You might have seen that this year I am working loads across three locations in the UK - Peterborough, Southend and Wales. Over the past year (and for the next 12 months) I’ve meeting meeting LGBTQIA* folk across these locations - we’ve been drinking tea, eating cake and talking about what it is to be LGBTQIA* in the UK 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of sex between men in England and Wales.
I found many people outside the queer capitals and self-built separatist communities survive by self-policing and normalising homo/transphobia. Many of the people I have spoke to internalise microaggressions and accept them as a part of everyday life. Lots of the people I have spoke to, including myself carry trauma related to our ‘othering’, leaving us with often complex mental health presentations bound up in shame, fear and oppression. This trauma is often excused, ignored to played out in Eastenders by heterosexual actors. I want to address it and attempt to get us to detach the shame that pollutes our lives, wellness and beyond.
To date this research has contributed to shows like Putting Words in Your Mouth, The Door & Bravado as well as work in progress with National Theatre of Wales, Heart of Glass in St. Helens and Live Art Living Room, four queer performances in my living room in Westcliff on Sea.
I'm now focusing that research on the creation, development and curation of queerness in a town and city that has little or no LGBTQIA* provision (Peterborough & Southend), no dedicated LGBTQI* space and / or little visibility. In Wales, I found strong presence of LGBTQIA* provision, cultural activities and festivals. However, I spoke to over 100 men on Grindr last summer in rural or small towns across the country - almost all of whom were not out, lived double lives or were keen to move elsewhere. This decision not to be out was often informed by Welsh masculinity and the landscape - specifically rugby culture and the fact many really are, or feel like the only gay in the village.
In Peterborough, I've just begun a year long residency with Metal. I am creating various community meetings, cultural activities, pieces of work and ‘space making’ projects - you can read about that project here. In Southend I have already started work on encouraging the development of queer and trans* voices in the town with a public artwork commissioned by Focal Point Gallery - you can read about that project here.
The biggest issue I face with all of these projects is reaching people, in Southend a call to arms and the offer of fish and chips (you can read about that one here) saw over 70 locals turn up to talk, listen and eat. Last weekend 15 locals turned up to help make the Focal Point commission. In Peterborough this is the first outwardly queer cultural project I’ve found in the area and so we’re starting from the beginning. In Wales I’m relying on Grindr!
Each project is unique, each will address to problems of their geographic location - what I can tell you is that there is the creation of a song cycle, an eco-commune, a LGBTQIA* young company, a public artwork, a queer performance night and then some!
However, at the moment the temporal nature of our gatherings, our communication and the delicate way I need to approach people means it’s often hard to retain contact. Asking folk for telephone numbers, emails, sign up forms means people can quite easy deselect themselves or worry about how their contact information will be used.
In the curation of togetherness there are always those who are excluded, who feel it isn't for them, who want to but can't, who live a little too far or whose mental health prohibits them from attending - in one case, an extremely brilliant community member is unable to attend events because of their agoraphobia, born out of extreme homophobia directed towards them.
With this in mind I've set up a few mailing lists in which people can opt in with an email address that only they and I know. So, I'm asking you to share this blog with those who you think should be involved, could be involved, might benefit from being involved, who might want to just hear what's going on ...or just throw it out to your twitter friends because you never know who is reading, looking or questioning.
For Southend and Essex based folk - join here!
For Peterborough and surrounding areas folk - join here!
For Welsh / Wales based folk - join here!
You can also follow me on twitter for gossip on all three projects - here!