As part of our ‘All roads lead to…’ series Karen Pollock writes of their personal experiences of being told London was the place to be, and considers the idea that LGBTQ+ people do not belong in certain communities
The excellent post by my fellow curator, and Northumbrian, Lee Ferris set of a very personal chain of reflections for me. I grew up in the kind of market town which is apparently a desirable place to live. It was, in many ways a charmed place to be a teenager. The closest we came to street violence was a bull escaping from the mart, and it genuinely was an area where people left their doors unlocked.
It was an area I was told to leave, somewhere my friends assured me I could never be happy. London, it was said, was the right place for me. Looking back I see that their beliefs were from a place of love. As a fully paid up member of the awkward squad from an early age I was the only out person at my secondary school. The general response of the staff to the bullying this led to was that I should not have said anything. This was the era of section 28, when by law children could not be told anything positive, or even neutral about homosexuality. I do think telling a 16 year old they were responsible for being bullied was little to do with section 28, and far more to do with the teachers personal views on the matter though.
It was many years ago, their choices, and my own, are ones I accept as the results of our life experiences, the myriad moments which led to who each of us were. By complete coincidence I took a night class with one of the most persistent, and homophobic bullies when my children were small. She did not recognise me, and as we worked together, and shared stories of our families, I wondered if she even remembered the girl who had cowered away from her day after day.
It was an area I was told to leave, somewhere my friends assured me I could never be happy. London, it was said, was the right place for me. Looking back I see that their beliefs were from a place of love. As a fully paid up member of the awkward squad from an early age I was the only out person at my secondary school.
I believe time spent on what might have beens is time wasted, I moved to London, it was wonderful, I lived in one of the worlds most vibrant, exciting cities. I even lived there when rents where somewhat affordable! However there is still a nagging voice which says-“Why was it assumed London was the place for me?” I also suspect that far too many queer children and young people still face the same assumptions.
When the terrible events of Orlando happened many cis het people where quick to change their social media avatars, or post about how they supported love. We have previously suggested that perhaps love is not enough, or rather that quick easy words on social media are not enough. I issue a challenge, to those in the shires, the villages, the market towns; Do you think that your place is also our place? Do you support LGBTQ rights so long as the actual people are hundreds or even thousands of miles away?
There is I believe something of the “not in front of the children” belief that queer people are better off somewhere else. Perhaps we do not always help ourselves. Or rather perhaps Gay Inc (TM) does not always help us. Our identities are so often sexualised, often it is true without our consent, but there is a collusion with this. Consider the various pride events, how many push sexuality to the fore. It may seem odd to wish that this happened less, when queer people are often discriminated against because of their sexuality, but the perpetual definition of a group according to who they want to have sex with means the wider world thinks who they want to have sex with is their overriding concern. (There is no intention to erase straight trans people or asexual here, who are often overlooked in the broad brush narrative.)
However there is still a nagging voice which says-“Why was it assumed London was the place for me?” I also suspect that far too many queer children and young people still face the same assumptions.
It is a complex knot to untie. Whilst we are discriminated against because of who our sexual or romantic partner might be we need to say yes, that identity matters. However it is not all of our identity. We also care about the bin collection, the proposed new shopping development, the closure of bus times. The idea we are better off in the Brighton, London, Bristol queer triangle is partially based on the idea, I believe that we could not possible share concerns with cis het people, that because of one feature of our make up we need to remove ourselves. I am not sure how comfortable I am with that, or with the idea I am just who I love or sleep with.