs), can you tell us more about it?
“My main protagonist, Saga, falls head over heels for a woman she meets at a bar, and is so infatuated with her and with the new relationship that she completely ignores the bright red flags that soon start to appear. It’s a book about toxic relationships but also about friendship, being an adult but not knowing what to do with it, and living in a queer bubble in Reykjavík. A lot of the events happen downtown, before everything changed because of Covid, so in a way the story also commemorates a bygone era in Reykjavík nightlife.”

Your book deals with violence in a relationship between two women. What inspired you to write about that?
“I often feel that the general public doesn’t realize or acknowledge that queer relationships are sometimes toxic, just like cis-hetero relationships, and that queer people are not by default all happy and healthy just because they managed to “come out”. Anyone can get stuck in unhealthy and codependent patterns and abuse can happen within relationships of any kind.

“Violence isn’t limited to any one kind of relationship, or gender, or sexual orientation. I think there are many stories not being told.”

Some of the inspiration for the story came from my own experiences, even though all characters and events are pure fiction, and I feel that as a person that has dealt with their fair share of toxicity and abuse this is a topic that I know well. The feelings in the book are very real and I suspect that readers of all genders and sexual orientations will relate to them.”

On that note there has been a huge discussion about violence in Iceland for the past days and we are currently experiencing what seems to be a second wave of the MeToo revolution. Why do you think that is, Sólveig? And do you think this wave will be more powerful than the last one?
“From my perspective, the current MeToo wave represents how frustrated we are with a society and legal system that STILL don’t listen to us, even after the first MeToo wave, other hashtag-based movements and social activism such as Druslugangan. After sharing an overwhelming amount of triggering and intimate stories and coming forward with our personal traumas, the reputations of perpetrators are STILL valued above the lives of those who have been abused.

This time around I hope that more men participate in the movement, both with their own stories and as allies, and that people in general start to see this as a problem that belongs to the whole society, not to a “small group of victims”. We all must do our part!”

There seems to be this general notion that the last wave of MeToo revolution didn’t have as much impact as many people had hoped. Anna, do you think this new wave will?
“Wow, I sure hope so. The biggest problem today is that victims are not listened to and taken seriously, especially within the legal system and that desperately needs to change. Sexual violence ruins lives and it’s about time that perpetrators see that there are consequences to their actions.”

Merki (Signs) is Sólveig’s first “solo book”. “I have published short stories in various publications, most notably in the book Það er alltaf eitthvað which was released in 2019 by Blekfjelagið. I also wrote the screenplay for a very exciting new web series, Norms, which will be released on Stöð2+ and on YouTube in June. (Not so) coincidentally, Norms is also a story centered around queer women.”

Talking about violence, here has been a previous discussion about the fact that violence in LGBTIQplus relationships can often be more hidden than in other relationships, do you agree with that Sólveig?
“I think abuse in relationships is very hidden in general and many behaviours are unfortunately normalized in popular culture, especially when it comes to mental abuse. But in regard to queer relationships specifically it is very seldom discussed and often people forget that violence isn’t limited to any one kind of relationship, or gender, or sexual orientation. I think there are many stories not being told.”

Anna: “I totally agree. When I first read Sólveig’s book I was shaken, because many of the themes in it are so familiar. I myself have been in these situations, and so have the people around me. I really felt like Sólveig had gotten into my head, which is a good thing, because it means she is writing about reality that needs to be talked about to be dealt with properly.”

Do you think we are likely to see this second wave of MeToo sweep through the LGBTQIplus community?
Sólveig: “Queer people, especially women, are participating in the MeToo movement and I can only hope that even more people speak up. Violence against marginalized groups within the queer community is also a well-known problem and in my opinion we should be louder about that, inside and outside of the MeToo movement.

For example we should all put efforts into making trans people safe ALWAYS, and we don’t need more stories to prove the need for that. But I suspect there are diverse stories within the queer community and that a queer-specific MeToo wave could be a possibility.”

“To come out and openly admit that our relationships are not perfect is scary to some people because they’re afraid that all our relationships will be labeled as unhealthy and we will therefore lose all the great work that’s been done by the queer rights movement.”

Anna: “I honestly couldn’t say. LGBTQI people are still facing a lot of discrimination, and to come out and openly admit that our relationships are not perfect is scary to some people because they’re afraid that all our relationships will be labeled as unhealthy and we will therefore lose all the great work that’s been done by the queer rights movement. So it really depends on the individual people how this will turn out.

But what’s important about the MeToo movement is to come out with your truth, tell your own story and make sure that everyone knows that sexual violence is an unfortunate reality and needs to be dealt with, no matter who the perpetrator is. We need to work on our boundaries, wherever they might be, to live life as healthier individuals, no matter our gender identity or sexual orientation.”

Sólveig, do you think your book might be a contribution to that discussion?
“For sure. I am bringing forward a real perspective and some very real emotions. I hope the story sheds light on how toxic relationships can seem totally regular on the surface and how innocently such problems can start.”

Anna Stína has had short stories, poems and flash fiction published in several student publications, most organized by Blekfjelagið, the creative writing student society. Dagbókin (The Diary) is the first work she has published as a solo writer. “In 2018 I took a course at the University of Iceland, where creative writing students and publishing students got together and published a book from scratch. It was a great learning opportunity, and if people are interested, I still have a few copies available for sale. The book is called Hljóð Bók and has its own page on Facebook.”

What about you Anna, do you think your book could help readers who are still closeted and are afraid to come out?
“I hope so! But to those people, I would also like to say that it’s OK to be in the closet. Coming out is such a personal thing and some people are just not comfortable doing it. There’s no shame in that.

We also tend to forget that some people live in situations where coming out is just not safe for them, so I think it’s really important to take that into account.

So stay safe, and if you can come out, we will be there for you, but by all means do it in your own way and your own time. Your life is your own, and nobody should be able to tell you how to live it.”

Finally, where will people be able to buy your books?
Anna: “Hopefully everywhere! There will of course be copies for sale at the party, and after that we intend to distribute to all the major bookstores, as well as the libraries. I would like to invite people to put themselves in contact with us, so if they don’t see our books somewhere they usually buy books, we can remedy that. And of course, people are more than welcome to contact us directly to buy the books, it’s a much more lucrative option for us.”

For those who are interested in going to the publishing party, the party will bet held at the café on the top floor of Loft Hostel at 3 o’clock P.M. today, Wednesday the 12th of May. According to Sólveig and Anna everyone is welcome, as long as there’s space.

The Hamburger Factory
- gourmet burgers

Ok. You’re in Iceland. Most likely for the first time.

You will probably bathe in the Blue Lagoon and take a road trip to Gullfoss and
Geysir. That’s all well and good. But neither Geysir’s nor waterfalls are
something you eat. That’s why we have 15 brilliant and creative hamburgers at
The Hamburger Factory. And they are all perfectly square. Don’t miss out on
Iceland’s most beloved hamburgers.

The Hamburger Factory is Iceland’s most innovative gourmet burger chain.
Packed with burger-craving customers since it’s opening in 2010, among the
regulars is Iceland’s best known fisherman, Eric Clapton. In our restaurants we
welcome tourists with our newspaper like menu and smiley service. They are
packed with fun items and memorable connections to Icelandic pop culture.

Locations:

Omnom Chocolate
- award-winning chocolate maker

    Omnom Chocolate is an Icelandic craft chocolate company based in Reykjavík. We produce handcrafted chocolate from organic cacao beans sourced ethically and sustainably. We’ve developed direct relationships to create premium chocolate with fine flavor cacao beans.

    Our creative flavors are carefully crafted by meticulous chocolate makers. The cacao beans are roasted, winnowed, ground, and refined into melty-smooth chocolate.

    Omnom’s process is one of constant exploration, invention, and experimentation. If it doesn’t please us, if something isn’t absolutely delicious, there’s no reason to be doing it. So, we always start with our taste buds and follow our instincts. Our team searches for the finest ingredients in the world and new ways to improve chocolate. This obsession with knowing where our ingredients come from has led us around the corner to dairy farms in the Icelandic countryside and all the way to rainforest cacao farms of Nicaragua.

    In only a few short years, we’ve grown from our 50 sq. m. petrol station space and become an award-winning chocolate maker. Now, with our headquarters in 101 Reykjavík, our chocolate is sent out around Iceland and all over the world.

    At the end of the day, our goal is to make chocolate.

     

    Alfred’s Apartments
    - gay owned an operated

      Alfred’s Apartments and Alfred’s Studios is a gay operated and owned accommodation in the heart of Reykjavik.

      Alfred’s Apartments offers spacious apartments at a good price located just around the corner from Laugavegur shopping street. You can choose the apartment starting from a Small Studio for 2 persons to a large One-bedroom Apartment with balcony for 5 persons.

      Their staff will ensure your comfort during the stay and provide the most updated information about the city, gay and night life in Reykjavik.

      Each apartment has a private bathroom with a shower, fully equipped kitchen and free Wi-Fi. Guests can buy groceries at the local grocery store 50 meters from the apartments. Because of their very central location, numerous shops, restaurants and cafés are available in the surrounding area. The Church of Hallgrimur is located 350 m from the apartments, a tourist agency is just 50 m away and the nearest gay bar is less than 5 minutes walking distance.

      Laekur hostel
      In the hostel we have dorms for 4-8 persons with shared kitchen and bathroom facilities. The rooms are furnished with free internet, lockers, and a USB charger by each bed. The beds have linen provided and you can rent a towel in the cafe on the ground floor for 5 EUR.

      All the dorms are mixed with both genders. You can also book a whole room with 4-8 bunker beds.

      Nasdaq

         

        Nasdaq (Nasdaq: NDAQ) is a global technology company serving the capital markets and other industries. Our diverse offering of data, analytics, software and services enables clients to optimize and execute their business vision with confidence.

        With over 4,300 employees in 39 offices around the world, at Nasdaq we all contribute to the success of the company and its culture, and each one of us has the ability to make a difference. When it comes to our core mission and values, we embrace the role of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DIB) as a fundamental driver of our corporate growth, workplace culture and market development. We strive to create a culture that embraces the power of different perspectives—a culture where people’s unique backgrounds and different experiences helps us fuel innovation and support our clients around the world.

        Our unique position at the center of the capital markets allows us to see firsthand how these values have redefined corporate culture and success, deepening and accelerating our own commitment to champion inclusive growth and prosperity, as we strive to create more equitable opportunities to help people of all backgrounds reach their full potential. Most notably, we published our diversity statistics for the first time in 2020. These metrics serve as a quantitative assessment of where we are today and help determine what strategies we need to adopt to enhance diversity in the workplace. We recognize that we have much work to do, but we are steadfast in our commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive culture—one that reflects the communities in which we live, allows all employees to be their true, authentic selves and fosters individual growth and achievement.

        As we move forward together, we will continue advancing diverse ideas and perspectives that help fulfill the promise of a more inclusive and prosperous world. We aim to set the pace for rethinking capital markets and economies anywhere and everywhere. To learn more about the company, technology solutions and career opportunities, visit us on LinkedIn, on Twitter @Nasdaq, or at www.nasdaq.com.

        Blue Lagoon
        - a world of wonder

        Named by National Geographic as one of the 25 Wonders of the World, the Blue Lagoon is a shimmering expanse of warmth, relaxation, and rejuvenation. Its unique geothermal seawater comes from 2000 meters within the earth where sea and fresh water converge in a tectonic frontier of porous lava and searing heat. Propelled by extreme pressure, the water ascends to the earth’s surface, emerging enriched with silica, algae, and minerals: the elements that endow Blue Lagoon geothermal seawater with its radiant, healing properties.

        From its humble beginnings in the shadows of a geothermal power plant, Blue Lagoon has evolved into a world of wonder, now encompassing a hotel, a restaurant, a luxury lounge, a renowned line of skin care, a research center, in-water massage, and a wealth of spa and refreshment facilities.

        Achieving harmony with the volcanic landscape of Iceland’s Reykjanes lava plain, the lagoon and its surrounding architecture embody the unification of the man-made and the natural, and adhere to the highest principles of sustainability.

        Blue Lagoon. A wonder of the world. A world of wonder.

        Whales of Iceland
        - larger than life

        Whales of Iceland is the largest whale exhibition in Europe (and perhaps even the world), where guests can learn about the giants of the sea in a calm and modern environment. The permanent exhibition features whales like guests have never seen them before. It is truly a giant experience.

        Landsbankinn
        - leading financial institution

        Landsbankinn is a leading Icelandic financial institution. It offers a full range of financial services and is the market leader in the Icelandic financial service sector with the largest branch network.

        The present bank was established on 7 October 2008 but the history of its predecessor dates back to 1886. The bank is owned by the National Treasury of Iceland, which holds 98.2% of its share capital, and other shareholders who own 1.8%.

        Landsbankinn’s strategy is to provide comprehensive financial services that meet customer’s needs. It emphasizes providing exemplary service to customers, developing e-banking for their convenience, increasing the efficiency of support functions, modernizing its technology and ensuring effective utilization of its balance sheet.

        The bank’s vision is to be exemplary and its role is to be a trusted financial partner.

        Special emphasis is placed on promoting a performance-oriented culture in the bank. To follow up on the implementation of this strategy, the bank has defined key goals which are measured regularly to determine progress. These goals include, for example, customer satisfaction and loyalty, profitability, cost efficiency and the correlation between risk appetite and employee satisfaction.

        Landsbankinn wishes to lead the development of a sustainable society in Iceland by integrating economic, social and environmental concerns in its operations. The Bank aims to ensure that both its owners and society at large benefit from its activities.

        It intends to achieve this aim by building solid infrastructure and a strong team of 1.100 employees, by listening to its customers and by respecting and encouraging its employees to actively participate in their community. Landsbankinn was a founding member of Festa, a Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility, and is a member of the UN Global Compact.

        Landsbankinn has been a proud sponsor of the Reykjavik Pride since it was first celebrated in Iceland.

        Aurora Reykjavik
        - northern lights center

          Aurora Reykjavik is a Northern Lights Center situated in downtown Reykjavík at the Old Harbor next to Icelandair Hotel Marina and Vikin Maritime Museum.

          Aurora Reykjavík is Iceland’s first educational and recreational Northern Lights Center where multimedia is used to explain when, why and how the Northern Lights work, with the highlights being large HD projection of the Aurora’s. We also share myths and legends about what our ancestor thought about those mystical lights.

          The Northern Lights Center is for all ages. Children are our favorite guests and we created the exhibition in a way that children can have a look freely and parents don’t have to worry about things being broken.

          Aurora Reykjavik offers a great selection of souvenirs that are designed and made by Icelanders along with nice little coffee corner, where you can enjoy free coffee and tea while browsing through the souvenirs or just planning your next step.

          Contact Aurora

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            Dohop
            - get inspired

            Dohop allows people to find the cheapest flights available with just one click. Founded in Reykjavik in 2004, it is the only Icelandic company of its kind and quickly became the go-to tool for finding cheap flights among the locals. Dohop finds the best deals among hundreds of different airlines and online travel agencies, to make sure that the user is getting the cheapest price. Dohop also offers hotel and car rental search engines, so users can make all of their travel bookings from a single website.

            Dohop‘s specialty is finding so-called “self-connect” flight options, which can save travelers money by booking a ticket through two or more different airlines. The ability to look for these self-connect option is what sets Dohop apart from its competition, as it can save people hundreds of dollars on certain routes.

            More recently, Dohop has developed a unique product called Dohop Go!, which allows users to check for the cheapest available flights from their home airport. This tool is perfect for those who are looking for travel inspiration but are not willing to overpay for their flight ticket. Dohop Go! is now available in the Dohop Flights App, both for Android and iOS, along with its traditional flight, hotel, and car search engines. “

            VSÓ Ráðgjöf

               

              VSÓ Ráðgjöf er alhliða ráðgjafar- og verkfræðifyrirtæki sem leggur áherslu á trausta og faglega þjónustu sem tryggir viðskiptavinum hagkvæmustu lausnir hverju sinni, skilar raunverulegum árangri og stuðlar að samkeppnisforskoti.  Á skrifstofum VSÓ í Reykjavík og í Noregi starfar yfir 80 manna samhentur hópur verkfræðinga og annarra tæknimenntaðra starfsmanna.

              Macland
              - for all your Apple needs

              From starting out as a proper startup with only a good idea and the need to change things, to becoming an established company with 6 employees. Starting from scratch and expanding organically has allowed us to love our expansion and take our customers on the ride with us.

              Macland is located at Laugavegur 23 (101, Downtown Reykjavik)
              For all your Apple needs. We are here.

              Ísey skyr
              - once tasted never forgotten

              Our Story
              Once upon a time, 1,100 years ago in fact, Nordic settlers began arriving in Iceland. They brought with them the skills and knowledge for producing skyr. As time passed, the know-how and recipe for this nutritious food slowly faded out elsewhere in the Nordic region. Luckily, the Icelandic skyr-making tradition continued.

              For centuries, Icelandic skyr formed a cornerstone of the national diet, helping to keep people strong in living conditions that were often harsh. On family farms countrywide, it was the women who nurtured this dairy and passing on both the recipe and the original Icelandic skyr cultures from mother to daughter.

              Ísey skyr builds on this remarkable legacy. It was some of those very same women, the recipients of their mothers’ expertise, who, around 90 years ago, taught Icelandic dairy scientists the art of skyr-making. The production process is more high-tech these days, and the quality standards more rigorous. However, the basic recipe and the use of original cultures to ferment the skimmed milk remain the same. Protein rich, fat-free, creamy and delicious – Ísey skyr is as relevant to consumers now as it was all those centuries ago.
              This is our secret and you are in on it

              You can read more about Ísey skyr on our website.

              Núðluskálin
              - noodle bar

              Núðluskálin is a small gay owned and operated fusion noodle bar.

              All of our courses are individually made from fresh ingredients and therefore highly customisable.
              We offer fully Vegan versions of all courses.
              Though originally a take-away we now seat over 30 people.

              Núðluskálin is located right in the heart of Reykjavík on Skólavörðustígur 8 (street leading up to the big Church) near the junction with Laugavegur (main street).

              Seatours
              - adventure cruise

              Ferry Baldur – the gate to the West fjords
              and VikingSushi Adventure – Bird & Nature watching Tour for everyone all year around

              The “VikingSushi Adventure” is the right boat tour for travelers who are adventurous and want to experience something new – close up to the nature seafood simply doesn’t come fresher than this! The archipelago area of the Breidafjordur Bay always surprises her visitors during winter or summer with spectacular sights. Where else you get to try delicious fresh scallops and sea urchin roe straight from the ocean served with soy sauce, wasabi and ginger.

              600x400-seatours-tasting

              This old volcanic area, characterized by the typical basalt formations of the islands, is the home of countless birds. Here you will also find the strongest currents in Iceland. The VikingSushi Tour takes roughly two hours and our captain is also the tour guide.

              600x400-seatours

              The VikingSushi Tour is a true adventure through incredible nature which should not be missed by any traveler to West Iceland.

              Birds, possible to spot:
              -puffins (from the middle of April until the middle of August)
              -eider ducks
              -shags
              -kittiwakes
              -fulmars
              -white-tailed eagle

              The car ferry Baldur is the bridge to the West fjords via the island Flatey
              Ferry Baldur crosses Breidafjordur Bay daily from Stykkisholmur on the Snæfellsnes peninsula to Brjanslaekur in the north. A ferry ride considerably shortens the route between the south and mid-west of the country and the West Fjords region. It also gives you the opportunity to experience a floating restaurant.

              Take a stopover at the charming island Flatey when you are crossing the bay or go to a day tour to Flatey and back to Stykkishólmur. At Flatey are no cars allowed and between the houses of the 18th century you get the feeling of a journey back in time.

              Contact Us


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              Thank You. We will contact you as soon as possible.