In a powerful guest post Jonathan Hume reminds people that when you are poor and disabled, it’s not as simple as moving to somewhere “better”.
“You know you need to leave… it’s not safe, and there’ll never be anything for you here”.
That was my Mam when I was 15 or 16 years old and had been dragged out the closet in a rather unglamorous fashion. She was talking about the prospect of me living in my home-town of Sunderland, Tyne & Wear. She was right (albeit for reasons she doesn’t quite understand), but I still live there. I’m not happy, I’m not safe, I have no ‘community’ and I cannot leave. I cannot escape to the refuge that is either London or Manchester, or even Newcastle.
Things are only marginally better in some ways than they were when I was 16, 12 years ago. Sunderland started having a regular Pride (in September) in the early 2010s, although it was little more than a marketing event for the few bars that allowed us to grace their venues on Tuesday evenings. Sunderland has had a few attempts at a permanent LGBTQ public space, but they generally disappear within a few weeks. As I’ve grown more disenchanted with the mainstream ‘gay community’, the isolation has only grown and (ironically) I’m not alone in that.
I have no ‘community’ and I cannot leave. I cannot escape to the refuge that is either London or Manchester, or even Newcastle.
There’s little more despair-inducing than checking ‘the apps’ and finding the closest guy in Leeds, Dublin, or even the Netherlands. It’s lonely, in more than the romantic or physical sense. It’s isolation, a reminder your family is elsewhere and that you’ve been left behind. This is exemplified by a common conversation I have with people who message me, which usually starts “Why don’t you come to London?”
I don’t move to London because I can’t afford to. I have a severe, long-term disability which severely limits by income, and that’s before getting into the fact that Sunderland is a very deprived area in the first place. My health couldn’t cope with London, lasting about a week before my lungs turn into goo. That’s without even going into the sheer arrogance of expecting me to come to you. It’s never the other way round.
When I started renting my own flat last year, many of my friends from around the country (London, Manchester) said they would visit – most haven’t materialised. It’s ‘inconvenient’ for them to come here, despite them being a lot more able to get to me than I am to get to them (despite that being the arrangement for years).
There’s little more despair-inducing than checking ‘the apps’ and finding the closest guy in Leeds, Dublin, or even the Netherlands. It’s lonely, in more than the romantic or physical sense.
It’s the same with wider ‘community’ issues, too. As those that can financially and physically manage to leave Sunderland et al. do so, they take their resources with them. They were the ones most able to build a community here, but they take the easier option and escape. I truly don’t blame them and hold no ill will for them, but it just exaggerates the feelings of isolation and hopelessness. I was at an academic event in Manchester on poly relationships earlier in the year and made a passing comment about how we’d never see anything like this being done in the North East. Her response was to ask why I don’t move to Manchester.
I wasn’t planning to write anything about this (my feelings are generally quite clear from my Twitter account!) but a well-meaning Tweet from Jeremy Corbyn really hit me. He supports a pledge to “make London the best city in the world for LGBT+”. London already is one of the best cities in the world for LGBT+ people. What about the rest of us? We should just “move to London”, naturally. But what if we can’t?
As Lee said, not all roads lead to London. All my roads do lead out of Sunderland, but I can’t afford the taxes. But at least here people don’t make fun of my accent, or ‘jokingly’ propose kicking me out of the UK as punishment for how Sunderland votes. That’s something, right?