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I visited Iceland many years ago as a young student on my way to
study Shakespeare in England. Our
Icelandic Airlines prop jet had to land for a day in Reykjavik
for repairs and we were taken on a local tour of this unique island
nation. I recall the clearness of things: the air, the sky, the
water. The landscape oozed with rising thermal steam. Our hosts
were cheerful, outgoing and clear-headed.
Decades later it comes as no surprise that Iceland is now one of the most liberal
countries in dispensing fairness and equality to its homosexual citizens. Not
perfect, but very close. It comes from a Scandinavian egalitarian heritage,
of Viking durability; from Hanseatic justice and modern Nordic progressive-mindedness.
I have not returned to visit Iceland as a gay adult yet, so the following seven
articles about Iceland have been taken from various Internet sites that offer
a variety of insights about living gay in modern Iceland. My own story will
appear after my second visit--soon.
Iceland Photo Gallery
Updated April 2006
you are coming to Reykjavík (from: http://www.gayiceland.com/)
What to expect.
Iceland is the second largest island in Europe but relatively few people
live there. The wilderness of the highlands is untouched and unspoiled nature.
The Icelandic nation only counts 280.000 people and most of them (170.000)
live in the capital Reykjavík and surrounding areas. Most tourists land
at Keflavik International Airport and then drive for an hour through moss grown
lava landscape to Reykjavík. Icelanders feel that this flat desert is
barren and uninteresting but many foreigners get the feeling they have just
landed on the moon.
Reykjavík has grown from a village to a city in this century. The suburbs
are big, but the city centre is small and shows a rather mixed blend of architecture.
The ruling style, however, is the old Icelandic balloon frame timber house,
covered with corrugated iron and painted in all the colours of the rainbow.
The roofs of Reykjavík are a festival of colours.
Icelanders use geothermal water to heat their houses and we get electricity
from hydroelectric power plants at big waterfalls in the highlands. This
makes the air completely clean and Reykjavík is one of the cleanest
cities in the world. For this same reason you get first class drinking water
from the tab.
The weather is unstable but surprisingly mild; it never gets
very hot and never very cold. But rain, snow, fog and sunshine can
all happen in the same day. Iceland is in the high North but
the Gulf stream from the Caribbean makes the winters warmer than
in New York, and the summers are rather warm and wet. The length
of the day in Iceland varies very much: December and January are
the darkest months with only 4-5 hours of daylight but in June and
July there is bright daylight all around the clock thanks to the
Nightlife in Reykjavík is amazing. Icelanders are rather trendy
and fashionable and on weekends it seems that everybody is out on the town.
Things start rather late, bars are crowded after ten and discos after midnight.
They are open until three and in summer, at least, the streets in the city
center may be full of people until morning. Some popular bars get very crowded
and tourists should not take some pushing and shoving personally.
are usually a very friendly people and rather willing to talk
and give information to tourists. Younger people speak good English
and often enjoy practicing their skills. Icelanders travel a lot
and we like to think of us as open minded and modern in our way of
thinking. In the last years tolerance towards gay men and lesbians
has grown considerably and now we have very few examples of discrimination
on basis of sexual orientation. Foreign guests are very welcome in
the gay scene in Reykjavík.
the Reykjavik gay scene
In 1925 Halldór Laxness, the only Icelandic writer to receive the
Nobel prize for literature, wrote a teasing article with the headline:
On the cultural situation. The author was then 23 years old, a young and rebellious
man of the world, comparing the Icelandic culture with other countries:
"And as a culture-with the exception of our countrymen in Copenhagen-we
had no representatives in Iceland throughout the last century but a few vagabonds
in the countryside and that miserable Latin school without a decent house. We
now have in Reykjavík all of a sudden got everything which suits a
cosmopolitan city, not only a university and a cinema, but also football and
homosexuality." Halldór Laxness, 1925
This sarcastic comment says a lot about the gay reality: Our culture comes
out of the cities and it is only in the big cities of the world that it gets
to grow and flourish. Of course there have always been lesbians and gay men
in Iceland but many of those who were lucky enough to recognize those feelings moved
away to foreign cities. When Samtökin 78 were founded in 1978 they
were at last recognized as "the Icelandic sexually-political refugees."
exile was not without pain, people had to say goodbye to their language
and culture. But when these refugees started to come home again
in the early eighties they became a very strong and influential
gay group, bringing cosmopolitan gay culture to Iceland, where it
mixes with the habits and culture of the nation in a strange but
gay society is small but very active and a 'gay scene' exists
only in Reykjavík. There are lesbians and gay men all
over Iceland but the only organized services for gay men and lesbians
are in the capital and here they mix freely. The same goes for the Community
Centre of Samtökin 78, so MSC Iceland, the leather club,
is in fact the only place strictly reserved for males. A couple of
bars and discos are 'gay friendly', open to straight people but chiefly
catering to the gay crowd.
Some foreign gay men and the lesbians travelling to Iceland for the first time
hardly know what to think of Reykjavík. One night you might feel you
are in a busy gay club in Hamburg or Manchester but the next night you feel
that you have landed in a small village in North-Dakota and you´ve lost
your train-ticket! Reykjavík has many of the things you find in the
metropolises of the world but as soon as the guest is starting to "feel
at home" he or she is reminded that this is a small community,
speaking the language their forefathers spoke thousand years ago, and in many
ways like a big family of 280.000 people.
To enjoy life with this family you have to try to enjoy a rather strange mix:
World culture, where and when it can be found, magnificent nature and some
strange customs of a nation isolated for centuries. Icelandic culture is
young and ancient at the same time. But if you come, armed with curiosity,
you will feel at home before you know it.
Samtökin 78--One of Iceland's LGBT Rights Organization
In the past 20 years Samtökin 78 have achieved much in making gay men
and lesbians visible in Iceland and thus worked a lot against prejudices.
Samtökin 78 have also ensured that gay men and lesbians in Iceland have
more legal rights than most countries in the world.
78, The Organization of Icelandic Lesbians and Gay men, was
formed in 1978. The founding members were 13 gay men. No lesbian
was found to take part in the beginning and that says a lot about
the situation back then. Today the members are 300 in total, both
gay men and lesbians.
founding committee had a problem because there was no acceptable
word for homosexuality in the Icelandic language. The department
of Icelandic Language at the University of Iceland was asked for
help but found no solution. Today we use the words "hommi" (from
the Greek "homos") for gay men and "lesbía" (from
the Greek Lesbos) for lesbians.
In the first years our small organization had to struggle to keep activities
going. Constant lack of money made it hard to find adequate housing and our
first place was literally underground: in a small basement room with only one
window. At one time the organization was even based in the private home of
the chairman. But in 1987 Samtökin 78 won support from the City Council
of Reykjavík and could rent a small house at Lindargata 49. There the
organization had its base until the end of last year (1998). And now, on
the 20th anniversary, we have at last managed to buy our own place in the city
center, at Laugavegur 3 (fourth floor). This was made possible by generous
support of the City Council.
Today Samtökin ´78 get financial support both from
the Icelandic Government and from the City of Reykjavík.
There has also been a steady increase of membership, making all our
work much easier. But we still have a lot of work to do and it seems
that the number of projects increases faster than the number of members. The
projects of Samtökin ´78 are many and different as they
(along with FSS) fight for equal social rights and law reforms
for gay men and lesbian in our country: Firstly, the organization
attempts to create a cultural base to support the self-confidence
of lesbians and gay men; secondly Samtökin ´78 fight for
legal reforms for homosexual people; and thirdly the organization
fights social injustice and prejudice by open discussion and information
is the GLBT association at the University of Iceland (http://www.gay.hi.is/?s=english). FSS
has also been very active in the gay rights struggle as well as
Samökin 78. (The latter is sponsored by the City Council and
the Government and have more resources to push for legal reforms.)
According to one activist, FSS is the only group that openly welcomes
bisexuals into their circle and works to educate people about bisexuality.
They feel it's important that bisexuals should live without fear
of rejection from either the gay or straight community.
are their answers to frequently asked question about lesbigay live
When is gay pride in iceland?
Gay Pride in Iceland is usually held in August. You can get more information
on the link www.this.is/gaypride.
Is it safe to be gay in Iceland?
In gay issues it´s safe to say that Iceland is a model Scandinavian
country. Homosexuality is very well tolerated and the general public very
enlightened and friendly. The nightlife can however get violent so it´s
safest not to act provocatively -regardless if you´re gay or straight.
Walking down Austurstræti hand-in-hand i at 3 in the morning can have
some dire consequences. When in small villages in the country use caution if
partying with locals.
Icelanders are not very used to seeing gay people (or straight people for that
matter) holding hands in public. You might get looked at, but it will probably
just be curious looks rather than frowns. Come to think of it, Icelanders don´t
hold hands that much in public anyway.
What is the legal position of gay Icelanders?
Icelanders have one of the best legislation's in the world: legal
age of consent is the same for everybody (14), gay couples can register
their partnership and they can share custody over children. We have
anti-discrimination laws which ban that we are refused to buy
things or to be serviced on basis of sexual orientation and it is
also forbidden to attack us in public by scorn,lies, humiliation,
threat etc. because of our homosexuality.
foreigners get married in Iceland?
regarding registered partnership are only valid for Icelandic
citizens so at least one of the two has to have an Icelandic
citizenship for a gay couple to get married in Iceland.
gay people adopt children in Iceland?
no. The Icelandic parliament has approved Step Adoption in Iceland.
This allows a partner in a registered partnership to adopt the child
of his/her partner. Currently the focus has shifted to gay and lesbian
couples being able to adopt children "from scratch". Full
adoption rights is one of the most important human rights that gay
people in Iceland are fighting for.
there a lot of tolerance for gay men and lesbians in Iceland?
level of tolerance is quite good and it has been getting better with
education and open discussion in recent years.
gay bashing frequent in Reykjavík?
bashing is not frequent but unfortunately there have been a few incidents.
Samtökin 78 hear about 2-3 bad incidents every year.
the police persecute homosexuals in Iceland?
there any restrictions to HIV+ people coming to Iceland?
about service for HIV+ people is to be found in the chapter Health/HIV
big is the gay scene in Iceland?
hard to tell but to say something it can be guessed that about 1000-1500
people make use of the gay services that are are offered in Reykjavík.
can I meet gay Icelandic guys/girls?
Iceland has one gay club called Spotlight (www.spotlight.is). It doubles
as a café on weekday-evenings, and the dance-club is open on weekends.
The crowd ranges from very mixed to mostly gay. At the time of this writing
Spotlight is struggling with some drug-problems, so don´t be surprised
if there are a couple of black sheep in the crowd.
The Icelandic GLB organisation, Samtokin 78 (www.samtokin78.is), doubles
as a café/library on selected days of the week. See their homepage
for more details. Fridays are usually designated for the Revolta youth group
open for anyone to the age of 27, but is mostly frequented by kids 22 and younger.
They also have a women's group KMK with their own email address and web site:
email@example.com and www.geocities.com/konurmedkonum.
For those leather-oriented there´s a gay leather club called MSC opposite
the old Icelandic Opera. It´s hidden in a damp, dark back alley and not
for the faint of heart. Most popular with the 35-and-up year-old crowd (and
an occasional stray sailor).
you can go to www.icelandicdate.com where
you can systematically search for -and write to- gay, lesbian and
bisexual Icelanders -free of cost!
You can also chat with icelanders on the Ircnet channel #gay.is. To chat on
Irc you must have Mirc chat software, available free on www.mirc.com (Ircle
for Mac users). You then connect to an ircnet server close to you and write:
Keep in mind that Iceland´s gay scene is rather small and it´s
no exaggeration to say that everyone knows everyone. Thus it´s advisable
to choose your words carefully, especially when online.
do you get to know Icelandic pen-pal?
way is to go into bulletin board and put in an ad. You can also e-mail
to us on firstname.lastname@example.org and we will publish your advertisement
in our newsletter.
there an Icelandic gay irc?
men meet on gay.is and the lesbians talk on lesbians.is - on ircNET.
On top of that we plan to have a chat-line here on our homepage.
(4) Political and Legal Rights for Lesbigays in Iceland
the IGLA Site (http://www.ilga.org/Information/legal_survey/europe/iceland.htm)
1996: "Parliament in Iceland - the Althingi - has passed a law on the
cohabitation of people of the same gender, so-called Registered Partnership.
On 27 June, Gay Pride Day, Icelandic lesbians and gays gain the right to enter
into marriage before the law. The minister of justice introduced the bill
in parliament and while the new law is similar to those passed in Norway, Denmark
and Sweden, it also gives gay couples joint custody of the children of either
partner. Both partners then become the childrens guardians and should
the natural parent die, the other partner the childrens step parent -
automatically becomes their sole guardian. Nowhere have gay couples had such
rights up to now.
Though a great victory has been won, the new law differs in some ways from
the general laws on marriage. It does not permit the adoption of children
by gay or lesbian couples, nor does it provide for the right to artificial
insemination. In addition, the law only permits gay and lesbian couples
to confirm their partnership in a civil ceremony; this in light of the Church
of Icelands firm opposition to church marriages of gay and lesbian
couples. The new law enjoys the support of all political parties represented
in parliament and only one member voted against the bill which was introduced
by the minister of justice, Thorsteinn Pálsson of the the conservative
Independence Party which is Icelands largest political party.
long and hard struggle preceded the present victory. A parliamentary
motion protesting discrimination against lesbians and gays was first
put to the Althingi in 1985 at the behest of Samtoekin 78.
It did not pass due to the non-importance of the matter,
to quote the parliamentary committee concerned. Times have changed,
however, and following an increasingly open debate about homosexuality
and homosexuals in the Icelandic media, attitudes have become more
positive and have moved in the direction of greater tolerance. A
new motion was put to parliament in 1992 and unanimously passed. A
committee was set up to investigate the position of lesbians and
gays in Iceland and to return an opinion that would become the basis
for new legislation. Samtökin 78 had representatives on
this committee. (Samtoekin 78 press release 22 June 1996, at ILGA
Euroletter 43, August 1996)
ICELANDIC GAYS MARRY, PRESIDENT ATTENDS RECEPTION: 27-Jun-96:"Two gay-male
couples and a lesbian couple got married at the Reykjavik registry office June
27, the day Icelands same-sex registered-partnership law came into effect
... Following the weddings, a large reception was held in the lobby of the
Reykjavik City Theater with none other than Icelandic President Vigdis Finnbogadottir
as the guest of honor." (RW/2362)
(5) A personal journey to Iceland by Reed Ide (http://members.tripod.com/~reedide/message.html)
Icelandair 757 thunders into the night sky that Friday, I have no
second thoughts. Im heading for Viking territory. It
will be an adventure.
Iceland, an island nation roughly the size of Kentucky, sits at the
top of the North Atlantic, its north coast brushing against the Arctic Circle.
Because of frequent volcanic activity, and the fact that there are two glaciers
covering much of the interior land, only about 21 percent of the island
is considered habitable, almost all of it near the coast. The climate,
however, is surprisingly moderate, because the gulf stream passes close to
the southern shore. Winters in south Iceland can be milder than those in New
The plane flies northward through the night. Outside my window the Northern
Lights constantly flare, shifting form and color. I land at Keflavik International
airport just after 6 on Saturday morning. The sky is as dark as midnight. Dawn
wont come for another three hours. I board the "Flybus" for
the 45-minute ride to Reykjavik, the nations capital.
Samtokin'78 and the 'New' Iceland
my visit at the new headquarters of Samtokin 78 at Laugavegur
3 (photo right). This is the National Lesbian and gay rights organization
of Iceland, located in the heart of Reykjaviks main shopping
district. I am in search of information, but I quickly discover that
in the course of everyday life, this is the place to meet people
and socialize as well. It is, in fact, the center of gay life
as well as the official voice of the gay and Lesbian community in
Iceland. Financial support comes primarily from the national and
Im also in luck. Leading the work crew that is putting the finishing
touches on the new space is Mathias Mathiasson, the organizations
director. He seems happy to drop his tools and talk with me. We sit in
the library, a bright, cheerful room that contains over 2,000 books and videos
relating to gay and lesbian life. Matti, as his friends call him, teaches high
school psychology, and is also a systems manager at Reykjaviks university.
At 34, he is old enough to remember the darker days of oppression in Iceland.
For the past 12 years Iceland has had a growing reputation for tolerance
and inclusion of Lesbians and gay men, but that has not come without a struggle. "Its
sad to say it, but it took the AIDS epidemic to create a turning point for
gay and lesbian rights in Iceland," he tells me. "Around 1987,
when the epidemic really took hold here, the government began a national discussion.
Through all the talk and debate, peoples attitudes began to change." Before
that time, he says, gay people had one choice if they wanted to live free from
prejudice and hatred, and that was to live abroad.
1987, there has been remarkable change. Siggi Eysteinsson is
a 24-year-old gay man who is a regular at the Samtokin library
and also at the café which the group operates at its headquarters.
He came out at the age of 16, and promptly moved from the nearby
town of Selfoss to Reykjavik. "Just before I came out, there
really was a lot of discussion of homosexuality in Iceland," he
says. "Soon after that discussion started, Club 22 opened
as a gay bar, and a magazine called Pink and Blue began publishing. Samtokin'78
also publishes a newsletter (cover photo below). All sex subjects
were discussed in its pages, including homosexual sex. By the time
I came out in 1991, Iceland had revolutionized. Its basically
very easy to be gay here today."
so it appears, although the shaping of gay life in Iceland has been
markedly different from that which has happened in the large cities
of Europe and the U.S. There is no gay ghetto ("We dont
want to live in a gay neighborhood," says Matti. "There
would be no gain. Gays here are very socially integrated."). There
are no gay baths. ("Theyre too unsubtle," says
Siggi. "And we are, perhaps because of the size of our community,
too gossipy. I couldnt imagine sleeping with someone in the
scene. Within a week everyone would know my penis size, how good
I am in bed, and what my kinks are.") Shops selling pornography
are outlawed in Iceland (although Samtokin discreetly maintains
a "backroom" collection from which people are free to borrow).
There are two dance bars that gays frequent in Iceland. Neither is 100 percent
gay. ("A strictly gay bar wont work here," says Matti. "Most
of us, most of the time, want to associate with a larger group of friends than
just gay people.")
Clearly, in Iceland, size is a consideration.
population is only 280,000 people, about half of whom live
in or around the capital. Samtokin estimates the lesbian and gay
population at the usual 10 percent, or 28,000. "Only around
5,000 of them are really completely out of the closet, I think," says
Matti. The gay community, has by necessity a more intimate feeling.
It is, in fact, a reflection of the national ethos as well.
All this is not to say that there isnt cruising, that there isnt
available sex. Foreign visitors, in fact are in high demand. They bring variety,
different points of view, different styles to the party. "There is always
the possibility for sex, and for sexual flirtation," says Matti. "Its
just that visitors should be more relaxed, less energized here more
like they would be in a smaller town."
Siggi is currently in a long-term relationship. He and his lover Matthew (a
linguistics lecturer from the United Kingdom) plan to marry when Matt
returns from a sabbatical in California. Matthew would like to be married in
a church. But Siggi is not so sure. There are still pockets of homophobia
in the Icelands dominant Evangelical Lutheran church. Regardless
of where the ceremony takes place, family, friends, neighbors and the civil
authorities will regard it as a legal marriage, extending to the couple
all the legal rights (except adoption), expectations, and support accorded
I leave Matti to his work laying floor tiles in Samtokins new café.
Outside, it is mid afternoon, Just across the harbor, the sun shines on mountains.
But over the city a snow squall is underway. Its like that in Iceland. The
weather can change within minutes.
to explore the city. It is small enough to get around on foot.
Thats the best way to experience it. I turn away from the shopping
street and walk up the hill to the Hallgrimskirkja, The church
of Hallgrimur (photo right) named for a 17th century Icelandic
poet who is still the nations most beloved bard. Designed in
1937, the church, with its modern lines and towering steeple, remains
a controversial site. Arguments aside, it affords one of the best
views of the city. An elevator whisks the visitor to the top where
the bright colored roofs of Reykjavik lie below, huddled on the harbor
peninsula. From this vantage point, the city looks more like an
overgrown fishing village than a national capital.
In fact, that is often my impression on the ground as well. Small two and three-story
homes line the narrow streets of downtown. Sheathed in corrugated iron, many
are painted excruciatingly bright colors. An electric blue domicile
shoulders itself assertively between one of crimson red and another of Halloween
orange. Its all quite cheerful in a land where the sun is in the sky
for just few hours each day in the dead of winter.
I turn back onto Laugavegur, the shopping street. There are no department
stores in Reykjavik. Shopping is done in small specialty shops and boutiques. Casual
clothes are sold in one shop, dress clothes in another. Icelanders are very
style conscious, and the establishments on Laugavegur carry the latest of European
fashion. The street offers an eclectic mix of stores, and a thorough examination
of the shops (and their customers) can take the better part of an afternoon.
on the Weekend
been forewarned about the strenuous weekend nightlife, I choose a
nap over dinner before taking to the dark streets. For that I will
have a guide, Vertulidi Gudnason (aka Erik), the Secretary of MSC
Iceland, Reykjaviks leather club. He has volunteered to
steer me through the evenings festivities. We meet at the groups
new clubhouse, a small intimate room accessed through a candlelit
courtyard (Bankastræti 11, entrance from Ingolfsstæti,
opposite the Opera-house). Being a visitor, I have been excused from
the dress code (In fact non-leather guests are often welcomed at
this, the only exclusively male space in gay Iceland).
group publishes a monthly newsletter, and sponsors regular social
events and theme nights. Its members also organize an annual
summer Leather Summit gathering, and invite leather clubs from
throughout Europe The clubhouse is only open on Saturday nights,
and closes at 1 a.m., giving people time to visit the two other
gay spaces in the city before they close at 2:00.
am ready to sleep (Jet lag remains, and I must be up at 8:30 in the
morning for a trip into the Icelandic countryside). But my protests
are overruled. We head for Club Spotlight (Hverfisgata 8-10)
, a predominantly gay and Lesbian disco. A brightly lit bar, a room
with tables set up for conversation and a separate room with a dance
floor define the physical space of this very pleasant club. We sit
at a table. Two men, boyfriends (at least for the night), sit down
next to me. The one nearest me puts one arm around his friend and
they kiss passionately. At the same time, his other hand is working
at the front of my pants. As
Siggi says later, Icelandic men, when they are drunk, will do just
about anything. The next morning they wont know who you are.
stop is Club 22 (Laugavegur 22), the most popular place for
gays and Lesbians to meet, to drink, and to dance. This is also a
mixed venue, with straights and gays happily coexisting and mingling
together. A small bar with table seating is on the ground floor.
Upstairs is the more crowded disco bar.
Here I meet Ingi Hauksson., the clubs manager and also the chairman
of the Icelandic AIDS Organization. He is a friend of my faithful guide
Erik. The bar closes. We remain, talking until 4:00. The city is crowded as
I walk to my hotel. Boisterous young men and amorous couples fill the sidewalks.
Cars jam the streets. No one feels any pain. But then, neither do I. Every
weekend the ritual repeats. The bars fill up. The people get drunk (Cheap vodka
is preferred over the more expensive beer which has only been legal in Iceland
for 10 years). The bars close. The party continues all night in the street.
At 4:30 my queen size bed at the Hotel Borg looks very inviting. At 4:40 I
am no longer aware of the bed. At 8:00 I am painfully aware of my head. But
Im ready when the bus arrives at 8:30 to take me out into the wilderness
of rural Iceland.
remaining days I have to explore Reykjavik, I continue to discover a
city of contrasts. In some neighborhoods I feel like I could
be in a small Maine coastal village. In the city center heavy traffic,
taxis, busses, and crowds dash the illusion. The city first developed
around Tjörnin, the lake in the center of town. On the
northern side is Reykjavik's modern City Hall.
is the National Gallery, where you can view the work of some
of Iceland's best artists. There are several other excellent museums
in the city which will quickly show the American visitor how little
we know of Scandinavian art and cultural development. Iceland's
National Museum (Su<eth>urgata 41) will lead you through
the story of the country's history and Norse culture. The Kjarvalssta<eth>ir
(Miklatún Park) contains an extensive collection of the works
of Iceland's most popular artist, Jóhannes Kjarval.
Reykjavik is not just about museums. My walk along the harbor
front reveals the extent to which the city (and the country)
relies on the fishing industry. I take two mornings to discover the joys
of outdoor winter swimming. There are six public swimming pools
in Reykjavik, and their water comes from wells deep below the earth's
surface. Some of these wells produce water that is 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pool temperatures are maintained at about 85 degrees. It is
important to note that Icelanders are extremely conscious of cleanliness
at their public pools. A thorough shower is required of all before
swimming. They are very aware of Americans who jump out of their
clothes, into their suits and into the water. Those who do this invite
hostility from their hosts.
My first swim stop is Vesturbaejarlaug, (Hofsvallagata). This outdoor pool,
located in the western section of the city, also has a sauna (heavily frequented
by gays, especially on weekends), and three jacuzzi-like "hot pots" each
maintained at a different temperature (the hottest being around 110 degrees).
The weather is stormy. Snow and sleet fall. The pool is warm, womb-like. After
a half-hour in the three hot pots, I feel nothing as I walk back to the locker
room in 20 degrees and blowing snow.
The second pool I visit is Sundhöllin (Barónsstígur).
With it's old-style decor of white tiles, Sundhöllin is the only indoor
public pool in Reykjavík, located in the center of the city in back
of the Hallgrimskirkja. The pool is divided in half lengthwise, creating space
for both the serious lap swimmer and the recreational swimmer. The hot pot
here is outside, and is of a milder temperature than those at Vesturbaejarlaug.
The largest swimming pool in the city is Laugardalslaug (Laugardalur). A
full 50 meters in length, it offers the most extensive facilities. A bus
ride is recommended to reach it; use the Number 5 or 9 bus.
On my last night in Reykjavik, I return to Club 22. The upstairs disco is
closed. Downstairs, the bar is quiet. It will be until the weekend "begins" on
Thursday. I move on to Samtokin 78. Here there is life! The café,
its tile floor now complete, is doing a brisk business. People are gathered
in small groups around the candle-lit tables. In the library, people sit reading,
playing cards, just talking. Matti is there, watching over the tribe. Siggi
emerges from one room, goes to the check-out desk of the library, two porno
videos from the clandestine collection in hand. (He smiles. "What's a
guy to do when his boyfriend is in California?")
Matti takes me aside in the café. Some last words from the chief. He's
just gotten off the phone, talking with someone who wants a member of the group
to speak at a social workers' conference. "For free!" says Matti. "I
asked her if her group paid other speakers and she said they did. But we, because
we represent a 'cause', should speak for free. Gays, I guess, should just be
happy for the opportunity to speak."
And the outcome? "I told her no money, no talk." Even in Iceland,
the fight goes on.
No visit to Iceland would complete without at least a glimpse at the raw
nature of this island nation. One of the easiest and most pleasant ways
to accomplish this is by taking a bus trip from Reykjavik. There are several
tour companies operating in the capital city that will take the visitor on
trips ranging from a few hours to a full day or more -- from a city tour of
Reykjavik to an air trip to a village in Neighboring Greenland.
I choose Reykjavik Excursions, a company that offers over 20 different
trips, all designed to suit varied interests and time schedules. The trip I
have selected is The Golden Circle, one of the company's most popular for Iceland
virgins like myself. At 8:30 Sunday morning, following a Saturday night I can
only describe as frenetic, I am awake, though certainly not running on all
cylinders. A van meets me at my hotel and takes me to the central gathering
point for the beginning of what, in my debilitated condition, I see as a ten-hour
endurance test of sight-seeing.
Within minutes of leaving the city limits, the almost-too-comfortable bus begins
a climb into the mountains. The wind picks up. Snow begins to fall.
The road narrows, and curves its way to the top, then down the other side.
Once in the valley, we make our first stop. Never have I been happier to see
a tourist trap on my horizon. (It is the only one we will visit.) It consists
of a greenhouse where tropical plants are thriving (Iceland grown most of
its vegetables in geothermally heated greenhouses like this.), a shop selling
all manner of Icelandic souvenirs, and -- miracle of miracles -- a restaurant
that sells COFFEE !! Sometimes there is God.
Back on the bus I am feeling nearly human again. We leave the mountains well
behind, and enter an other-worldly landscape. Our tour guide tells us that
American astronauts came to Iceland to prepare for their moonwalks. Lava
fields stretch in every direction, and vegetation consists mainly of lichens
and scattered scrub pine and willow bushes. After we pass the town of Selfoss,
we see only scattered farms, occasionally a cluster of three or four houses.
Small Icelandic horses roam the fields.
The road narrows again, and the snow outside falls in heavy squalls. Still
the bus presses on. (In a car, I would have turned back.) Trucks appear, laying
down crushed lava to provide traction for intrepid travelers.
By noon, we reach one of the highlights of the day, Gullfoss(the Golden
Falls), Iceland's most famous and picturesque waterfall. Here the river
Hvitá drops nearly 100 feet in two falls. Flying sleet and snow cause
the guide to caution us against a walk to the edge of the falls. Few of us
pay any attention. I pull up the hood on my parka and lower my head in the
wind, looking up only long enough to track my progress down the icy path. There
are no protective railings at the edge. Our group reaches the promontory at
the edge of the largest section of the falls. The roar of water drowns out
speech. The mist from the falls freezes on my eyebrows.
Just seven miles down the road, we encounter another of nature's extremes
at Geysir, the place from which all geysirs in the world take their name.
There's no icy glacial river water here. Instead, we see about a dozen bubbling "cauldrons" in
the earth. One of them, Strokkur, is one of Iceland's primary attractions,
spouting approximately once every three to five minutes, sending a column of
super-heated water and steam 60 to 100 feet in the air.
After lunch at Geysir, the bus moves on again. The snow has abated by the time
we arrive at Ingvellir National Park, an almost sacred historic site for Icelandic
people. It was here, in the year 930 the Aling (Iceland's Parliament) was
established. It is the oldest Parliament in Europe.
also, we stand on the Great Divide. Here the North American continent
and the European continent are drifting apart, and the visitor
can see where the ground is sinking in the middle. Ages from now,
this area too will erupt in fire and lava. We are in an awesome wilderness.
Civilization seems worlds away. There is only the bus, we tourists,
an enormous frozen lake, and flat scrub land as far as we can see.
It's starkness is its beauty.
The bus stops for refreshments, and later we visit a small cathedral built
at Skálholt, the site of what, centuries ago, was the center of Iceland's
cultural life. By 6:30 we are back in Reykjavik. I am surprised at my stamina.
Next time I'll take a more daring trip, perhaps one onto the glacier, complete
with an Icelandic buffet meal set up on the ice.
Iceland Resources (also from Reed Ide)
Transportation: From the continental U.S. Icelandair is the only airline
flying to Reykjavik. Fortunately, it enjoys an excellent reputation -- comfortable
seats, above average food, and helpful staff both on the ground and on board.
The airline flies from sever east coast and midwest cities, and offers special
fares and arrangements for those visiting Iceland and then flying on to other
European destinations. Their web address is: http://www.icelandair.is/global
Travel Information: The Iceland Tourist Board, with an American office
in New York City, is extremely helpful in providing travel information and
brochures. Their web address is: http://www.icetourist.is.
Their address in New York is 655 Third Avenue
USA-New York, N.Y. 10017. Telephone: (212) 885-9747 or (212) 885-9700.
Information on gay Iceland: There are two web sites that will be of
interest to the gay traveler. Samtokin '78 maintains a site at http://www.gayiceland.com/reykjavik.
The leather organization MSC has a web site at http://www.itn.is/~msc/index.html.
For information on Lesbian life and activities, send e-mail in advance to Samtokin
'78 at: email@example.com.
to Iceland: The best, most comprehensive guidebooks about Iceland are the
Insight Guide to Iceland and the Lonely Planet Guide to Iceland available in
bookstores or from either Barnes & Noble (www.barnesandnoble.com)
or Amazon (www.amazon.com)
Staying Overnight: There are several fine hotels in Reykjavik, although
most of them tend to be away from the center. The Hotel Borg, however, is located
on Posthustraeti right in the center of town. It is the city's oldest hotel
and is spacious and comfortable. There is one gay guest house in the city.
Room With a View is located at Laugavegur 18 (telephone: 354-552-7262),
right in the heart of the gay weekend nightlife. (http://www.purpleroofs.com/listingpictures/r/roomwithaview.html)
(6) Pall Oskar, Musician
Páll Óskar: out of the closet at sixteen, Icelands top
pop star at 25. Good looks. Engaging personality. Five CDs, all selling
well. International performances. A bright future.
He grew up in a family that both encouraged his musical talent and taught him
that adult relationships are abusive, that men are angry, unpredictable. The
youngest of seven children, he spent much of his childhood singing in choirs
and in media commercials. The rest of those years he spent watching his parents
fight and coping with the taunts of his school-mates.
"My nickname was Little Palli," he recalls. "And Palli was chubby,
nerdy, someone who never got jokes right, who was afraid of other men." Then
came the knowledge that he held a fearsome secret. "I knew I was gay, or
at least that I found other guys attractive from thirteen -- the age I started
jerking off and having fantasies
about other men!"
16, he found the courage to visit the sauna at one of Reykjaviks
public swimming pools. "I was 14 when I realized the sauna at
the West End pool was gay," he says. It took me two years to
get there." What he found dismayed him: "a bunch of older
men desperately masturbating while I sat there. It pissed me off."
It was the beginning of the emergence of the adult Páll Óskar.
He came out to his family at once. "For the first day, there was nice
talk of acceptance, though my father did raise his voice. On the second day,
and the third, and the fourth, there was this terrible silence. They treated
me like an alien."
There was no holding him back. At 19, he began appearing in drag shows, earning
the cheers and admiration of Icelands gays. He began singing again, something
he had not done since puberty robbed him of his angelic soprano voice.
In 1993, Páll released his first CD, titled simply Stu. There have been
four more since then. Collectively, they demonstrate the breadth of his musical
range and interests, and include disco, house and tecno, ballads, Burt Bacharach-esque
love songs, and traditional Icelandic songs.
In 1997 he was Icelands entrant in the annual 36-country Eurovision Song
Contest. It is the regions single biggest musical competition, broadcast
live throughout Europe. It has been an important platform for artists like
Celine Dion, Julio Iglesias and ABBA. Pall performed his song backed by four
women dressed in latex, playing suggestively on a sofa behind him. His audacious
presentation gained him wide attention, especially in gay enclaves. That attention
allowed him to take his music beyond the shores of Iceland.
At home in Reykjavik, he often finds himself on radio and TV shows. He has
a reputation for being brash, forthright, even rude when it comes to discussing
gay concerns, especially gay sex. "He says things I could never say," notes
Matti Mathiasson, the Director of Samtokin 78, the national gay and lesbian
rights group. "But he is an exquisite addition to the gay voice in Iceland."
And Palls personal life? "I have a lot of work still to do. I have
had three relationships that, from the outside, looked picture perfect, I suppose.
But they were actually quite rotten and false, abusive to me. What I am doing
now is learning to fall in love with myself."
Iceland seems a small place for a man of Palls ambition. He realizes
that, "as a working place Iceland will be too small for me. Actually,
it already is. But I am an Icelander. I will always keep a home here. My roots
are so valuable to me. I wouldnt change them for a sack of gold."
well known and respected gay Icelandic artist is the playwright
Felix Bergsson, author of the play, 'The Perfect Equal' and a 'kiddie'
celebrity on Iceland TV. He and the play are profiled by QX online
magazine at http://www.anok.is/fb/reviews.html