Being Gay in Athens Fifty Years ago

A Personal account by Aris Davarakis*


How lucky was I to have lived and grown in a circle where homosexuality, and sexuality in general, was never a problem!  This thought returns to me every June, at the time of the Athens Gay Pride.  Really, how lucky was I, to have in my youth a powerfully influential, yet also very discreet, mentor who taught me early on to be proud of who I am, have a sense of humor, and live a life filled with love.  This mentor was Manos Hadjidakis, mostly known internationally for the Academy Award for Best Original Song he received in 1960.  That song, ‘Never on Sunday’, sang by Melina Mercouri, was part of the music score Hadjidakis composed for Jules Dassin’s eponymous movie.

 But ‘Never on Sunday’ is just a very small part of what Hadjidakis used to be.  For he was not merely a composer, song maker, verse writer, and poet.  He was an active citizen eager to present his views on every possible aspect of life and public affairs, community and society, art and politics, human behavior, relationships, nature, philosophy.  His wisdom was shaped by his aversion for pretense and everything fake.  He loved sincere communication and had a great sense of humor that would help him through his various angry debates, disputes and fights.  At the same time, he was warm and generous, and a great friend.  


And he was openly gay.  He simply loved and fell in love all the time, without fanfare or reserve.  I worked with him when he oversaw the Greek Public Radio, ERT 3—the famous Trito Programma— an important cultural institution that thrived from 1977 to 1981.  At that time, cultural life in Greece was dominated by three gay men: besides Hadjidakis there was the painter Yiannis Tsarouchis, and the theatrical director Karolos Koun, each one crucially influencing different domains and all together inspiring Greece’s overall culture after WW2. They were all openly gay, and at the same time friends with the (very strictly straight) President of the Republic Constantine Karamanlis.  On Sundays, they’d often dine together at the Glyfada Golf Club, never matter who was what or who they fell in love with.  This was what characterized my 70ies and 80ies.


Manos and I were very close, and I was gay too.  We worked hard every day at the radio, producing shows that set the foundation for Greece’s cultural scene for decades to come.  I had already composed lyrics for him, a very rare privilege, and our first cooperation San Palio Cinema (like and old movie house) was a huge hit in the country: music composed by a 50-year old gay man, with the verse of a 20 year-old gay writer; an erotic song, still played on the Greek radio-waves, loved by the gay and straight alike.  Those times were different.  We openly flirted with anyone we happened to like, we laughed, and enjoyed life as it came.  Our otherness, our sexuality, our love affairs, and relationships were never a problem.  In 1980, in my first interview, I simply and matter-of-factly came out as gay without any second thoughts. 


Yet, this self-evident acceptance we enjoyed along such great luminaries within an overall strict, traditional Greek society of fifty years ago, was surely not the common experience of all gay women and men.  Because of Manos Hadjidakis I never had to fight for my basic human rights like many others still do.  I was just so lucky to meet him!


* Aris Davarakis is a well-known Athenian Journalist, Poet, and Author




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