straight means fire
project composed of a visual language created through the translation of the Kaliarda dictionary into images, and of fantasy newspapers illegally disseminated in Athen’s newsstands.
In 1971, the journalist Elias Petropoulos published a dictionary titled Kaliarda. In his introduction, he described his infiltration of the subhuman world of Athenian queers. Petropoulos’s transcription was the first published dictionary of a queer cant. Designed as an expose for a straight audience, the book became a bible for young gay men. Kaliarda spread across Greece. It was a descriptive cant whose complex relationship of both dista
ste for, and reliance on, a single written text is unique.
Rather than a secret language, Kaliarda was an anti-langu
age, an audible wall built between the straight audience and the queer one. On the one hand, Kaliarda was clear, honest, and legible to the people one wanted to talk to; visible, tantalizing, and illegible to those one doesn’t. On the other hand, Petropoulos’s dictionary was a physical record of a language that was never meant to be recorded—an object that publicized the queer community dangerously, nonconsensually, and derogative.
In 2023, I translated the original 10,000-word Kaliarda dictionary into a visual language using photographs provided by anonymous members of the queer community, then worked with this community to produce a newspaper with the new visual language, known as New Kaliarda. Straight Means Fire is a public, anonymous project. In contrast to the previous dictionary, the new dictionary only has two copies, one held by Sadie and one by a queer Athenian collaborator.
More generally, Straight Means Fire attempts to create something living from a language that died in the 1990s, within a society where relationships between history, the body, and sexuality are fluid and contradictory. In a personal sense, the newspaper is based on the simple desire to speak to another person in a language that feels like it fits.