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by Asa Butcher
2007-02-20 09:50:50
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Marja Ruuska has just finished a class on Law at Helsinki University and this has seemingly prepared her to answer questions in style. “The name of our organization, Opiskelijavinokkaat, is Finnish for ‘queer students’, so OVI is a gay organization, in the sense that people tend to be homosexual or bisexual, but we may even have heterosexual and trans people coming in – 'trans' meaning that they don’t fit the traditional gender dichotomy.”

Trans people? Traditional gender dichotomy? “In Finnish we have these terms ‘gender minority’ and ‘sexual minority’, and I represent the sexual minority. For example, if you are a heterosexual transgender female to male, male to female, it would state on your birth certificate that you are male and then you would feel attracted to men.”

A Peer Support Group

Ovi magazine - Ovi lehti“OVI is like a group of people who happen to be young and live in Helsinki; we meet up and talk about stuff. I think as an organization it is a peer support group, and it has had its political faces, like in our rules it also states that we are a human rights organization, which doesn’t really show in our activities because we don’t really have any campaigns.”

“In England, the LBTG organization was people just fucking each other, which is not how OVI works…I feel. Because of that, I was feeling quite dodgy about joining OVI because I felt like if I am going to go there it’s just going to be people bitching about each other, shagging each other then it’s not going to be the right environment for me to be in.”

“What made me go to my first meeting was that I really had nobody to go out with, like no one to go clubbing with – socially, not romantically. In many of the other clubs with which I was involved, the presumption I was heterosexual was very strong and the whole atmosphere could be, at times, not openly homophobic, but in a covert way, like there would be the subtext where everybody was presumed heterosexual until proven otherwise. There would be a nice little connotation in there and I felt that was quite prevalent in all the societies with which I was involved. The atmosphere in some of these clubs was quite oppressive, so I needed to find a place where I could be as I want and would accept me as such.”

Describing herself as ‘socially extrovert’, explaining that she always says things that people aren’t supposed to say, questioning and being overly critical in social contexts, “It doesn’t go down all that well with everybody you meet, while at OVI you have solidarity with one another, it’s a bit easier to be accepted as a bit of a strange person, which is not to say that we are all freaks, we are quite normal people really.”

“At a more general level, having gay friends is good if you are gay,” believes Marja because they can help if you are experiencing issues with your own sexuality or gender identity. “You can come to OVI, nobody asks who you are, nobody tries to put you in a position where you might feel uncomfortable, like nobody’s going to expect you to be gay, bi, trans, you get to do the self-definition. In OVI, nobody expects you to be anything really – we don’t ask.”

Living in a bubble

“Coming out in Oulu, in the north of Finland, was very different from Helsinki,” recalls Marja, as she begins to tell her the story of sexuality journey. “I started to realize I was gay around the age of 14 in a theatre group, and then when I went to upper-secondary school I was in complete denial. I found friends at school who were supportive of me and didn’t care, plus the school was very liberal and that helped me because I had a lot of institutionalized homophobia - it took me two years to realize I was gay. During these two years I fancied this same girl and when I accepted I was gay it just passed.”

Ever since she came out, Marja has been in a bubble where nobody says offensive things to her face. “You get the prejudiced comments before somebody is aware of your sexual orientation, but not afterwards; they may think them, but might not say them out loud. I would rather have people be honest, so I can pick the ones I want to be friends with.

“I hope in forty years we will have, ok maybe this is me being an idealist,” she laughs, “but we will have gender-neutral legislation. We will have stronger anti-discrimination legislation, we will have stronger anti-sex discrimination and we will have a less sexually repressive, less post-war society, because we are still being raised to glorify the army, which doesn't happen anywhere else in Europe and we are still being raised about how our grandparents fought in the war - in 40 years we won't have that.”

Queer Students’ Association (Opiskelijavinokkaat)
Everybody is welcome to attend meetings held every Tuesday night at 7 o’clock.
Uusi Ylioppilastalo, Mannerheimintie 5 A, 5th floor (left door), Helsinki.

If you want to contact us, you can send e-mail to ovi-hallitus_helsinki.fi. (Please replace the ‘_’ character with the @ sign.)

For more information, please visit their website:





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Get it off your chest
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Simon2007-02-19 13:46:48
What does dichotomy mean?

Asa2007-02-19 13:55:54
- Division into two usually contradictory parts or opinions

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