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Homesicksick [sic]

The first time I noticed that I had a home was only when I lost it. I was 8. My home consisted of a few casual elements: a 40-sq metre flat in a stinky Khrushchev-era house uptown, a yard with a lone metal swing gobbled up in mud, an empty five story construction site with forests of plants growing from it, appealingly rotten lakes and swamps, an old milk factory which was believed to produce milk by squeezing people who was opposed to the Soviet Union. I never liked milk. I liked to build tree houses surrounded by swamps, climb falling-apart building works, throw dog shit to unlucky kindergarten kids behind the high fence, cut insects and rearrange them into new ones, collect used cigarette filters and trade them for rare pieces of metal, show off with my everlasting cat throwing it from the third floor again and again, proudly keep ingredients for secret diy bomb lab organised by older boys, hang out with silent Roma kids whose parents were stealing everything possible from my parents therefore altogether were forbidden, go to the local library instead of school trying to find pictures of naked people, dead people, unborn people, any people who would contribute to my beautiful world. It was beautiful: there were no adults, no genders, no rules, no abuse, no punishment, no сonsequences, no future.

Then the reality broke in and never left. Within one month my parents found out that I had been spending time with Roma people and “played doctors” with one of their girls, that I almost never went to school and had a secret storage of stolen petrol behind my closet, that all my toys were stuffed with metal, and treasured knives and blades were carefully distributed across the room. On top of this disaster, my 7-year-old friend was killed by her drunk father and my brother’s friend died of a heroin overdose. My parents packed the whole flat within one day and we moved into my grandparents’ place in the center of the city. With a colourful yard, the shiny new lyceum just in front of my house, the church solely seen from my window, kids playing with electronic toys. That’s when home was finished and domestication started.

Our new “home” contained all the characteristics of the civilized social order. There were facts but no explanations, there were aims but no means for them, there were motivations but none of them were mine. This “home” was created for me but not by me. Gender violence and teenage abuse, yards bursting with racist, homophobic, ableist, lookist atmosphere, jealous and judgemental kids - reductive copies of their distressed parents, weekends, holidays and summers of forced socialisation with people I didn’t know and didn’t like - all of it was supposed to create a shelter against post-Soviet brutal depression. Depression triggered by sudden change from communist type of domestication to capitalist one. Orthodox Christian discipline made suffering an essential attribute of people’s lives who quickly adapted to irretrievably falling to this hellhole and started building new neo-conservative, pseudo-liberal, hypernormilized “homes” in the midst of it.

Of course, there are many other stories. Multiplicities of people, relations, emotions, values and motivations are being displayed through “homes” of different kinds worldwide. Indeed, domestication exercises itself through an indefinite amount of patterns. However, there is something that links them all: “homesickness” - the ultimate distress felt by inhabitants of a “home” upon their separation. What is it about “home” that makes people feel homesick? What is this addiction based on? Why?

The social order has answers on all these questions. It says, people are extremely sociable creatures, they need each other on multiple occasions: to avoid loneliness, to ease their lives, to legitimise their existence, to help the social order to count, name, reorganise and regulate. So people should pair up, preferably in a heteronormative way. They should burden each other with unequal emotional labour and call it “love”. They should cover themselves in promises and obligations and call it “family”. They should rent a flat, buy a house, get a mortgage to localise, prove their presence as a set. They should work most of their life to pay for the comfort, security and pleasure. They should invent a number of motivations to keep going, like the one they call “career”. They should have holidays to recover from a passive and active mental abuse they go through every day. They should surround themselves with categorized people: “relatives”, “best friends”, “just friends”, “colleagues”, “neighbours”, “acquaintances” to reproduce the structure of domestication. They should also have people they don’t like: negativity creates a competitive drive, they call it “self-development”. They expand the “home” to the scale of “nation”, consolidate the couples and all together justify various types of oppression by necessity of safety and freedom. They erect borders between nations, cities, districts, houses, rooms, me and you. They kick out those who don’t belong. They naturalise those who work hard enough to join the team. They kill those who excessively question them. The names of this social engineering are: diversity, identity politics, positive identity projects etc.

One day a Child is born. The Child is immediately converted into an object of worship in the religion of reproductive futurism. The Child is their hope, protection, vindication and rationale. It’s their tool for legitimised violence and lack of compromise. They have to keep the Child next to them and if the Child goes, make sure that it stay theirs. They talk about the family, support, trust, care, future, success, joy and happiness. They make apple pies, do its laundry, give money, forgive the disorder, excuse the pain, don’t take its disobedience seriously. They will do anything to determine the Child’s desire to belong. The strong smell of the apple pie will make the Child shut up, accept and follow.

This belonging is blind, one-sided and limited like any other relationships based on unequal distribution of knowledge and power. It closely resembles Stockholm syndrome: subjects being held hostage begin to express empathy towards their captors. Such empathy is based on the precondition for submission or reluctance to make decisions. Mistreatment is tolerated, while the absence of abuse is mistaken for an act of kindness. Deep-seated attachment doesn’t allow the Child to recognise the social order it reproduces and detect prisons to escape.

“Home” ties together all forms of domestication, appearing in an endless varitety of forms. It can be gay couples, pair-bonding, nomadic family, and various communities of capital. “Home” can be a safe space or abusive institution. It can be fixed or mobile. It can be defined as a cupboard to hide in or an entire country. The definition of “home” implies the presence of a certain inner space in opposite to the rest of the world, the outer space. That’s why everyone who is not from your home is always a guest. A guest, a foreigner, a refugee, a queer. A guest comes and leaves, they might help you to take care of your “home” in exchange of hospitality: do your dishes, cook you some food, clean your shit, but they are never allowed to question it. They can’t say: these curtains are ugly, the person you live with is an asshole, the politics you have in your place are fucked up etc. As long as “home” considered as a safe space ie place which conditions can’t be questioned by the outsider, the social order will be exercising its violence through these “islands of stability” which sustain it.

There is not much difference in “alternative” places, like, for example, squats where people actively try to fight various aspects of capitalism, family relationships, liberal politics and exercise care, solidarity and support. Such places seem to be even more impenetrable than others: security culture requires “safe spaces” to be even safer, rigid political views suspend people with different level of sensitivity, the amount of time people spend inside squatsitting or doing any type of no-work activities make them feel demanding to the space they are in, however temporary it is. Covered with many layers of various great-sounded politics of care, the actual relationships in the squat often reproduce familiar relationships full of abuse, aggression and ignorance. Born is domesticated “home”, we are going to care it in us wherever we are and in whatever we are doing, unless we learn to wipe it out from our existence.

As long as people’s relations are presided over by various “home” structures, leaving “home” is always going to be both a loss and a gain. It’s always going to be a trauma accompanied by diseased attachments or separation anxiety. Coming back home is going to be a trauma as well: the “home” we left is no longer anything but a fantasy, the product of hand-picked and distilled memories. A fantasy realised is a nightmare, as we all know.

For those, who spotted the crack in their belonging, the social order provides various types of comfortable or exciting detachments from “home”. Let’s leave aside the rich who “worked hard enough” to have a “home” in half of the countries they go, “young professionals” who go abroad to enhance their career prospects and freelancers who strive for a stress-free, healthy and prosperous life without government interference, taxes or coercion doing remote work. Let’s talk about people who claim to reject domestication by their various one-dimensional alternative lifestyles: global nomads, backpackers, flashpackers, gap-year students, anarcho-tourists and other travellers leaving “home” to increase their personal freedom. Let’s call it the “domesticated nomadism”.

The successful domesticated nomad is more likely to be a white, male, heterosexual, person, without disabilities and with dreadlocks, from a Western country. They will have acquired sufficient financial resources to move, whether with savings from civilised jobs, with money from their parents and relatives, or perhaps from selling DIY creative objects along their journey. Of course, they have a US/EU/UK or other high-ranking passport, or long-term visas. They might choose to go to Europe, the United States, Australia and New Zealand if they want to explore other forms of neoliberalism; or to Thailand, Cambodia and Laos if they crave something chill and exotic; or maybe to Central or South America if they fancy something vibrant and slightly dangerous; and finally to China and Japan if they decided to find their inner-self. They would use Wikivoyage, Hitchwiki, Couchsurfing, Carsharing, Megabus, Ryanair and make use of all manner of products and devices to make sure they are going to the right places and by the right means. They would favour the cheapest artefacts they can find: sightseeings such as worthy relics or unusual people, local peculiar food, colourful squats and social centres, alternative music festivals, all possible free events, specially provided natural resources. They will take nonconsensual pictures of everything and everyone, sending them “home” as soon as possible. They will mostly interact with other travellers, activists or people who happen to be serving them. Interaction with locals will be of secondary importance and will be limited by question about local culture, food, language, history, places to have fun and maybe something more personal, like “Have you ever thought of leaving this place?”. This depends on  how much of their language the locals can speak. They can always try to transgress the merely accessible and conventional: go off the beaten track into the inaccessible wild, try a painful traditional medicine, participate in a random demo, break into places forbidden to the public, use uncommon sex work services. They might call themselves “anti-tourists”, talk about “non-institutionalised” travelling and look at the mainstream travellers with disdain. And then they all will go “home”, even after many years, they will always go “home”, being after all that, extremely homesick.

However detached from “home” people prefer to be, it often remains as a permanent presence while disruption and escape occurs as a temporary measure. If you believe in “home” you will always have one to come back to. Your rejection of “home” will never exceed the exploration of other territories and people. Domesticated nomadism is another consumerist idea based on accumulation: more experience, inspirations, enjoyment and personal freedom. Choosing a new curtains for the family house or original uncivilised village to escape to are just two different types of consumerism. On the same grounds, the most unprivileged become the most prized commodity. Being a new form of colonialism, white, male, heterosexual, able nomadism aims to expand the limited domesticated reality of “home” to the scale of the whole planet going for the most “authentic” areas of existence. No matter how dangerous it promises to be, domesticated nomads will find the safest routes: both physically and mentally. That’s why they will go to other people’s “homes” or special “home-imitated” places: they can afford their escape only at the cost of others keeping their “homes” for them. The belief in and reproduction of “home” structure on the part of the other will never be questioned, being preserved instead for individualistic consumption by those who are supposed to be escaping such structures. Hypocritical scenarios of all shapes and sizes are possible when the main aim is personal happiness.

However, there are other examples of dispensing with “home”. A refugee walks across Europe for months to find a better place to be. A teenager runs away from summer camp and never comes back. A homeless person refuses social housing. A transgender person withdraws from the body inherited from their parents. An old person irretrievably forgets their roots. A tourist learns the local language from the scratch. A traveller is taught the history of an oppressed group to undermine the narratives of the winners. An explorer goes into the wild, not to the nature. A person commits a crime beneficial for locals. A visitor forgets that they weren't here before and won't be here after. A middle class person stops paying rent and starts squatting. A person doesn’t ask to be given a shelter, but makes their own. A person listens for answers, not reels out inane questions. A person whose comfort is not limited by nesting. A person engages with animals as well as people. A person lets themselves experience suffering, not only pleasure. Maybe all of them will later choose to be domesticated again after but at least it’s going to be their choice.

Thinking about the treehouses surrounded by swamps from my distant past, I recall the imaginary kitchen and bedrooms, neighbours and shops, spaces for work and for rest, as all essential parts of it. Domestication had started way before I thought it did. Since then, having spent a big part of my life drifting between places, I have never felt homesick for any of them. I do feel homesick to the places I haven’t been yet and might never be able to be. Being a queer refugee trapped in a female body I’m stuck in a blank space between many layers of domestication. Each of them equally try to reaffirm the need for a “home” I no longer belong to or believe in. So I fight them all. My home is where my dog is. I hope he feels the same about me.

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: The London Reader. Issue 2, 2016


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