Outsiders in London
All photographs: copyright © Milan Svanderlik - London - UK
KATARÍNA HOMOLOVÁ (# 12)
Katarína Homolová (Hal) Musazlioglu
Born in Nová Bana, Czechoslovakia (Slovakia)
Father & Mother both born in Czechoslovakia
Ethnic heritage / Father & Mother: Slovak
Katarina was born in Nová Bana in the former Czechoslovakia, now Slovakia, and lived in what she describes as a small village called, Hliník nad Hronom, surrounded by the magnificent landscape of central Slovakia. She attended her primary school in the village. Katarina’s father was a train driver and her mother worked as a draughtsman in an architect’s office. It was an enjoyable childhood which she shared with one older brother. Clearly very intelligent and eager to learn, Katarina transferred at the age of 10 to an academy specialising in Mathematics and Physics. Though she now seems more interested in languages and literature, she used these years to explore avenues which were perhaps outside the parameters of her natural interests.
From this experience, she benefitted greatly and her somewhat unconventional or oblique approach to things was to become a characteristic of Katarina’s life, allowing her to explore avenues and to gain knowledge and experience in fields that were detours from the more obvious path. She comments with wry amusement that she did well in everything except Mathematics, but learned a lot otherwise. “I also started to dream of escaping from the village environment,” says Katarina, “knowing that such a small world would be a touch too limiting for me.”
At that stage, Katarina was witness to the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia, a state formed in the settlement that followed the First World War, with Slovakia seeking its own destiny. “I was too young to comprehend fully the fundamental changes that were taking place around me: Socialism was superseded by Capitalism and, at school, pictures of the familiar Czechoslovak and Russian leaders suddenly disappeared from the walls. As a kid, I remember buying a Mickey Mouse T-shirt in a special shop that stocked ‘exotic’ western clothes but now, suddenly, everything seemed to change - bananas and oranges were now available all year round instead of only at Christmas.” But not everything that was new was better: Katarina remembers the time when her mother had been seriously ill and had received the first-rate medical assistance that was available to all who needed it; under the new regime, a variety of services were increasingly available only to those who could pay for them.
As a teenager, Katarina started to feel that the changes in her body - her becoming a young woman - were not fully consonant with her psyche; she felt and behaved tom-boyish; she didn’t welcome the development of her breasts; and, until the age of 20, dressed almost entirely in a boyish manner. “I was keen to conceal the shape of my body,” recalls Katarina, “and I really felt that being a man was to be given a better deal, to be able to do more with your life, not to be chained to the kitchen and the nursery.”
These perceptions were to change later on, she observes: “I became more pragmatic. I enjoyed the attention of men and already knew at that stage that I was not lesbian. So, while I was comfortable with toning down my former, rather mannish dress-code, I never felt that I could quite conform to the female stereotype. I have now accepted, and appreciate, the femininity in me, but I continue to resist the roles determined for women in our society.”
At the age of 14, Katarina continued her education in the Slovak equivalent of a Vocational Education (or FE) College, in Zvolen, specialising in preparing young people for work in the fields of Transport and Customs. Her choice was largely influenced by the fact that this was a route to the mastery of English and French, German being the principal foreign language taught in Slovak schools at that time.
Having completed her vocational training, Katarina developed an interest in Psychology which she was keen to study at university level; however, the competition was intense and she failed to get in. True to form, Katarina once more went off on a tangent and enrolled at the University of Banská Štiavnica on a new course in ‘Eco-Museology’, where she again learned a great deal, incorporating this latest learning into the mosaic of knowledge she had already acquired.
“During my studies, I visited my brother who was living in London. Though I was already dressing in a boyish, ‘punky’ style myself, I was still a bit shocked when we explored the alternative music scene, the world of goths and cyber-goths - Individuality was rampant. From trendy London, I arrived back to Slovakia in the most outrageous platform shoes, causing much local consternation - everyone wondered what planet I’d landed from! It was only a summer holiday but it changed me profoundly. I am pleased to say that I did manage to hang on and finish my university course, even though London was the only place I wanted to be. I returned as soon as I could and stayed for six months; I did do some work but mainly I enjoyed the freedom which this wonderful city offered - freedom to be oneself, freedom to experiment with one’s life, to wear platform shoes and to have spiky hair.”
“After returning home to Slovakia, I worked for two years for IBM in an administrative capacity - rather dull and repetitive work. By this time, I was around 24 years old and saw many of my female friends getting married, having children, or at least contemplating ‘settling down’. On the contrary, I felt quite strongly that I did not want to bring children into a world in which so many dreadful things were going on. I also had serious reservations about marriage itself, knowing that such a union would probably represent greater personal constraint at exactly the time when I desired more freedom, and I believed that people could live happily together without signing up to this institution. Often when chatting to college friends who were dreaming of marriage, children and homemaking, I felt that if ever I was to go down this road, I would be the last one to do it.”
In 2005, Katarina returned to London to live with her brother in the East End where working in a local library allows her to follow her early dream of studying Psychology which she does as a part-time student. This is hard but also most enjoyable. Returning to the matter of her own life, Katarina says: “I am now more accepting of my feminine side but the ‘tomboyish element’ remains always present within me. I feel quite secure about my own sexuality but I do prefer platonic male friendships and have a number of gay friends who are very dear to me. Relations with my female friends, who are mostly now married and have children, seem to be strained - their endless preoccupation with children is something I understand but it’s something that is of little interest to me. Their priorities and interests seem to have diverged from mine and my continuing wish not to have children frequently makes me feel like an outsider; it is something that many other women find perplexing and incomprehensible. I feel that while some people bring children into the world, the next generation, it is the destiny of others to contribute ideas that enrich the world in a different way.”
“Of course, at the age of 33, I can ‘never say never’; if circumstances permit, I might even consider adopting a child instead of having one of my own. At my age, lots of unattached women start to behave strangely and often embark on a desperate search for a man and a baby; understandably, they feel that their biological clock is ticking, but these are not perhaps the ideal circumstances for building a happy family life. For me, at 33 and without a husband or children, I feel life is nonetheless truly fulfilling; I feel that I have so much more to learn, to explore and to enjoy.”
“Without a husband and without children, I might feel like an outsider but it has the advantage of allowing me to live my life freely, the way I want to, and while some might see this as selfish, I follow the rule: ‘Live like you are going to live for ever but learn as if you are going to die tomorrow.‘ I enjoy acting; I like studying Psychology; I engage in a number of sports - parkour, aikido yoga and lots more - and London offers almost limitless opportunities to explore and to grow, not to mention the opportunity to interact with people from all over the world. If I were to be married and to have children, very few of these things would be possible.”
Interview Date: 13th June 2013
Updated: 19th June 2013
Born in a small village set in the magnificent landscape of what is now central Slovakia, the teenage Katarína was a tom-boy and, while she is now more accepting of her feminine side, a ‘tomboyish element’ remains. She enjoyed the attention of men and already knew at that stage that she was not lesbian but she never felt quite able to conform to the female stereotype. Though secure about her sexuality, Katarína prefers platonic male friendships, and relations with female friends can be strained - their endless preoccupation with children is of little interest to her. Katarína has serious reservations about the institution of marriage; without a husband and children, she can feel like an outsider but this allows her to live her life freely, the way that she wants.
Photography: London 13th June 2013