top of page

Repression | Dor Zommer

In the know

The last few years of my life have been colored by a growing interest in urbanism, expressed mostly through the worlds of media and academic research. In hindsight, I can say that “the big city” has served as the backdrop for my life ever since I recognized – as a teen in the early 2000s in the ultimate suburban city of Rishon Letzion – I deviate from social norms. Between an intifada and wars, it was a time of nationalist violence predictably mutating into all-out violence inside the supposedly homogenous cities, too. Gender and sexual deviation became an excellent target for repressed anger. And so Tel Aviv showed me, at times, a possible escape route to life, albeit post-traumatic, but post- nonetheless. At times, it was an LGBTQ refuge (back in 2003 I couldn’t grasp “queer” as an option), in the negative sense of lack of choice. And other times, only rarely, it was an alternative, allowing me to imagine a future of a better life, where action, community, a sense of security and culture all exist in a gratifying mix, free of feeling suffocated.

In 2005 I went to a Pride March for the first time. It was a tiny event on any scale, certainly compared to the massive ones of more recent few years. The meager attendance at Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, compared to that at peace rallies held there, was no less traumatic than the perceived sense of loneliness in the suburb. We marched down Ibn Gabirol all the way to Hayarkon Park, enclosed by fences and police, and my steps were overtaken by a sense of confusion: Are they here to watch over me or keep me in check?

Two years later I went out to a party for the first time, fake ID in hand, with a friend who had come out of the closet to me just weeks before. On the agenda: Meeting at Minerva, a lesbian bar, and from there going to a women’s party at Fashion Club, in the Dolphinarium complex. I recall the chaos that ruled from Allenby Street to the mostly deserted Dolphinarium as both liberating and stressful, a stark contradiction to the neighborhood of identical boxes in West Rishon Letzion. It was clear being different wasn’t the greatest burden to bear in this space, but it was also clear that moving here was a one-way ticket. The teen that I was saw this chaotic-liberating space from Allenby, through the Carmel Market and on to Charles Clore Park, as an alternative to any other context I had in my suburban life, and just a ten-minute drive away.

Seven years later I moved to Tel Aviv, into an apartment right above the Carmel Market, the midpoint of the unorganized space of the previous decade of my life. This time I asked the space to resolve the post-suburban chaos I was feeling – and for a few years it did – and I instantly felt, for the first time, the intimate and necessary bond between queer identity and urbanism.

What is it about the city that lets queer identities be? Queerness is an essentially urban construct. A one-way migration path from across Israel and many Palestinian towns and cities, too, paved with rainbow colors and shame, has been leading to Tel Aviv for decades. The sharp contrast between the public and the private, the intimate and the anonymous, enables the presence of what is seen as strange in the village or the suburb. Something about the postmodern reincarnation of the city, something about the not-so-disciplined city of the post-industrial era, lets queer identity claim its place in public and political life, more than any other time in history.

As I tried to demonstrate through my personal genealogy, the historical, political, economic and urban contexts are crucial for our understanding of the city, and through it, our understanding of ourselves. New Urbanism in its current form talks about a good city as one that combines trade, work and residence; commercial storefronts, apartments of all sizes, high-density construction and convenient sidewalks. The objective is human diversity. But this discourse tends to miss the point by trying, again and again, to make empirical assumptions and generate scientific results to confirm social and cultural theories. “If we build a commercial front, it will give a sense of security”; or “If there’s walkability, different types of people will meet”; and mostly “If we allow urban development and high-density construction, we can minimize the damages of the climate crisis – we’ll no longer need suburban construction and private cars, and more people will be able to enjoy the city,” the modernist logic in neoliberal clothing.

Image: Occupied Manshiya, December 1948, Rudi Weissenstein

The solely economic, purely scientific viewpoint blatantly ignores the human component as an active one, leaving it as some desired variable at the end of the equation. The viewpoint that sees the market as a space with no constraints of time and place, sees the city as a tradable space, a real-estate space, which makes the city and the urban quality of life commodities. Living in the city nowadays is a special status, which says something about a person’s worth in a world that measures itself in numbers.

Phrases like “urban renewal,” “walkability” or “diversity” could be seen as clichés seeking to conceal the deeper processes of this decade – pushing away and uprooting from the city onto semi-urban peripheries, just as suburban. This is the result of the normalizing discourse seeking to enforce a discipline of variety on the undisciplined city. Being different becomes less and less of an option in a city only for the rich.

In the Tel Aviv of Mayor Ron Huldai – who in the late 90s said that “gays are like cockroaches” – the municipality in 2007 made itself the patron of the Pride March. What changed? Huldai understood early in his career that just like the city enabled queerness, queerness enables the city. But Huldai would rather make the brand of “Proud Tel Aviv” into a tourist commodity in the economic reality of the 2000s. What once was subversive and underground, the product of the evolution of political conditions, became synonymous with the establishment, increasingly losing its sting.

When the summer started I left Tel Aviv, not for any other specific place, for now, subletting places wherever. The last Pride March I saw on TV in Rishon Letzion, in my childhood room, with broken arms after a bike accident I had in Tel Aviv. I saw the masses converge at Charles Clore Park – the Dolphinarium gone by now, the towers to replace it already under construction. I heard speakers reiterate: “We’re here for the child watching at home, know you’re not alone.” But I felt like a child, and I felt alone.

There wasn’t any pride there. This was the image of relinquishing the queer political-social register, sponsored by councilors and politicians. It seems something got lost the more popular queerness became. The ever-expanding dynamics of being different shows through perpetual political struggle, and that’s not what you saw on stage and certainly not on Channel 12. If being queer means being political, and if being political means to fight, then the queer struggle can’t let itself shift onto the spaces of the neoliberal high-tech city that lack history and context. Just like the city loses its raison d’être when it loses its queers, queerness loses its raison d’être when it loses the city, and so the queer struggle must fight against the dispossession of the residents of Givat Amal, Neve Sha’anan and Hatikva, fight for urbanism outside of Tel Aviv, fight on housing prices and cost of living, and for the prospect of being different, like you have to know that the Pride March is held on the ruins of the Palestinian village of Manshiya, pushed into the sea and covered with grass and the name of a British sir. In my view, we can only save our queer selves from trauma in the post- era through fighting repression.

Dor Zommer

31, urban planning, environment and real-estate reporter, interested in urban history and political philosophy of the urban space. Studies philosophy and history at Tel Aviv University.


bottom of page