My Queer Spaces video

I am immensely proud of this contribution to Queer Spaces – a production produced by @Rootstouring. It is well written and I am no performer but I wanted to give it a go. I didn’t do bad all things considered. Mostly though, I am proud of making a small contribution to a dyke history archive which is, of course, a part of the LGBTQIA history archive. We were there, we were queer and we weren’t going shopping 🙂

Queer Spaces Revisited

In a previous blog post I pondered on what ‘queer spaces’ are

My contribution to the Roots Touring production of ‘Queer Spaces Live!’ was a reflective piece on, specifically, dyke bars I frequented in my younger days. I spoke about how the UK community/communities of queers fought so hard for the right for any and all spaces to be inclusive but we hadn’t, arguably, considered what we might lose once they are.

Thanks to the amazing Tyler Whiting for the photo!

Almost all of the spaces I came out into and grew up in have gone.  Some we are well rid of (Wednesday evening community centre women’s discos, bring your own booze, finished at 10:00, dodge the mean feral youths who waited for us on the way out) but other spaces were places of growth and love and fun and adventure.  They were places to meet and belong.  They were uniquely lesbian and gay spaces – The Alex, Vox and Sill in Hull, The Marlborough, the Candy Bar and Revenge in Brighton. Four of those venues are closed.  One is no longer a dyke bar but advertises as ‘everyone is welcome’. Only one specifically identifies as a specifically gay venue. 

Does it matter?  Should we lament the loss of so many distinctly queer spaces or celebrate that everywhere is potentially our space now?

I don’t know 

What was fascinating about the Queer Spaces Live! production was that each of the performers spoke of claiming space in one way or the other, but a thread throughout each was that the spaces needed to be claimed. Whilst people were radically empowered to take the spaces there was a centrality to the essential nature of the spaces as queer; as distinct; as vulnerable.

The performances within Queer Spaces Live! Suggested to me that Queer Space is still, on the one hand contested for its challenge and, on the other hand, a place for forming identity. Queer spaces are still places of resistance. Do they need to be distinctly queer spaces to offer this?

I don’t know – but I think so

The Roots Touring Company created a queer space.  It is what it does.  For me there was an exciting circularity to the space being created and what the performers did with it – and that it felt like a space of bold activism as well as the creation of beautiful art.

I must give a shout out to the people involved.  Oh. My. Days.  My colleague performers were extraordinarily talented – and generously supportive of my own lack of performing talent (note: I am now a BAFTA level talent on acting ‘milling about’ thanks to their teaching – I owe you guys 🙂 ).

• Phoenix Andrews
• Emma Bates
• Joy Cruickshank
• Erin Enfys
• Arden Fitzroy
• Max Percy
• Ela Portnoy
• Eliza Beth Stevens

presented stories of growth and love and challenge and joy and each were MAGNIFICENT.  Keep an eye out for these names because they are uniquely and breathtakingly talented and they are going to take over the whole world.  I can hardly believe I had the privilege and joy of sharing a stage with them.

None were forced to be involved in the performance.  Like me, they chose to be in it – to invest their time and energy and share their powerful, compelling stories and lay themselves open to critique. It seems fairly safe to presume that also like me, they thought this was an important space to create.  Were we individually and collectively invested in the creation of a specifically queer space?

(Eliza and Ela at Portal Bookshop in York. An inspiration for Eliza’s monologue)

I think so

I have to also give a shout out to the team that made Queer Spaces Live! happen. Producer Steven Atkinson, Director Ali Pidsley and Dramaturg Frazer Flintham. Despite the fact that I am literally old enough to be their mother and we play for different teams, I have a bit of a crush on all of them. A magician once told me that magic only looks convincingly effortless with hours and hours of work and commitment to being the best. These three created magic. They held the making of the performance so carefully and safely they enabled us all to grow. I am a better human being, more confident, and proud of myself because of their talent and I will literally never forget them for enabling me to perform

(Steven, Frazer and me after rehearsals).

Queer spaces provide us with places we can be ourselves and lower our defences.  They give us a place for celebration and being together – and also places where we can value each other.

Queer spaces are where we are but not everywhere we might be, is a queer space

Until we can be confident about inclusivity, queer spaces have a crucial role in resistance to oppression.

Thanks to Roots Theatre Touring Company for creating one.  


Category: Non-fiction

Luke Turner: Out of the Woods. Weidenfield and Nicholson. 288 Pages.

Kindle edition downloaded 24th January 2019.  Kindle edition price £8.99

The brief book description added on the Literary Review Calendar of ‘books to look forward to’ for January said “A powerful memoir, centred on Epping Forest, about sexual abuse, a religious upbringing and life as a bisexual man”.

From the Guardian’s monthly list, this is my first to review.  I chose this book in particular because it took me out of my reading comfort zone (more of that later) but had an element of the familiar in that the writer identifies as queer. 

It was an unthreatening choice though not one I ordinarily would be drawn to in a bookshop.

In a professional capacity, I have reviewed books at the request of both publishers and authors.  For those reviews, I focused on the usefulness of the book in helping to improve my profession or its utility in enabling students to understand how to become new and better professionals. 

The Guardian carried an erudite and scholarly review by Sukhdev Sandhu published 17 January 2019

Sandhu both gives a snapshot of the book and critiques it, so there is little merit in me offering the same. I decided instead to focus on the utility of the book to me, as a reader. Did I enjoy it?  Was the time spent on it a good use of time?  Would I recommend it to others?

To the best of my memory, I have never read a memoir.  I could not imagine why one would. 

In the context of this book, I do not know the author or his work that his name would be a draw (I have subsequently read more about him), nor am I particularly interested in Epping Forest.  I have little active interest in religion.  As a lesbian feminist activist and scholar I have read more books about sexuality than I ever planned to and so these have also somewhat lost their place on my interest spectrum.   It is safe to say this book did not call out to me, screaming to be read. 

It is something of a surprise to me that I enjoyed Luke Turner’s book so very much. It is a deliciously rich and multi-layered text, beautifully crafted read.

At first, perhaps because it was the type of book I am not drawn to, I found it a little self-consciously literary and wordy but this may be because I had decided to dislike its ‘self-indulgence’ before I read it.  It may be that it could have done with some further editing – I am unsure (though I did begin to play ‘pollard’ bingo early into my reading so very much did this word appear – so perhaps it did).

Despite my initial irritation with the book (which I own entirely as being nothing to do with the actual book and everything to do with my dismissal of memoir) I was quickly drawn into the craft of this story.  Turner artfully blends complex discussion about self, history, identity, sexuality and nature into one narrative of discovery. He uses words so thoughtfully the story flows river like, and gently.  This is an artistic, poetic use of words rather than being forensically exact in choices made. Whether one is emotionally reeling from stories of abuses of power against him, his connection to the forest or relationship changes, it is still experienced as opportunity rather than woeful/painful documentary. 

Out of the Woods was my bedtime reading book and reading it felt like a tender caress before sleep. 

Despite going into the realms of abuse, unfairness, confusion and breakdowns I was comforted by the refuge of nature that enabled Turner to find more solid ground, and assured me the reader that culturally we all became more evolved through the story Turner told/experienced/shared.

This was a bold and unusual book which I heartily recommend.  Luke Turner is a wonderful wordsmith and I am in awe.  Kudos to Weidenfeld and Nicolson for accepting it for publication. 

Thanks also to the Guardian Literary Review calendar for alerting me to the book as one to look forward to from the January publication list: you were right.